Obscure Music Monday: Bax's Oboe Quintet
Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax (Nov. 8, 1883 - Oct. 3, 1953) was an English poet, author, and composer. His output was prolific, and spanned several genres, from choral works to chamber pieces to orchestral music. His music was for a while neglected, and then revived, though predominantly as recordings; we still don't see his work programmed very often in concert halls.
Bax was born in London to a wealthy family, and was encouraged by his parents to pursue music. After preparatory school, he attended the Hampstead Conservatoire. He moved on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, and while there became an admirer of the music of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Claude Debussy (the latter two were frowned upon by the faculty). Bax became highly interested in Ireland and Celtic culture, and lived in Dublin for a time, and later on became fascinated with Nordic culture. Later on Bax would travel to Russia, which influenced some of his works.
Bad wrote for many genres; orchestral, solo, and several chamber works, including a delightful Oboe Quintet. This piece for oboe, two violins, viola, and cello is in three movements, and was commissioned by and dedicated to Leon Goossens, who was a famous oboist during Bax's time.
The first movement, tempo molto moderato - Allegro moderato - Tempo Primo, opens with some lush string writing before the oboe comes in on the 3rd measure, and the oboe line almost seems improvisatory compared to the string lines, but isn't so. The tone and colors of this movement change several times, making for some fascinating listening. Bax was very specific in his writing, giving the ensemble many directions as to the sounds/effects he wants, such as "roughly" and "shrill" in certain places.
The second movement, Lento espressivo, starts off serenely, and the textures of the ensemble combined with the harmonic progressions make this movement intriguing, and is certainly the most "emotional" of the three movements.
In the final movement, Allegro giocoso - Più lento - Vivace, we hear a fantastic Irish gig , which is unsurprising, given Bax's fascination with Irish culture. The oboe shines in each movement of this lovely piece, but especially so in this charming movement.
Here are some recordings of this lovely work for you to enjoy!*
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