Spiritus Winds

Nielsen & Maslanka

Spiritus Winds returns the Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center in Stanwood!

Sunday, February 18, 2018 • 2:00 p.m.
Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center (27130 102nd Ave NW, Stanwood)
Suggested donation $15 (youth admitted free of charge)


Amy Beach (1867–1944)
Pastorale, Op. 151

Eugène Bozza (1905–1991)
Trois pièces pour une musique de nuit

Carl Nielsen (1865–1931)
Wind Quintet, Op. 43


David Maslanka (1943–2017)
Quintet for Winds No. 3

About the Music

Scandinavian composer Carl Nielsen’s wind quintet, called by one expert “the subtlest and finest ever written,” concludes with a theme-and-variations treatment of Min Jesus, lad min Hjerte få, a chorale tune Nielsen had written in 1914, while American composer David Maslanka incorporated three chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach into his third wind quintet. The program opens with a brief Pastorale by Amy Beach (celebrating the 150th anniversary of her birth) and a tuneful wind quartet by Eugène Bozza.

Program Notes

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 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 24 wind quintets around 1811, publishing them in four annual groups of six beginning in 1820. Franz Danzi followed with nine of his own, 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. The first true masterpiece written for the ensemble did not arrive, however, until the early 20th century, when Danish composer Carl Nielsen wrote the work you will hear on the first half of this afternoon’s concert.

Nielsen’s creation spurred other prominent composers, including Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg, 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 ensemble over the past 100 years. This concert closes with the third wind quintet by American composer David Maslanka, written in 1999. If Nielsen’s work is the first great wind quintet of the 20th century, Maslanka’s may come to be regarded as the last such masterpiece, one of four quintets he composed during his lifetime.

This concert opens with the only piece for wind quintet by Amy Beach, in honor of the 150th anniversary of her birth. “No major American orchestras have programmed her works this season,” William Robin recently noted in The New York Times, in spite of the quality of her music and her importance in U.S. musical history. “Indeed, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the last time the Boston Symphony performed one of her orchestral works in full.”

Amy Beach
Pastorale, Op. 151

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach was born in Henniker, New Hampshire on September 5, 1867, and died in New York City on December 27, 1944. She composed this work June 16–18, 1942, reworking material originally written in 1921.

A prodigy on the piano who began writing waltzes at age four, Amy Cheney grew up in Boston, relegated to self-study for her compositional training due to the prevailing theory among the male-dominated musical establishment that women were capable only of interpreting music, not creating it. “I copied and memorized whole scores of symphonies, she told Musical America in 1918. “It was like a medical student’s dissection.” At age 18 she withdrew from concertizing in public after marrying a physician, Dr. Henry H. A. Beach. “It was he more than any one else who encouraged my interest upon the field of musical composition in the larger forms,” she wrote. “It was pioneer work, at least for this country, for a woman to do.”

These larger forms included a Mass in E♭ and a Symphony in E minor (“Gaelic”), premiered by the Boston Symphony in 1896 to widespread acclaim. She was soon welcomed into the “Boston school” of composers that included John Knowles Paine and George Whitefield Chadwick. After the death of her husband in 1910, she spent four years in Europe, where she began performing in public again. In 1921, Beach spent her first summer at the MacDowell Colony (an artists’ retreat) in New Hampshire, where she would travel each summer for the next two decades. On July 19, 1921, during her first stay, she composed a Pastorale in D major for flute, cello and piano, reworking it shortly thereafter for cello and organ; both versions remained unpublished during her lifetime.

A heart attack in 1940 brought Beach’s performing career to a close. During her final visit to the MacDowell colony in the summer of 1941, she wrote her only work for wind quintet (her last piece of chamber music and her penultimate published composition), based on — but not a mere reorchestration of — her 1921 Pastorale.

As musicologist (and Beach biographer) Adrienne Fried Block notes, the quintet “returns to a conservative, diatonic style, bypassing the more [modernist approach] she evolved beginning with [her] string quartet,” begun in 1921. “Its A–B–A form … is created not by contrasting material” but rather “by a change of key from G major to E♭, accompanied by an expansion of both the range and the dynamic level.”

Eugène Bozza
Trois pièces pour une musique de nuit

Bozza was born in Nice on April 4, 1905, and died in Valenciennes, France on September 28, 1991. He composed this quartet for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon in 1954.

The son of an Italian father and a French mother, Eugène Bozza grew up in Rome, where he studied violin and piano before enrolling at the Paris Conservatoire in 1922. After several years earning a living as a violinist, he returned to the Conservatoire in 1930 (to study conducting) and again in 1932 (as a composition student). He spent four years in Italy after winning the Grand prix de Rome, and in 1939 became conductor of the Opéra comique in Paris. In 1950, he moved 200 km north to Valenciennes, serving as director of the École national de musique for 25 years.

Although he created music in a variety of genres, Bozza is known almost exclusively for his compositions for woodwind and brass instruments. These include four pieces for wind quintet, plus three more for woodwind quartet. The first of the quartets, Troispièces pour une musique de nuit, dates from his early years at Valenciennes (one of his most prolific periods). In the opening Andantino, flute, oboe and clarinet trade melodic phrases over an arpeggiated bassoon accompaniment. The energetic central movement, a Beethoven-style scherzo-with-trio imbued with a light Gallic touch, leads to a modal finale.

Carl Nielsen
Quintet, Op. 43

Nielsen was born in Sortelung, Denmark, on June 9, 1865, and died in Copenhagen on October 3, 1931. He composed this quintet between February 3 and April 24, 1922. The Copenhagen Wind Quintet premiered the work at Copenhagen’s Odd Fellow Palæ on October 9 of that year.

The seventh of 12 children, Carl Nielsen grew up in relative poverty on the island of Funen. After service in a military band and studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, he labored for 16 years in the second-violin section of the house orchestra at the Royal Danish Theater as a means of supporting his family while pursuing his first love, composing.

One evening in the spring of 1921, Nielsen visited a pianist friend who happened to be rehearsing a piano reduction of the Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon attributed to Mozart. Familiar with the wind players and taken by the music they were playing, he promised to write a quintet for them and their flutist.

After completing and premiering his Symphony No. 5, Nielsen began writing the quintet in Gothenburg (Sweden) while fulfilling a conducting engagement. “I have been very preoccupied with a large, new, difficult composition,” he wrote on February 20. “The externals are very modest, only five winds, but the technicalities are for that very reason all the more difficult and this spurred me on in a remarkable way.” Oboist Svend Felumb recalled: “We watched at a close distance how he wrote the music and before it dried on the paper, we were already practicing to play it, with Nielsen making changes for us.”

The composer heard a private performance on April 30, but the following month suffered a heart attack. At the public premiere (after he had regained some measure of his health), the audience responded enthusiastically. One critic praised the work’s “rhythmical graciousness and exuberant humor” while another called it“a very important work from beginning to end with the unmistakable stamp of classicism: a complete clarity of form and weight of spirit. And from first to last with the personal mark of Carl Nielsen.”

The opening movement is in traditional sonata form, with a (repeated) exposition followed by a development and recapitulation, while the second is a Classically styled minuet-with-trio. The finale consists of a set of variations on a hymn (Min Jesus, lad mit Hjerte faa, “My Jesus, let my heart receive”) Nielsen had composed in 1914. A dramatic prelude (featuring English horn) leads to a simple statement of the chorale tune (in 3/4 time), followed by eleven increasingly imaginative variations for various combinations of the five instruments (in which Nielsen mimics the personalities of the men for whom he wrote the work). The work concludes with a final statement of the chorale, now in 4/4.

David Maslanka
Quintet for Winds No. 3

Maslanka was born August 30, 1943, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and died on August 7, 2017, in Missoula, Montana. The Missouri Quintet premiered this work on March 14, 2000, in Columbia, Missouri.

David Maslanka began playing clarinet at age nine. He received degrees from Oberlin College, where he studied 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. Until his death last summer, Maslanka stood unchallenged as the world’s preeminent 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 instruments and piano.

When asked what inspired him to write music, Maslanka once responded, “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.”

About his third wind quintet, the composer stated: “I have developed an abiding interest in the Bach chorales, singing and playing them daily as warm-up for my composing time, and making my own four-part settings in the old style. The chorales now regularly find their way into my music, and have become a significant ‘leaping off’ point for [my own music].”

The quintet’s first movement “opens with the chorale Ihr Gestim ihr hohlen Lufte (‘Your stars, your cavernous sky’). The movement is a ‘continuous play’ kind of piece. After the chorale there is a sharply contrasting first theme, which works its way over time into a second theme, and this becomes the subject of a short and very pushy set of variations. There is a restatement of the first theme, and the movement ends with a blunt presentation of a new chorale: Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht (‘Christ, you are day and light’).

“In the second movement, the chorale Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist (‘Take courage, my weak spirit’) serves as a backdrop for an impassioned flute soliloquy. This is an intimate and personal music. The movement closes with a simple and uninterrupted statement of the chorale.

“The third movement is exceptionally demanding for the performers because of its speed and length. It is something of a sonata form. However, the second theme, which sounds like a chorale melody, becomes the subject of a set of variations. The movement finishes with a partial recapitulation and an extended coda.”