Friday, September 25, 2015

Saint-Saëns - Septet In E-flat Major Opus 65

Camille Saint-Saëns composed the Septet at the request of a chamber music society called La Trompette, and Saint-Saëns (perhaps tongue in cheek) included a part for trumpet in the work. The trumpet is not often thought of as an instrument to be used in chamber music, but Saint-Saëns added it along with two violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano. This rather odd combination of instruments is handled by Saint-Saëns with his characteristic fine craftsmanship as the bright tone of the trumpet does not dominate the work. Rather it is used for color and to punctuate the music.

Saint-Saëns was not only a great composer and performer, he was also a music historian and did much to revive the music of the past by editing and arranging modern editions of older composers, particularly French composers. The Septet was written in 1880 and takes the form of an 18th century suite of dances, music that he was very familiar with.  It is in 4 movements:

I. Préambule -  This was the first movement Saint-Saëns composed and it was originally meant to be a Christmas present to the music society and it was played at the January concert in 1880. Everyone was so pleased by the short work that Saint-Saëns promised to add more movements and complete the work. The finished work was first played in December of 1880 with Saint-Saëns at the keyboard. The movement begins with a flourish by the strings and piano, with the trumpet entering shortly. This changes to a section where a march-like theme is treated fugally. A calmer theme then is heard with a slightly restless accompaniment. The march returns and leads to the trills of the trumpet, the flourishes of the piano and the final chords of the movement.

II. Menuet - The trumpet takes the initial theme until the strings play a calmer second theme which the trumpet softly accentuates. The trio section is a masterful combining of the strings and trumpet over a piano accompaniment. The first section is repeated.

III. Intermède -  After two bars of introduction for piano and trumpet, the piano begins an accompaniment that continues through most of the movement while a somber theme is traded off between instruments.

IV. Gavotte et Final - The piano takes the lead in this dance that shows Saint-Saëns kept his piano technique (which was formidable). The theme is played over pizzicato strings. The trumpet enters with motives that sound like bugle calls that the strings take up. The gavotte returns until the piano and strings pick up the pace with a short fugue using material from the first movement. All the instruments join in a rush to the end.

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