It is 1:30 am, so technically I have "missed" a proper Koechlin birthday post by over one hour :-o (how could I, yes I know..) I do believe the music will make up for my irresponsible behavior however.
The lovely "Primavera Quintet" for flute, harp and strings Op.156 opens with immediate lift into the airiest tissue of childlike charm and happiness sustained through its four movements, making the strongest possible contrast with the earlier Piano Quintet, Op. 80, that testament of crisis and overcoming whose final movement arrives, through oneness with consoling nature, at joy. But where the latter's athletic bounding and springing are the strenuous marks of renewed health hard won, the "Primavera" is the vivaciously relaxed utterance of a more cheerful soul. Here a master hand is everywhere evident, in the unbarred rhythmic fluidity that nevertheless never loses impetus, the delineation of the movements' ternary form by various instrumental combinations within the ensemble, and, above all-in Koechlin's contrapuntal dexterity, which has the deceptive simplicity of a round and textures never heavy or academic but of the most enchanting polyphony. Begun in February and completed on April 22 1936, the "Primavera Quintette" comes at the moment of ultimate disillusion in Koechlin's infatuation with film star Lilian Harvey, whom he had "seen", twice-on August 7, 1934, in "Princesse à vos ordres". Over the following two years, Harvey inspired well over 100 pieces in which the contrapuntally obsessed manner of the 1920s -- massive, complex, Gothic-put on its most smilingly accessible face. His letters and autobiographical writings are rife with asides on Harvey as the incarnation of his feminine ideal-"She is in reality a mixture of very diverse elements: comedy, acrobatics, clowning, and on the other hand, (when the occasion demands) of sentimentality not devoid of poetry, childlike and radiant joy...." But when she failed to acknowledge his letters, manuscripts, and the proposal of a scenario in which they would co-star, his ambivalence, wavering between wish-fulfillment and reality, swung to the latter. As he was completing the "Primavera," Harvey was filming on location at Antibes, and with the opportunity to meet her at hand...he sent his wife to deliver more manuscripts of the music she'd evoked in a final halfhearted attempt to interest her. By that time he knew actual contact could only have been a disappointing anticlimax, for the ideal mirage her films conjured had re-awakened him and been subsumed in his music.
"Amongst my chamber music compositions," Koechlin wrote of his Piano Quintet, "it is the one which I hold in the highest regard." It demonstrates, more comprehensively if not more fully, the trope of crisis and overcoming explored in other works-the grim Scherzo of the Viola Sonata, the nightmare and awakening of "Le Docteur Fabricius", the creative stasis and release of "Le Buisson ardent". In an autobiographical study written in 1939, Koechlin spoke of the Piano Quintet (of its last movement, in particular) as having been "written at a time of trouble and mourning," though, as its composition was begun in 1908, continued in 1911, and worked through to completion between 1917 and 1921, it is difficult to peg this to specific events. The movement superscriptions are accurate indicators of the work's emotional program-"L'attente obscure de ce sera..." (gloomy expectation of that which is to come), "L'assault de l'ennemi -- la blessure" (the enemy's assault -- the wound), "La nature consolatrice" (nature the comforter), "La joie" (joy). In the decade scarred by the Great War, Koechlin had found his way to a unique polytonal language capable of expressing such a range of emotions with a psychological penetration beside which Heldenleben heroics or Tod und Verklärung pathos seem badly dated-a new century, a new prehension reflective (like Godowsky's great Piano Sonata) of the lives we lead, our miseries, sicknesses, and our recoveries. No other composer has hymned the Virgilian sublime-the vision of rural peace, abundance, and fecundity: nature as the bosom of mankind-as has Koechlin. One has only to compare the "Nature consalatrice" movement with such things as Delius' Summer Night on the River, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, or Song of the High Hills to grasp its originality: Delius' is the view of an aesthete, sensual, separate, and, in Song of the High Hills, heroic and Nietzschean, where Koechlin's is suffused with a sensuous chastity, trust, and conviction of oneness. Nor is he matched by any other composer for his lissome, springing, childlike joyfulness, devoid of triumphalism. It is less in the challenge of his polytonal language-eloquent in both grating dissonance and luminous consonance-than in his avoidance of cliché that he leaves his audience behind. Enjoy..