Magnard was born to a financially secure family which afforded him the opportunity to travel and study in a number of diverse and artistically rich settings. He received a law degree in 1887 but decided to spend his life in the musical quest for classical perfection.
The structure of his works show a pedantic nature that only an austere and recalcitrant individual seems to master. All of his music was well constructed and his compositions showed the signs of one who has most successfully resolved the fugal and canonic forms; all of his major works contain at least one fugue or canon. This appeared to be an obsession with his quest for perfection. Though he was influenced by Wagner, d'Indy -- who was his teacher for four years -- Beethoven and Gluck, only the latter exemplified the clarity Magnard sought.
Most of his compositions in the early years were heavily arranged though the Second Symphony and a set of seven piano works demonstrate progress and imagery. Operas, including "Yolande," "Guercoeur," and "Berenice," only gathered a small following. He was despondent over a lack of being appreciated and loathed advertisements. At his own expense Magnard published his own opus eight through twenty. Characteristically Magnard's music can be described as sincere, intense, severe and quite formal. This formality often hid the fact that he was constantly attempting to yield great dramatic features. Only "Berenice" came close to fulfilling Magnard's own goals.
Keith Johnson, All Music Guide