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8.570790 - THUILLE, L.: Sextet / Piano Quintet (Luisi, Chantily Quintet, Gigli Quartet)
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Ludwig Thuille (1861–1907)
Sextet in B flat major, Op. 6 • Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 20


The German composer and teacher Ludwig Thuille seems to have been unjustly relegated to a footnote in accounts of the early life of his friend Richard Strauss. Thuille was born in 1861 in Bozen (Bolzano), the son of a book and art dealer, but was orphaned in childhood, with the death of his mother in 1867 and of his father in 1872. He had his early piano lessons from his father, and became a chorister at the Benedictine foundation at Kremsmünster, assuring him a free place at the associated gymnasium, where he studied the piano and violin, and developed his early interests in composition. In 1876 he settled in Innsbruck with his married half-sister. Here he received encouragement from Pauline Nagiller, widow of the musician and composer Matthäus Nagiller, and was able to study with a pupil of Bruckner. The following year, through Josepha Strauss, mother of Richard Strauss, and her husband Franz, on holiday in Innsbruck, Thuille met Richard Strauss, with whom he struck up an important friendship, and it was through Franz Strauss that he later found a place at the Royal Music School in Munich. Three years Richard Strauss’s senior, Thuille continued to correspond from Innsbruck with Richard Strauss, and their correspondence has been much quoted as evidence of the young Strauss’s early conservative tendencies and prejudices, with only the letters of Strauss surviving. In 1879 Thuille moved to Munich, studying there at the Royal Music School under Rheinberger and Karl Bärmann. At the same time he was influenced, as was Strauss, by contact with the Wagnerian Alexander Ritter, whom Strauss had first known in Meiningen. On graduation Thuille started work as a private music-teacher, before his appointment in 1883 to the Royal Music School as a teacher of piano and harmony. In 1890 he was appointed professor and in 1893 succeeded his teacher Rheinberger as professor of composition. Thuille enjoyed an early career in Munich as a pianist, particularly in chamber music, and from 1889 won a reputation as conductor of a men’s choir, Liederhort, while earning distinction as a composer and as a teacher. It was in the latter capacity that he was chiefly remembered, his academic position tending to develop the more conservative aspect of his composition, distancing him from Strauss, with whom, nevertheless, he remained on friendly terms until his early death in 1907. A leader of the so-called Munich School that reflected the influences of Rheinberger and of Liszt and Wagner, Thuille wrote choral music and songs. His operas included two fairy-tale works, Lobetanz and Gugeline, with libretti by the writer and editor Otto Julius Bierbaum that had originally, it seems, been intended for Strauss, and his orchestral works include a piano concerto, a symphony and a Romantic Overture. At the same time he made a then significant contribution to chamber music and to a lesser extent to solo piano music. At the time of his death he was preparing for publication his important Harmonielehre, a collaboration with Rudolf Louis, a work later edited by his former pupil Walter Courvoisier, who married Thuille’s daughter.

Thuille wrote his Sextet in B flat major, Op.6, scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano, in the years 1886–88. The sonata-form Allegro moderato entrusts the principal theme first to the horn, which enters over the discreet murmur of the piano, to be followed by the clarinet and then the flute and bassoon, before the emphatic statement of the theme by the piano. The second subject is given first to the clarinet, followed by the flute, continued by the oboe. The instruments are further deployed in contrast and in conjunction, handled with the greatest technical skill, before the bassoon and horn return to the main theme in recapitulation. The horn in E flat, replacing the earlier F horn, proposes the main theme of the slow movement, accompanied by the chords of the piano, which then continues the theme, soon to be taken up by the clarinet. A more sombre passage follows, in E flat minor, with an expressive link to the return of the main theme. The third movement, a G minor Gavotte, marked Andante, quasi Allegretto, entrusts its theme first to the oboe, followed by the flute and bassoon, to be continued by the oboe and clarinet and then the piano. The trio section is in G major, its theme given first to the oboe, with a bassoon accompanying ostinato later to be shared with other instruments. The piano returns with its own version of the Gavotte theme, the original key restored. In the Finale the piano states the lively principal theme, over the repeated notes of flute, oboe and clarinet, with flute and clarinet then taking over the melody. The horn offers a secondary theme and the material is developed, before its due recapitulation, the varied instruments always handled with deft mastery.

Thuille’s Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 20, his second attempt at the form, dates from the years 1897–1901 and was dedicated to the composer and conductor Max Schillings, by then a figure of some importance in the musical life of Munich. The work was eagerly anticipated and won general approval from Thuille’s immediate contemporaries. The extended first movement, marked Allegro con brio, is broadly in sonata form, with innovative modifications to the structure of the recapitulation. The music is compelling in its sweep and dramatic contrasts and masterly in its use of instrumental resources. The piano duly opens the B major Adagio assai sostenuto, followed meditatively by the strings, the first violin con gran’ espressione, with a theme that is developed before a central B minor passage marked agitato, but moving through music of greater tranquillity. The main theme gradually makes its return, at first in the key of B flat, leading to the re-establishment of the original key and the emphatic statement of the melody. The movement ends with a gentle coda. The C minor third movement is a scherzo in all but name, with a more lyrical trio section marked Poco meno mosso. The ending brings its own surprising dynamic contrasts. The piano starts the Finale with a cadenza, before the sonata-form movement is launched. Its development introduces a fugato, played pizzicato, and started by the viola, followed by the second violin, the first, the cello and finally the piano, the right hand and then the left. A further fugal passage leads to the recapitulation and a triumphant conclusion.

Keith Anderson

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