A symphony a day keeps the doctor away

That photo was taken a few weeks ago when I was hiking on the French national footpath network near Malaucène. In the distance is Mont Ventoux with cloud around its summit, and during the walk I alternated basking in the silence of nature with listening to Albéric Magnard's Fourth Symphony on my iPod. It is only fair to say that, for me, over the last months much of the enjoyment of blogging disappeared as self-promotion and clickbait became more important than content, and I would prefer to lay On An Overgrown Path to rest among happier memories. So over the next few days I will bury the blog by reprising some personal favourite posts from the past; starting with one about Albéric Magnard, which was first published in 2013.

Prescribed self-help books are an effective treatment for depression is the conclusion reached after a field trial in Scotland. BBC News reports how patients offered self-help books together with practical advice on their use, had lower levels of depression a year later than those undergoing conventional medical treatment. A psychiatrist concludes that these results show that guided self-help is effective and the health care sector should be investing in it. With music therapy gaining acceptance and advocacy for guided self-help increasing, classical music must seize the opportunity. In July 2011, following emergency hospitalisation and surgery, I wrote about the CDs that should be in every medicine cabinet, while another post that year linked classical music and the feel good factor, and a more recent one discussed how music therapy and other non-chemical tools can build neurochemical bridges between spiritual guidance and conventional psychotherapy. There are a number of composers whose music should definitely be available on prescription because of its life-affirming qualities; the symphonies of Dvořák, Martinů and Nielsen immediately spring to mind, and this post proposes that those of the little-known Albéric Magnard should be be added to that list.

Magnard was born in 1865 in Paris on the very same day as fellow life-affirmer Carl Nielsen. If Magnard is known at all today it is for his two final symphonies, the Third and Fourth, which are seen in LP releases above. What is fascinating about this composer of life-affirming music is that, like a number of musicians, he was a depressive. Magnard’s magnificent Fourth Symphony, which blazes with optimism in its finale - listen to the whole symphony via this link - was written in a state of what the composer himself described as ‘marasme complet’ – utter depression. The symphony was commissioned by the Union des femmes professeurs et compositeurs – Society of women professors and composers – and given its premiere in May 1914 just six weeks before the outbreak of the First World War. Four months later Magnard was dead, shot by marauding German soldiers while defending his home at Baron-sur-Oise; they then torched the house and in the inferno many of his manuscripts were lost.

Magnard is often linked with César Franck and Anton Bruckner, which is unfair as he has a unique voice that should be judged on its own merit. The symphonies are the best starting point for those new to his music; but I also recommend his masterly for cello and piano which is available in the excellent CD seen above on the enterprising Edition Hortus label. Also highly recommended is the Quatuor Ysaÿe's recording of Magnard's neglected String Quartet on the CD seen below which couples itwith the more familiar Fauré Quartet.

Ernest Ansermet’s account of the Third Symphony - image 2 shows my French Decca LP version - thankfully lives on as a CD transfer, as does Michel Plasson’s EMI recording of the Fourth seen in image 3. It was that 1983 EMI LP incidentally which introduced me to Magnard’s music. Hyperion has a mid-price double CD of the four symphonies in performances by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jean-Yves Ossonce. But, in my opinion, the best way to get to know Magnard’s symphonies are the more spacious performances in the cycle by Thomas Sanderling and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra seen below. These were recorded by BIS in the late 1990s, but are now available from Dutch budget re-issue specialist Brilliant Classics. The finale of Sanderling’s passionate interpretation of the Fourth blasts out of the speakers in my study as I write and, as always, it sends shivers down my spine. Current Amazon UK retail is £13.47 for the three CD set, which makes it the best value psychotherapy session you will ever experience.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. CD of Magnard's sonata for cello and violin was kindly supplied by Editions Hortus as a requested review sample. No other review discs were used in the preparation of the post. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images etc to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Jerome Langguth said…
I have been a regular reader for many years and have a well-stocked medicine cabinet thanks to your many recommendations. I certainly understand your decision to walk away from blogging, but the Web will be a chillier place without Overgrown Path. Thanks much for the writing and the music.
will miss the blog for many reasons, but one of the biggest will there then being no major music blogs open to and and delving into the therapeutic aspects of music - still remember the excitement on finding you years ago - and the numerous times shouting "YES!!!" out loud while reading posts
Unknown said…
While writing this comment I'm listening to Magnard's First Symphony, by the Malmö Symphony and Sardenling. Couriously I'm hearing them through Apple Music service, and after listeting to almost all overgrown paths in this blog, Apple recomends more Barenboim and Wagner, with a mix of ICE, Cantoloupe records and Music from the middle east, and has stopped to recomend Justin Bieber and Lana del Rey.
Geoff said…
I too would like to thank you for this blog and to say that I shall miss your views and introductions to composers that I am not familiar with. I've just finished enjoying Magnard's Fourth Symphony, at home recovering from surgery.
Thank you, I appreciate all the thought that had gone into your posts over the years and the ways in which you have highlighted the spiritual dimensions of music.

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