As the complete music for piano duet and duo composed by Florent Schmitt continues to be released by the Grand Piano label in its series featuring the Invencia Piano Duo, it’s becoming clear that this is music of immediate appeal … and also of substance.
Three of the four planned CDs in the series have now been released in the United States.
I’ve had the opportunity to listen to the first two volumes. Simply put, the music is a delight. (This isn’t just my view, but also the opinion of numerous music critics.)
As it turns out, generous portions of the music in the first two volumes are devoted to world premiere recordings of four works by Florent Schmitt:
In Volume 1 …
- Seven Pieces, Opus 15 (1899)
- Rhapsodie Parisienne (1900)
In Volume 2 …
According to Andrey Kasparov of the Invencia Piano Duo, it is unclear if some of these works ever received “formal” premiere performances in public — let alone recordings. This, of course, makes the music even more intriguing to explore.
Another interesting aspect of the music: A number of the works appear to have been composed by Schmitt with piano study in mind – particularly the two world premiere recordings in Volume 2.
In his highly informative booklet notes for the CD release, Mr. Kasparov provides insights into Schmitt’s approach to these works:
“Beginning in 1906, Schmitt experimented with a method of composition based strictly on the first five pitches of the diatonic scale in melody. Once introduced in a particular movement, each five-note set would remain unchanged, with the composer masterfully disguising this self-imposed limitation by a variety of other available means. This approach later proved to be very useful for numerous others, including Stravinsky in both his Five Easy Pieces for piano duet (1914) and The Five Fingers for piano (1921).”
To my ears, the Schmitt works don’t sound at all like “preparatory exercises” for students. They are musically quite meaty, and invariably interesting.
As these piano works were composed relatively early in Schmitt’s career as a composer, perhaps it’s not too surprising that the music is remindful – at least in places – of the piano music of Schmitt’s own teacher, Gabriel Fauré.
Fauré – and by inference Schmitt – seems to have been forgotten by a good many people when the great piano music composers of the period are considered. (Nikolai Medtner seems to have suffered a similar fate.)
Perhaps that’s being rectified now. One stated mission of the Invencia Piano Duo’s recording project is to bring these rich and vital scores to light – not only for the benefit of music lovers but also for fellow pianists and musicians.
It’s my prediction that this four-volume series will do just that: expand the piano duet and duo repertoire with some fine new material … and bring many of these “newly rediscovered” piano works into the recital hall.
It may have taken 100+ years … but it’s finally happening. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Invencia Piano Duo, and to the musically astute management of the NAXOS organization for providing the means to make it happen.