Friday, February 12, 2016

Piano Quintets

No. 215 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Ce billet B + B propose notre montage # 215. Pour l'écouter, il suffit d'utiliser le lecteur Pod-O-Matic intégré au billet.

This week’s montage completes a short series of chamber music podcasts, where we looked at unique combinations of instruments exploring different eras and traditions.  This week’s installment goes back to the quintet – featuring strings and a “solo” instrument. Last month, we looked at the clarinet and this time, a more familiar instrument in quintet repertoire, the piano.

Though we could legitimately say it also for the clarinet, I think we typically view the piano quintet more like a chamber concerto rather than a piece of chamber music where the five players are “equal partners”.

The term “chamber concerto” in this context isn’t inappropriate at all– consider this piece by Ernest Chausson, featuring a string quartet as the backdrop for a pair of “soloists” – violin and piano.

Chausson studied composition under Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire, and so did one of our featured composers this week, Gabriel Pierné . As a student at the venerable institution, Pierné won first prizes for solfège, piano, organ, counterpoint and fugue, and won the Prix de Rome in 1882. He was a seasoned organist (he studied under Franck and succeeded him as organist at Ste Clotilde), he also conducted the première of Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird with the Ballets Russes in 1910.

Pierné’s output as a composer is quite diverse, including several operas and choral and symphonic pieces, as well as 2o-odd pieces of chamber music. His chamber work, Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire, for saxophone quartet is a standard in saxophone quartet repertoire. His quintette en trois parties for piano and strings is dedicated to another giant of the era, Gabriel Fauré, in whose modal language the work relies heavily. The work, composed in the throes of World War I also shows some tinges of the overall austere national mood of the time.

A survey of piano quintets, albeit short, would be incomplete without Schubert’s “Trout” quintet for piano and strings. Rather than the usual piano quintet lineup of piano and string quartet, Schubert's piece is written for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Schubert wrote a piece that was quite popular at the time, his lied "Die Forelle" (The Trout), D 550. Set to a poem by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart,it tells the story of a trout being caught by a fisherman, but in its final stanza reveals its purpose as a moral piece warning young women to guard against young men.

In 1819 Sylvester Baumgartner—a music patron and amateur cellist—commissioned Schubert to write a piece of chamber music based on "Die Forelle"; which became the quintet for piano and strings in which he quoted the song in a set of variations in the fourth movement. The piece later became known as the Trout Quintet (D. 667).

I think you will love this music too!