Théodore Dubois is an unloved figure. Often scorned as the author of a forbidding treatise on harmony, he has come to symbolize the official artistic circles of a fin de siècle France overcast by the worrying shadow of a fiercely decried ‘academicism’. Born in 1837, he began his career as an outstandingly gifted student at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won multiple prizes, notably for the piano and for composition, including a Premier Grand Prix de Rome (1861). On his return to France from his residence at the Villa Medici, he immediately embarked on the natural course of a regular and patient professional ascent. Appointed professor of harmony at the Conservatoire in 1871, he became professor of composition there ten years later, then its director from 1896 until his retirement in 1905. Alongside these activities, he held a variety of posts in the field of church music, notably as organist of the Madeleine (1877–96). Honoured by the official milieux, elected a member of the Institut de France in 1894, Dubois enjoyed a privileged position for which his reputation was to suffer after his death. Yet, while remaining faithful to his ideals of clarity and respect for tradition, he was receptive to the advanced ideas of his time, as is demonstrated by his membership of the Société Nationale de Musique. His vast and varied output, eclectic in its inspiration, touches on every genre, and proclaims its indebtedness to Franck and Schumann as much as Brahms and Saint-Saëns.
In an extremely varied catalogue of works, Dubois showed no special enthusiasm for the concerto, probably because he was not himself a virtuoso of the front rank (although he was a genuinely talented organist). Naturally enough, when he did set out to write concertante music, it was to the three ‘reigning’ instruments of the Romantic era that he turned: the piano on three occasions (Concerto-capriccioso, Concerto No 2 in F minor, Suite for piano and strings), the violin (a concerto), and the cello (Andante cantabile, Fantaisie-stück). He coupled cello and piano in a masterly work (the Suite concertante, with orchestra) that deserves to be considered as one of his finest achievements.
from notes by Alexandre Dratwicki © 2013
English: Charles Johnston