The French Symphony at the Fin de Siècle: Style, Culture, and the Symphonic Tradition by Andrew Deruchie (review)
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The French Symphony at the Fin de Siècle: Style, Culture, and the Symphonic Tradition. By Andrew Deruchie. (Eastman Studies in Music, 100.) Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2013. viii + 294 pp., ill.

Andrew Deruchie explores the eminence of the symphony during the Third Republic, a challenging task on a par with the many difficulties that French composers of the period faced. Chief among these were the towering symphonic legacy of Beethoven and the cultural and musical resonances of war. When Ives Kéramzer declared in the year before the outbreak of the Commune that the musical style of the eighteenth century had breathed its last and composers ought to forge new paths, he captured an ethos that also drives the present study, which addresses old genres in a new light. As Deruchie points out, whereas composing symphonic works at the fin de siècle meant grappling with questions of form in addition to issues in the ideology of musical genre, writing critically about canonical symphonies in the present millennium demands attention to the relationships between artists and their social milieux. At the same time, he articulates warnings also voiced by Delphine Mordey in her article ‘Auber’s Horses: L’Année terrible and Apocalyptic Narratives’ (19th-Century Music, 30.3 (2007), 213–29): that we should resist urges to assign perhaps too great a significance to the musical impact of political unrest. Deruchie’s deft Introduction traces compositional responses to the Beethovenian symphony as well as the afterlife of Wagnerism, making the startling claim that France eclipsed Austria as a kind of symphonic ‘ground zero’ in the late nineteenth century. Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck, Édouard Lalo, Ernest Chausson, Vincent d’Indy, and Paul Dukas produced the major symphonies discussed in each chapter of this study. Their compositions highlight extraordinary confrontations in and through music: Saint-Saëns at odds with Germanic musical traditions; Franck beset by tropes of mysticism and religiosity; Lalo at pains to render literary ideas in a wordless musical genre; Chausson concerned with musical manipulation at the level of motives and themes; and Dukas intrigued by connections between textless musique pure and works of opera or symphonic programme music. Themes at play in this book — including the historical critique of German musical lourdeur, the relevance of French aesthetic charme, and period debates about musique versus anti-musique—will speak to musicologists and to historians with interests in period nationalisms. The absence of a synthesizing conclusion mars the otherwise compelling structure of this study, the Introduction of which provides a fine model for French musical and social historiography. Deruchie’s dissertation—the basis for this book—does include a brief conclusion about the circumscribed nature of the genre that Parisian symphonists inherited from Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Schumann. The present volume would have been even richer had its author taken a step back from his thoughtful case studies to address their significance for future research. The gargantuan symphonic works of d’Indy, for instance, demand as much: these pieces remain rife with accumulated conventions of orchestral composition as well as with tensions between a nostalgic musical classicism and a sometimes conservative strain of political thought that fuelled the creative endeavours of numerous other French modernist composers. [End Page 408]

Gina Rivera
Harvard University
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