TRIO for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano (1990)
QUINTET in F Major for
Piano, Clarinet, Violin, Viola and Cello (1905)
Pre-Concert Conversation: A presentation about the composers will be held one-half hour prior to the Chicago and Evanston concerts. Domitille Renaud Nicolescou, who teaches French at Alliance Française and New Trier Extension, will lead the presentation in French, with English translation.
TRIO for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano (1990)
Jean Françaix (1912-1997)
Unlike Théodore Dubois, Jean Françaix was born into a very musical family. His mother was a voice teacher and his father was a composer, pianist, musicologist, as well as the director of the Le Mans Conservatory. After Maurice Ravel became acquainted with the young Françaix he wrote to his parents: “Among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity: you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility wither.” Under his parent’s guidance Françaix was directed to the Paris Conservatory where he studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and piano performance with Isadore Philipp. He won a premier prix for piano performance in 1930.
Over the course of his lifetime, Françaix wrote more than 200 compositions in many different genres, but instrumental music occupied his main creative interests. He was a very gifted piano performer and his love for that instrument, along with the natural ability he had for playing it, was transferred into all the works he wrote that included the instrument. Consequently, the piano invariably became a featured instrument in all his symphonic and chamber music output. This stylistic feature will be evident in today’s performance of his Trio.
Another stylistic feature of Françaix’ music is the sense of humor that he managed to instill in the majority of his compositions. While his works could be quite challenging musically and technically for performers, he never seemed to forget that his primary goal was to give pleasure to his listeners. He wrote music in well-established genres, such as the concerto, symphony, and cantata, and in this way he established a solid position as a 20th-century neo-classical composer. He took pride in his music compositions by primarily relying on the proven resources of traditional acoustic instruments and avoided any attempt at avant-garde experimentation.
SONATA in A Major for Violin, Cello, and Piano, M. 8
César Franck (1822-1890)
Cesar Frank can be described as a quintessential late bloomer. This controversial quality of his can be demonstrated by the fact that his best compositions were written after the age of 53. Nothing was straight forward for Franck from the very start of his life. He was born in Liege, a French dominated Walloon district that later became part of Belgium. When he applied to study at the Paris Conservatory he was rejected because he was not a French citizen, but he was able to satisfy that requirement after staying one year in France. From the very start he seemed to be a precocious musician but his musical career and creative talents took a slow path to his eventual artistic maturity.
Franck did have some notable successes in his lifetime. Chief among them were his last three chamber music compositions-- including the Sonata we are listening to today--which are generally acknowledged as among the very best representatives of French late Romantic chamber music. His other notable success was as a teacher of composition. His method of teaching along and the serious attention he gave to his students’ compositional endeavors were not the norm for the French music establishment of the time. Paul Dukas and Gabriel Pierné were among his most notable students. The care and energy Franck invested in his student’s development was reciprocated by their continued admiration of the man and his music. This symbiotic teacher/student relationship is the bridge between Franck’s unrealized early promise as a young prodigy and the compositional successes he most definitely did achieve in later life.
His Sonata in A Major is divided into four movements, which is more characteristic of a sonata written in the German tradition than the more standard classically-oriented Viennese three-movement version. The movements of his sonata are: Allegretto moderato, Allegro, Recitativo-Fantasia, Allegretto poco mosso, giving the work a dramatic progression that could perhaps be best described as “not Classical.” At a time in music history when Brahms was espousing a return to the Classical traditions of Beethoven, and while Liszt and Wagner were going in the totally opposite direction to music of the future, Franck was looking for a middle ground. The artistic success of his Sonata in A Major lies in its individuality, its inherent passion, and the many technical challenges it offers the performers; these traits successfully unite to charm the listener. One of the greatest artistic achievements of this late bloomer was written at the age of 64, just four years before his death.
QUINTET in F Major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano (1905)
Théodore Dubois (1837-1924)
Although he was born to a family of very modest means, with no known musical tradition, Dubois distinguished himself at a very young age with outstanding keyboard skills on both the piano and the organ. After several years of private studies in Reims with the choirmaster of Reims Cathedral, he was accepted into the Paris Conservatory when he was 17. There he studied Harmony, Counterpoint, Organ, and Piano with the leading pedagogues of the day. His formal music studies culminated when he won the Prix de Rome in 1861. During his student days he was befriended and mentored by such distinguished composers as Ambroise Thomas and Jules Massenet.
Today, in his native France, Dubois is best remembered for his religious music, which continues to be played with some frequency. He developed his interest in writing strictly instrumental music after he helped found the Société National in 1871, at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. Over the following years he developed into a prolific composer of chamber music, writing over 200 pieces in this music genre. Although his huge compositional output of chamber music is of uneven quality, the Quintet, written in 1905, when he was 68, is acknowledged as one of his chamber music masterpieces.
Originally, Dubois scored the Quintet in F Major for oboe, but he also rescored it in versions to be played by either clarinet or second violin in place of the oboe. The piece begins with a joyful Allegro that radiates with optimistic energy. The second movement, Canzonetta, is like a clever dialogue or conversation among the five instruments. A highly expressive Adagio non troppo, full of beautiful sentiments follows. The finale, Allegro con fuoco, brings back some of the earlier themes from the previous movements in true cyclical fashion, but with the themes reworked in marvelous new guises. The work, which was long out of print, is thankfully now available once again for performance. It is an excellent example of late French Romanticism to be enjoyed by performers and audiences alike.
—notes prepared by Dr. David Pituch