Vincent d'Indy

1851 1931

Vincent d'Indy



Vincent d’Indy was a French composer, conductor and teacher. He is best known for his attempts to reform French symphonic music, which was partially successful and contributed a lasting effect. He is also well known for his work as founder and director of the Schola Cantorum de Paris. During the later years of his career, he has helped revive many older works which had been largely forgotten and has created many of his own editions of composer’s works. Although only few of his own works receive regular performances today, d’Indy has made an important impact on the development of French music.

D’Indy was born in Paris to military, aristocratic family and was raised mainly by his grandmother. In his youth, he studied piano and harmony and displayed excellent musical ability. By the age of 18, he had developed a keen interest in composing, however he was also quite drawn to a military career. Between 1870 and 1871, he put his musical pursuits on hold and volunteered for service in the National Guard.

After he had completed his service, he committed his career to music. He entered the Paris Conservatoire and studied organ with César Franck. He also studied composition, however his progress was relatively slow and he graduated from the Conservatoire in 1975 with only apremier accessit.

Because of his disappointing progress at the Conservatoire, he was always eager to develop his skills and acquire experience. In 1893, d’Indy toured Germany where became acquainted with Johann Brahms and Franz Liszt, whose master classes he often took part in. He developed an interest in opera and stage works and became familiar with the music of Richard Wagner. In 1976, d’Indy attended the premier of Wagner’sRing at Bayreuth and it is said that the experience strongly inspired the young composer.

After he graduated from the Conservatoire, he tirelessly honed his skills in composition and musicianship. He gained invaluable experience when he toured with Edouard Colonne’s orchestra as second timpanist and chorus master. He worked tirelessly as a composer and performer for several years until his efforts eventually began to be rewarded. By 1885, he was awarded the Gran Prix de la Ville de Paris for his cantata,Le chant de la cloche. In the same year, he became joint secretary of the Société Nationale Musicale. He also became advisor to the Circle XX, an organisation which encouraged and promoted music, visual arts and literature. He also made connections with important composers, including Debussy and Dukas.

During the 1890s, d’Indy made several changes to his career. Up until then, he had been quite unhappy with the Conservatoire’s methods of teaching and in 1894, d’Indy, Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant founded a new establishment called the Schola Cantorum. The school was initially founded as a way to reform the music of Catholic liturgy however it developed into a respected music academy. During this period, he also spent his time working on his first two music dramas,Fervaal and L’étranger which were not both completed until the 1902. It was not until the outbreak of the First World War that d’Indy finished his third music drama,La légande de Saint-Christophe. It was based on an idea by Georgian Chant and it was performed for the first time in 1920.

Among d’Indy’s most well-known compositions is without doubt his Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français. The three-movement work was written for piano and orchestra and was completed in 1886. The orchestration depicts the sounds of nature while the piano writing can be described as Impressionistic and often emulates the style and technique of Liszt. It interacts stylishly with the orchestra in a prominent but not overwhelming manner. Although the work is akin to the style of other composers, d’Indy’s individual style is also apparent. This work is one of few of his that receives regular performances today. It is dedicated to Marie-Léontine Bordes-Pène who performed as soloist at its premiere in Paris in 1888.

During the last decade of his life, d’Indy faced financial difficulties and as a result he was forced to tour Europe and the U.S as a way of earning a living. He also became interested in composing with a more modern technique and style. This often attracted negative opinions from other composers of the time, including Schoenberg and those of ‘The Six’, although such opinions were often biased and uninformed. D’Indy died in Paris in 1931 and until then he continued to compose, conduct and direct the Schola Cantorum. The School provided a way in which his could spread his theories and ideas and initiate the revival of interest in music of the 16th and 17th centuries. Although many of his own works are overlooked today, he has made a very important contribution to the history of French music.