On 3 September 1914, one hundred years ago today, the French composer Albéric Magnard displayed an act of defiance which earned him in France the status of national hero. Anticipating the advance of the German Army, Magnard had sent his wife and two daughters to safety whilst he remained to keep guard of his home, the estate of Manoir de Fontaines at Baron, Oise. As the Germans trespassed on his property he began to open fire on them, killing one of the soldiers. The Germans retaliated and set the house on fire with Magnard inside. Magnard perished in the fire along with much of his work. Among the lost works were the orchestral scores to his operas Yolande and Guercoeur, and his recently completed set of 12 Poemès en Musique. The lost acts of the score to Guercoeur were reconstructed from memory by Guy Ropartz, who had led a performance of the third act in Nancy.
Albéric was born in Paris to François Magnard, editor of Le Figaro and a successful author. Magnard’s position of privilege didn’t sit well with his sense of pride, and so it is no coincidence that he chose a career in which his father’s status was of little use. Magnard entered the Paris Conservatoire after military service and graduating from law school. There he studied under the likes of Jules Massenet, Théodore Dubois and Vincent D’Indy. Magnard’s use of cyclic form and occasional incorporation of chorale earned him the nickname of “French Bruckner”; some passages from his four symphonies foreshadowed the music of Mahler, and in his operas he employed a Wagnerian leitmotiv technique.
Here is a recording of Magnard’s Chant Funèbre:
Performance by the LSO:
1920 – Chant Funèbre; Albert Coates, conductor