Jean Françaix: Quintet for Flute, Harp, and String Trio

Written for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chamber Music Series. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Jean Françaix, still composing into the mid-1990s, was one of the last living people with a direct connection to the great French tradition of the early 20th century. He was mentored by Maurice Ravel who observed that “among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity.” Later he was something like a younger sibling to the members of Les Six, following in the footsteps of Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud.

Françaix’s Quintet is an early work, from 1934, written for the Quintette Instrumental de Paris. This unusual ensemble, led by the flutist René Le Roy, consisted of flute, harp, violin, viola, and cello, and commissioned new works from a number of composers. They premiered Françaix’s piece on May 24, 1935.

The first movement is an almost continuous flute melody, simple and calm. The Scherzo, marked presto, spins around cheerfully, while the Andante is a gentle cradlesong that becomes more and more longing. The folksy Rondo riffs on a children’s miming song “Savez-vous planter les choux?” (Do you know how to plant cabbages?)

Benjamin Pesetsky is a composer and writer. He serves on the staff of the San Francisco Symphony and also contributes program notes for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony.