FRENCH MUSIC FOR WIND QUINTET
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French Music for Wind Instruments
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963): Sextet for piano and wind quintet
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962): Trois pi?¿ces br?¿ves
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974): La Cheminee du roi Rene
Jean Fran?ºaix (1912-1997): Wind Quintet No. 1
Since the early nineteenth century French composershave shown a particular skill and deftness of touch inhandling wind instruments, following the pattern set atthe Paris Conservatoire by Anton Reicha (1770-1836),with his preference for the textures of the quintet ofdifferent wind instruments, as opposed to the traditionaldoubling in sextets or octets.
Francis Poulenc only undertook formal musicaltraining in composition in 1921 from Charles Koechlin.
He had studied the piano with Ricardo Vines andexplored the music of composers that he favoured,Bach, Mozart, Satie and Stravinsky, and came to beassociated with the group of friends known as Les Six,Honegger, Milhaud, Auric, Tailleferre and Durey,associates of Jean Cocteau, diverse in talent but allinfluenced to some extent by the eccentric andinnovative Erik Satie. Poulenc's early chamber musicincluded a number of works for wind instruments, apreference continued throughout his career, the onlyexceptions being his violin sonata and cello sonata ofthe 1940s. The Sextet for piano and wind quintet waswritten in 1932 and first performed the following year.
It remained unpublished, and in 1939 Poulenc revisedit, completing the task as he awaited conscription. It hadits first performance in Paris in December 1940.
Poulenc's own career as a performer had led, in 1935, toa partnership with the singer Pierre Bernac, and he tookpart in a recording of the Sextet during a tour ofAmerica in 1960. In an earlier recording, in 1952, thepiano part had been played by the composer JeanFran?ºaix.
The Sextet opens with a vigorous flourish, propelledforward by its own energy, leading to a passage oflyrical melancholy introduced by the bassoon. There isa return to the pace and panache of the opening, beforethe movement comes to an end. The second movement,marked Andantino, has the descriptive titleDivertissement, with a rapider section at its centre. Theouter sections have an unmistakably French air ofpoignant lyricism, set off by the playful gaiety at itsheart. The mood changes at once as the final rondosurges forward, the form allowing opportunities for thecheerful display of each of the instruments, modified inthe last part of the movement.
A winner of the Prix de Rome at the ParisConservatoire, Jacques Ibert was for a number of yearsdirector of the French Academy in Rome. Versatile andprolific, he contributed as a composer to many genres ofmusic, operas, ballets, film scores, orchestral works,songs and chamber music. In common with hiscontemporary compatriots he was able to writeidiomatically and skilfully for wind instruments, afacility demonstrated in his early Wind Quartet,originally for two flutes, clarinet and bassoon, amongother works.
Ibert's Trois pi?¿ces br?¿ves (Three Short Pieces),scored for wind quintet, were written in 1930. After abrief introduction the oboe leads into a jig, with acontrasting central section, resuming its dance rhythmto hurry to a close. There is a characteristicallyevocative opening to the Andante, a duet for flute andclarinet, before the final muted sustained note of thehorn, and the last bars in which the other instrumentsjoin. Six introductory bars lead to the Allegroscherzando of the third piece, with its clarinet melody,capped by the flute, which leads the way to a Vivo, thetwo principal thematic elements returning inrecapitulation.
Born into a Jewish family in the southern Frenchcity of Aix-en-Provence, Darius Milhaud trained at theParis Conservatoire, originally as a violinist, beforeturning to composition. He enjoyed a close associationwith the diplomat-poet Paul Claudel, accompanyinghim to Brazil as secretary when the latter was appointedminister at the French delegation in Rio de Janeiro.
Returning to Paris in 1918, he was one of Les Six, unitedby friendship rather than by a doctrinaire approach tocomposition. Milhaud spent the war years in America,where he taught, combining his work there withteaching at the Paris Conservatoire after the war, inspite of increasing ill-health. He spent his final years inGeneva, where he died in 1974. He was amazinglyprolific as a composer, with a long list of works for thestage and for the cinema, symphonies, concertos,chamber music, songs and choral music. His last work,a Wind Quintet, is listed as Opus 443. His suite for windquintet, La Cheminee du roi Rene (The Chimney ofKing Rene) was drawn from collaboration with RogerDesormi?¿res and Honegger on the score for a film,Cavalcade d'amour, which consisted of three episodesof love at different periods of history, the Middle Ages,1830 and 1930. Milhaud chose the first with scenesevoking the cours d'amour of the fifteenth-centuryKing Rene, Count of Provence and titular King ofNaples, a ruler fondly remembered, who introduced themuscatel grape to the region. His Cheminee was asheltered spot that he favoured, now one of the mainstreets of Aix.
Milhaud reflects the style of Stravinsky's neoclassicalPulcinella in his suite, which opens withCort?¿ge, a procession. The flute, accompanied by theclarinet, starts the lilting morning serenade, Aubade,followed by Jongleurs with its oboe melody. LaMaousinglade is the name of the quarter whereMilhaud's family lived, and Joutes sur l'arc (Jousts onthe Arc) recalls the jousts on the River Arc near Aix.
Chasse ?á Valabre (Hunting at Valabre) turns to theKing's hunting-party by the castle of Valabre, the flutenow replaced by a piccolo. The suite ends, as night falls,in the gentle nostalgia of Madrigal-Nocturne.
Jean Fran?ºaix represents a younger generation ofFrench composers. A piano pupil of Isidore Philippe atthe Paris Conservatoire, he studied compositionprivately with Nadia Boulanger, whose support helpedthe promotion of his music. He shares with Les Six wit,facility and lightness of touch, coupled with assuredtechnique, all essentially French musical characteristics,together with great versatility. His compositions includeoperas, ballets, songs and choral works, orchestralmusic and a wide variety of chamber music, in whichwind instruments play a large part. His Wind QuintetNo. 1 was written in 1948 and dedicated to theOrchestre National de Paris Wind Quintet.
The Quintet opens with an Andante tranquillointroduction, dominated by the angular melodic line ofthe French horn, which provides the rapidly repeatednotes that bring in the spirited Allegro assai, with itscascading chromatic runs and sharply marked melodies.
The second movement is in the form of a scherzo,framing a trio section in which the clarinet assumesinitial prominence. The coda, after the return of thescherzo, recalls elements of the trio. The thirdmovement is in the form of a theme and variations.
After a short introduction, the F sharp minor theme isentrusted first to the oboe. The flute initially treats thematerial in the first variation. The clarinet leads thesecond version of the theme, now in F sharp major andmarked Andantino con moto, going on to provide arunning accompaniment to the poignant flute melodicline of the following minor Lento variation. The livelysyncopations of the major key fourth variation lead tothe gentler minor Andante. The mood changes at oncewith the rapid accompanying arpeggios of the flute andclarinet to the oboe and horn melody in the Tempo dimarcia francese, interrupted by a bizarre treatment ofthe principal motif of the movement, at first by thebassoon, soon joined by the other instruments. Themusic hurries forward to a final cuivre passage for thehorn alone, a falling thir