Wednesday, 15 March 2017

France 1951 - Vincent d'Indy

A dramatic symphony can arrest the senses and send one's spirit on a journey through many subtle levels of emotion. Our mind's eye travels across scenic vistas and plummets into dark, cavernous places. Our hearts race. We laugh. We cry. We transcend...


Vincent d'Indy, born 27 March 1851, grew up with music filling his ears. As a young boy he began learning the piano. He showed great promise, and at 14 he began to study the art of harmony with Albert Lavignac, a French composer. Then in 1870 after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, he enlisted in the National Guard. He was 19.

At the end of the war, he returned to his passion - music. But it wasn't until his first work Symphonie italienne was performed by an orchestra as a part of their rehearsal routine that his career took off. This performance triggered a chain reaction of associations that led d'Indy to study at the Conservatoire de Paris under César Franck, a renowned music teacher. While studying with Franck, d'Indy came to admire the beauty of German symphonism.

His love of the German Symphony enticed d'Indy to visit Germany in the summer of 1873. There he was fortunate to meet Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. This trip must have been truly inspiring. One can only imagine the thrill of talking with the top minds in one's field. Then on 25 January 1874 he was given the great honour of having his overture Les Piccolomini performed at a Pasdeloup concert, between works by Bach and Beethoven.

Vincent d'Indy went on to compose many symphonies, but perhaps his most enduring work is Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français, Symphony on a French Mountain Air. Written in 1886, this symphony was conceived as a piano and orchestral piece, which was, I believe, unusual. 


On 17 May 1951 France issued a stamp to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vincent d'Indy.  The stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.

To me this stamp is an excellent blend of portrait and landscape, a harmonious symphony of two styles. In the foreground we see d'Indy staring intently into the distance, perhaps envisaging how to render what he sees into the language of musical notes. The eye is then drawn into the background, along tree-lined streams, through rolling countryside, and ascending sheer cliff-faces. These are the unfolding scapes of the Cévennes mountain region, the region that inspired Symphony on a Fresh Mountain Air. Vraiment magnifique!

Until next time...

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