Quintet+ (7)

This week a short break from ensembles that include stringed instruments with a (very) brief exploration of the woodwind quintet.

Actually, to describe this instrumental group as a ‘woodwind’ quintet is a bit of a misnomer, since what has become the standard line up of instruments for this ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon) includes, as you can see, a member of the brass family.

The ensemble’s history starts in the early nineteenth century with the works of Anton Reicha and Franz Danzi, but unlike the string quartet (and quintet?) which had the likes of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert as its champions, the woodwind quintet tended to languish during the eighteen hundreds and only really come into its own at the beginning of the twentieth century.

As distinct from the strings, this group of players poses extra problems for the composer since, while the members of the violin family are capable of blending with one another beautifully, there are only a few timbral areas in which the five very individual instrumental personalities of the wind quintet can reach consensus. The composer’s job then is, while making the most of this individuality, to also seek out (or even discover new) combinations of instrumental registers in which the ear can find repose.

Here are what are, to my mind, two of the finest examples of writing for the ensemble. The Nielsen cleverly ties instrumental personality quirks to human ones, while the Barber, while also allowing the instruments the bloom of their individuality, manages additionally to explore some new areas of agreement.

0.00Allegro ben moderato
05:59 – Menuet
12:47 – Theme
13:30 – Variation 1
14:10 – Variation 2
14:45 – Variation 3
15:19 – Variation 4
15:48 – Variation 5
16:24 – Variation 6
17:06 – Variation 7
17:44 – Variation 8
18:26 – Variation 9
19:39 – Variation 10
20:29 – Variation 11


… and if you want to follow the score: