Guitar Works of Victor Magnien

Pascal Valois guitar
Centaur CRC 3469
Opp. 8, 16, 17 & 28

Victor Magnien was born in Épinal (Vosges), but it is not clear from the CD notes exactly when. The title above the list of pieces gives the date 1805, but in his liner notes Pascal Valois says that Magnien was born in 1804. According to Valois, Magnien studied the violin with Rodolphe Kreutzer, and the guitar with Ferdinando Carulli, both in Paris. At least 31 of Magnien’s works were published in Paris between 1827 and 1830. The first six tracks of the CD consist of six Andante (op. 17).

The beginning of Andante no. 1 is prelude-like in character, with a clear melody supported by interesting chords within the harmonic palette of the time. The feeling of andante comes with the introduction of repeated notes in the bass, and the music gradually becomes more agitated, growing to a climax high up the neck, followed by a descending chromatic scale. The piece ends peacefully with a da capo to the prelude-like opening. Andante no. 2 explores the full range of the guitar with broken chords, including a passage of triplets. Six pieces with the same title might suggest sameness, but Magnien’s music is far from samey. Apart from an overall feeling of serenity to calm the souls of his listeners, there is much variety of mood and style. Andante no. 4 begins with the melody in the bass, it becomes a little quicker – poco Allegretto – and ends with a fast flourish up the neck and the ping of a high harmonic. There is much to enjoy in Magnien’s Thème original varié pour la guitare  (Op. 28): a mixture of bustling repeated notes and arpeggios, spiced with chromaticism; a gloomy variation in the minor moves slower with nicely-shaped phrases; the final cadence is preceded by a flurry of diminished chords. It is entertaining stuff, charming, and at times virtuosic. There follow another six Andante (Op. 8) and six Menuets (Op. 16), the music for which may be seen in facsimile on line at the IMSLP website.

I like Valois’ interpretation. He captures Magnien’s contrasting moods with well-shaped phrases and a variety of tone colour, just right for an appreciative salon audience. He plays a guitar by Cabasse-Bernard made in about 1830. It has a clear, bright tone well suited for Magnien’s music. It is a pity there are so many squeaks from what I guess to be wound nylon strings. Maybe gut would have been more suitable.

Stewart McCoy

Stewart McCoy