performed by the Wind Soloists of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, or as below by Ensemble Philidor
(cover image by Aaron Burden)
Today’s piece is the first in a group of five works for six instruments. A few weeks ago we discussed the divertimenti for winds, and they were relatively simple, but here, by 1775, there’s a world of difference in how the composer uses his pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns.
There are a few advantages to winds over strings, as we’ve discussed before. For one, they’re suited to outdoor music: they’re just louder. The sound carries farther, which is something you need in an open-air setting. Next, along with that, you need fewer of them to make a viable ensemble. Thus, Brian Robins points out the fad of Harmoniemusik, or wind bands, among those wealthy enough to have their own little band on the premises.
This piece, or rather the situation surrounding its composition, calls back to Haydn, where I envision him getting word that there’s a celebration or dinner party or event which needs background music, and to get busy with a symphony or serenade or similar, and he whips up something new or pieces it together from something else; it’s performed for the occasion, but is hardly touched after that. These five works, which we’ll get to in due course, were never performed in the composer’s lifetime but it’s clear from the numbering in Leopold’s hand that at least he wanted them to be published.
Thankfully, though, this four-movement work is head and shoulders above the young man’s previous efforts. It is in four very brief movements, with a duration of about 10-11 minutes:
- Allegro spiritoso
- Menuetto with Trio
- Contredanse en Rondeau (Molto allegro)
The opening theme is ebullient and bright, but the piece is still reserved until moments later, when this seemingly simple ensemble blossoms out to its full form: a wind sextet. Even though we have pairs of only three instruments, the color and texture that we have here is… I might even go so far as to say masterful. Each of the instruments has its role, its personality, and has to carry its own weight. Instruments that previously may only have been used to beef up the bass of an ensemble, or give a heralding call at a specific moment, like bassoons and horns, respectively, now take an active role in moving the music forward; the oboes stand up against them well, and this sonata form with its very brief development section is textured, fragrant and delightful.
The andante gives a little more space to enjoy the textures of this ensemble together. Oboe and bassoon are paired up as they sing the melody, and the entire group makes for a warm, round, expressive unit. It’s a small movement, but kind of sets us up for the even more rustic third movement minuet.
“The Trio is a Ländler,” says Wiki, in its only statement regarding the movement. There’s a little more ornateness to the writing here, with some really breathtaking little moments, and it gives me the impression that this piece would be a delight to play as an ensemble. The Ländler gives the most attention to horns that we’ve heard so far, but somehow they don’t overpower the winds. It’s a beautiful little trio.
The finale is extremely brief, at just barely over a minute, but playful and bubbly, growing quickly to an ebullient little climax that I can’t help but smile at. It’s obviously quite lean, but what else need be said about this work? It’s really a delight, and this post is late. Stay tuned for more late posts and thanks so much for reading.