Florent Schmitt – Dionysiaques, Op. 62

Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) was born in Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.  He began composition lessons with local composer Gustave Sandre, before entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 19.  While at the Conservatoire, he studied with composers like Gabriel Faure and Theodore Dubois, winning the Prix de Rome in 1900.  The picture shown was taken around that time.  Throughout his life, he composed for most major forms of music, except for opera.  His style was primarily impressionistic, was similar to that of Debussy, but also included elements of Wagner and Richard Strauss.  His Piano Quintet in B minor, composed in 1908, helped to establish his reputation, but today his most famous compositions are La tragedie de Salome and Psaume XLVII (Psalm 47).  It has been speculated that Schmitt’s involvement in World War I brought him into contact with military bands, which influenced his compositions to included pieces for such ensembles.

Dionysiaques for band, Op. 62, No. 1 was composed in 1913, and is listed on the Texas UIL Prescribed Music List as a Grade V.  The title relates to the festivals held in ancient Greece to celebrate Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, drama, and other enjoyable things.  The composition is very descriptive, beginning the celebration very sensuously, in the lower brasses and winds, with a more yearning theme in the upper voices.  It becomes much busier as the celebration begins to “heat up”.  Schmitt uses short bursts of highly chromatic material to elude to the sense of unpredictability that is often associated with such alcohol-induced celebrations.  After awhile, the first of a series of jaunty, march-like party themes begins. Schmitt’s writing here can be rather difficult for any wind band, with quick unison trills, gigantic leaps, and alternating tempos.  At times, the celebration seems to be calming down, and just before the end of the piece the music comes almost to a complete halt, but of course Schmitt has reserved the biggest climax of all for the end.

Just listening to this composition will help you to understand its complexities and difficulties in performance.  It requires great technical skill and musical acuity.  When you completely immerse yourself in the music, you really can see people dancing!

The recording I have chosen for this post is of the 1988 University of Texas Wind Ensemble under the direction of Jerry Junkin, one of my favorite conductors.

~ by windbandlit on March 24, 2011.

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