The chamber music pieces of Florent Schmitt are quite interesting and varied. Among them are wonderfully intimate works such as the Sonatine en Trio from 1934 which have a flavor somewhat similar to the chamber works of Schmitt’s compatriots Debussy and Ravel.
But there are numerous other Schmitt compositions for chamber players that inhabit a different sound-world – more full-bodied and containing surprising musical touches.
One of these pieces is Hasards, Op. 96. The title of this four-movement suite, which Schmitt described as a “petit concert” for piano, violin, viola and cello, translates roughly to mean “Chances” in English.
And the “chances” Schmitt takes gives us music that’s wonderfully rhythmic and colorful.
But the music also possesses a certain “irony” that comes through in wry statements punctuated by chords that push harmonic boundaries while seeming to be completely apt for the music.
Schmitt’s score, which was dedicated to his fellow French composer Guy Ropartz, was first performed in 1943 by the Pasquier Trio and the American-born French pianist Aline van Barentzen. (A later concert performance by this same ensemble, done in 1959 and featuring Monique Mercier on the piano, is available on CD.)
The suite, which is less than 15 minutes in duration, is a highly engaging work that keeps the listener’s interest from beginning to end.
In characteristic Schmitt style, the four movements of the suite bear highly descriptive and alliterative titles:
I: Exorde – D’une allure rapide: a fast movement with a light rhythm
II: Zélie-au-pied-leger: a lively number in 6/8 time and an indeterminate key signature
III: Demi-soupir – Un peu lent: slow and mysterious with a clear stylistic debt to Gabriel Fauré, one of Schmitt’s composition instructors at the Paris Conservatoire
IV: Bourrée-bourrasque – Impétueux: liberally translated meaning “brusque bourree”, with definitive rhythms punctuated by striking chords on the piano
Musicologist and Schmitt biographer Yves Hucher had this to say about Hasards:
“The whole work is so youthful and so lithe, which explains its charm: ironical and facetious at the beginning, dreamy in the middle, bolder and more intoxicating at the end. One could search in vain for a flaw or a moment of boredom in this work. In its desire to please, its only pretense is that of being real music.”
In the years following its premiere, Hasards stayed in the repertoire of the Pasquier Trio, which performed the work with a variety of pianists including Gaby Casadesus.
The piece was taken up by a number of other ensembles as well, with several of those performances recorded by French Radio. Prominent among them was the Ensemble Marie-Thérèse Ibos, which presented a half-dozen performances for broadcast over a 20-year period beginning in the early 1950s. Another group playing the piece in the 1950s was an ensemble made up of violinist Maurice Raskin, violist Harry van de Mortel, cellist Maurice Dambois and pianist André Dumortier.
Also featured on French radio was a performance by an ensemble comprised of violinist Jacques Dejean, violist Stéphane Weiner, cellist Jacqueline Henclin and pianist Denise Dixmier (early 1960s). Later proponents of the work included a successor ensemble led by violinist Jacques Dejean along with violist Marc Charles, cellist Jean-Claude Ribeira and pianist Louis-Claude Thirion (during the mid-1970s).
In the early 1980s the violinist Jacques Parrenin, violist Gilles Deliège, cellist Georges Schwartz and pianist Monique Mercier performed the piece for Radio-France. Later in the same decade another group of musicians — violinist Maryvonne Le Dizes, violist Raymont Glatard, cellist Pierre Stanck and pianist Daniele Bellik went into the RTF studios to record the piece for broadcast as well.
And in the early 1990s the Domus Piano Quartet did the honors. The most recent performance I’m aware of was presented in Germany in 2020 by the Rivinius Piano Quartet.
As for commercial recordings of Hasards, I am aware of five of them. In addition to the 1959 Pasquier concert performance noted above, several others in particular are very similar in approach – and are quite good.
One is a Gallo recording of a 1990 live performance performed by Élizabeth Herbin (piano), Alexis Galpérine (violin), Bruno Pasquier (viola) and Mark Drobinsky (cello).
There is also a 1993 Valois studio recording made by the “newest generation” of Pasquier family members: Bruno Pasquier (again) on the viola, Régis Pasquier on violin, Roland Pidoux on cello, and Haridas Greif on the piano. In a review of that recording (pictured at the beginning of this article), Fanfare magazine reviewer Paul A. Snook placed the piece in its proper context within the Schmitt catalogue — along with making a telling comment about the most successful artistic approach to the music — writing:
“During the 1930s and 40s Schmitt moved closer to a kind of lighthearted, hedonistic mock neo-classicism which resulted in a series of perky, athletic pieces … Perhaps the best such work of this type is a ‘petit concert’ from 1943 for piano quartet … [making] for a delectably devious and diversified romp, spectacularly brought off by these brilliant musicians who never forget that the inescapable byword when performing Schmitt is detachment.”
Nearly twenty years later the piece was recorded by the American-based Ames Piano Quartet. Writing in the March 2012 issue of Gramophone magazine, critic Ken Smith praised the exploration of Parisian repertoire by the Ames players (including works by Dubois and Hahn in addition to Schmitt on the recording) — a well as the interpretations, noting in particular that “Hasards practically dances with thythmic immediacy.”
If you are unfamiliar with the chamber music of Florent Schmitt, I think Hasards is a good place to start your voyage of discovery. Yves Hucher is correct: It is highly accessible music that gives witness to some of the more individualistic aspects of Schmitt’s music for small forces – and that also allows ample opportunity for each of the instrumentalists to shine.
For those interested in sampling this music, a recent live performance of Hasards by a Japanese chamber ensemble — the Tarihere Quartet — has been uploaded on YouTube. The Valois studio recording is also available to hear, thanks to Philippe Louis and his highly invaluable music channel on YouTube, and most recently the Gallo recording has also been uploaded and can be heard on YouTube here.
But for those who wish to explore the music in more detail, the Valois recording has also been uploaded to YouTube in conjunction with the score, thanks to Jean-Marie van Bronkhorst and his very worthy music channel. It can be viewed here.