Performance History

Arthur Zankel Music Center • Saratoga Springs, NY • February 16, 2013

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Zéphyros Winds

Arthur Zankel Music Center
Helen Filene Ladd Concert Hall

Saratoga Springs, NY

With Elizabeth Huntley, harp

February 16, 2013

Program:

Maurice Ravel Le Tombeau De Couperin for Wind Quintet and Harp

August Klughardt Wind Quintet in C Major, Op.79

Paul Pierné Suite pittoresque pour quintette à vent

Elliot Carter Esprit rude/esprit doux for flute and clarinet

Endre Szervánszky Fúvósötös
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Program Notes by James Roe

Overview
The wind quintet had its quiet birth in 1803, with the publication of three works for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, by an Italian composer living in Paris named Giuseppe Maria Cambini (1746-1825).  During this period, chamber music for winds, called harmoniemusik, fulfilled a courtly function and generally was written for an octet comprising pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons.  The euphonious sound created by the blending instrumental pairs was all the rage with European aristocracy from the mid-18th century through the 1830s.  These ensembles played both original music and transcriptions of the latest operas and symphonies and were the standard musical accompaniment for meals, parties, and hunts. A music critic of the time noted of wind music that, “out of doors it sounded better than strings; indoors it could hold its own against the clatter of dishes.”

The reason Cambini produced his three quintets remains lost to history, but the new genre drew its converts.  Two 19th-century composers made significant contributions to the development of the wind quintet: Czech-born Parisian, Antoine Reicha (1770-1836) wrote over two dozen quintets, and German composer, Franz Danzi (1763-1826) produced nine.  Yet, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the wind quintet gained widespread recognition from composers and audiences. With the new century came a cultural optimism for the innovative, the colorful, and the populist. The string quartet’s long reign as the preeminent vehicle for chamber music faced challenges from diverse instrumental groupings. Wind instruments, with their advancing technical brilliance and timbral variety led the charge. The wide-ranging tone colors produced by flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn was a disadvantage in the 18th and 19th-century musical aesthetic, but became the ensemble’s central strength in the 20th. Zéphyros’ program is drawn largely from the first half of the last century, a period that was the “Golden Age” of the wind quintet.

August Klughardt (1847-1902)
Wind Quintet, op. 79 (1898-1901)

German conductor and composer, August Klughardt, was born in Cöthen on November 30, 1847 and died suddenly at the age of 54 in the small town of Roßlau, near Dresden, on August 3, 1902.  Living in a time when German art music was at its zenith, Klughardt was successful though ultimately overshadowed by a critical mass of geniuses.  In 1871, he sought out the mentorship of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), who led a radical movement of composers known as the “New German School.”  Rejecting traditional musical genres, the “New Germans” favored the rhapsodic “tone poem” over the formal constraints of the symphony, seeking musical inspiration in literature and visual art. Under the influence of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), they wrote through-composed musical dramas, and expanded their musical vocabulary to include more daring and frequent chromaticism. The young Klughardt associated himself with this movement, yet just as their innovations entered the mainstream in the 1880s, his own music took a decidedly conservative turn.  By the end of his life, his catalog showed not tone poems and music dramas, but rather symphonies and chamber music in the traditional forms he had rejected as a young man.  Today, Klughardt’s music is almost entirely absent from the concert hall, except for one work, his Wind Quintet, op. 79.

Klughardt began composing his quintet in 1898 and published it in 1901.  Sneaking as it does into the 20th Century, his wind quintet provides the genre its major work of German Romanticism.  Consistent with Klughardt’s mature style, this work has more in common with Brahms and especially Mendelssohn than with the musical avant-garde shaking the major capitals of Europe at the turn of the century.  Symphonic in scale, the piece is in four movements.  The expansive first movement opens quietly and features long melodic lines and rich harmonies.  The rustic scherzo that follows pays tribute to Mendelssohn.  Intimate and nostalgic, the third movement explores various instrumental pairings, weaving a gossamer web of interlacing passagework.  The Finale opens with a dramatic slow introduction, and then takes flight, making great virtuosic demands on the ensemble.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914–17)
(Setting for Wind Quintet and Harp by Mason Jones and Zéphyros Winds)

Three sections of Maurice Ravel’s evocative suite for solo piano Le Tombeau de Couperin are heard here in a setting for Wind Quintet and Harp created by Zéphyros Winds from an arrangement by Mason Jones, the former principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The title literally means “The Tomb of Couperin,” and refers to the French Baroque composer François Couperin “the Great” (1668-1733).  The term, Tombeau, generally meant homage or memorial, rather than an elegy, and Ravel’s title takes on many layers of this meaning.  Not only does this work pay homage to Couperin himself, but to Baroque music in general.  Its form, a suite of dance movements, was the common configuration for instrumental music in the Baroque era.

Ravel dedicated each movement to a friend who had died fighting in World War I.  Ravel himself served in the war as an ambulance driver and was wounded in the process. The movements are:

I. Prélude  “To the memory of Lieutenant Jacques Charlot” (who transcribed Ravel’s four-hand piece Ma Mère l’Oye for solo piano)

II. Menuet  “To the memory of Jean Dreyfus” (at whose home Ravel recuperated after he was demobilized)

III. Rigaudon  “To the memory of Pierre and Pascal Gaudin” (brothers killed by the same shell)

Yet for all the somber subject matter, the work is not at all mournful, but of a lighthearted, if reflective, cast.  When Ravel was asked about this incongruence of mood, he replied, “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence.”

Paul Pierné (1874-1952)
Suite pittoresque pour quintette à vent (1900)

L’abeille et la fleur
Nuit sur la plaine
Les oiseaux et le chat

Little is known about French composer and organist, Paul Pierné. In fact, he does not even have an entry in the 29-volume New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. He was born into a musical family, and received his first music lessons from his father, Charles, who had studied harmony with César Franck and was the organist at St. Paul-St. Louis Church in Paris. Paul’s cousin Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937) was a well-known conductor and composer.

In 1905, Paul Pierné succeeded his father as organist at St. Paul-St. Louis, a position he would keep for nearly half a century until his death in 1952. He composed a large body of work that included opera, ballet, symphonies, tone poems, chamber music, religious choral works, and pieces for organ. His musical language is refined and evocative, as demonstrated in his Suite pittoresque pour quintette à vent. The piece is in three movements and, as the title suggests, each creates a vivid picture in music.  In the first movement, “The bee and the flower,” Pierné conjures the image of a meandering bee in the comingled sounds of flute, oboe, and clarinet. The flower is represented by lyrical, arching melodies led by the oboe. Dark and mysterious, “Night on the Plane” begins with an unaccompanied bassoon that is answered by the English horn (the tenor member of the oboe family) and then the flute.  The subtly blended sounds of this quiet movement are reminiscent of the composer’s primary instrument, the pipe organ. The work ends with a spirited encounter between a feline predator and its intended avian prey.

Elliott Carter (1908-2012)
Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux for flute and clarinet (1984)

On November 5, 2012, the music world lost one of its most compelling and innovative voices, when American composer Elliott Carter died in his Manhattan apartment at the age of 103. Individual members of Zéphyros were fortunate to have worked with Carter at various points during their careers and so we dedicate this piece to his memory.

Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux was written in 1984 for the 60th birthday celebration of French composer and conductor, Pierre Boulez. Carter even uses the letters of the dedicatee’s last name to determine the order of notes in the work’s opening and closing melodies. This compositional device may not be readily apparent to the listener, but it added a charming, personal touch to this musical gift. The title translates as “rough breathing/smooth breathing,” a reference to the pronunciation of ancient Greek words beginning with a vowel. When an aspirated “H” was indicated, it was called “rough breathing,” its absence was “smooth breathing.” Indeed, the intricacies of speech seem to be at the very heart of this piece. Hearing it performed is like eavesdropping on a fascinating, animated conversation in a language you do not speak.  You might only recognize a word here or there, but you certainly get the gist.  And since the speakers are so engrossed, so are you.

Endre Szervánszky (1911-1977)
Fúvósötös (1953)

Wind music did not take a foothold in Hungary until after World War II.  Before that time, the violin reigned, both in concert and folk music. Endre Szervánszky’s immensely appealing Fúvósötös (Hungarian for “wind quintet”) was one of the first of its kind.  It comes out of the nationalistic movement led by the scholar-composers Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) and Béla Bartók (1881-1945), and uses folk-inspired melodies and harmonies to evoke a rustic musical landscape.

The first movement opens with a brief slow introduction that rises through the lowest registers of the ensemble to introduce the spritely opening theme of the Allegro. Played first by the oboe, and then flute and clarinet, this melody is characterized by a short accented note followed by a longer one. This rhythmic device is idiomatic to traditional Hungarian music and echoes the accented first syllable in the spoken language. The rousing second movement has a robust, gypsy flair and a contrasting, almost liturgical middle section.  Some of the most expressive and passionate music ever written for wind quintet is found in Szervanszky’s lyrical third movement, which builds to a climax in the high register of the clarinet before coming to a quiet, touching close. The piece ends with a virtuosic evocation of a fast peasant dance that features characteristic and melodies and driving rhythms.

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