Debussy, Villa-Lobos, and Loeffler differ in certain ways in these three trios, with contrasting styles and almost completely different instrumental combinations; but their diversity is more than balanced by their commonality. The most obvious similarity is their common use of the viola. Also, each work seems to fit easily into the Romantic-Impressionist category—all three composers were born in the 19th century and lived well into the 20th. And finally, although born of German parentage in Alsace, Loeffler was very much influenced by the French Impressionist school, which was founded by Debussy.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Sonata No. 2 for flute, viola & harp
Debussy's early compositions were influenced by the "French School" of Massenet, Faure, Lalo, and Chabrier. But he soon developed his own personal style which became known as "Impressionist." When he wrote the sonata for Cello and Piano in 1915, he intended it to be the first of a set of six sonatas for various instruments. But he completed only three. Sonata No. 2 uses the unusual combination of flute, viola and harp. Debussy originally planned to use the oboe with the flute and harp. Using the viola makes for a more challenging combination of timbres.
In 1893 Debussy wrote his great string quartet. Now, 22 years later he returned to the realm of "absolute" music. Written in the autumn of 1915, this unusual sonata is fascinating for its sheer perfection and expressive restraint. There are three movements: Lento dolce rubato; Tempo di Menuetto; Allegro moderato ma risoluto.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) String Trio (1945)
Villa-Lobos is without any doubt the musical symbol—the musical voice—of his native Brazil. He is a composer of luxurious, original, vital scores. They are filled with extraordinary rhythmic excitement and brilliant colors. His creativity is at times worldly, and at times as naive as a primitive.
After joining a scientific expedition into the interior of Brazil to study the music and customs of the Indian tribes, Villa-Lobos said, "I compose in the folk-style. I utilize thematic idioms in my own way, and subject them to my own development. It is from the speech, customs and background of the people (spiritual as well as practical) that I draw my art." Somewhat contemporary in sound, the String Trio has been called Villa-lobos' "Romantic-Impressionist" manner. The four sharply contrasted movements are Allegro; Andante; Scherzo (Vivace); and Allegro preciso e agitando.
Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935) Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola and Piano
At the age of 24 Loeffler emigrated from his native Alsace to America. He spent the rest of his life in the United States. Virtually his whole creative life falls within this latter period, so that he is most often considered to be an American composer. Loeffler was evidently a first rate violinist. He shared the first violin desk of the Boston Symphny Orchestra with concertmaster Franz Kneisel for over 20 years. It was only after he retired from the orchestra in 1903 that he gave up playing in public and devoted himself entirely to composition.
His major orchestral works include A Pagan Poem, La Mort de Tintagiles, and Five Irish Fantasies for voice and orchestra. The Two Rhapsodies for oboe, viola and piano, which date from 1905, originally were vocal settings of two poems by Maurice Rolinat. Loeffler published both poems as introduction to the instrumental version. Philip Hale translated the poems.
I L'Etang ("The Pool")
Full of old fish, blind-stricken long ago, the pool, under a near sky rumbling dull thunder, bars between centuries-old rushes the splashing horror of its gloom.... Over yonder, goblins light up more than one marsh that is black, sinister, unbearable, but the pool is revealed in this lonely place only the croaking of consumptive frogs.... Now the moon, piercing at this very moment, seems to look at herself fantastically; as though, one might say, to see her spectral face, her flat nose, the strange vacuity of teeth—death's hand lighted from within, about to peer into a dull mirror.
II La Cornemuse ("The Bagpipe")
His bagpipe groaned in the woods as the wind that belleth; and never his stag at bay, nor willow, nor oar, wept as that voice wept.... Those sounds of flute and hautboy seemed like the death-rattle of a woman. Oh! His bagpipe near the cross-roads of the crucifix!... He is dead. But under cold skies, as soon as night weaves her mesh, down deep in my soul there in the nook of old fears, I always hear his bagpipe groaning as of yore.
- LAURA NEWELL (harp) was on the staff of WOR (Mutual Broadcasting System) and in great demand as a free lance harpist.
- JOHN WUMMER (flute) was solo flutist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
- ALEXANDER SCHNEIDER (violin) was a member of the Budapest String Quartet and the New York Piano Quartet.
- FRANK MILLER ('cello) was solo 'cellist of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini and a member of the New York Piano Quartet.
- DIMITRI MITROPOULOS (conductor-piano) was Music Director and Conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
- HAROLD GOMBERG (oboe) was solo oboeist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
- MILTON KATIMS (viola) was first desk violist of the NBC Smphony conducted by Toscanini and a member of the N.Y. Piano Quartet.
- Debussy Sonata No. 2 (Columbia ML 4090)
- Villa-Lobos String Trio (Col. ML 2214)
- Loeffler Two Rhapsodies (Col. ML 5603)
- Claude Debussy Sonata No. 2 - I Lento Dolce Rubato
- Claude Debussy Sonata No. 2 - II Tempo di Minuetto
- Claude Debussy Sonata No. 2 - III Allegro Moderato ma risoluto
- Heitor Villa-Lobos String Trio - I Allegro
- Heitor Villa-Lobos String Trio - II Andante
- Heitor Villa-Lobos String Trio - III Scherzo (vivace)
- Heitor Villa-Lobos String Trio - IV Allegro preciso e agitando
- Charles Martin Loeffler Two Rhapsodies - I L'Etang (The Pool)
- Charles Martin Loeffler Two Rhapsodies - II La Cornemuse (The Bagpipe)