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November 10, 2009

Music we've been missing (part 14): Florent Schmitt

Locally, we've heard a good amount of Debussy and Ravel, but what about another French master of richly colored, highly atmospheric music? I'd say we could use a dose of Florent Schmitt, whose work has much to recommend it, but hardly ever turns up in the concert hall.

Some of his pieces would not only make a worthy substitute for such well-worn things as "La valse" or "La mer," but even for the popular Strauss tone poems -- Schmitt's writing often suggests a fusion of Impressionism and late-German romanticism.

Here are a couple examples of what we've been missing: the finales from the lush "La Tragedie de Salome" for orchestra from 1910 and the downright stunning "Psalm XLVII" for chorus and orchestra from 1904:

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:34 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Comments

I remember a local performance of the Psalm a few years ago with the National Cathedral Chorus under J. Reilly Lewis.

I guess I really should call this series music I'VE been missing. Thanks for letting me know about performances around here that have featured composers and works that I think are being underserved. It encourages me to think that other opportunities will open up -- though, I suspect, most of them not in dear old Baltimore. TIM

Just one single performance every n years (decades?) doesn't change the picture too much.

And to really put an unknown work in the repertoire one needs its regular champions. But the performers take immense risks due to not infrequent negative critical reaction. An example is the premiere of Vincent D'Indy's Fervaal last month conducted by Leon Botstein. Notice the negative review of Anthony Tommasini in NY Times. I had the opposite reaction especially for the last two acts (agreed about the weakness in the libretto though.) Thus, I don't think I am going to hear Fervaal any time soon - even the Prelude, once championed by Monteux, Schippers, and Munch is rarely played.

The days of championing offbeat fare will probably not return anytime soon. Everyone's focused so squarely on the bottom line. I do think risk are possible, within reason and with aggressive, imaginative marketing. The starting point, for an orchestra, is for a music director to capitalize on personal popularity by reaching out directly to audiences, effectively challenging them to trust programming decisions and providing all the enticement possible. Soloists, chamber ensembles and opera companies can take this sort of personal approach, too, of course. TIM

Thanks for posting this note about Florent Schmitt. I agree, he is one of the most fascinating of the unknowns. I saw the DC Psalm XLVII performance with the Cathedral Society Chorus and it was mighty fine. Also, Leon Botstein performed it with the American Symphony Orchestra in NYC in about 1997. There is an aircheck performance with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra available online, as well as several French ones. I've been hoping Edward Polochick would program it with the Peabody Orchestra & Chorus. If they can do Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, they should tackle the Psalm also! After all, Dr. Harlan Parker routinely programs Schmitt's Dionysiaques, a sonic blockbuster and one of the "10 best" works for concert band (according to a report from a distinguished panel of judges a few years ago that included people like Donald Hunsberger, Eugene Corporon and Frederick Fennell).

Thanks for the comments. I hope Schmitt's day here will come before long. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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