A concert of music for piano and wind quintet.
Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871–1942)
Eugène Bozza (1905–1991)
Trois pièces pour une musique de nuit
Antonín Reicha (1770–1836)
Quintet in D major, Op. 91, No. 3
Three Transformations (after Poulenc)
Francis Poulenc (1943–2017)
Alexander Zemlinsky studied composition at the Vienna Conservatory with Johann Fuchs and Anton Bruckner. Johannes Brahms was an early champion of his music. Zemlinsky’s own pupils included Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, and he counted Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg among his colleagues and friends. In 1911 he moved to Prague, serving as music director of the Deutsches Landestheater. He lived in Berlin from 1927 until 1933, returning to Vienna when Hitler rose to power. After the Anschluss, Zemlinsky fled Austria, arriving in New York in December 1938. Although he began working on an opera shortly thereafter, failing health precluded him from composing much aside from two small-scale chamber works, including this playful Humorekse.
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 Op ´ era 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. Trois pièces 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.
Antonín Reicha became an accomplished flutist at a young age. When his uncle began conducting a court orchestra in Bonn, Reicha followed him there, playing alongside a violist born the same year as he, one Ludwig van Beethoven. Although they remained in touch the rest of their lives, Beethoven settled in Vienna and in 1808 Reicha landed in Paris, where he taught at the Conservatoire (his pupils included Liszt, Gounod, Berlioz and Franck). Reicha composed the first of his wind quintets around 1811, publishing them in four annual groups of six beginning in 1820. “At that time, there was a dearth not only of good classic music but of any good music at all for wind instruments,” Reicha wrote in his memoirs, “simply because the composers knew little of their technique.” His first six quintets were played far and wide. “Encouraged by the success of these performances I wrote 18 more, bringing the number to 24. They created a sensation throughout Europe.”
The quintet heard this afternoon “is one of the lighter and more concise examples” that Reicha produced, wrote Felix Skrowonek, “with a rather Italianate touch noticeable in the outer movements. The optimistic chorale that opens the quintet yields to an extended f1ute candenza, leading in turn to the spirited 6/8 main body of the movement. The slow movement, curiously placed in E♭ major, is a solid anthem, the restatements of which are separated first by a lyric clarinet solo and later by a noble reprise on the horn.
“Reicha’s minuets are in reality scherzi for the most part, and always motivically inventive. Here, a rapid rising-fourth motive is passed from one instrument to the next, and after due elaboration is inverted canonically in the trio section. The finale is marked by a rapid-fire stuttering motive from the very beginning, with this too subject to fugal-entry treatment with only momentary sections of relaxation. The movement builds to a heated climax with a headlong flute cadenza threatening to get out of control before being brought to heel by a brusque horn commentary, with the
following coda bringing the work to a happy ending.”
Named by The Economist as one of Twenty Living Polymaths, Stephen Hough combines a distinguished career as a pianist with those of composer and writer. He wrote “these three transcriptions as a result of being invited by the 2006 Salzburg Festival to give a recital with a Mozart/contemporary theme. Not being able to find anything suitable with which to add a little modern twist, I thought I would compose something myself. Poulenc and Mozart seem to have little in common at first sight, but perhaps their similar sense of humor, with its naughty, childlike quality, as well as a love for melody and the human voice, gives them a certain kinship.
“The Minuet and Klavierstück are very early piano pieces of the utmost simplicity—no chords, merely two independent lines, one in each small-spanned hand. I have kept the childlike melodies exactly as in the original, but allowed the harmonies to wander down the most adult paths. The late song Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge is a precious shaving from the workbench of the third movement of Mozart’s
Piano Concerto in B♭ major, K. 595.”
Largely self-taught as a composer, Francis Poulenc professed his musical “gods” to be “Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Chopin, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky. You may say, ‘What a concoction!’ But that’s how I like music: taking my models everywhere, from what pleases me.” He composed this sextet in 1931 and 1932 as “an homage to the wind instruments which I have loved from the moment I began composing,” but withdrew the work after a 1933 performance. “There were some good ideas in it but the whole thing was badly put together,” he told Nadia Boulanger. “With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly.” Indeed, in its final form it represents the zenith of Poulenc’s numerous compositions involving winds, and arguably remains the single greatest work for this combination of in-
The first movement begins energetically, the pace quickening until a bassoon candeza introduces a slower, lyrical central episode, followed by a return of the opening material. In contrast, the Divertissment follows a slow-fast-slow pattern, with an elegant Mozartean aria bookending a playful French march. The rondo finale combines the sound-world of a Parisian music hall (shades of Offenbach, whose quadrilles Poulenc enjoyed) with some metrical complexity before another bassoon cadenza leads to a wistful coda.