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Nonet n° 2 in C minor for brass (Félicien David)

Date

1838

Text

According to François-Joseph Fétis, the two nonets for brass by Félicien David appear to have been composed between 1835 and 1838. The first nonet was performed in Paris on Wednesday, 18 March 1840 at the Concert Valentino, Salle Saint-Honoré, as mentioned by two articles published in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris. The second article gives the instrumentation of the piece—now lost—which was written, like the second nonet, “for two cornets, four horns, two trombones and an ophicleide”. The cornets—a very recent invention at the time—probably had the Stoetzel three valve system, because it would have been impossible to play all the notes of the second nonet with two-valve instruments, and the Périnet system was still in its early stages. The two- or three-valve horns in F probably also had the Stoetzel system. Furthermore, this nonet may have been the first piece in France to use a full section of chromatic instruments: the few preceding attempts did not feature so many instruments: three chromatic horns in Strunz’s quintets in 1833, and two chromatic horns in a ballet by Adam in 1836. Finally, it is worth pointing out that the two trombones used by David are tenor slide instruments. The Nonet no.2 was partially performed under the baton of Hector Berlioz for his fourth concert at the Cirque Olympique, 6 April 1845. The programme announces the “premiere of the first and last movements of the Nonetto by Félicien David”, which suggests that the work was different from the one performed in 1840. It was Urbin, the horn player who had already given the first performance of the Nonet no. 1, who copied the parts from a full score in Jourdan’s possession, according to Berlioz in his correspondence. Berlioz, however, had “to arrange for the transposition of an ophicleide [in B flat?] and a horn [in D flat?]” (Letter of 21 April 1845 to Mr Jourdan). The opening Allegro agitato of the Nonet no. 2 makes striking use of a heroic binary theme; the coda brings a change of character with the ternary rhythms of an Andantino in the key of C major. The second movement, Allegretto moderato, in the principal key of A flat major, uses a seductively slow waltz to showcase different solos. After a Scherzo with its noteworthy introduction in sustained chords and the incisive tones of its principal theme, the Finale deploys a galop rhythm typical of the period, and opts for the radiance of C major.