(François-Clément)-Théodore Dubois – Symphony no. 2 in D (1911)
(b. Rosnay, 24 August 1837 — d. Paris, 11 June 1924)
Andante grave, quasi adagio p.76
Allegro con moto p.128
Théodore Dubois rose steadily from humble rural origins to become a highly-regarded composer and a pillar of the French musical establishment. Born in the small village of Rosnay in the Marne département to a basket-maker and his wife, he served as Director of the Paris Conservatoire from 1896 to 1905 and was elected a member of the Institut de France in 1894, succeeding Charles Gounod. He was a founder member of the Société nationale de musique in 1871, although he was active within this society for only a comparatively short time. A review of his career suggests someone with a strong sense of duty allied to equally strong self-belief, an impression that is frequently confirmed by his memoirs and diary.1
Dubois’ connections with the Paris Conservatoire lasted for several decades, beginning in 1854 when, as a student, he studied piano with Antoine François Marmontel, organ with François Benoist, and composition with François Bazin and Ambroise Thomas, for whom he retained a great affection and whom he would eventually succeed as Director of the institution. The young Dubois won the Conservatoire’s Prix de Rome in 1861, allowing him to spend the next two years at the Villa Medici in that city, and he afterwards recalled these years with great affection. From 1871 he taught harmony at the Conservatoire, and from 1891-96 was Professor of Composition there.
Outside the Conservatoire he was active as a church musician, becoming maître de chapelle [music director] at Ste Clothilde in Paris when César Franck relinquished the position in September 1863. In 1869 he moved to a similar but better-funded post at the Madeleine. Further success came his way in 1878, when, jointly with Benjamin Godard, he won a composition competition organised by the Ville de Paris. His submission was Le Paradis perdu, Godard’s Le Tasse [Tasso].
Dubois’ activities as a symphonist began in September 1908 upon completion of his Symphonie française, premiered in Brussels in November 1909 under Eugène Ysaÿe. That symphony is regarded as his first, his two later ones being published as no. 2 (in 1913) and no. 3 (completed in 1915 but apparently unpublished until 1923). The Symphonie française was premiered in the Belgian, rather than French, capital because Dubois was critical of the musical conservatism of audiences at Paris’s Concerts Colonne and Concerts Lamoureux.2 Such fears were in fact realized, but in a rather bizarre way, when the second symphony received its first performance on 10 November 1912 at the Concerts Colonne. Dubois reported in his diary for that day as follows: “First performance of the Symphony. The first movement was loudly applauded, probably too much in the opinion of some hotheads in the upper galleries, who started to make a din. They continued to do so right to the end—whistling, chanting, throwing insults even during the performance, in such a way as to prevent listening, and to be obstructive! It was shameful! This group of cannibals wants nothing that does not suit its own palate, and I very much think that the source of its views is the Schola Cantorum. I am told from all sides that my name on a concert poster is enough to drive them into a frenzy! An old man who is still writing! They hate that! In the end I experienced a pretty bad afternoon, all the more so as my wife was in the hall.”
During the week that followed, many writers came out strongly in Dubois’ defence in the musical press, expressing their own surprise at the treatment his symphony had received. The critics were fairly unanimous in finding the symphony rather old fashioned and perhaps too eclectic stylistically, but they also praised Dubois’ mastery of structure and orchestration. Why, then, did this particular work arouse such protest at its premiere? Entries in the composer’s journal suggest two lines of thought. The first was that there was some resemblance between one of the symphony’s themes and the opening notes of Massenet’s Visions fugitives, leading to cries of plagiarism. Dubois mounts a stout defence in his diary against this accusation. The second, however, seems more plausible, Dubois noting in the diary on 12 January 1913 that: “A composer-friend of mine believes that the scandal of protest, or, rather, of obstruction involving my second symphony had its origins in the election of [Gustave] Charpentier to the Institute. Word had gone around that I had been very hostile to this, and Charpentier’s supporters may have wanted to make me pay for it. Charming! All the more so since, of the only two votes that Charpentier received in order to appear on the presentation list, one was mine!” …
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