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Suite sans esprit de suite, Op 89
1937; composer's own orchestration of work originally for solo piano

'Schmitt: Orchestral Music' (CDA67599)
Schmitt: Orchestral Music
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67599 
Movement 1: Majeza
Movement 2: Charmilles
Movement 3: Pécorée de Calabre
Movement 3: Thrène
Movement 5: Bronx

Suite sans esprit de suite, Op 89
The Suite sans esprit de suite, Op 89, dates from 1937, during the period of Schmitt’s turbulent critical career. He composed it first for piano solo but then immediately produced this version for orchestra. Compared to the Psalm and Salomé it is comparatively restrained, even neoclassical in expression, and quite light-hearted in mood, though every page continues to show the hand of a master-orchestrator. Nor does it show much oriental influence, being rather a score of Mediterranean warmth and clarity. The title is an untranslatable pun, for the French phrase ‘esprit de suite’ means not ‘the spirit of a Suite’ but rather ‘coherence’, ‘consistency’; so something that is ‘sans esprit de suite’ would therefore be inconsistent, indeed a ‘non sequitur’. Schmitt presumably meant to indicate that his work comprised a number of contrasted movements without any larger interrelationship (which might, in fact, accord with the popular idea of what a suite could be). Yet in its own way the piece does establish an inner unity from the fact that all of its five movements are infused with the spirit of the dance, each one alluding to a different kind of dance-measure.

The opening ‘Majeza’ (brilliance or flashiness—a word deriving from the aristocracy of eighteenth-century Madrid) is a lively dance-overture, whose highly rhythmic main idea is briefly contrasted with a more sinuous and sensuous chromatic theme. The exquisite ‘Charmilles’ (bowers) is a tender yet sumptuous barcarolle in which we can hear affectionate echoes of both Fauré and Ravel. The hoydenish ‘Pécorée de Calabre’ (Calabrian peasant girl) is a brief, obstreperous Spanish dance, a kind of jota. The grave and statuesque ‘Thrène’ (Threnody) is cast as a sarabande with a modal cast to its melodies, perhaps referring to ancient Greece and ideals of unattainable classic beauty. As the title of the finale, ‘Bronx’, might lead us to expect, this last movement alludes to jazz music, to cakewalks, ragtimes and shimmys. For all his disapproval of modern trends, Schmitt shared the fascination of many French composers—such as his friend Ravel—with jazz rhythms and character, and he creates a sophisticated melange of dance-steps and big-city sounds to give a raucously good-humoured conclusion to his suite. Though not one of his most important works, Suite sans esprit de suite is a characteristic expression of the gifts of one of the most assured orchestrators and most fertile minds in twentieth-century French music.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007

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Details for CDA67599 track 6
Recording date
25 October 2006
Recording venue
Brangwyn Hall, Guildhall, Swansea, Wales
Recording producer
Adrian Peacock
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Schmitt: Orchestral Music (CDA67599)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: June 2007
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