Spiritus Winds

Five for Five

A free concert featuring five diverse works for wind quintet.

Saturday, April 9, 2016 • 7:30 p.m.
Trinity Lutheran Church (6215 196th St SW, Lynnwood)
free admission


Franz Danzi (1763–1826)
Quintet in B♭ major, Op. 56, No. 1

Vincent Persichetti (1915–1987)
Pastoral, Op. 21

Endre Szervánszky (1911–1977)
Wind Quintet No. 1


Giya Kancheli (*1935)
Wind Quintet

David Maslanka (*1943)
Quintet for Winds No. 4

About the Music

Chamber music for groupings of woodwinds and horns has its origins in the harmonie ensemble (generally pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, sometimes augmented by a string bass or contrabassoon). Typically intended as background music for outdoor events, the repertoire for these small wind bands often included arrangements of popular opera and ballet music alongside original works variously dubbed serenades, divertimenti, cassations and partitas (usually consisting of a longer opening movement followed by several short dance movements). Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven—alongside numerous now-obscure contemporaries—wrote music for these ensembles, although only Mozart (in his three magnificent wind serenades) truly transcended the utilitarian origins of the harmonie genre: “Out of doors it sounded better than strings,” commented one Beethoven scholar; “indoors it could hold its own against the clatter of dishes.”

The first known music for the modern wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon) dates from around 1802, a set of Trois Quintetti Concertans written by the prolific Italian-born Giuseppe Maria Cambini, who lived in Paris for at least a quarter century (including the years 1773–1810). Czech-born Antonín Reicha (1770–1836), who moved to Paris in 1808, composed the first of his 24 wind quintets around 1811, publishing them in four annual groups of six beginning in 1820. Franz Danzi followed with nine quintets of his own (the first of which opens this evening’s concert), after which the medium fell out of favor for half a century.

French flutist Paul Taffanel composed a highly regarded wind quintet in 1876, founding the Société de musique de chambre pour instruments à vent three years later to promote the creation and performance of chamber music for wind instruments, including works for wind quintet. By the early 20th century, major composers such as Carl Nielsen, Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg began to write music for the ensemble. These works, along with Samuel Barber’s Summer Music and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Quinteto em forma de chôros, rank among the finest chamber music composed for any type of ensemble over the past 100 years.

Franz Danzi
Quintet in B♭ major, Op. 56, No. 1

Danzi was born in Schwetzingen, Germany on June 15, 1763, and died in Karlsruhe on April 13, 1826.

Franz Danzi initially followed in the footsteps of his Italian-born father, Innocenzo Danzi, a cellist in the court orchestra at Mannheim, which Franz joined at age 15. When the court moved to Munich, Franz remained in Mannheim until 1778, when he succeeded his father as cellist in the Munich court orchestra. Turning to composition, he produced a great deal of chamber music and orchestral works, as well as a number of operas. He later became Kapellmeister in Stuttgart, where he befriended a young Carl Maria von Weber, and in 1812 moved to Karlsruhe, where he remained until his death.

Around 1820, Danzi produced the first of his nine wind quintets, following the example of Antonín Reicha, to whom Danzi dedicated the first of three sets of quintets, his Op. 56, published in 1821. (The dedication to Reicha appeared on the cover page in larger type than Danzi’s own name, likely a ploy to boost sales.) The second and third sets, Op. 67 and Op. 68, appeared in 1824.

Born midway between Mozart and Beethoven (and dying just a year before the latter), Danzi generally looks backward toward Mozart in these quintets (and much of his other music) rather than embracing the revolutionary nature of Beethoven’s mature output. Reicha, by contrast, had ventured into more experimental territory in some of his 24 quintets, often emphasizing opportunities for virtuoso displays by the performers. Danzi’s contributions to the genre place a higher priority on pleasant melodies within a firmly established compositional framework. Each of his nine quintets contains four movements: the first in sonata form, followed by a song-like second movement, a minuet with trio, and a rondo finale.

Vincent Persichetti
Pastoral, Op. 21

Vincent Ludwig Persichetti was born June 6, 1915, in Philadelphia, where he died on August 14, 1987. This work received its first performance at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute on April 20, 1945.

The son of an Italian father and German mother, Vincent Persichetti enrolled in the Combs College of Music in Philadelphia at age five, studying composition with Russell King Miller. He later studied conducting with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute and piano with Olga Samaroff at the Philadelphia Conservatory. Unlike near-contemporaries Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and David Diamond (all of whom studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger), Persichetti was among the first American composers taught completely in the U.S., although he was quick to credit Franz Joseph Haydn and Robert Schumann as major influences.

Rejecting most of his early compositions as juvenilia, Persichetti labeled as his Op. 1 a serenade for 10 wind instruments (wind quintet plus brass quintet) written at age 14. The composer described the next 10 years (1929–1939) as his “silent decade”: while he “wrote reams of aggressively adolescent, unsophisticated music,” he discarded it all as being too derivative of Brahms, Sibelius, Ravel and others.

The Pastoral dates from the ensuing period during which Persichetti began to discover his compositional voice (although one might detect echoes of Copland in the work’s central episode). Barry Kilpatrick, writing in the American Record Guide, perceived “a wide-open-spaces sound with freely flowing melodies, folk tunes, and a pleasant mixture of consonant and dissonant harmonies in a free tonal scheme.” Completed in January 1943, the Pastoral received its premiere on Philadelphia’s WCAU-FM, performed by a group of Curtis students (including Laila Storch, later a longtime oboe professor at the University of Washington and member of the Soni Ventorum wind quintet).

Endre Szervánszky
Wind Quintet No. 1

Szervánszky was born December 27, 1911, in what is now Budapest, where he died on June 25, 1977. He composed his first wind quintet in 1953.

Endre Szervánszky belongs to a group of Hungarian composers who bridged the generations dominated by Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály on one side, and György Ligeti and György Kurtag on the other. He began playing clarinet in 1922, studying at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, then played in various orchestras before returning to the Academy to study composition during the early 1930s. After working as a teacher and radio orchestrator, in 1948 he accepted a post as professor of composition at the Academy, a position he held for the remainder of his life.

Szervánszky first drew notice with his String Quartet No. 1 of 1938. A review of a 1943 performance called it “by far the best, most original, forceful and mature creation of contemporary Hungarian chamber music,” while Ligeti deemed his older colleague “perhaps the sole among the new composers in whom Bartók’s overheated, enchanted world lives.” Szervánszky’s works from the years 1945–1954, according to music critic Ferenc Halmy, “all … show a markedly Hungarian style based on folk music.” These include a 1947 serenade for string orchestra, a 1950 serenade for clarinet and orchestra, a 1954 Concerto for Orchestra, and a flute concerto written for Zoltán Jeney.

In 1947 Jeney had founded the Budapest Wind Quintet, which resulted in a number of his countrymen writing music for the ensemble. Szervánszky composed his first wind quintet for this group near the end of his folk-music decade. A second quintet followed in 1957, by which time he had shifted his compositional style to embrace avant-garde techniques, including serialism. Works from this late period include a second string quartet, Six Pieces for Orchestra, Variations for Orchestra and a clarinet concerto.

Szervánszky’s Wind Quintet No. 1 opens with a four-bar slow introduction, after which the oboe announces the principal theme, marked by a short–long sixteenth–dotted-eighth rhythm common in Hungarian music (and modeled after the tendency to accent the first syllable in the Hungarian language). In the second movement, a spirited duple-meter peasant dance bookends a lyrical triple-meter trio section. The slow third movement embodies the characteristic in Szervánszky’s music that John S. Weissmann described as “an impetuous desire to convey a deeply felt experience.” The work closes with another peasant dance, this one even more furious than first.

Giya Kancheli
Wind Quintet (2013)

Kancheli was born August 10, 1935, in Tbilisi, Georgia. He currently resides in Antwerp, Belgium. Completed in 2013, this quintet resulted from a commission by the 2014 ARD Munich International Music Competition, where it was a required work. The quintet received its official public premiere several weeks later, on November 4, 2014, at the Tbilisi Wind Festival.

“The most surprising aspect of Kancheli’s music,” Russian composer Alfred Schnittke once remarked, “is this curious gift of his of making time seem as though it’s suspended. With the very first note we break free from real, periodically structured time and experience it as something infinite, gliding past us like a cloud. We glide over centuries as though in an aircraft with no sense of speed.”

Kancheli’s works—especially those created after he moved to Berlin in 1991, relocating to Belgium in 1995—are characterized not only by exceedingly slow tempos that help create this suspension of time, but also by extreme and sudden dynamic contrasts, dramatically lengthy pauses, and an unabashedly tonal idiom. “I express my thoughts in an extremely simple musical language,” he wrote in 1998. “And I hope that listeners will be touched by my compositions and not confuse my deliberate simplicity with what I consider the most dangerous thing—the feeling of indifference.” Kancheli often combines his simple melodic motives with lush, jazz-like harmonies. “My love affair with music started not with Bach and Schubert, but with Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington,” he told an interviewer in 2003. “I fell inadvertently and forever in love with jazz.”

While Kancheli’s catalog lists a 1961 wind quintet among his earliest compositions, this work for the same ensemble—composed a half-century later—represents a major addition to the wind quintet repertoire. We are delighted to present what may very well be its first North American performance this evening.

David Maslanka
Quintet for Winds No. 4

Maslanka was born August 30, 1943, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Florida Wind Quintet premiered this work in Sarasota on March 29, 2008.

David Maslanka began playing clarinet at age nine. He holds degrees from Oberlin College, where he began studying composition with Joseph Wood, and Michigan State University, where his principal teacher was H. Owen Reed. After two decades of teaching in New York, he moved to Missoula, working there as a “freelance composer” for more than 25 years.

Maslanka stands unchallenged as the world’s preeminent living composer of music for wind ensemble—including seven symphonies, 15 concertos, a Mass, and many other works—in addition to a variety of compositions for orchestra and for chorus. His chamber music includes four wind quintets, five saxophone quartets and many works for solo instrument and piano.

When asked what inspires him to write music, Maslanka responds, “I can say that the need to compose is always with me. I can’t say that I am directly inspired by any one thing … . All of experience is the filter through which the impulse to compose makes its way. That impulse comes from a place well beyond my conscious mind. I think of it as universal mind. This is not something apart from us but the very core of who we are. I am moved to compose when people ask me for music. It is my work to find the flow from universal mind that meets the need of the people asking for music. I guess that that can be called inspiration.”

David Maslanka completed the first of his (to date) four wind quintets in New York during January 1984. A second, written in 1986 for the Manhattan Wind Quintet, debuted in January 1987 at New York City’s Weill Recital Hall. The Missouri Quintet commissioned the third quintet (strongly influenced by the chorales of J.S. Bach), premiering it on March 14, 2000, in Columbia, Missouri. After the Florida Wind Quintet, a resident ensemble of the Florida West Coast Symphony, performed these three works between 2003 and 2005, the FWCS commissioned Maslanka to compose a fourth quintet for the group.

“After all the innovations of the past century—the explosion of forms, methods and media—Quintet No. 4 will seem to be radically conservative,” writes Maslanka about his most recent composition for wind quintet. “It is a compact 20-minute work in three movements and its main historical reference is French wind music of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, especially that of Francis Poulenc.

“I love melody, and music that speaks plainly. The first movement … begins and ends with a very quiet and plaintive music, but the body of the movement is a hard trek through a challenging emotional space. The second movement is a brief lullaby, with solo oboe taking the lead, and with an utterly simple supporting web of colors and gentle rhythms in the other instruments. The fast and furious third movement is filled with good humor and enthusiasm.”

Jeff Eldridge