The French Symphony in Review

(cover image by Christin Hume)

Apologies in no particular order to:

  • Charles-Marie Widor
  • Jacques Ibert
  • Rameau
  • Cécile Chaminade
  • Tristan Murail
  • André Jolivet
  • Pierre Capdeveille
  • Jean Rivier
  • Francis Poulenc
  • Andre Gedalge
  • Paul Le Flem
  • Yves Ramette
  • Henri Sauguet

…among many others, really. But those were the closest to getting included, on my radar but didn’t make it.

Obviously there is a handful of wildly famous French composers who just didn’t fit into the series, either because they didn’t write any symphonies (well, really most of them: Ravel, Debussy, Boulez), or because we’d already discussed works of theirs that could be included in either the midweek symphony or chamber posts (Berlioz, Debussy), but also, they’re already wildly famous.

We did get some very famous names in, though. We started with Couperin, and saw names that people would more readily recognize, like Bizet, d’Indy, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Franck, and Messiaen, but most of the others probably aren’t terribly familiar to the majority of classical music folks, unless you’re French (or have a serious interest in French composers) or very dedicated to hunting out the more obscure works in the repertoire.

As I said in the introduction to this series, it’s a little interesting to focus on the symphonic works of a sliver of Classical Music History that was never really terribly enthralled with the form, at least not as much as their German or Russian speaking counterparts (or many others). Saint-Saëns and a few others were at one time known for their symphonies, but many others just didn’t expend much effort in the form.

History lessons aside, let’s get to some of the highlights. The works from Chevalier de Saint-George, Méhul, the quartet from Onslow, symphony from Bizet, Farrenc’s outstanding symphony (certainly a highlight of this series), Magnard, Schmitt, Roussel, Dutilleux, Bacri… I thought I’d try to name just three or four highlights, but we’ve really, truly seen some fantastic music from the French-speaking world, quite a good showing.

As always, there were a few pieces that were the real motivation behind the series. I’d discovered the symphonies of Magnard quite some time ago and was interested to feature them, so he was one, as was Albert Roussel, both along the lines of the lesser-known of French composers (again, unless you’re more of an expert), but Saint-Saëns and Bizet were important inclusions I’d also been looking forward to for some time. The others sort of came along as I prepared, like Chevalier de Saint-George, Méhul, Bacri, Barraine… all part of the process, really.

That’s going to be it for now, though, and we’ll jump into a bit of something quite different for the next month, as July is always a themed month around these parts. What will it be this year? Stay tuned to find out, and thank you so much for reading.


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