Jean Francaix

The French pianist and composer, Jean Francaix was actively working during a time when progress was rapid in all areas of life. Change was fast and inevitable, for better or for worse. From 1912 until 1997, the years of Francaix’ life, our world saw changes in industry, communication and travel. As advancements in technology were exploding, the size of the globe seemed to rapidly shrink in a metaphorical sense.

For Francaix, the developing and changing world coupled beautifully with his inquisitive spirit. Maurice Ravel said of Francaix, “Among [his] gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity…” This curiousity allowed Francaix to be flexible in unpredictable times, and this flexibility is seen also in his music through delicate and playful interactions between voices. The conversational and playful characteristics are undoubtedly French, but the writing of Francaix also rings with individuality.

Jean Francaix,  Concertino for piano and orchestre 

Francaix held within himself a paradox: although he was flexible, curious and open, he maintained a strong sense of self. He adhered to the Neoclassical school of tonal, melodious, light-hearted wit contained within elegant forms. He experimented with these structures and forms in all sorts of musical conglomerations such as symphonies, concerti, ballets, theater, film scores, operas, chamber music, and more.

Jean Francaix,   Dixtuor for Wind Quintet and String Quintet

Among his evocative chamber works is his Dixtuor for Wind Quintet and String Quintet. This work was composed in 1987 and is made up of four movements. The instrumentation is unusual but full of brilliant colors and deep textures that come together in a rich and pleasant pallette.  In this rare combination of instruments it is refreshing to see how well strings and winds blend together in a small intimate setting in addition to how we already understand their relationship in the orchestral sense. The relatively recent year of composition, 1987, was a year when great musical experimentation was taking place. Atonality, minimalism and the use of electronics were all gaining great popularity. Francaix’ work helps us to understand that beautiful melodies and secure structures still have a strong footing within our continually evolving musical world.

by M. Sparks