By West Texas Winds

Thursday, September 21, 2023 | 7:30PM
Rea-Greathouse Recital Hall @ Wagner Noël PAC

Wind Quintet, Op. 95
Josef Foerster (1859-1951)             
          Allegro moderato
          Andante sostenuto
          Allegro scherzando (due batutté)
          Moderato e tranquillo 

Foerster lived through the rise and height of the Romantic Era. He composed in this style- mostly for chorus and solo voice, though he also wrote large works including several operas and five symphonies. Although Forester’s talent as a composer, professor, and music critic took him outside of his home country, known then as Czechoslovakia, most of his career was spent in Prague. 

Foerster was part of the school ofJanácek and Josef Suk, then was a student at the Prague Conservatory until about age 25, organist at several churches in Prague, and also a music critic for the newspaper Národní Listy. His career as a critic continued outside of Prague, as he also wrote for a few newspapers in Hamburg, Germany. From 1893 to 1903 he taught at the Hamburg Conservatory and there befriended fellow professor Gustav Mahler. Foerster also wrote in Vienna as music critic for Die Zeit, then returned to Prague in 1919 to teach at the Prague Conservatory.

Foerster’s large choral works follow the Mahlerian style of emotional absorption and religious undertones. His smaller instrumental works, while rare, stay truer to his Czech roots - the folklike sounds of Smetana and Dvorak. 

His Quintet in D Major, Op. 95 captures the pleasant countryside, festivity, and wanderlust all in one - something that Czech music seems to do effortlessly. The first, third, and fourth movements contain multiple melodic lines at once, true to his musical taste as an organist. The first movement is lush in its lines and flurries of color beneath the surface. The second movement takes us to the peaceful countryside with a more upbeat trio to offset the lullaby. The third movement is colorful, bubbling again, but this time in C minor with more urgency. Again, its trio takes us back to the countryside - a relaxing waltz in A-flat major. The fourth and final movement is a joyful exit back to D major, where Foerster uses the Beethovenian method of taking one simple motive and expanding that across the entire movement, pushing us through to the end. Each movement is a miniature snapshot of Foerster's cosmopolitan, Bohemian life.

Wind Quintet, Op. 59
John Fernström (1897-1961)

          Allegro Molto

Fernström was a Swedish composer born in Yichang, China where he spent the first part of his life. After moving to the Swedish province of Malmö, Fernstrom began his musical studies at the Conservatory where he focused on violin. He continued his violin studies with Max Schlüter in Copenhagen and Issay Barmas of Berlin. Fernstrom began his composition education with Knut Håkansson and the Danish composer, Peder Gram. He went on to conduct, compose, and perform throughout Sweden with Malmo Radio Orchestra, Southeast Skåne Orchestral Society, and the Nordic Youth Orchestra. In his later years, Fernström studied art in Paris and was involved in several exhibitions. 

Fernström was a prolific composer in many genres, including opera, symphonies, choral works, cantatas, and many chamber works. His Wind Quintet, Op. 59, one of his most popular works, was composed in 1943 for the Danish “Wind Quintet of 1932” for the occasion of Swedish Music Week in Denmark. It was premiered in Copenhagen in May of 1943 in a Swedish broadcast concert. Its four clear-cut movements provide a scope for musical spontaneity and freshness in which full justice is done to the individuality of the instruments. All combinations of sound alternate in what is often a contrapuntal game of notable subtlety and elegance. The distinct melodic lines often carry a modal flavor mixed with the stylistic traits of Danish Neo-classicism. The lower second movement creates expressive variation through each voice with the melody promoting a melancholic lyrical feel. The first and last movements frame the work with a rapid virtuosic mood, closing out with a satisfying coda. 

Summer Music, Op. 31
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Most works in the history of western music have been written to order, on commission, to meet the requirements of the musicians, occasion, and performance situation specified by a church, court, theater, individual, or organization. Samuel Barber’s Summer Music for woodwind quintet arose from that tradition, but with an unprecedented twist. It was paid for not by a single entity, but by a public subscription of dozens of individuals each contributing a few dollars, organized by the Chamber Music Society of Detroit in 1954. 

The work was to be a septet with three woodwinds, three strings, and piano, and it was to be premiered by principals of the Detroit Symphony. Barber agreed to undertake the project because of the unusual natures of both the ensemble and the commission. In the summer of 1954, however, Barber heard a performance by the acclaimed New York Woodwind Quintet. He became friendly with the members of the ensemble and consulted with them on writing for the wind instruments for the Detroit commission. As Barber came to understand the possibilities of the standard woodwind quintet, the Detroit septet became a sextet, and finally a quintet. The New York Woodwind Quintet hoped to premiere the work, but Barber fulfilled his contract, and the first performance was given at the Detroit Institute of Arts on March 20, 1956 by Detroit Symphony principals James Pellerite (flute), Arno Mariotti (oboe), Albert Luconi (clarinet), Charles Sirard (bassoon), and Ray Alonge (horn). The New York Woodwind Quintet first played Summer Music publicly the following month in Boston, and they took it on their South American tour later that year. Summer Music is the only piece Barber ever wrote for a wind ensemble. 

Rhapsodic and modal, the piece begins with the lazy melody from Barber’s orchestral work Horizon, here introduced by horn and bassoon. Constantly shifting time signatures impart a dreamy, rhythmic vagueness to the music. The tempo picks up a bit as the oboe introduces a theme similar to the opening melody. Suddenly, the instruments engage in a long, rapid, chattering, and even cackling passage of mostly sixteenth notes. Eventually the oboe regains control of the proceedings, singing its melody over an uneasy, inhaling-exhaling figure in the other instruments, notably the horn. At length the opening material returns, the theme and subsidiary material sliding from one instrument or group of instruments to another. The work evokes a bluesy atmosphere, perhaps a reference to Gershwin’s Summertime. One may also catch glimpses of the introduction to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in the
occasional harsh, but playful, dissonance. Overall, the work seems to evoke feelings of warm months and unhurried days.

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