Saturday, 22 September 2012

Florent Schmitt

Florent Schmitt drew my attention because of his inclusion on an album with Debussy and Ravel's Piano Trios. The Joachim Trio included his short Tres Lent as a foil to the two more famous works. It's only three minutes but perfectly nice and it led me to wonder who he was.

It seems Schmitt is one of those figures who, while important and influential in his day, just didn't manage to compete with the bigger names in the long haul. This despite outliving Debussy by around 40 years and Ravel by almost 10. By then however his fame and influence were well in decline even though he did succeed Dukas at the Conservatoire. From what I can tell he suffered from a stigma of being a traditionalist, not entirely fairly, and was somewhat shunned for it. I suspect his anti-semitism, made famous in a scandal in 1933, and his support of the Vichy French during the war possibly have something to do with his decline in favour as well.

Personality aside what of his music? Most things seem to point to two major works, The Tragedy of Salome and a setting for Psalm 47. The first is a symphonic poem based on his earlier ballet and highlights his 'impressionism' and interest in the 'exotic'. It also caught the attention of Stravinsky and I can hear something in there that might draw him. I've only listened to part of it and it's nice with some fascinating instrumentation in bits, but nothing overly grand. The Psalm 47 is a pretty strong and dramatic setting but choral works aren't usually my thing - with some notable exceptions.

Far more impressive to my mind is the Piano Quintet. This is a highly dramatic piece which really uses the piano and the strings to build the tension by working in concert (literally I guess). The closing movement builds a rising sense of hope but just when you think it'll finish on a high note it peters back down and we have something of a deliberate anticlimax. The Dionysiaques for wind orchestra show off his 'orientalism' a bit more I think and have wonderful shifts from bold and dramatic to soft with pathos, creating a somewhat ominous atmosphere but a busy one.

To my mind, there's something there but, other than the Quintet and perhaps his shorter works, he's not someone I'll actively pursue.

No comments:

Post a Comment