Alexis de Castillon
Piano Quintet in E flat Major, Op.1
Alexis de Castillon (1838-1873) was born in the French city of Chartres. As a member of the nobility his parents initially expected him to have a military career, which for a time he pursued, joining the imperial cavalry. However, his love of music, which came from the piano lessons he had received as a boy, led him to enter the Paris Conservatoire where he ultimately studied with Cťsar Franck. His health, always of a fragile nature, was not helped by his military service in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. His health deteriorated and he never really recovered. He composed several chamber works which his contemporaries considered to be first rate. Vincent díIndy called him one of the best chamber music composers of his time.
Castillonís Piano Quintet dates from 1863. There were few piano quintets which had been written that could serve as his model and Robert Schumannís was the best known. And it is Schumannís Op.44 quintet which served as Castillonís model not only for that reason but also because he was drawn to Schumannís music. Today critics recognize that this work serves as a milestone in French piano quintet music as the most important such work between Saint-Saensí early Op.14 of 1855 and Cesar Franckís great work of 1880. Its four movements are lavishly constructed and are full of extravagant and unusual ideas. For one thing, it is often concertante in character pitting the piano against the unison writing in the strings.
The powerful and lyrical opening theme to the first movement, Allegro ben moderato, is so magnificent that it absorbs most of the energy of the movement, limiting the second theme to a rather smaller role than is normal. The somewhat belligerent theme of the Scherzo which follows is characterized by its syncopation. The final two movements are played attacca and form an organic whole because the main theme of the Adagio molto maestoso becomes an important motif in the finale. Despite using Schumannís quintet as a model, this opulent work helped to establish the French school of writing and shows the young composerís mastery of form by his ability to bind the entire work through the early use of a cyclic format.
Long out of print, this work is not only historically important but stands on its own based on the merits of its original ideas.