Translation from English

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Follow Up to article on Alberic Magnard: Goddard Graves Comments

I would not know about Alberic Magnard except for Goddard, who also uses references to the composer in his epic novel, "Harmony Junction".

I always take what Goddard says very seriously, even if the topic at hand may not seem as earth shaking as the birth of Muhammad (sp?)/

Here is what Goddard has to say, with that little and I hope sufficient intro

I must nonetheless challenge your quote (from Wikipedia, if I recall properly) of the interpretive formula of Magnard as the "French Bruckner".  As a close-listener and student of both for decades, I must protest.  Since it is impossible, under the basic rules of logic, to prove a negative (in music or anything else), I won't try to do so, but file this objection nonetheless.  I will however, tell you that I know many persons who like one and are chilly to the other, Indeed, I can only think of one (myself) who loves both, but certainly not for any similarity.  Bringing in Mahler may be your natural inclination, Larry, but I must challenge that too.  Mahler's sound-architecture runs by turns to the discursive and to a lyricism which sounds (despite its careful construction) like improvisation.  Bruckner and Magnard, in their very different ways are almost obsessive about forms based on conservative models:  Bruckner on Schubert, Magnard on the canonic/fugal tradition, especially of the French (see below). 

 Above: Composer Anton Bruckner
        OK, a word or two about the Third.  That motto-theme, the stately progression of block-chords in the winds, has analogues in his masterly "tragedy in music"  GUERCOEUR, where the associations with a noble past must come into the mind of anybody who attempts to listen to the music with the ears of the late-Nineteenth Century.  Your references to the Scola Cantorum are most apposite.

         There are many interesting point of comparison and contrast between Magnard's Third and the sole surviving Symphony of Magnard's friend and spiritual-brother Ernest Chausson.  I must re-check the surviving correspondence, but while I doubt anything was ever said openly, there may well be a tiny homage in the shared key-center of B-flat, though Chausson's is in a sinuous, continually modulating minor, while Magnard's is more steadily in the major.  Furthermore, it isn't entirely negligible that the actual duration of both pieces is similar (about 36 or 37 minutes for Chausson, 37 to 40 for Magnard), both of them on the time-scale of German models, and appreciably longer than any French symphony.  Both run continually toward high, tense string-writing, which, quite aside from its intrinsic sonic interest, spreads-out the instrumentation to allow much greater subtlety and significance for what are sometimes called, somewhat inadequately, "the inner parts".  Those various winds are full partners now, and not merely dot-&-dash accompanists as they had been in much earlier symphonic writing, even by the great Germans.     

           Chausson's Symphony is as fine and symmetrical a cyclical/arch-form work as had yet been written, and while Chausson's three-movement form is more purely logical in that symmetry, Larry quite correctly identifies the four-movement Magnard work as firmly in this tradition.  Another common denominator is what I like to call the "ecstatic hiatus" a few moments before the conclusion of each work.  Even without a return to material from the opening of each work, this structural similarity has to be more than coincidental, quite possibly, but an homage by one musician to another (and a friend to beyond that).

        Turning to that four-movement form, it is worth noting that Magnard, like Chausson, uses French terms, rather than Italian or German, to mark the individual movements:  "Introduction et ouverture", "Danses", "Pastorale", and "Final".  The difference is that Magnard uses these terms to define the nature the nature of a movement, and its function within the whole work, rather simply to indicate tempo, as in Chausson and the overwhelming majority of symphonies heretofore.  More specifically, those markings are definitely an homage to the golden age of the claveciniste-compositeurs like the Couperins and also Rameau, about whom Magnard wrote a sapient and admiring essay, and who in turn had provided Chausson with a model for his chamber-concerto in D, opus 21.

        Two quickies.  In the second movement, "Danses", I hope I am not the only one who catches that the second theme is simply a major scale, played in a herky-jerky rhythm.  It's jolly as-is, but also another homage to this most tradtion-minded composer, who certainly knew the "rustic" sound offered-up selectively by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.  Also, I think Larry referred to an English-horn solo in the third movement "Pastorale".  Sorry:  it's an oboe.  

          But all this is so much agitated band-width, compared to the experience of the Symphony itself.  I hope Larry's delight (and mine) may prove contagious.  Beyond the immediate listening pleasure, it's a teaching/learning opportunity.  Whoever learns Magnard's language, not only his immediate tonal language, but his historical and poetic sense, his allusiveness, and his aesthetic, will be well-prepared to meet and love his masterpiece, the aforementioned GUERCOUER.

            Anybody up for further discussion.  As noted in Larry's original posts, the Symphomy can be sampled on-line.  Almost all of Magnard's scores can likewise be read and down-loaded.  This is most welcome, and makes me feel like living fossil as I recall that not to many years ago, in order to read GUERCOUER I had to find one of the five known copies in the US, borrow it on Interlibrary Loan from the University of Southern Utah --  there must be quite a story in how it ever got there -- and photocopy it laboriously (and secretly) page by page while at supposedly at work.  Ditto, Magnard's other surviving opera, BERENICE, unperformed until a few years ago.   The 'net IS good for some things.  God willing, this text will survive transmissions.  

          Thanks for listening, sisters and brothers, to Magnard, but also to me.  O yeah, again without stopping to check my books, on the subject of composer's deaths, how can anyone forget Stradella, who was assassinated in consequence of his apparently uncontrollable fondness (ahem) for the female of the species.  And wasn't it Vieuxtemps who ended-up in an Algiers sanatorium after being hit in the head by an Arab with a rock?  But I am still giving pride of place -- supine though it turned-out to be -- to Charles-Valentin Alkan, who was knocked in the head by a falling Talmud as he attempted to take it off a high-up shelf in a library.  If it is true, as often alleged, that one dies somehow according to how one has lived, what are we to make of these latter two examples.  I suppose it's all too clear about poor Stradella.

My Reply:

You may wonder why Goddard brings up the circumstances of various people's deaths here...this relates to some earlier comments I made to him on the topic: " We all have to go sometime, what does it really mean the manner in which we end?"

Well  THIS got started by a long ago wail from an NYU friend of mine on how the writer Sherwood Anderson died from peritonitis after swallowing an olive in a martini on a Transatlantic voyage as I remember.

My NYU friend was very big on Anderson and completely bummed out by the manner of Anderson't passing...he felt it made a mockery of the man's life or something.

I take rather strong exception to this idea (within limits)-well, this topic can get weird, especially when we remember Guy de Maupassant's servants always making sure the revolver he kept handy to end it all at any moment was never loaded and there was no easily available ammunition around.

As to bungled suicide attempts, I don't want to "go there" as they say.   -L.K.