Spiritus Winds join pianist Maria Khavin for a concert presented by the Haller Lake Music Series, featuring Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds.
Jean Françaix (1912–1997)
Quatuor à vent
Darius Milhaud (1892–1974)
La cheminée du roi René, Op. 205
Endre Szervánszky (1911–1977)
Wind Quintet No. 1
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca from Années de pèlerinage Book II
Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849)
Waltz in A♭ Major, Op. 42
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756–1791)
Quintet in E♭ Major, K. 452
About the Music
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.
La Cheminée du Roi René
Milhaud was born in Marseille on September 4, 1892, and died in Geneva on June 22, 1974. He composed this music in France during 1939, subsequently rescoring it as a suite for wind quintet that debuted on March 5, 1941, at Mills College in Oak- land, California.
“For Milhaud, all roads led back to” Provence, wrote Christopher Palmer, “and no composer has captured its Mediterranean spirit in music more persuasively.” Milhaud grew up in Aix-en-Provence, where his family had lived for many generations. At age 17 he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire to study violin, soon switching to composition. A disciple of Erik Satie, he became identified as a member of “Les Six” (a group that also included composers Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Louis Durey and Germaine Tailleferre), although he would later complain that the French critic who coined the moniker “chose six names absolutely arbitrarily because we knew each other and we were pals and appeared on the same musical programs, no matter if our temperaments and personalities weren’t at all the same! Auric and Poulenc followed ideas of Cocteau, Honegger followed German Romanticism, and myself, Mediterranean lyricism!”
Milhaud’s compositional output varied from highly dissonant writing to works influenced by South American music (he served at the French embassy in Brazil during World War I) and jazz (which he experienced firsthand in Harlem during a 1922 visit to the United States). In the summer of 1940, with the Nazis invading France, the Jewish composer fled to America, landing in Oakland, California, where he began teaching composition at Mills College. After the war, Milhaud split his time between Mills and the Paris Conservatoire, all the while remaining highly prolific in a variety of genres (his last composition, Op. 443, was a work for wind quintet).
Over the course of his long career, Milhaud composed music for 25 films, beginning with Jean Renoir’s 1933 adaptation of Madame Bovary. In 1939, director Raymond Bernard approached Milhaud, Honegger and conductor Roger Désormière to score Cavalcade d’amour, a film presenting three tales of love set in the Middle Ages, 1830 and 1930. Milhaud opted to score the first segment, in which a group of entertainers arrives at a castle where a young woman being forced into marriage falls for one of the traveling thespians. The story’s locale (Milhaud’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence during the reign of King René d’Anjou) no doubt attracted the composer to the project.
Not long after settling in the United States, Milhaud recast his music from the film as a suite for wind quintet, titling it La Cheminée du Roi René. Although often translated as “chimney” or “fireplace,” the word cheminée likely comes from the verb cheminer (“to walk”), as evidenced by the opening Cortège (a ceremonial procession). Next comes an Aubade (“morning song”), followed by exploits of jugglers and acrobats from the troupe of entertainers in Jongleurs. La Maousinglade (meaning “badly arranged”) apparently refers to the region in Provence where Milhaud’s home was situated, while Joutes sur l’Arc (“Jousts on the Arc”) references the River Arc, near Aix-en-Provence. Chasse à Valabre evokes a hunting party at Valabre Castle, while the suite concludes with a poignant Madrigal-Nocturne.
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