Monday, February 12, 2018

Alabiev and Poulenc

Today in class we heard music by Alexander Alyabyev (also spelled Alabiev or Alabieff, and Aljabjew) and Francis Poulenc.

Alabiev was a Russian composer who lived  from 1787 to 1851. His brass quintet, written in 1847 certainly predates the Ewald Quintets and some of the Bellon brass quintets, written 1848-1850), so it is definitely one of the earliest works for brass quintet. 

Alexander Alabiev (1787-1851)

Wikipedia Bio:
Alexander Aleksandrovich Alyabyev (15 August1787 – 6 March 1851), also rendered as Alabiev or Alabieff, was a Russian composer known as one of the fathers of the Russian art song. He wrote seven operas, twenty musical comedies, a symphony, three string quartets, more than 200 songs, and many other pieces.
Born to a wealthy family in Tobolsk in Siberia, Alyabyev learned music in his early years. He joined the Russian Army in 1812, during the Napoleonic War, and fought as an officer until 1823. He participated in the entry of the Russian forces into Dresden and Paris, and he won two awards. After the mysterious death of a man he spent all night gambling with in February 1825, he was arrested on a charge of murder. While the evidence was not conclusive, Tsar Nicholas I expressly ordered him into exile to his native town of Tobolsk. Freed in 1831, he spent some years in the Caucasus before returning to Moscow, where he died in 1851.
Bio from All Music by :
Born in 1787, Alexander Alyabyev was a versatile and accomplished Russian composer working in the Classical, tradition, his oeuvre including chamber music, symphonic works, and operas. In 1815, he composed his String quartet in E flat major, a work which demonstrated his ability to write for string ensemble. Alyabyev started composing for the stage in the 1820s; his operas include The Water Nymph (Based on Pushkin. as well as works inspired by the plays of Shakespeare -- The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Tempest, and The Enchanted Night (based on Midsummer Night' Dream. In 1834, he published a book of Ukrainian folk melodies. Alyabyev died in 1851.
The quintet is written in one movement, with two sections. The first, Adagio, has a dark and somber mood, which is quickly broken by the Allegro Vivace, which features fanfare-like themes dance-inspired marches reminiscent of Verdi's and Boehme's sextet. The recording we heard was by the Montanus Quintet from their recording "Russian Music for Brass Quintet". Click here to listen to the recording on YouTube, or click here to order it from Amazon digital music. It was also noted in class that the tuba player plays most of the part an octave down from the Randal Block edition available from Pepper. I believe the original called for the higher octave. To order the quintet (parts, no score) from Pepper click here.

Francis Poulenc's Brass Trio. This piece has a particular charm, and is very specific about articulation, including apparently contradictory indications regarding short or long eighth notes. The piece is written for horn, trumpet and trombone and the recording we heard was from a Naxox album of chamber music by Poulenc with Hervé Jolain on horn, Guy Touvron on trumpet, and Jaques Mauger on trombone.

Here are a few quotes from several sources about this piece and its composer:

From ClassicalNet:
"Poulenc behaved like a sophisticated eccentric (he once chatted up a stupefied Cannes bartender about an ingenious harmonic progression he managed to pull off that morning), and the eccentricity not surprisingly showed up in his music. Many have called attention to his split artistic personality, "part monk, part guttersnipe," but really he has many more sides. Like most French composers of his generation, he fell under the influences of Stravinsky and Satie. Yet he doesn't imitate either. You can identify a Poulenc composition immediately with its bright colors, strong, clear rhythms, and gorgeous and novel diatonic harmonies. He is warmer and less intellectual than Stravinsky, more passionate and musically more refined than Satie."
"Francis Poulenc: Shocking the bourgeoisie" from The Timid Soul's Guide to Classical Music by James Reel:
"All right, it's an exaggeration to say that Francis Poulenc was the Sid Vicious of 1920s French art music. But Poulenc and his circle hit the classical music scene with almost the same biting, nihilistic force with which the punk movement slammed into popular music in the 1970s and early '80s.

Both movements were big on
irony and mockery, including self-mockery. The goal was to shock the bourgeoisie, to burn off the sugar coating that music had been collecting in the previous decades. And both movements were absorbed into the mainstream in barely a decade. Francis Poulenc joined a circle of young composers gathered around the eccentric Erik Satie, the famous scribbler of whimsically titled pieces ("Gymnopédies,'' "Vexations'' and the like) with nonsensical comments running through the scores.

Satie's followers opposed the vagueness of Impressionism, the style typified by Claude Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.'' They advocated simplicity and clarity. They also thought emotions should be more restrained than they had been in late 19th century Romantic music, although the Satie set eagerly made exceptions to the rule of restraint for the purposes of satire.

In 1920, a critic dubbed the half-dozen leading members of this circle - Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine, Tailleferre and Louis Durey - "Les Six.''

As a composer, Poulenc was largely self-taught, and one method of self-education is imitation. Many of Poulenc's early works, including a sonata for two clarinets and a brass trio, mimic the ironic Neoclassicism of Igor Stravinsky."

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