Albéric Magnard

Symphony No. 4 in C sharp minor, Op. 21

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    Because the Fourth Symphony is Magnard's last extant work, we tend to hear in it a valedictory strain. Its return to cyclic form -- eschewed in the trio and cello sonata -- has the effect of wrapping things up, as the thematic material of the opening is richly varied through all four movements. Expressively, it is a seeming ne plus ultra of his furious ecstaticism, rippled with piquant folk-like oddments and worked to a whelming grandeur. But on the desk of his rustic retreat, the Manoir des Fontaines at Baron, 20 miles north of Paris, lay the manuscript of Douze Poèmes en musique, his Opus 22 -- six settings each of André Chenier and Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, whose matter suggests that his lifelong preoccupation with Das ewig Weibliche remained unassuaged. Were they set in the declamatory mode of the biographical Quatre Poèmes, or carried with the melodic generosity of the mélodie? We can never know, as the work perished when Magnard, defending his property in the upshot of the German invasion, was killed in September 1914 and his house burnt. We do know that he was considering for his next work either an overture, a ballet with chorus, or a musical comedy after Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's La Belle et la Bête. After the completion of the cello sonata in August 1910, Magnard was kept nervously busy with negotiations for the performance of his final opera Bérénice (1905-1908), which reached the stage of the Salle Favart December 15, 1911. With the last of nine performances on January 10, 1912, behind him, Magnard began the composition of his Fourth Symphony in February, writing directly into orchestral score with such virtuosity and exuberance of color that it looms as a veritable concerto for orchestra. But composition proved a protracted struggle and, though nominally finished in April 1913, he was still revising in July. A telling reminder of his woman worship (similar to that of poet Robert Graves) is his dedication of the Fourth Symphony to the Union des femmes professeurs et compositeurs de musique, who gave the work its premiere on April 2, 1914, in the hall of the Coservatoire, Magnard conducting. Unequal to its demands, and led by an inexperienced chef d'orchestre, the performance was a debâcle, though several critics divined it a substantial work. Under the auspices of the Société Nationale it was heard again with the expert direction of Rhené-Baton on May 17, affording Magnard one of the greatest artistic triumphs of his career.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Modéré
    2. Vif
    3. Sans lenteur et nuancé
    4. Animé

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2010 EMI Classics / EMI Classics / Warner Classics 50999906820
    2009 Hyperion 22068
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93712
    2005 Angel Records / EMI Classics 72364
    2000 BIS 928
    1998 Hyperion 67040