Czech Radio Trio - evening programme
At Christmastide in 1793 in Vienna after the annual benefit concert of the Tonkünstler-Gesellschaft, the press reported an enthusiastic ovation for the oboe trio of the Teimer brothers (Johann, Franz, and Philipp) playing the Petite serenade concertante in F major by Johann Nepomuk Wendt (1745-1801). The report also mentioned Wendt as the inventor of the English horn, although the musician at the imperial court who played oboe at the court opera and belonged to the court wind ensemble was an English horn virtuoso but not the instrument’s inventor. (The English horn was invented in ca. 1720 by the addition of a pear-shaped bell to the body of the oboe da caccia by the Weigel family, instrument makers in Breslau).
One enthusiastic audience member was the 23-year-old composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). The experience inspired him to compose his four-movement Terzetto in C major for two oboes and English horn. Beethoven worked on the composition in 1794 and understood it as a challenge; he wanted to surpass Wendt, just as he wanted to surpass the works of Mozart or Haydn. We do not know when the work was premiered or whether the Teimer brothers managed to perform it; Johann and Phillip died within a few months of each other in 1796, whereupon Franz departed for England. Beethoven’s trio was published 11 years later in 1806, when he was already a famous composer. The publisher Artaria (with Beethoven’s tacet consent) concealed the fact that the Terzetto was one of Beethoven’s early works by giving it the high opus number 87 and the new, lofty-sounding title “Grand Trio”. For pragmatic reasons, the work was immediately published with several optional instrumental combinations in which this wonderful music is still played today.
French music is one of the pillars of the wind trio repertoire. A peculiar lightness, colour, an inventive approach to sound, esprit, elegance, and humour have always been among the virtues of the music of French composers, and this is especially true of the 1930s, a period associated with neoclassicism. The founding of the Prague Wind Trio (Trio dʼanches de Paris) in 1927, whose leading figure was the agile bassoonist Fernand Oubradous (1903–1986), inspired new works from such composers as Albert Roussel, Eugène Bozza, Georges Auric, Jacques Ibert, Darius Milhaud, Henri Tomasi, and Jean Françaix. Bohuslav Martinů dedicated his Four Madrigals to the Paris Wind Trio.
Unquestionably one of the finest compositions in this idiom is Cinq piéces en trio (Five Pieces for Trio) by Jacques Ibert (1890–1962) from 1935. Ibert was a pupil of Gabriel Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won the prestigious Prix de Rome, a three-year study residency in Italy. He became so enchanted with Italy that he spent many years there as the director of the Accademie Villa Medici in Rome, an institution based in a historic villa owned by the Académie Française. Ibert never claimed adherence to any aesthetic school, but he absorbed the ideas of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky, and he collaborated with Honegger and Milhaud. He wrote music in the spirit of neoclassicism, building upon the traditions of Romanticism and of antiquity, all combined with the keen sensitivity for the colours of individual instruments that is typical of composers of Latin Europe. The standing of the Five Pieces in the trio repertoire is similar to that of Ibert’s Three Short Pieces in the wind quintet literature. Both are among his most frequently played and most popular works.
Darius Milhaud (1892–1974) wrote the Suite dʼaprés Corrette (Suite after Corretta) in 1937, and the Paris Wind Trio premiered it in December 1938. As in many other cases, Milhaud arranged already existing musical material into a suite. Here, he used incidental music for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Op. 161, (the suite is Op. 161b). In the middle of his neoclassical period, Milhaud was inspired by the music of Michel Corrette (1707–1795), a member of a third generation of French keyboard players. Corrette, an organist, was a versatile musician; today we would call him a multi-instrumentalist—he wrote instruction manuals for most instruments in use at the time. His suites for harpsichord included folk dances (tambourin, mussette – bagpipes, le Coucou – the cuckoo). He was probably the first person in music history to use his palm to strike the keyboard (actually playing tone clusters) to depict shots fired in a battle. He celebrated the first flight of the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 with the cantata Le Globe Volant (The Flying Globe).
In eight short movements, Milhaud wonderfully captured the simplicity and directness of Corrette’s style. He employed a modern musical language with mild dissonances in the canonic voice leading or when one of the instruments occasionally “wanders off” into a different key. The Suite after Corrette is a miniature masterpiece, a playful, humorous excursion into history, like the wind quintet La cheminée du roi René, a highpoint of Milhaud’s neoclassical chamber music.
The Zlín native Tomáš Ille (* 1971) is a graduate of the Kroměříž Conservatoire, and he furthered his studies at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts. His musical activities are very wide in scope: he composes music for the concert stage, cinema, the stage, and didactic use. He is also a successful arranger and orchestrator. Ille’s compositions and arrangements are in the repertoire of many Czech and foreign orchestras and chamber ensembles including the Czech Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Pilsen Philharmonic, the South Bohemia Philharmonic, the Martinů Philharmonic in Zlín, the Czech Philharmonic Quartet, Virtuosi da basso, the Czech Nonet, and the Czech Philharmonic Collegium. His works have been published by Universal, Schott, and Bärenreiter. He has collaborated frequently with the conductor Manfred Honeck, for whom he created opera suites from Janáček’s Jenůfa and Strauss’s Elektra. Ille’s suite from Janáček’s opera Osud (Fate) was premiered by the Martinů Philharmonic with the conductor Tomáš Brauner. Ille composed the children’s programmes Singing with the Pilsen Philharmonic and Investigating in the Orchestra. Ille’s History of the Great City Zlín in Sounds and Music, a symphonic melodrama for the 700th anniversary of the founding of the city of his birth, was premiered at an outdoor concert in Zlín on 25 June 2022.
Ille’s work as the author of transcriptions is no less important. For example, his arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition was performed by the Prague PhilHarmonia Octet at the Janáček Brno International Music Festival. By contrast, Tomáš Ille chose subtler instrumentation for his transcription of selected pieces from the first volume of the familiar piano cycle On an Overgrown Path by Leoš Janáček (1854–1928). Individually, Janáček’s pieces give us an intimate picture of the region of his birth. He composed them successively between 1900 and 1908, having originally conceived them for harmonium instead of piano. The pieces on today’s programme are A Blown-Away Leaf, Words Fail! and Good Night!
Ille composed The Proverbs of Solomon on commission for the Smetana Days Festival, and the work is dedicated to the Czech Radio Trio, which premiered it in 2019 and recorded it on their new profile CD. The work was inspired by Proverbs, one of the books of the Old Testament from the Hebrew canon, which contains wise teachings traditionally attributed to the legendary Old Testament king. The writings were influenced by the traditional wisdom literature of Ancient Egypt. Ille’s composition is a melodrama for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and recitation, and the sensitive combination of music with a spoken text is entertaining, thought provoking, and instructive. Many of the proverbs are definitely still applicable to our times, although certain doubts may occur to people nowadays: is good really always rewarded with triumph, and is evil always punished? Do the pious and righteous unfailingly find happiness and prosperity?