Within the genre of chamber music the instrumental combination of flute, harp and viola has always been one of my absolute favorites. It produces a sound world of exceptional beauty; to the point that when one encounters (certainly when I do anyhow) a piece for this trio combination that is "contemporary" in style (which might seem atypical unless one knows extensively this repertoire)-it will often delight and surprise even those who tend to have musical 'allergies' (fear, tremors, upset stomach, short-term anhedonia and/or hopelessness about the state of modern music..) to substantial dissonance and free atonality. The enchanting music at hand generally steers clear from such approaches (Debussy needless to say was intrigued by the modernist tendencies at this time, and there is an identifiable albeit gradual change in his compositional style, motivated in part by the new European school but also drawing on his life-long interest in music from around the globe-his early exposure to the Balinese gamelan is one such example).
The "Sambuca Sonata" is something of an exception, although not in any strict sense. The music is overall playful, and it's inspiration derives from several genres including jazz.
What makes this disc really quite special however, is the inclusion of Harald Genzmer's "Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp", which I had never heard before (there are several recordings, it seems to be his best known work). In 1995 this disc was my introduction to Genzmer, and his Trio grabbed me from the start. Harald Genzmer was a composer who rejected the avant-garde in his compositions, taking his cue from Hindemith, with whom he studied. His works resonate highly with me, doing precisely what I "want music to do" not unlike the music of my late friend Rosner and many others. Harald Genzmer is sadly yet another example of an unjustly neglected composer with an original voice, and a lot to say. I have a few discs of his music, although the most comprehensive and important survey of his music was released on the Thorofon label during the 1990's, with 10 discs produced altogether. Later Thorofon offered the volumes in a 10-cd set, which I also missed out on. This bothers me all the time! These recordings were hard to find then and are hard to find now, although amazon and other sites do have a few volumes for sale (mostly private sellers) at prices upwards of 20 USD. Either I will wait until luck strikes and I find the box set somewhere or I will give in and buy the volumes that I can find one by one, although not really feasible at this time for me. As soon as I can locate the rest of the Genzmer that I do have, I will post it as listeners need to know it!
Harald Genzmer (1909-1997) was born in Blumenthal near Bremen on 9 February 1909. In 1928 he began to study at the Berlin Hochschule fur Music with Paul Hindemith (composition, until 1934), Rudolf Schmidt (piano), Alfred Richter (clarinet) and Curt Sachs (musicology). From 1934 to 1937 he worked as a repetiteur, later as assistant conductor at the Breslau Opera House. In 1938 he began to teach at the Volksmusikschule Berlin-Neukolln, where Hindemith too had been teaching before. In the 1940's, he experimented with electronic instruments and devoted himself particularly to the "Trautonium" (an electronic instrument invented by Friedrich Trautwein).
He passed his military service as a clarinet-player in a music corps and, after the Second World War, in 1946, was appointed professor of composition and assistant director at the new Musikhochschule of Freiburg, then, from 1957 to 1974, at the Munich Hochschule fur Musik. In Munich Genzmer has been leading the department of music of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts for ten years. He also became a member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin and held important positions in many cultural political organisations like the GEMA. In recognition for his outstanding services as a composer and teacher, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Bavarian Constitution in 1998, the Arts Price by the Bayerische Landesstiftung in 1996 and the Maximilian Order, the most distinguished Bavarian Cultural Award, in 1991. His works include all genres, especially many fine concertos, misc. orchestral works and chamber works, with the only exception being opera. Among his substantial output there are also significant choral works and also many educational compositions.
Arnold Bax's "Elegiac Trio" is one of my favorite chamber works of all time; indeed I find his chamber output generally to be some of his strongest and most enchanting music (please, no arguments for his tone poems or symphonies-trust me I love every single one! ;) The trio is simply ethereal.
Debussy's "Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp" needs no introduction. It is ubiquitous and cherished in the repertoire, deservedly so. One of my favorite works as well, and likely yours too-it was a profound and moving experience hearing it for the first time (oh so many years ago). I still remember the sheer wonder and joy as if it took place last week.
The "Petite suite for Flute, Harp and Viola" of André Jolivet (probably from 1941) recalls Debussy in its impressionist delicacy and evocations of hazy summer days and breezes, but its rustic gigue and wandering harmonic changes are Jolivet's own. Jolivet wrote quite a bit of charming chamber works and everyone should stay tuned for more of his music in the future..