Dionysiaques Around the World: Celebrating 100 Years of Florent Schmitt’s Masterpiece for Concert Band (1913-2013)

Dionysiaques, Op. 62 is unquestionably Florent Schmitt’s most famous work for wind ensemble.  It was composed exactly 100 years ago, but it would take decades for this 11-minute tour de force to become part of the core repertoire of concert bands.

First in France … then in Europe and the United States and now in the Far East … this composition has shown a slow-but-steady rise in popularity — along with the growing acknowledgement that it is one of the very finest works in the band repertoire.

L'Orchestre d'Harmonie de la Garde Republicaine concert poster (Japan, November 2013)

L’Orchestre d’Harmonie de la Garde Republicaine, the Parisian-based concert band that premiered Florent Schmitt’s Dionysiaques, will perform the piece on concert tour in Japan in November 2013, exactly 100 years after the work was composed.

Japan in particular has embraced Dionysiaques in a big way.  Countless wind ensembles from middle school and high school up through college, as well as professional groups, program the piece regularly, and there have been dozens of recordings made by these Japanese ensembles.

[I own a good number of Japanese “school” recordings, and the quality of the playing on many of them is nothing short of amazing.]

And now, Japan is playing host to L’Orchestre d’Harmonie de la Garde Républicaine, the Parisian-based wind ensemble for which Florent Schmitt composed this music 100 years ago.

The Garde Républicaine band will be performing a series of concerts in Japan in early November 2013, conducted by its music director François Boulanger.  Included on these programs are concert band works by Hector Berlioz and Henri Tomasi, along with wind arrangements of orchestral music by fellow French composers Paul Dukas, Maurice Ravel and Emmanuel Chabrier.

But the biggest draw on the program will undoubtedly be Dionysiaques, a piece so loved by Japanese audiences.  It’s a score well-known to this ensemble, which has been performing it for decades.

Of course, Japan isn’t alone in loving this music.  Over the past 20 years, there has been a clear increase in the number of performances of Dionysiaques.

I’ve witnessed this happening in my own home region here in the United States, wherein the Peabody Wind Ensemble (Baltimore, MD) under the direction of its music director, Harlan Parker, has programmed the work in no fewer than three seasons over the past decade.

The music has also been performed at the University of Maryland in College Park within the past several years.

Speaking about the University of Maryland performance in particular, I love the comments of Andrew Lindemann Malone, a music reviewer for the Washington Post and several other publications.  In his DMV Classical blog, which chronicles concert performances in the DC/Maryland/Virginia region, Mr. Malone had these fascinating if irreverent words to say about the stunning piece of music that is Dionysiaques:

“And then it was the orgy we were all waiting for!  In the form of Florent Schmitt’s Dionysiaques, also written for a truly giant group of winds, making equally earthy noises to less terpsichorean ends.  

[The] program notes outlined a vague program for the Schmitt, but given the low fumbling-around chords at the beginning, followed by stabs at coordination with continued awkward interruptions – progressing ultimately to a loud climax almost immediately succeeded by utter collapse – I felt I knew exactly what Schmitt had in mind.”

If that description doesn’t make someone want to investigate this music more, I’m not sure what would … !

Helpfully, it’s quite easy to explore Dionysiaques further, thanks to the copious quantity of studio and live concert performances that are available on YouTube.  You can listen to several representative examples here and here and here (the second of these is a Garde Républicaine performance).

Let us know if you’re totally spent, à la Andrew Lindemann Malone above, when you’re through!

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