Quintet for Piano and String Quartet
"It is unlikely that there is another composer who rose to the rank of Rear Admiral other than Jean Cras (1879-1932). Although Rimsky Korsakov and Albert Roussel did stints in the navy, they did not spend their entire working lives in it. Cras and his music, once recognized as an important link to the French post-romantics, sank into oblivion after the Second World War. He was born into a musical family with a long tradition of naval service. By six, he began composing short piano pieces, but despite his obvious talent enrolled in the Naval Academy at the age of 17. Initially self-taught in theory, orchestration, and composition, in 1899 Cras was able to study formally with Henri Duparc who declared him to be one of the most gifted musicians he had ever met. Jean Cras' greatest problem as a composer was that his naval career left him with a chronic lack of time to compose.
His Piano Quintet dates from 1922 and was composed at sea while he was commanding a destroyer. Cras, himself, provided short programmatic notes. Of the first movement, Clear and Joyous, Cras writes, “The intoxication of breathing pure sea air. The advance impressions of all that will arise...on the voyage.” The music is buoyant, restless and has a vague jazz quality to it. Of the second movement, Calm and Peaceful, Cras writes, “The ecstasy of a European soul giving itself over to the intense poetry of an African evening.” The first theme is a perfumed and romantic melody sung by the strings. The second subject has an oriental quality to it. Next comes Alert and Decisive, described by Cras as follows, “The exuberance of living in the sun, the eyes full of bright colors, the ears excited by the rich musical intensity of an Arab town.” The movement serves as a kind of scherzo, the first theme dance-like, followed by a clearly oriental chant, denoting the Arab town. Of the finale, Passionate and Proud, Cras writes, “The return voyage, the soul full of memories, liberated by the open space from the petty things of life.” Here the music is vigorous and triumphant but with surprising tonal episodes, including a brief Chinese interlude.
This is a wonderful work, fully tonal, but often quite adventurous. Despite its programmatic qualities, it defies categorization. Romantic, but not in the traditional sense, it is at times impressionistic, but highly original and fresh. It goes without saying that here is a work which belongs in the concert hall, where it would certainly be highly successful. Long out of print, we are pleased to make it available once again.