Celebrating Florent Schmitt

The Life and Legacy of Florent Schmitt

Written by Rex Burgess

English speakers coming across the word Apache are most likely to associate it with the Native American tribe of that name. For French speakers, though, Les Apaches also serves to identify a semi-organised gang-culture which existed in Paris during the early 1900s. That the term was then adopted by a group of Parisian musicians, writers and artists – which included Ravel, Stravinsky, Tristan Klingsor and the gregarious subject of this article, Florent Schmitt – is somewhat surprising, but it seems they all rather liked the idea of being thought of as hooligans!

Schmitt lived a long life (1870–1958) and for many years found himself at the centre of musical life in Paris. He maintained close friendships with many contemporary composers, including Villa- Lobos, Delius and Vaughan Williams, while also encouraging the careers of younger ones such as Arthur Honegger and his star pupil and biographer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud.

Bearing in mind the time in which he was writing, it is little surprise that Schmitt’s early works fit  quite  snugly  within  the Romantic idiom: the stylistic influence of Schumann is unmistakable, as is that of his teacher and mentor, Fauré. Yet even in these early years, we begin to discern a unique voice and the emergence of the forward-looking nature of Schmitt’s musicality.

Besides German Romanticism, Schmitt was also susceptible to Russian and Oriental influences, with some of his scores reflecting a penchant for broad and even slightly garish effects; however, they retain an interesting and original sensitivity. Being in Paris, Schmitt also was one of many composers to come under Debussy’s spell, his manner of representing landscapes in sound bringing him close to that master’s impressionism.

Don’t miss the program on Sunday 27 September at 3pm.

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