When it came to Jean Françaix and his musical talent, nobody ever had to wonder whether it was a matter of nature or nurture, for he had both in ample measure. His mother was a professional singer and his father was the director of the Conservatoire in Le Mans, where Jean was born. They encouraged and trained him from an early age, and sent their ten-year-old son’s first composition, a small piano suite, to be published. At nine he had already begun commuting to Paris for private lessons at the Conservatoire there and by age 18 he had won its first prize in piano. He studied composition with the illustrious teacher Nadia Boulanger, who introduced him and several of his works to the influential salon of the Princesse de Polignac.
“Among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity: you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility wither,” Maurice Ravel wrote to Francaix’ father. Certainly Francaix’ musical curiosity remained untrammeled, for he went on to write over 200 works across almost every genre available, from operas, ballets, and film scores to solo songs and guitar pieces.
The String Trio is an early work, from 1933. (As an idea of Francaix’ productivity, from that year also come three ballets – two of them for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo – and three other chamber works.) Something of the composer’s intentions may be gleaned just from the movement listing: three of the four are marked “vivo,” lively. These are bright, crisp movements with a strong kinetic connection to the dance music he was busy with that year. Rhythmic games abound, in a field of idiomatic, harmonically impertinent string writing. The contrasting Andante is a suavely mournful song, mainly for the violin, with a somberly wheezing accompaniment.
— John Henken