This wind, string and piano concert presents two duos in the rich Germanic tradition. Robert Schumann’s Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, Op.94 offer beautiful and graceful intertwining melodies, while Johannes Brahms’ Sonata for Viola and Piano in F minor, Op.120, No.1 is stirring, dramatic and expansive. Three come together in Francis Poulenc’s colourful Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon. This music is jovial, energetic and bright in tone, and quintessentially French. The Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola and Piano by Charles Martin Loeffler written in the French tradition, is impressionistic with freely flowing contrasts in timbre and texture.
Two Great Musical Traditions
The music of the nineteenth century had many traits, but the era’s quintessence was a keen emotional expressivity, ranging from the most intimate to the excesses of grand opera. Much changed with the dawning of the next century. French composers in particular moved in their own novel directions as exemplified in the music of Poulenc and Loeffler.
Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, Op. 94
Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
- Nicht schnell
- Einfach, innig
- Nicht schnell
The Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, Op.94 were written by Robert Schumann in December of 1849, and offered to his wife Clara as a Christmas present. Unlike most sonatas and character pieces of the era, these were not composed with any particular soloist in mind. Clara premiered the romances in November of 1850 with a violinist, and indeed went on, throughout her extensive career, to perform them frequently with the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. Robert Schumann had a specific preference for oboe for these pieces, and resisted his publisher Simrock’s requests to publish additional editions for clarinet and violin, although that came about in later years. All three romances are written in ABA form with sections contrasting in tempo and texture. The music is songful, beautiful, and pure of heart.
Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola and Piano
Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935)
- La Cornemuse
As a child, Charles Loeffler moved frequently with his family and lived in Germany, France, Russia, Hungary and Switzerland; at the age of twenty he emigrated to America. He began his musical studies at the age of eight upon receiving a violin for his birthday. He showed immense talent and later studied violin with Joseph Joachim and composition with Woldemar Bargiel. The wide cultural exposure of his youth provided a rich backdrop for his creativity, and his compositional style strongly embraced French contemporary idioms. The Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola and Piano were written in 1901 as a re-setting of music he had written three years previously for voice, clarinet, viola and piano. They are based on two poems written by the nineteenth century poet Maurice Rollinar, entitled L’Etang (The Pond) and La Cornemuse (The Bagpipe). The poems’ evocative imagery is deeply imagined in the music, offering varying tonal impressions rather than standard thematic development. Loeffler’s provocative fluidity of melody, rhythm, shifting harmonies and textures creates an almost mystical aura.
Sonata for Viola and Piano in F minor, Op.120, No.1
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
- Allegro appassionato
- Andante un poco adagio
- Allegretto grazioso
In 1890, Johannes Brahms vowed to retire from composing. Yet in January of 1891, he travelled to Meiningen for the arts festival, and there his encounter with Richard Muhlfield’s clarinet performances changed his mind. He set about composing his last pieces of chamber music, the clarinet trio, the clarinet quintet, and finally in July of 1894, the two clarinet and piano sonatas of op. 120. Brahms and Muhlfield played them for Clara Schumann’s approval before premiering them on January 7, 1895. Brahms later transcribed these two sonatas for viola, making a few alterations to accommodate the viola’s unique expressivity; they have since become cornerstones of the viola and piano repertoire. The Sonata for Viola and Piano in F minor, Op. 120, No.1 is lyrical, expansive, sometimes passionate, and full of Brahms’ typical rhythmic complexity. The character of Brahms’ chamber music and his adherence to traditional forms and harmonies suggest him reflecting on the entire century.
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Francis Poulenc’s mother had great pianistic abilities and was his first teacher. Despite the boy’s obvious talent, his father was discouraging and prevented him from attending the Paris Conservatoire, instead envisioning his son’s future in the family’s lucrative pharmaceutical business. Not until 1916 was he given lessons outside the home, studying piano with Ricardo Vines, an important mentor. However, as a composer he was largely self-taught. Poulenc was influenced by Debussy and Erik Satie, among others; he eventually became the most prominent member of Les Six. For Poulenc, melody was the most important element in writing music. His writing is clever, concise, jazzy, lyrical, humorous and perpetually inventive. He loved the sonorities of wind instruments, and wrote various chamber pieces for them. The Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano was written in Cannes in 1926, premiered on May 2 that year, and was dedicated to the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, who loved it.
“Poulenc’s music oscillates between the sublimely beautiful and the hilariously funny.”
-Peter Katin, English pianist