Close Encounters Revels with “Quintet of Discontent”

AugustaHolmes6:00 pm • Saturday, December 3rd 2016
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center • Great Barrington, MA


The dutiful wife greets the arrival of her husband’s piano quintet with public condemnation, fiery scorn, and a deeply professed hatred. Surprisingly, the same reaction also befells the pianist, also a composer and the dedicatee of the new work. At the premiere performance held at the Société Nationale de Musique—an organization founded to promote French Art—the pianist sight-reads the part. [Eyewitnesses report that he is highly emotional and enraged during the performance, apparently discovering some secret code or covert message in the score.] Once finished, the composer goes on stage to congratulate the performers. The pianist angrily refuses to shake hands and storms off stage, leaving behind the manuscript score dedicated to him. Even more curious is the fact that he actively discourages all further performances of the work. ***

Sounds like a love triangle gone awry or perhaps unrequited love befitting an episode of Mozart in the Jungle in season 3? Well actually, the cast of characters comes from the artistic circles of fin-de-siècle Paris and consists of:

dutiful wife ……………………… Madam Félicité Saillot Desmousseaux, wife of César Franck
composer of piano quintet ……. César Franck
pianist …………………………… Camille Saint-Saëns

But exactly what was all of this hullabaloo about … or perhaps who was the centerpiece of all of this ruckus? Well that would be French composer Augusta Holmès.

Augusta Holmès (1847-1903), was born in Paris and grew up in Versailles. She developed her piano playing under the tutelage of local pianist Mademoiselle Peyronnet (despite her talent, she was not allowed to study at the Paris Conservatoire), Versailles’ cathedral organist Henri Lambert, Hyacinthe Klosé, and eventually (around 1876) became a pupil of César Franck. She wrote operas, cantatas, symphonic poems and dramatic symphonies, and over a hundred songs, a number of which continue to be included in the French song repertoire. When she first was published, she used the pseudonym Hermann Zenta. While intelligence and beauty were certainly her calling cards, no doubt the attention of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner to her works helped her join the sophisticated circles of Parisian society and her subsequent popularity. For many years Mlle. Holmès was the mistress of the writer and French champion of Wagner Catulle Mendès, husband of Judith Gautier, and with whom she had at least four children. However, it should be noted that Camille Saint-Saëns proposed to Augusta Holmes a number of times … unsuccessfully.

And that brings up back to our drama. The drama that Close Encounters with Music highlights this Saturday in Great Barrington with its program  entitled “The Passion of Camille Saint-Saëns and César Franck.”:

  • Augusta Holmès — “Nuit et l’amour,” Interlude de l’ode symphonique, Ludus pro Patria
  • Camille Saint-Saëns — Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 75
  • César Franck — Piano Quintet in F minor

The tie that binds together the brilliantly virtuosic Saint-Saëns Violin Sonata No. 1 and the smoldering Franck Piano Quintet is the composers’ shared unrequited adoration of Augusta. Frank’s “quintet of discontent” was dedicated to Saint-Saëns, who you’ll remember walked out of the first performance while Madame Franck quietly seethed at the transparency of its emotional exposé of passion. It is one of the masterpieces of the repertoire, not only providing musical high drama, but also a glimpse into a fevered soul. Holmès’ own salute to love opens the program.

The players for this Close Encounters with Music concert are Diana Cohen and Sarah McElravy, violins; Xiao-Dong Wang, viola; Yehuda Hanani, ‘cello; and Roman Rabinovich, piano. I hope you can take in the drama they no doubt will bring off the page. Regardless, happy musicking this weekend!

 ***Sourced and paraphrased opening of “Quintet of Discontent: César Franck and Augusta Holmès” via Interlude.


Upcoming Events

  • Close Encounters with Music: Cohen-McElravy-Wang-Hanani-Rabinovich | Holmès, Saint-Saëns, Franck
  • Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
    Saturday, December 3rd 2016 at 6:00 pm

  • Albany Symphony Orchestra: “Magic of Christmas” | Tchaikovsky, Handel, and Seasonal Carols
  • Palace Theatre, Albany, NY
    Sunday, December 4th 2016 at 3:00 pm

  • Union College Concerts: Emerson String Quartet | Ravel, Shostakovich, Debussy
  • Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady, NY
    Sunday, December 4th 2016 at 3:00 pm

  • Music at Emmanuel: “Magnificat” | J.S. Bach
  • Emmanuel Baptist Church, Albany, NY
    Sunday, December 4th 2016 at 4:00 pm

  • TubaChristmas Albany | A Low Brass Holiday Affair
  • Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY
    Sunday, December 4th 2016 at 4:00 pm

  • “WMHT Live!”: Albany Symphony Orchestra | Handel, Theofanidis, Bermel, Schumann
  • WMHT-FM (Radio Broadcasts), Troy, NY
    Sunday, December 4th 2016 at 6:00 pm

  • The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys: “Messiah” | Händel
  • Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, NY
    Tuesday, December 6th 2016 at 7:00 pm

  • Albany Symphony with ‘cellist Yo-Yo Ma | Wagner, Brown, Dvořák, Elgar
  • Palace Theatre, Albany, NY
    Thursday, December 8th 2016 at 7:30 pm

  • Albany Pro Musica with tenor Rafael Dávila | Holst, Lauridsen, Whitacre, Shaw, Gjeilo, and more,
  • Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY
    Sunday, December 11th 2016 at 3:00 pm

  • Octavo Singers: “Messiah” | Händel
  • Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady, NY
    Sunday, December 11th 2016 at 3:00 pm

  • WMHT “No Ticket Required”: Quatuor Ébène performs Haydn
  • WMHT-FM (Radio Broadcasts), Troy, NY
    Friday, December 16th 2016 at 2:00 pm

  • Hudson Valley Philharmonic: “Messiah” | Händel
  • Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC), Kingston (NY)
    Saturday, December 17th 2016 at 2:00 pm

  • Union College Concerts: Boston Camerata | “In Dulci Jubilo: A German Christmas”
  • Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady, NY
    Sunday, December 18th 2016 at 3:00 pm