Spiritus Winds returns the Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center in Stanwood!
Franz Joseph Haydn[?]/arr. Harold Perry
Divertimento No. 1 in B♭ major, Hob. II:46
Vincent Persichetti (1915–1987)
Pastoral, Op. 21
Jean Françaix (1912–1997)
Quatuor à vent
Giya Kancheli (*1935)
Endre Szervánszky (1911–1977)
Wind Quintet No. 1
About the Music
Franz Joseph Haydn/arr. Harold Perry
Divertimento No. 1 in B♭ major
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.
Around 1870, Carl Ferdinand Pohl, librarian of the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna, showed Johannes Brahms a Feldparthie (a divertimento for wind instruments designed to be played outdoors) he believed to be the work of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809). Brahms jotted down the brief slow movement, later using it as the basis for his Variations on a Theme of Haydn, which has become a staple of the symphonic repertoire.
The renowned Haydn authority H.C. Robbins Landon strongly disputed Haydn’s authorship of the divertimento, which the music publisher Breitkopf & Härtel had issued as part of a set of six such works under Haydn’s name between 1782 and 1784. Robbins Landon suggested (without evidence) they were the work of Ignaz Pleyel (1757–1839), a Haydn pupil — although Pleyel scholars have argued the music resembles the work of Pleyel even less than it does that of Haydn. Whether Breitkopf attributed these works to Haydn due to a genuine misunderstanding or out of a desire to trade on Haydn’s fame (a common practice at the time) remains a mystery.
These six divertimenti rarely grace the concert stage today — at least in their original instrumentation: the one admired by Brahms required two oboes, two horns, three bassoons and a serpent (an ancient wind instrument with a brass mouthpiece but fingerholes like a woodwind). Wind quintets, however, have been regularly playing transcriptions of this divertimento for decades, including the one heard this afternoon, made in 1942 by British arranger and light-music composer Harold Perry.
The divertimento’s spirited opening gives way to a slow movement (the one that fascinated Brahms) bearing the subtitle Chorale St. Antoni — suggesting that it may have been based on a pre-existing hymn tune. This chorale theme exhibits melodic similarities to the other three movements, harkening back to the “variation suite,’ a form consisting of thematically related dance-like movements in a common key that flourished in Germany during the early Baroque era. A minuet with trio and a jolly rondo finale conclude the work.
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).
Quatuor à vents
Françaix was born May 3, 1912, in Le Mans and died in Paris on September 25, 1997. He began composing this quartet for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon in 1933. Members of the Quintette à vent de Paris, to whom the work is dedicated, gave the first complete performance in Paris on April 26, 1936.
Born and raised in Le Mans, where his father served as director of the Conservatoire and his mother taught singing, Jean Françaix exhibited musical talents very early in life: he began composing at age six. By 10, his first published work drew the attention of noted teacher Nadia Boulanger, with whom he began to study at the Paris Conservatoire while simultaneously developing his talents as a pianist.
Françaix’s Wind Quartet dates from his early adulthood. He began writing the work for members of the wind faculty at the Le Mans Conservatoire, later explaining why he opted for a quartet instead of the more common wind quintet: “As the horn tutor who was there at the time was never quite sure what sound would emerge from his instrument — his fame was as a specialist in the art of playing several notes at the same time — I had decided not to ‘rouse the volcano,’ and wrote a quartet without horn which would be less likely to produce disconcerting surprises.”
The quartet nevertheless includes all sorts of harmonic, dynamic and rhythmic surprises that would become hallmarks of Françaix’s witty compositional style. “Writing for this instrumental combination is not especially easy. Whereas a string quartet consists of four evenly matched players, a wind quartet combines very different characters,” he commented. “To bring these disparate elements together, the composer needs great diplomatic skill — a fusion of Machiavelli and magic.” Françaix met these challenges with aplomb and would go on to produce numerous concertos and chamber music works involving wind instruments.
The Wind Quartet follows the Classical model: an opening movement based on the traditional sonata form followed by a slow movement, a scherzo with trio and brisk finale.
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, subsequently 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 simple melodic motives with lush 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 fix the most important themes and the overall dramaturgical plan, but then develop note-by-note a musical discourse which should activate the listener’s fantasy, and if possible transmit a sensation of beauty, durability and light flowing from above — indeed it should suggest the feeling of a religiosity in the broadest sense, which I myself find in all music that is dear to me. I have the feeling that I am filling in a space which has been left by people who lived centuries ago and did not manage to realize all their goals.”
While Kancheli’s catalog lists a 1961 wind quintet among his earliest compositions (now apparently withdrawn), this work for the same ensemble — composed a half-century later — represents a major addition to the wind quintet repertoire. Spiritus Winds presented what we believe to have been the first North American performance of the work earlier this year.
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 the first.
— Jeff Eldridge