The music of Florent Schmitt this weekend. Described as “one of the most fascinating of France’s lesser-known classical composers”, Schmitt has witnessed a revival of his output lately, with an increased coverage of it on compact disc. Beginning in late 2012, the Invencia Piano Duo (Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn), in collaboration with Naxos Records, on its Grand Piano series, released four CDs of Schmitt’s complete duo-piano works.The collection includes Schmitt’s Trois rapsodies, Op. 53, and the first recording of Schmitt’s Sept pièces, Op. 15, composed in 1899. It also includes one of two unpublished duets by Schmitt, Rhapsodie parisienne (1900). As of November 2016, it was announced all four volumes would be made available in a box set, with a scheduled release in January 2017.
Schmitt wrote 138 works with opus numbers. He composed examples of most of the major forms of music, except for opera. His piano quintet in B minor, written in 1908, helped establish his reputation. Other works include a violin sonata (Sonate Libre), a late string quartet, a saxophone quartet, Dionysiaques for wind band, two symphonies as well as several piano cycles such as Crépuscules, Ombres and Mirages.
He was part of the group known as Les Apaches. His own style, recognizably impressionistic, owed something to the example of Debussy, though it had distinct traces of Wagner and Richard Strauss also.
In 1907 Schmitt composed a ballet, La tragédie de Salomé, to a commission from Jacques Rouché for Loie Fuller and the Théâtre des Arts. The original ballet score required twenty instruments and lasted about an hour, In 1910 Schmitt prepared a suite using several of the ballet’s movement, half as long as the ballet score, for a much expanded orchestra. The suite is much better-known, with recordings conducted by Schmitt himself, Paul Paray, Jean Martinon, Antonio de Almeida, Marek Janowski and others. There is also a recording of the 1907 original score under Patrick Davin on the Marco Polo label. The rhythmic syncopations, polyrhythms, percussively treated chords, bitonality, and scoring of Schmitt’s work anticipate Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. While composing The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky acknowledged that Schmitt’s ballet gave him greater joy than any work he had heard in a long time, but the two composers fell out with each other in later years, and Stravinsky reversed his opinion of Schmitt’s works.
Schmitt was one of the ten French composers who each, in 1927, contributed a dance for the children’s ballet L’éventail de Jeanne. Schmitt wrote the finale, a Kermesse-Valse.
Other works include the suite for orchestra “Oriane et le Prince d’Amour” op. 83 bis (1934), the symphonic diptych to the memory of Gabriel Faure “In Memoriam” op. 72 (1937), the “Ronde Burlesque” op. 78 (1927), the “Legende pour alto et orchestre” op. 66 (1918), and the orchestral fresco “Anthony and Cleopatra” (1920).
Though he was one of the most often performed French composers during the first four decades of the 20th century, Florent Schmitt fell into comparative neglect, though he never stopped composing. (In 1952 he was admitted to the Légion d’honneur.) He became the subject of attacks — both in his last years and posthumously — over his pro-German sympathies during the 1930s, and over his willingness to work for the Vichy regime in the 1940s, as had other eminent French musicians, notably Alfred Cortot and Joseph Canteloube.
He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1958, aged 87.
The Lied et Scherzo was composed in 1910 – Schmitt scholar Phillip Nones has this to say about it:
The work was dedicated to Schmitt’s fellow French composer Paul Dukas, who was famous for his own concertante work for French horn, the Villanelle (composed four years earlier in 1906).
Musicologist Pierre Barbier describes Lied et Scherzo as a “surprising diptych” that begins in a “dreamy, passionate” mood followed by a “fantastic, biting scherzo.” Simply put, it’s a thrilling piece of music.