The intimate Florent Schmitt: Suite en rocaille (1934) and Sonatine en trio (1935).

Pahud-Meyer-Le SageFor music-lovers who know Florent Schmitt’s big orchestral works, it might be surprising to learn that the composer also wrote many pieces for solo instruments and chamber ensembles.

There is a vast trove of music for solo and duo-piano, and some of these are the beneficiary of fine recordings made recently by pianists like Vincent Larderet, Andrey Kasparov, Oksana Lutsyshyn and Leslie de’Ath.

Florent Schmitt Suite en rocaille score cover

A vintage copy of the score to Florent Schmitt’s infectiously delightful Suite en rocaille for flute, violin, viola, cello and harp (1934).

But there are also some wonderful works for chamber ensembles featuring intriguing combinations of instruments. In these pieces, one finds a distinctly “French” ambiance that befits a composer who studied with the great French master Gabriel Fauré (and who Schmitt considered a mentor).

One of these works is the Sonatine en trio, Opus 85, a work Schmitt composed in 1935. It’s a charming piece that takes the listener through a number of different moods in four contrasting movements.

Originally conceived as a work for flute, clarinet and harpsichord, it was in that form that the composition was premiered in 1935 at the Triton Theatre, with Corradina Mola, the work’s dedicatee, performing on the harpsichord.

Corradina Mola Florent Schmitt Sonatine en trio 1935

The Italian harpsichordist Corradina Mola (1896-1948), to whom Florent Schmitt dedicated his Sonatine en trio, discusses each of the work’s four movements in this article published in the January 1937 issue of the magazine L’Art musical. Mme. Mola premiered the work at the Triton Théâtre in Paris on May 24, 1935.

Florent Schmitt Corradina Mola envelope 1932

Composer Florent Schmitt corresponded regularly with Corradina Mola, who resided in Milan, Italy. This envelope containing musical sketches was sent by Schmitt to Mola in 1932.

This piece is one I’ve loved ever since hearing it for the first time back in 1978, in a Live from Lincoln Center performance featuring a stellar group of musicians (Paula Robison on flute, Gervase de Peyer on clarinet and Charles Wadsworth on the harpsichord). These same musicians also presented the piece at the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC (January 14, 1977).

The Sonatine en trio is a charming work, representing Florent Schmitt at his most delicate and playful. Commenting on the music, the conductor JoAnn Falletta has remarked that it will surprise listeners as “quite a different side of the composer — and uttery delightful.”

Florent Schmitt Sonatine en trio

The soloists on the Cybelia recording of the string version of Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en trio (1980s).

None of the four movements in the Sonatine lasts more than three minutes, yet each is memorable in its own special way. The third movement, titled Très Lent, is sometimes performed separately and has even been recorded that way. In this movement in particular, the influence of Fauré is clearly evident.

Florent Schmitt Sonatine en trio score

Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en trio exists in three versions prepared by the composer: for flute/clarinet/harpsichord … flute/clarinet/piano … and violin/cello/piano.

Ever resourceful, Schmitt prepared several subsequent editions of the Sonatine en trio featuring different combinations of instruments. The version for violin, cello and piano, prepared by the composer in in 1936 and premiered that year at the Concerts Cortot in Paris, is very pleasing — but it is performed very rarely and has been recorded commercially just once, back in the 1980s for the Cybelia label.  That recording has been uploaded to George ‘Nick’ Gianopoulos’ YouTube music channel along with the score, and can be heard here while following along with the musical notation.

Another of the composer’s arrangements of this music retains the original flute and clarinet but employs a piano in lieu of the harpsichord.  It is the flute/clarinet/piano version that can be sampled on YouTube, in a fine rendition performed by Emmanuel Pahud on the flute, Paul Meyer on the clarinet and Eric Le Sage on piano.

Durufle Schmitt Poulenc Pierne Ibert Sulzenbacher Quantum 1995

The recording of the Sulzenbacher arrangement of Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en trio (flute, viola and piano), released on the Quantum label (1995).

Beyond Florent Schmitt’s own arrangements of the Sonatine, other musicians have contributed their own “take” on this insouciant piece.  One such example is an arrangement for flute, viola and piano that was prepared by violist Rudolf Sulzenbacher in the mid-1990s.  He was joined by flautist Jérôme van Wynsberge and pianist Magali Goimard in recording this arrangement for release on the Quantum label, coupled with other transcriptions of music by Gabriel Pierné, Jacques Ibert and Francis Poulenc.

Florent Schmitt Suite en rocaille score dedication

Florent Schmitt’s Suite en rocaille was created for the Pierre Jamet Ensemble, as this dedication in the score shows.

If you find the Sonatine en trio as engaging as I think you will, you’ll want to investigate more works by Schmitt in a similar vein. One of the best of these is the whimsical Suite en rocaille, Opus 84 for flute, violin, viola, cello and harp. Composed at nearly the same time as the Sonatine, it’s another work of sheer magic, closely related to its “cousin” the Introduction & Allegro by Maurice Ravel.

Pierre Jamet Quintette Timpani

The reissue of the complete discography of recordings made by Pierre Jamet (1893-1991) and his Quintette instrumental de Paris (Timpani label, 2008).

Both the Schmitt and Ravel works were composed for Pierre Jamet’s Quintette instrumental de Paris, and those performers made the first commercial recording of the Suite en rocaille in the late 1930s. The recording was reissued on CD in 2008, appearing on the Timpani label as part of a 2-CD set featuring all of the commercial recordings made by the Pierre Jamet’s Quintet, encompassing works by eight French composers.

Quinteto Tournier

The Quinteto Tournier performs Florent Schmitt’s whimsical Suite en rocaille (Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain).

A concert performance of the Suite en rocaille, played by the Tournier Quintet, a Spanish ensemble, has been uploaded to YouTube.  It’s a fresh and lively reading.

Also worth hearing is a 1957 performance performed at the Strasbourg Festival, featuring classical superstars Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute and Lily Laskine on the harp, along with violinist Robert Gendre, violist Colette Lequien and cellist Robert Bex.

Raretes francaises vol 20 St-Laurent StudioThe Strasbourg performance is available from St-Laurent Studio in a double-CD set issued as part of its Raretés françaises series of recordings — a release that also includes chamber works by Debussy, Pierné, Roussel, Ibert, Poulenc, Jean Françaix and Henri Martelli that were also presented at the same Strasbourg concert.

In addition to historical and live performances, one of the handful of commercial recordings of this engaging suite is also available to hear on the Gianopoulos music channel on YouTube, presented along with the score.

Florent Schmitt Suite en rocaille score page 1

The first page from a vintage copy of the score to Florent Schmitt’s Suite en rocaille.

A final observation: These works are the polar opposites of the astringent sounds we hear in Schmitt’s Symphonie Concertante for Piano & Orchestra, although they were composed at nearly the same time.

It proves yet again the amazing versatility and inventiveness of this composer.

4 thoughts on “The intimate Florent Schmitt: Suite en rocaille (1934) and Sonatine en trio (1935).

  1. Pingback: Hasards: A Quartet that Illustrates Florent Schmitt’s Highly Interesting Chamber Music Style | Florent Schmitt

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  3. Pingback: Grace, Elegance and Class: Florent Schmitt’s Quartet Pour presque tous les temps (1956). | Florent Schmitt

  4. Pingback: Spanish flautist Roberto Casado talks about Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en Trio and Suite en rocaille – and their place in French Impressionistic music. | Florent Schmitt

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