About this Recording
8.570444 - Chamber Music (French Flute Quintets) - TOURNIER, M. / SCHMITT, F. / PIERNE, G. / FRANCAIX, J. / ROUSSEL, A. (Mirage Quintet)
English  French 

French Chamber Music for Flute, Harp and Strings
Marcel Tournier (1879–1951): Suite, Op. 34
Florent Schmitt (1870–1958): Suite en rocaille, Op. 84
Gabriel Pierné (1863–1937): Variations libres et finale, Op. 51
Jean Françaix (1912–1997): Quintette
Albert Roussel (1869–1937): Sérénade, Op. 30


The magic and originality of fin-de-siècle French aesthetics were not the result of spontaneous combustion, but rather an unusual confluence of historic happenings. In music, the nascent search for a fresh voice was magnetically drawn at the outset to the potent Wagnerian model; however, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), political tensions subtly effected a desire for emancipation from Germanic cultural values. Composers found inspiration in literature and visual art or they took a serious look at the pre-Romantic musical traditions of their own land. The distinctive flavour of French music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries evolved as part of a process of self-discovery and renewal. Traits now associated with turn of the century ideals included delicate shadings of sound, exotic chromaticism and new rhythmic pulses. All the composers represented on this recording in their writings share attributes of clarity and refinement, brio, wittiness and a subtle sensuality that permeates the music of the period. The profound influence of Debussy and Ravel can be felt in these works which are fruits of the first half of the twentieth century and the culmination of a dramatic chapter in French art.

Marcel Tournier: Suite, Op. 34

Marcel Tournier, distinguished performer, pedagogue and composer, was a figure of great stature among harpists and aficionados of the instrument. Tournier was not only a major exponent of the theory and practice of the harp—his singularity as a musician was a source of inspiration to numerous composers, among them Fauré, who created works for the master.

Tournier himself contributed to harp literature with compositions that demonstrated the full potential of the instrument. The Suite reveals many of the qualities associated with French music of the twentieth century: refined turn of phrases, pellucid textures and colours. Constantly exploring the tonal possibilities of the harp, Tournier advanced the expressive capacity of his instrument.

The opening movement, Soir, begins in a plaintive vein which is succeeded by a sweep of accelerated momentum, eventually returning to a pensive conclusion. The second movement Danse is scored as lushly as a tropical breeze. A languid melody belongs to the flute, but the harp, in its surging fullness, provides the foundation of the movement. The third movement Lied is introspective and thoughtful, while the fourth, Fête, contains poetic elements, by turns serious and playful. The writing is compact and richly textured.

Florent Schmitt: Suite en rocaille, Op. 84

Florent Schmitt lived a full, robust life in the world of music. Composer, pianist, and critic, he viewed himself as an artist outside any particular school. The facts perhaps suggest otherwise, at least concerning his rôle as a composer. Schmitt was a contemporary of Ravel, a fellow member of Les Apaches, a group of young artists who joined together for discussions of contemporary aesthetics. He studied under Fauré and was greatly influenced by Debussy. His work shows definite links to the tradition of Impressionism. He was a founding member of the Société Musicale Indépendante in 1909. Off and on over many years Schmitt contributed criticism to a number of important journals. Vigour, elegance and passion are attributes of the Suite en rocaille. This work was presented on 21 June 1937 at the fifteenth Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music, and was listed by Nicolas Slonimsky as “a work in an elegant rococo style by the dean of French modernists, Florent SCHMITT.”

(Henri Constant) Gabriel Pierné: Variations libres et finale, Op. 51

Pierné occupied a not insignificant niche in the epic advance of French music at the turn of the twentieth century. He was more than a witness of the times—Pierné was a conservator of the Romantic tradition and of nineteenth-century French repertoire. A longtime friend of Debussy, Pierné employed his deep musical intelligence in encapsulating the essentials of the modern style. Elegance was considered his hallmark characteristic.

Pierné composed Variations libres et finale in 1933 for the Quintette Instrumental de Paris. The combination of flute, violin, viola, cello and harp lent itself to a kind of writing in which each instrument enjoys an autonomous rôle that when put together forms a unified whole. The writing of the Variations is virtuosic, with tight counterpoint, a lightness and translucence perhaps suggestive of the influence of Ravel and Roussel, but very much from the heart of Pierné himself.

The finale, written in the Lydian mode is agile and rhythmically vital. It could be considered a divertissement for soloistic display. An Iberian influence appears toward the conclusion and is followed by the reappearance of the exposition, in unison, followed by an evocation of the récitative of the original theme.

Jean Françaix: Quintette for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harp.

Françaix was a man of musical high style. His compositions exude animation and a witty, charming spark. He did not seek to move away from familiar tonal forms, and he preserved classical exposition-development-recapitulation structures in much of his music. He loved tonal colour and felt no hesitation is writing for unusual combinations of instruments. It is spirited elegance and charm that define Françaix.

The Quintette dates from 1932, an early year in Françaix’s prolific career. The brief first movement Andante tranquillo possesses a graceful and tender aspect. The flowing melody belongs to the flute, the strings and harp, all sustaining rhythmic steadiness. A lively Scherzo, marked Presto in 3/4 time, has a dance-like quality, light, delicate and whirling. There is a steadiness brought to a pitch of excitement as the movement approaches its central section, and from there, the string ensemble and flute join in the exhilarating play. The movement ends with a return to the spirit of its opening section. The Andante, in alternating patterns of 5/4 and 3/4 rhythm, evokes memories of a simple melody drawn from the distant past. The fourth movement Rondo is based on the humorous folksong Savez-vous planter les choux? and conveys a feeling of perpetual motion, a joyous, youthful, sprint.

Albert Roussel: Sérénade Op. 30, for Flute, Harp, Violin, Viola and Cello

Orphaned by the age of seven, a seafarer from the age of eighteen, Roussel was by chance and choice a man apart from the mainstream. His early sense of isolation, both from family and traditional musical education were a fine stimulus for him to cultivate his own musical voice. Throughout his years of service in the Navy, Roussel managed to advance his studies independently, but in 1894 he resigned his commission and went to Paris to pursue a musical career. Roussel absorbed the gamut of musical language, and under the influence of his teacher Vincent d’Indy, eventually emerged as a composer with a highly personal neo-classical style. His sense of chromaticism may have flowed from the Wagnerian-Franckian tradition, but in the end, revealed a unique, distinctive flavour.

The Sérénade shows Roussel entering the prime of his neo-classical period. From the mid-1920s onward, he demonstrated a particular interest in the discipline and structure of chamber music. Dedicated to the flautist René le Roy, the Sérénade by its very nature emphasizes the rôle of the wind instrument. The work is supple and graceful, with, for Roussel, a rare touch of humour. The first movement Allegro follows sonata form, its arresting feature of interest being the internal rhythmic current. The second movement Andante begins with a strand of melody given to the flute and played above the slowly changing harmonies of the strings, forming a brocade of delicate texture and colour. With the exquisite entry of the harp, the movement achieves its most intense level of expressive meaning. The energy of the third movement Presto in ternary form, drives forward with a light touch to a high-spirited conclusion.

The Sérénade was composed late in the summer of 1925 and was first performed in October of that year at a festival organized by the Société Musicale Indépendante in Paris.

Renée Silberman, 2008

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