Programme notes by Guy Richardson
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano FP 43 (1926)
Lento – Presto
Andante con moto
Rondo: Très vif
Poulenc was born in Paris into a wealthy family of pharmaceutical manufacturers. He had piano lessons from the age of five from his mother, an accomplished pianist. He started composing from an early age and by his teens was already showing a liking for non conventional idioms. The director of the Paris Conservatoire told the eighteen year old composer “Your music stinks, it is nothing but a load of balls. Are you trying to make a fool of me? Ah, I see you have joined the gang of Stravinsky, Satie and company. Well then, I’ll say goodbye”
He went on to study with Charles Koechlin who gave him the foundation for his composition.
The Trio, which reflects his abilities as a pianist and his love of wind instruments, was published in 1926 by Wilhelm Hansen, Copenhagen, and was dedicated to Manuel de Falla.
The first movement, which Poulenc said was modeled on a Haydn Allegro, opens in a serious mood with stark piano chords, but the bassoon’s jovial entry changes that, and in turn is answered by a more poignant oboe statement.. But once the Presto starts, the mood is lively and playful, with exchanges between all three instruments. After a slower and expressive central section, the Presto returns.
The second movement, which Poulenc described as ‘sweet and melancholic’, opens with a Mozartian passage on the piano, and the bassoon and oboe add their long and very beautiful melodic lines.
The last movement is again opened by the piano, only to be quickly joined by the other two instruments in a playful Rondo. The ending is concise.
Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013)
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1947)
Final. Assiz allant
Dutilleux was born in Angers, France and studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won first prize in harmony and counterpoint together with fellow student, the cellist Paul Tortelier.
The Sonata for Oboe and Piano is an early work, composed at the same time while working on his Piano Sonata which he labelled his Opus 1. Dutilleux refused to be associated with any school of music and developed his own personal style. There are influences of Bartok and Stravinsky, and he named Beethoven’s late string quartets and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande as amongst his favourite pieces.
The first movement opens with a solemn stately theme on the piano, answered by the oboe, creating a contrapuntal texture.
The scherzo starts with staccato chords on the piano and more florid writing on the oboe, as well as some detached and longer phrases. The movement closes with a slower more reflective section.
The piano again opens the last movement with a walking bass underpinning a lyrical new theme. After a more meditative section, the opening returns and the movement closes with a short flourish on the oboe.
Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)
Sonata for Bassoon and Piano Opus 168 (1921)
Saint-Saens has been described as having been the most remarkable child prodigy in history, who made his concert debut at the age of ten playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 15 and Beethoven’s 3rd ! He studied at the Paris Conservatoire. As a young man he was keen on contemporary composers like Schumann and Wagner, but in his later years became increasingly conservative, describing Stravinsky as being insane, and after hearing Milhaud’s polytonal Protée, commented “Fortunately there are still lunatic asylums in France”
The first movement is predominantly lyrical in character, and this is followed by a lively scherzo with some fast passage work on the bassoon.
The Adagio is the heart of the work and opens with a simple piano accompaniment under the main theme on the bassoon. Listen out for a marvellous moment in the centre of the movement, when gentle piano arpeggios lead into a passage in the lowest register of the bassoon and some beautiful and expressive harmonic clashes.
The brief final movement is lively and joyful.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Three Romances for Oboe and Piano Opus 94 (1849)
Schumann wrote the three pieces as a Christmas present for his wife Clara. They were first performed privately in 1850 for violin and piano and only received a performance in their original version in 1863. Simrock, Schumann’s publisher, asked to be able to print them in versions for violin or clarinet plus piano as well, but the composer replied ‘If I had originally written the work for violin or clarinet it would have been a completely different piece. I regret not being able to comply with your wishes, but I can do no other.’ Simrock disobeyed his request and published alternate violin and oboe parts in the first edition.
All three pieces are in an A-B-A form. The first has a poignant opening theme, followed by some wonderful dialogue between the two instruments. Schumann explores the whole expressive range of the oboe and there are some particularly beautiful high passages here.
The central section of the second romance has a restless almost stormy feel , but calm is restored with the return of the opening theme.
The third opens with the oboe and piano in unison announcing a dark theme only to be immediately followed by a more lively almost perky idea. The central section opens with a brief piano solo answered by the oboe. After the return of the opening theme there is a serene coda.
André Jolivet (1905-1974)
Sonatine for Oboe and Bassoon (1963)
Born in Paris to an artist father and pianist mother, Jolivet took up painting and studied cello. After a period of teaching he studied composition, one of this teachers being Edgard Varèse. Some of his early compositions reflect an interest in Schoenberg and atonality, and after a period exploring more tonal and lyrical styles, he developed a style blending all these elements.
The first movement opens with the two instruments playing a theme in octaves and then they go on to an exchange of short phrases and at times weave their own independent lines, leading to a playful ending.
The second movement opens with the bassoon, which in turn accompanies the oboe with staccato notes which becomes one of the features of the movement. After the seriousness of this movement the last is playful with jazzy offbeat rhythms. There are some humorous interchanges between the instruments in the middle of the movement and after a return of the offbeat theme, a surprising final chord!
Jean Francaix (1912-1997)
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano (1994)
Adagio – Allegro
From a very musical background ( his father was director of the Conservatoire at Le Mans and his mother a singing teacher) Francaix studied music from an early age. He then went on to be a pupil of perhaps the most famous of composition teachers, Nadia Boulanger, who considered him to be one of her best pupils. He was an accomplished pianist, giving the premieres of several of his own works.
After a slow introduction with some poignant exchanges between the oboe and bassoon, the three instruments launch into the main Allegro. Listen out for the central section where the piano breaks into a dotted, slightly cheeky rhythm, a bit like a habanera, and which is taken up by the other two instruments. The movement ends wonderfully abruptly!
The second movement is another lively and witty exchange between the three instruments.
The piano starts the slow movement with a sequence of chords, which then accompany a long melody on the bassoon ( the opening of which might remind you of a well-known tune). The oboe takes it up and then all three instruments weave it into a flowing line.
The last movement is a lively romp with some tricky rhythmic slights of hand, and after a brief cadenza for the two wind instruments, there is a striking passage where the piano plays fast chromatic runs, over which the winds spin long melodic lines. A brief reference to the slow movement’s theme leads to the coda.