The Kennedy Center

String Trio in C major

About the Work

Jean Françaix Composer: Jean Françaix
© Richard Freed

Jean Françaix, one might observe, was well named, for his music represents not only his own personality but various characteristics we have come to identify with the French: urbane wit, elegance, élan, all manifesting themselves in ways that reminds us that wisdom and profundity need not be encased in gloomy tones or distended proportions. He was consistently productive from his teens to the end of his life, and early on found a level in which he was both "comfortable" and constantly imaginative. In discussing his music he liked to quote a remark of Molière's which may be translated, "It is a strange venture to make honest folk laugh."

One of Françaix's early works is an enchanting score for the ballet Scuola di ballo ("Dancing School"), made up entirely of his stunning settings for small orchestra of movements from the string quartets of Luigi Boccherini—a piece in the tradition of Stravinsky's Pulcinella (on music attributed to Pergolesi) and Respighi's arrangement of Rossini material (for larger orchestra) for La Boutique fantasque. The most remarkable thing about Scuola di ballo is that it has yet to share the wide circulation enjoyed by those familiar works.

In the realm of chamber music Françaix wrote works for winds, works for strings, and works in which strings and winds join forces. Most of these are of modest proportions, as is the especially successful String Trio, composed in 1933, the same year as Scuola di ballo, and dedicated to the Pasquier Trio, a distinguished family ensemble eminent in French musical life for many years. This concise and vivacious work is a celebration of the neoclassical movement that was in vogue at the time. The opening movement (Allegretto vivo) is a lively yet intimate conversation among the three instruments, all of them played with mutes, and the viola has a motif spelling the name Bach in reverse, the notes B, C, A, B-flat corresponding to HCAB in German notation. The Scherzo that follows is unrestrainedly vivacious and without the mutes, which are in place again, however, for the songlike slow movement (Andante), in A minor and in rondo form, with the violin as gently accompanied soloist. C major returns, and the mutes are gone again, in Finale, which outdoes the Scherzo in sheer, effervescent drive (it has been described as a chamber-music cancan); the work ends surprisingly softly, though, fading away in a gentle yet pointed pizzicato gesture.