2017 Blossom Music Festival
August 19 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
The Haunted Palace, Opus 49
Symphonic étude on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Florent Schmitt (18705-1958)
At a Glance
Schmitt created his The Haunted Palace between 1900 and 1904. It was first performed in Paris.
The Haunted Palace runs just over 10 minutes in performance. Florent scored it for 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and english horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (tam-tam, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, glockenspiel), harp, and strings.
About the Music
For many of us, French composer Florent Schmitt’s name is nearly unknown today. But a hundred years ago, he was at the top of his game and in the center of all things musical in Paris. Twenty years earlier, he had studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Gabriel Fauré and Jules Massenet, with Ravel as a classmate. Following military service (playing flute in a garrison band), he won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1900 and spent the next four years — at the Villa Medici in Rome and travelling across Europe — finding his own compositional voice, including musical exoticisms from around the Mediterranean, especially from Islamic Turkey and Morocco. His style was still forming, however, mixing together calculated declamatory outbursts interspersed with varying dynamics and rhythm, and very much embracing the new — and essentially French — Impressionism of Debussy.
Schmitt is best known today for a number of orchestral works, several of which were originally created as ballets. His Tragedy of Salome, for example, was written in 1907 and made quite a splash in its first season as a ballet with chamber orchestra accompaniment. In 1910, he arranged a suite from it for the concert hall, expanding the musical canvas to full symphonic orchestra — and vying, in France at least, against Richard Strauss’s rougher and more bombastic operatic score for Salome.
A few years earlier, Schmitt had chosen to join in Europe’s Romantic fixation with the writings of the American spectral author Edgar Allan Poe. Utilizing a French prose translation by Stéphane Mallarmé, he wrote The Haunted Palace [“Le Palais Hanté”] as a symphonic tone poem.
The work is a lushly-wrought score, with episodes that sound highly dramatic interspersed with quieter sections more evocative of mists and uncertainty. While not telling a specific story, it recreates in sound some of the poem’s ideas and tales of woe, convincingly creating an atmosphere that can be heard as troubled by the past and dangerous to the present. A few direct references to music in the poem’s words are (perhaps) quietly mirrored in Schmitt’s deft and shimmering musical score, while louder outbursts track against the poem’s overall tragedy. —Eric Sellen © 2017