Chamber Music I

Sunday, February 17, 2019 • 6:00 p.m.
Resonance at SOMA Towers (288 106th Avenue NE, Suite 203, Bellevue)


Francis Poulenc (1893–1918)
Sextuor, FP 100

Felix Mendelssohn (1833–1897)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49

— intermission —

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115

About the Concert

Join members of Orchestra Seattle and friends as they present three of the most beloved chamber works of all time. The program begins with Francis Poulenc’s raffish Sextet for Piano and Winds and then proceeds to Mendelssohn’s brilliant Piano Trio in D minor, a work celebrated for its melodiousness and virtuosity. The evening concludes a performance of Johannes Brahms’ Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, a work that explores the full range of this ensemble — and of the human soul.

Each ticket includes a voucher for one beverage (beer/wine/soda/water) at the bar (beer/wine 21+). Additional beverages available for purchase.


About the Concert

Francis Poulenc
_Sextuor, FP 100

Poulenc was born in Paris on January 7, 1899, and died there on January 30, 1963. He completed the first version of this sextet for piano and winds in 1932, heavily revising it during 1939. He joined the Quintette à vent de Paris at the Salle Pleyel for the premiere of the final version on December 9, 1940.

Largely self-taught as a composer, Poulenc professed his musical “gods” to be “Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Chopin, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky. You may say, ‘What a concoction!’ But that’s how I like music: taking my models everywhere, from what pleases me.” He composed this sextet in 1931 and 1932 as “an homage to the wind instruments which I have loved from the moment I began composing,” but withdrew the work after a 1933 performance. “There were some good ideas in it but the whole thing was badly put together,” he told Nadia Boulanger. “With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly.” Indeed, in its final form it represents the zenith of Poulenc’s numerous compositions involving winds, and arguably remains the single greatest work for this combination of instruments.

The first movement begins energetically, the pace quickening until a bassoon candeza introduces a slower, lyrical central episode, followed by a return of the opening material. In contrast, the Divertissment follows a slow-fast-slow pattern, with an elegant Mozartean aria bookending a playful French march. The rondo finale combines the sound-world of a Parisian music hall (shades of Offenbach, whose quadrilles Poulenc enjoyed) with some metrical complexity before another bassoon cadenza leads to a wistful coda.

— Jeff Eldridge

Felix Mendelssohn
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn was born February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, and died November 4, 1847, in Leipzig. He composed this trio in Frankfurt from February through July of 1839, premiering it at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on February 1, 1840.

Mendelssohn’s two piano trios, both written during the last decade of his life, rank among his finest works. The first was completed in the summer of 1839. Cast in four movements, it shares the same key (D minor) as the composer’s second piano concerto, written two years prior.

The work opens with a passionate cello melody, accompanied by a syncopated piano figure. The violin eventually joins in and the ensemble proceeds to develop elements of the opening tune. Throughout, the piano writing is decidedly virtuosic: Mendelssohn’s close friend Ferdinand Hiller apparently encouraged him in this direction.

The slow second movement brings to the fore Mendelssohn’s exquisite melodic gifts. This is essentially a song without words for three instruments, each of which is provided moments that showcase their lyrical capabilities. The contrasting middle section is filled with melancholy gestures and a pulsing triplet accompaniment.

The third movement — a lithe, agile scherzo filled with color and good humor — recalls the style and character of Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and foreshadows the brilliant incidental music he would compose for the same play three years later).

The finale returns to the rather grim sound-world of the first movement, commencing with a driving, march-like rhythm in D minor. Gradually, the spirit of the second movement infuses this material with a good dose of lyricism. After a turbulent development and recapitulation, the coda dispels the gloom of D minor with a radiant turn to D major.

— Jonathan Blumhofer

Johannes Brahms
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115

Brahms was born in Hamburg on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna on April 3, 1897. He composed this work during the summer of 1981 in Bad Ichsl, Austria. Richard Mühlfeld and the Joachim Quartet gave the premiere at the Berlin Singakademie on December 12, 1891.

By March 1891, Brahms’ creative impetus appeared to have faded away. He had composed nothing for more than a year and had completed his will. But, visiting Meiningen, the conductor of the court orchestra drew Brahms’ attention to the playing of their erstwhile violinist, now principal clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld (1856–1907), who performed privately for Brahms. As Anton Stadler had previously inspired Mozart, so now Mühlfeld inspired Brahms. There rapidly followed four wonderful chamber pieces: a trio for piano, clarinet and cello, Op. 114; the Op. 115 quintet heard this evening; and a pair of sonatas, Op. 120.

The opening B-minor theme, presented by the violins, provides much of the work’s basic material. The clarinet then enters with a rising arpeggio just as in Mozart’s quintet, leading us to a contrasting staccato motive with rapid accompanying triplets tossed between the instruments.

The Adagio, in B major, features a slow clarinet melody accompanied by a Brahms trademark: a complex rhythm superimposing triplets with syncopated duplets in the strings. The turbulent B-minor central section includes gymnastic flourishes from the clarinet.

The third movement opens with a calm Andantino leading to a Presto scherzo and a contrasting trio section accompanied by pizzicato strings. The finale consists of a theme and five variations, with the theme related to many of those in the previous movements.

— Chris Darwin