Piano Quintet in A Major, Op.24
"Gouvy's Piano Quintet is an absolutely first rate work, a masterpiece,
which without doubt deserves to be revived!"--The Chamber Music Journal
Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898) was born into a French speaking family in the Alsatian village of Goffontaine which at the time belonged to Prussia. As a child, he showed no significant talent for music and after a normal preparatory education was sent to Paris in 1836 to study law. While there, he also continued piano lessons and became friendly with Adolphe Adam. This led to further music studies in Paris and Berlin. Gouvy, drawn toward pure instrumental music as opposed to opera, set himself the unenviable task of becoming a French symphonist. It was unenviable because the French, and especially the Parisians, throughout most of the 19th century were opera-mad and not particularly interested in pure instrumental music. It was this distain for instrumental music in general which led to Gouvy living the last third of his life almost entirely in Germany where he was much appreciated. Musicians of the first rank such as Brahms, Reinecke and Joachim held Gouvy's music in the highest regard. His compositions, and especially his chamber music, were much admired and often performed in those countries (Germany, Austria, England, Scandinavia & Russia) where chamber music mattered. Gouvy was universally acknowledged for being a master of form and for his deft sense of instrumental timbre. Mendelssohn and Schumann were his models and his music developed along the lines one might have expected of those men had they lived longer. Virtually all of his works show that he was a gifted melodist whose music is a joy to hear.
The Piano Quintet was composed around 1850. It is in three movements and full of youthful exuberance and vitality. From the opening measures of the excellent first movement, Allegro giocoso, the listener is captivated by the exciting and lovely melodies. The second subject even has the piano playing Trout-like arpeggios to the strings’ sustained melody. Yet, the music is in no way derivative. To the contrary, it is fresh and full of pleasing ideas. The the opening theme to the middle movement, Larghetto, is introduced by the piano. It has a baroque quality to it but then shows a French delicacy when the strings join in. Although this is a long movement, Gouvy is able to keep the listener’s interest without ever altering the elegiac quality of the music. In the brilliant sounding finale, Allegro con brio, one can discern the influence of Mendelssohn, but the treatment is very original.
We looked for a set of parts to this very fine work for many years. Eventually we were able to obtain a copy of a set of the original parts which were brought out by the French publisher Costellat, never renowned for the quality of its paper or ink. Hence the the ink on these 158 year old parts had faded in places and there were all sorts of water marks, smudges, detritus and fingerings. We have spent many hours digitally cleaning, darkening, removing fingerings and correcting errors and have been able to create a serviceable performance edition in order to rescue this masterwork from oblivion. But, it is not pristine like a newly published work nor the equal in quality of a modern edition. The price, less than our generally very low prices, reflects this fact.