The Spanish flautist and chamber musician Roberto Casado discovered the music of Florent Schmitt as part of a quest to find new repertoire pieces in the French Impressionist tradition.
His goal was to find scores that weren’t derivative, but instead contained interesting touches that distinguished them from the well-known works of Ravel and Debussy.
This mission led him to two compositions by Schmitt: The Sonatine en Trio, Op. 85 and the Suite en rocaille, Op. 84. Mr. Casado and his colleagues – instructors at the Conservatory of Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain – introduced these pieces to Spanish audiences in 2012 and 2013.
Recently, I asked Mr. Casado to share his thoughts on the music of Florent Schmitt – and of these two pieces in particular. (His observations below are translated from Spanish into English.)
PLN: How did you discover the music of Florent Schmitt?
RC: As a flute player, I am always looking for new repertoire to study and perform. Several years ago, I wanted to prepare a recital of chamber music featuring three instruments: flute, clarinet and piano. My pianist introduced me to the Sonatine en Trio.
Looking at the score, I was immediately struck by the perfect balance between the three instruments; each of them is given a prominent voice in the piece. To my mind, it was one of the best pieces of music scored for flute, clarinet and piano that I had ever seen.
I then listened to Emmanuel Pahud’s recording of the Sonatine and enjoyed his interpretation very much. So we decided to learn this music (although we were not able to perform this piece in recital until 2013 – a year after the Suite en rocaille, which I had actually discovered later).
PLN: What attracted you to Schmitt’s music? What aspects of it are particularly appealing to you personally?
RC: I love the atmosphere created by the composer – the musical style is so highly effective. I would consider the music basically impressionistic – particularly the Sonatine.
The Suite en rocaille could be considered a little more advanced harmonically. But its combination of string trio, flute and harp is quite impressionistic – and also very French.
PLN: Some people see a connection between the Suite en rocaille and works by Debussy, Ravel and Roussel that feature the same instrumentation. In what ways do you see these composers and their compositions as similar … or different?
RC: I do see similarities between Florent Schmitt and all of these other composers. After all, they lived in the same time and shared the same musical milieu in Paris. These shared experiences must have influenced all of them.
And in fact, we see that they – along with Marcel Tournier, Gabriel Pierné and others – wrote pieces of similar types featuring the same groups of instruments.
PLN: When did you first perform these two pieces?
RC: The Sonatine was first performed in 2013 in a recital that included clarinet, flute and piano pieces spanning some 250 years – from C.P.E. Bach to Camille Saint-Saëns, Dmitri Shostakovich, Tony Aubin, Clare Grundman, Mario Kuri-Aldana – and Florent Schmitt.
I have also worked on the Sonatine with my chamber music students at the conservatory.
The Suite en rocaille was first performed in recital in 2012, and was part of a larger program of French compositions representing “the colors of Impressionism.”
This was done with my chamber group which is called the “Quinteto Tournier.” The program included music by Gabriel Pierné, Marcel Tournier and Jean Françaix in addition to Florent Schmitt.
PLN: How did the audience react to the Schmitt pieces?
RC: The audiences loved the music! They could enjoy the colors and atmosphere – as well as the big contrasts between the slow, languid movements and the more spirited fast ones.
PLN: How would you characterize Schmitt’s music in terms of its technical or interpretive challenges?
RC: Trom a technical and interpretive standpoint, it isn’t easy music. It is quite difficult to get the rhythmic challenges correct, while also bringing out the different voices, colors and sounds.
That being said, Schmitt’s music is well-worth the effort to learn, and the rewards are definitely there for the audience as well as the players.
PLN: Can you tell me something about the Tournier Quintet and its members?
RC: The members of the Quinteto are teachers at the Conservatory of Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain. The group was formed many years ago, and it has been my pleasure to be part of this ensemble.
We adopted the name of the composer Marcel Tournier for the Quintet because of his sympathies with the instruments making up our ensemble. In fact, we perform Tournier’s music frequently as part of our concerts.
Our philosophy is to present the music of lesser-known composers alongside the standard repertoire – provided the worth of the music is on the same high plane. This kind of discovery is rewarding for the public as well as for us players!
PLN: Does the Tournier Quintet have plans to perform the Schmitt scores again in the future?
RC: We would love to do so, but currently there are no plans. Unfortunately, the current economic crisis in Spain is having a negative impact on the number of concerts and recitals that can be organized and put on.
PLN: Please tell me briefly about your own background in music.
RC: I began studying the flute when I was about 9 years old. I started in my home city of Pamplona, Spain, and then continued my studies in France (Les Landes and Evreux).
My musical career has been mainly in Spain and France, as well as several other European countries. I would love to offer some musical recitals in the United States and the Far East, too.
PLN: Are there any other works by Florent Schmitt besides these two that you have studied or performed?
RC: I have worked on several other pieces, but haven’t performed them in concert yet – the Suite for Flute, a wind quintet, and the Quartet for Four Flutes. I would love to perform these works someday, but the opportunity hasn’t been presented yet.
It may be some time before we can hear Roberto Casado and his musical colleagues tackle these other Schmitt compositions. But fortunately for us, their performances of both the Sonatine en Trio and Suite en rocaille have been uploaded to YouTube. You can sample them here and here.