Jean Françaix

Le Vénèrable Vieillard Jean Françaix

Centenary of the birth of Jean Françaix

Born May 23rd 1912

Died September 25 1997

By Tim Reynish July 2012

I wish to be honest: when I am composing, the finest theories are the last things that come to mind. My interest is not primarily attracted by the ‘motorways of thought’, but more the ‘paths through the woods’.

It is interesting to speculate whether the founding fathers of WASBE, when they christened our great Association, were thinking in terms of the Frederick Fennell Eastman revolution of the early fifties, or whether they had a broader chamber concept of the word Ensemble. Certainly over the years at Conference, chamber works by Mozart, Beethoven, Krommer, Dvorak and more contemporary composers, have figured in our conferences, and we will all remember with great pleasure performances by American Chamber Winds, Omnibus, the Detroit Chamber Winds and the Cincinnati Conservatoire of Music Chamber Players among others. Curiously in our programming, we have tended to neglect one of the most prolific and attractive composers of small wind ensemble work of the 20th century, Jean Françaix, whose hundredth anniversary is marked this year.

Born into a very musical family, his father was the Director of the Le Mans Convervatory and his mother a teacher and choir director, he had composition lessons from Nadia Boulanger before he was 10. Ravel wrote “Among this child’s gifts I notice above all the most fertile that an artist can possess; curiosity”.

His music has a wit and Gallic charm second to none; this is the sophisticated world of Ravel allied with the high spirits of Milhaud, Poulenc and the other members of Les Six. A BBC biography speaks of a musical language, traditionally rooted and clear in form, eloquent in melody, and light in touch, with an astute ear for harmonic movement.

Klaus Rainer Scholl wrote

Jean Françaix' oeuvre comprises all of the genres of music, but the works for wind ensemble hold a special place in it. All twenty of them derive from his association of more than three decades with the Amade Wind Ensemble - previously known as the Mainz Wind Ensemble - and its founder and leader. Klaus Rainer Scholl.

Looking at the list of his works for chamber winds, it is easy to discern his musical enthusiasms, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Chopin, Chabrier, elegant, graceful, chic and stylish.

Jean Françaix CD

There is a marvellous CD available from WERGO of works by Schubert, Chopin and Chabrier with a couple of Françaix works to complete the disc, and wonderful spoken introductions to the arrangements by the master himself. The last work on this disc is Petite Valse Europeene in which he subjects all of the national anthems of the then EU countries to treatment as a Waltz, with very irreverent results. He said: Ever since I have been on this earth -and it has been some time - I have heard talk about Europe. So I wrote - not too seriously - a Little European Waltz, in which the prima donna is the tuba. I have it play all the national anthems. God shall know his people.

You will get a fine idea of the virtuosity and high spirits of his music if you listen to the finale of his Wind Quintet no 1 on YouTube.


At the Royal Northern College of Music, we had close ties with the Maestro through our great bassoon professor, William Waterhouse who was the dedicatee of the Divertissement for bassoon and strings. I had fallen in love with his style when conducting the charming L’Horloge des Fleurs for Oboe and Orchestra, and it was exciting recently to find Ann Adam’s thoroughly idiomatic transcription of this work for wind orchestra which she played at the celebrations of Bobby Adams’ teaching career at Stetson University with the Stetson University Wind Ensemble conducted by Bobby Adams.


I was delighted to host him at the Royal Northern College of Music twice, once for a concert to celebrate a birthday, and then for the WASBE Conference. His delightful dectets for double wind quintet were a staple part of our repertoire, especially Les Malheurs de Sophie and 9 Characteristic Pieces. I well remember his final concert with us when he played the piano solo in L’Heure du Berger for piano and string quartet; the encore went twice as fast as before.

Our WASBE Tribute to Jean Françaix followed a lecture by Klaus Rainer Scholl on The Music of Jean Françaix and the Commissions of the Mainz Wind Ensemble

The programme was


Conductors Stanley Hettinger and David Waybright

Pianist Jean Françaix

Overture Die Zaubergeige Werner Egk
Elegie Jean Françaix
Hommage a L’ami Papageno Jean Françaix
Sinfonia Concertante Movement 3 Mozart arr. Egk
L’Heure du Berger Jean Françaix
Le Gay Paris Jean Françaix

Too little of his wind music appears on YouTube but I love the artless way in which he develops the variations in:


In Manchester we featured many of his little concertante works in our programmes, the delicious Mozart “New Look” an outrageous set of variations on the Serenade from Don Giovanni for Double Bass and wind, or Le Gai Paris for trumpet and wind. I am sure that we played a wonderful work for Viola and wind, but I cannot track it down in the massive but unhelpful Schott catalogue. Keep browsing, and you may find works other than those listed. One work I would like to try is listed as published in 1991 85 mesures et un Da capo par le vénèrable vieillard Jean Françaix et avec le concours des "Schott Boys". They must have had fun in Mainz.

For 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns

  • 1970 Sept danses after the ballet "Les malheurs de Sophie"
  • 1973 Neuf Pièces Caracteristiques
  • 1989 Trois Écossaises et Variations sur un Air populaire allemand de Frédéric Chopin
  • 1984 Musique pour faire Plaisir Poulenc/Françaix
  • 1818/1987 Trois Marches Militaires Schubert/Françaix

For Piano and wind ensemble

  • 1972 L’Heure du Berger
  • 1975 Variations sur un thème plaisant
  • 1987 Hommage a l’ami Papageno

For various instruments

  • 1974 Le gay Paris for trumpet and wind instrument, trumpet solo (C or Bb), flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, bassoon and contrabassoon
  • 1982 Onze Variations sur un thème de Haydn pour 9 instruments à vent et contrebasse
  • 1978 Quasi improvvisando for wind ensemble Flute, Piccolo, 2 Oboes, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon, Contrabassoon, 2 French Horns, Trumpet (C)
  • 1979 Petite valse européenne pour tuba et double quintette à vent
  • 1981 "Mozart new-look" Little fantasy for double bass and wind instruments of the serenade from "Don Giovanni" double bass, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, contrabassoon and 2 horns
  • 1981 Danses exotiques Version pour 11 instruments à vent et batterie
  • 1983 Concerto pour trombone et 10 instruments à vent
  • 1984 Huit pièces pittoresques d'Emmanuel Chabrier
  • Transcription for 10 wind instruments Piccolo, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, contrabassoon and 2 horns
  • 1989 Cortège burlesque d'Emmanuel Chabrier
  • 1990 Elégie pour commémorer le Bicentenaire de la mort de Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • 1995 Nonetto Mozart/Françaix, Jean (Editor) based on the quintet for four wind instruments and piano KV 452 by W. A. Mozartoboe, clarinet in Bb, horn in Eb, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass
  • 1996 Célestes Schubertiade Fantaisie sur des thèmes Schubert/Françaix 1996