In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Vincent d’Indy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Sources
  • Essay Collections
  • The Schola Cantorum
  • The “War” with the Conservatoire
  • The “Chapel Wars” with Debussy’s Disciples
  • D’Indy and Music before 1800
  • D’Indy and Belgium
  • Regionalism, Nationalism, Anti-Semitism
  • Style
  • Symphonies
  • Other Instrumental Music

Music Vincent d’Indy
Brian Hart
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0186


Paul Marie Théodore Vincent d’Indy (b. 1851–d. 1931) was one of the most multifaceted figures in French music. Composer of notable orchestral, chamber, and operatic works; cofounder and director of the Schola Cantorum, a music school that influenced the Paris Conservatoire (where he taught concurrently beginning in 1912); teacher whose methodology and ideas about composition and music history shaped several generations of students; and accomplished conductor—all these activities made d’Indy one of the most significant musicians in fin de siècle France, second only to Claude Debussy. Yet d’Indy’s reputation today is low. A strident defender of Richard Wagner and his revered teacher César Franck, his vigorous opposition to modernist artistic trends gave him the image of a reactionary pedant teaching and practicing outdated dogmas. (In fact, impressionist and even neoclassical elements appear in d’Indy’s work, and many conservative critics complained about the “modern” dissonances they heard.) Much more damaging to his legacy, however, have been his anti-republican and anti-Semitic convictions, honed in large part by the Dreyfus Affair. By all accounts a modest and even self-effacing man who despite his ardent Catholic nationalism sincerely embraced colleagues of all backgrounds and views (including Jews, such as Paul Dukas), d’Indy’s diffidence vanished when he expressed himself in print, often very starkly. These less attractive qualities have overshadowed his achievements and at times strongly affected scholarly evaluations of his artistic accomplishments. Most of d’Indy’s peers, on the other hand, recognized his importance to French art and paid homage. They especially respected his work on behalf of French instrumental music: as Louis Laloy wrote, “[T]he musician who . . . has made abstract music (both chamber music and symphony) come to life again in this country . . . is M. Vincent d’Indy, and him alone” (“Vincent d’Indy,” La Revue Musicale 3 [15 December 1903], p. 694). Even those most opposed to d’Indy praised aspects of his music without reservation, especially his command of orchestration. They also acknowledged his all-consuming and disinterested commitment to “Art” (as he spelled it). Several admirers quoted a line from d’Indy’s early oratorio Le chant de la cloche (1886) as the composer’s personal motto: “L’artiste fait son oeuvre, et le reste n’est rien” (The artist does his work, and the rest is nothing). As this article shows, balanced scholarship on d’Indy has become more prevalent since the late 20th century, especially after the sesquicentennial of the composer’s birth in 2001.

General Overviews and Reference Sources

Few modern sources outside of the standard reference dictionaries consider d’Indy’s music at any length. Schwartz 2001 and Thomson and Orledge 2001 present discussions of some depth, both written by specialists on the composer. Manuela Schwartz’s coverage is particularly important and thorough, and her bibliography is an essential companion to that in Schwartz 2006 (see Essay Collections). Longyear 1988 is the only textbook to cover d’Indy, with an admiring passage on the Second Symphony. In 1892, d’Indy participated in a commission to suggest changes for the Paris Conservatoire, and he proposed a series of wide-ranging reforms that the school ultimately rejected; Pierre 1900 collects the major documents relating to that commission as well as to the period of d’Indy’s studies with Franck. D’Indy appears in several articles in the Encyclopédie de la musique et dictionnaire du Conservatoire; see for example Gabriel Pierné and Henry Woollett’s survey of orchestration (Pierné and Woollett 1925, cited under Style) as well as d’Indy’s own contribution on the Schola Cantorum (Indy 1931, cited under Essays, Lectures, and Reviews).

  • Longyear, Rey M. Nineteenth-Century Romanticism in Music. 3d ed. Prentice-Hall History of Music. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988.

    D’Indy synthesizes French and German idioms to create “works of strong originality and masterly workmanship” (p. 275). Focuses on the cyclic organization (with examples) of the Second Symphony, the “greatest French symphony since Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique” (p. 277).

  • Pierre, Constant. Le Conservatoire national de musique et de déclamation: Documents historiques et administratifs, recueillis ou reconstitués par Constant Pierre. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1900.

    An important repository of the official documents of the Paris Conservatoire from its beginnings through the 19th century. Pp. 373–394 concern the reform commission of 1892, including d’Indy’s initial proposal, the subcommittee’s reaction, and the final version. Now available online from the University of Rochester.

  • Schwartz, Manuela. “Vincent d’Indy.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Vol. 9, Him-Kel. 2d ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 630–641. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter Verlag, 2001.

    Extensive study by a major German scholar on d’Indy. Summary of life, aesthetics, and style.

  • Thomson, Andrew, and Robert Orledge. “Vincent d’Indy.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Balanced summary, much more than the 1980 Grove entry. Covers life, teaching, aesthetics, and works (all written by Thomson). Most partial to the nature-inspired orchestral works and to passages from the operas. Bibliography is weak.

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