Samuel Barber – the last Romantic composer in the USA? This opinion is mainly based on some sensitive tones of his most popular work – Adagio for strings. The mood of a Romantic elegy and existential reflection also emanates from Summer Music Op. 31. Commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Detroit in 1954, it was originally meant for mixed strings and winds, but was eventually scored for a quintet (of flute, oboe, trombone, clarinet, and horn). The serious sections are counterbalanced by light and lively, humorous episodes – the title clearly suggests a careless summer pastime after all.
Bright, serene, elegant music, demonstrating fine technique and – most importantly – sparkling with humour. At least several French composers could be characterised in this way, but the one who probably best fits this description is the still rather underestimated Jean Françaix. The talent of this composer, born into a musical family, was soon recognised. He wrote his first pieces as a six‑ year‑ old, and was later taught by the legendary Nadia Boulanger, who considered him as one of her best pupils. Jean Françaix cultivated her musical ideas virtually throughout his life. They also clearly influenced his Dixtuor for five wind and five string instruments – a very mature work, but emanating such youthful vigour that it could well have been written by a youngster!
Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F Minor Op. 34 is naturally a much more serious work – but the very finale of this work, completed in July 1864 (it evolved from his String Quintet in F Minor through a Sonata for Two Pianos) is full of cheerful spirit, combined with sophisticated technique. For the standards of this almost ostentatiously dignified composer – it is more than a furtive glance toward the world of carefree enjoyment.