About this work
By 1881 -- the year of the Schumann-esque Poème des Montagnes --d'Indy had begun to establish himself as a leading figure in Parisian musical life. As joint secretary, with Duparc, of the Société Nationale de Musique from 1876, he promoted the works of his self-chosen master, César Franck, and the bande à Franck. As early as 1874, his overture, Les Piccolomini, had created a stir. By 1881 it had been revised as Max et Thécla and joined by two other imposing pieces to form the Wallenstein trilogy, which remained, to the end of his life, a repertoire item in France. After waiting out his family's opposition, marriage to his cousin, Isabelle de Pampelonne -- a love match -- on August 11, 1875, provided a ménage in which he flourished. D'Indy had encountered Isabelle on vacation visits to his family at Chabret in the Ardèche, nestled in the Cévennes, which he celebrated in 1886 with the evergreen Symphonie Cévenole. Isabelle seemed the genius loci, for her theme -- marked "la bien-aimée" -- appears throughout the Poème. After a single-page prelude of arpeggiated chords (Harmonie), Le Chant de Bruyères (Song of the Heather) tokens daybreak amid swirling mists, beset by a curious reminiscence of the Waltz from Der Freischütz, the first appearance of la bien-aimée, and a return to the opening, now muted in a distant gaze. Danses rhythmiques sandwiches a rustic "Valse grotesque" and the beloved's theme between a highly sophisticated romp of shifting meters bar-by-bar, for which Chabrier -- the dedicatee -- took d'Indy to task. "I'm not so keen on the Danses rhythmiques...the writing and especially the rhythms are certainly unusual, but these rhythms are broken up by the use of the thumb in the left hand and by too many effects one after another with so little regularity in their disorder that I've no time to be either astonished or charmed...." A fine pianist who maintained an athletic technique into his seventies, d'Indy made a briskly crackling recording of Danses rhythmiques in 1923. Plein Air's extraordinary melodic warmth and gusty pictorialism reveal at last what so much brio and ecstatic evocation have been about in its final episodes: "À deux" and "Amour." The opening, Harmonie, returns as a benedictory postlude. D'Indy's first considerable piano work, the Poème is symphonic in ambition and forecasts not only the Symphonie Cévenole and the vast symphonic poem Jour d'été à la montagne (1905), but Sévérac's great Provençal frescoes, Çerdaña, En Languedoc, and Le Chant de la Terre.