POULENC: Organ Concerto / Concert Champetre (Elisabeth Chojnacka/ Jean-Claude Casadesus/ Lille National Orchestra/ Philippe Lefebvre) (Naxos: 8.554241)
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Organ Concerto in Gminor; Concert champ?¬tre
Suite fran?ºaised'apr?¿s Claude Gervaise
Francis Pouleuc was born in Paris on 7th January 1899, the son of EmilePonlenc, a director of the pharmaceutical firm Poulenc Fr?¿res, and his wife,Jenny Royer. His musical tastes and gifts were drawn largely from his mother,an amateur pianist, who gave him his first piano lessons, when he was five,leading to study, three years later, with Mlle Boutet de Monvel, a niece ofCesar Franck. It was at the same period that he heard Debussy's Dansessacrees et profanes, a work that awoke in him an interest in that composerand a desire to explore the harmonic possibilities he suggested. By 1914 he haddiscovered the music of Schubert and of Stravinsky and now embarked on lessonswith the pianist Ricardo Vines, his teacher for the next three years. ThroughVines he met Erik Satie and Georges Auric, the first a strong influence on theearly form of his composition and the second, his near contemporary, a friendand adviser for many years. Moving in these circles, he met Honegger, Milhaud,Tailleferre, Manuel de Falla and, inevitably, Jean Cocteau, and made friendstoo with other writers, notably the poets Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and PaulEluard, a reflection of his wide reading and general cultural interests.
After military service between [918 and 1921, Ponlenc, whosecompositions already included the early Rapsodie n?¿gre, dedicated toSatie, a number of piano works, including the Mouvements perpetuels, theTrois pastorales, a piano sonata for four hands, the Suite in C andImpromptus, as well as settings of Apollinaire and Cocteau, felt theneed for formal instruction in the techniques of composition. Already, in anarticle by the critic Henri Collet in 1920, he had been included as one of agroup of six contemporary composers, Les six, an arbitrary choice,according to Milhaud, himself included, together with Poulenc, Durey,Tailleferre, Honegger and Auric. The six had their origin as a group in a songrecital given in 1917 by Jane Bathori, at which all six were represented,although then generally associated as Les nouveaux jeunes. Thecollaboration of the group became a practical one, with concerts and, incomposition, with the piano pieces of the Album des six and, now withoutthe older composer Louis Durey, in Cocteau's extravaganza, Les maries de latour Eiffel, although they had much less in common than the famous Five ofRussian nationalism, whose popular labelling Collet had had in mind. Whileunited socially and professionally as musicians, as composers their interestssoon diverged.
In 1921 Poulenc began lessons with Charles Koechlin, having previouslyfailed to find what he needed with Paul Vidal and Ravel. His career in the1920s brought collaboration with Dyagilev in the ballet Les biches, successfullystaged in Monte Carlo in 1924, and a growing national and internationalreputation. His name, in any case, had become widely known for his earlierpopular piano pieces, for the Mouvements perpetuels and the Promenades,works that seemed to embody the spirit of the Groupe des six in acertain elegant light-heartedness, a reaction to the weightier music of thepast.
The following decade brought a marked change in Poulenc's life and inhis music. In 1935 he met again the singer Pierre Bernac and gave the firstrecital with him. Their collaboration was to continue over the next 24 years,with some ninety of Poulenc's songs written for him. The following year he wasdeeply shaken by the death in a car accident of the young composerPierre-Octave Ferroud, an event that revived in him the Catholicism that he hadinherited at home, in particular through his father, until the latter's deathin 1917. Poulenc was now prompted to visit the shrine of Our Lady atRocamadour, his religious re-awakening resulting first in his Litanies de laVierge noire.
The war years brought inevitable difficulties, with Poulenc releasedfrom the army after a brief period of compulsory military service once more. Astime went on, he spent more time in Touraine at the house he had bought atNoizay, near Amboise, where he had long enjoyed the support and closefriendship of his driver, Raymond Destouches, in spite of the distraction ofother relationships with younger men, notably with Lucien Roubert, who died asPoulenc was finishing the final pages of his opera Dialogues des Carmelites in1956 and was the cause of much anguish. War-time, however, had found Poulenc atwork on the opera bouffe, Les mamelles de Tiresias, with a text byGuillaume Apollinaire, completed in 1944 and first staged in Paris three yearslater, and there were, as always, songs, settings of poems by Apollinaire,Eluard and Cocteau's friend Raymond Radiguet, who had died so young. Inparticular, he completed in 1943 his cantata for twelve voices, Figurehumaine, a setting of words by Eluard, composed in secret against the daywhen France would be liberated. After the war he was able to return to anactive career in partnership with Pierre Bernac in recitals and concert-tours,in the recording studio and, as a composer, most notably with his majoroperatic work, Dialogues des Carmelites, which received performancesabroad, at La Scala, in Cologne, London, Vienna and America, once the worryingproblems of copyright had been solved. The opera is based on a play by GeorgesBernanos, itself derived from a novel by Gertrud von Le Fort of which anAmerican writer had bought the stage rights.
In post-war Paris Poulenc found himself defending the earlier music ofStravinsky against the hostility of followers of Messiaen. He neverthelessrespected the achievement of Messiaen himself and that of Pierre Boulez and, astime went on, appreciated his own position in French music, in spite of earlierdoubts and moments of depression. After Pierre Bernac retired from performance,Poulenc continued to appear in recitals with the soprano Denise Duval, who hadtaken the leading r??le in Les mamelles de Tiresias and that of Blanchein Dialogues des Carmelites. He appeared with her in a concert inMaastricht on 26th January 1963, before returning to Paris two days later. Hedied after a heart-attack on 30th January.
Poulenc's Suite fran?ºaise is based on music by thesixteenth-century French musicien compositeur Claude Gervaise, employed as aneditor by Pierre Attaingnant for his series of Danceries. In 1935Poulenc and Georges Auric had been asked by the playwright Edouard Bourdet toprovide incidental music for his La Reine Margot, in which YvonnePrintemps took the title-r??le of Marguerite de Valois. Poulenc provided themusic for the second act and, on the suggestion of Nadia Boulanger, made use ofseven dances taken from the work of Gervaise, scoring them for two oboes, twobassoons, two trumpets, three trombones, percussion and harpsichord. The workbecame widely known through a piano version, published in the same year, to befollowed only in 1948 by the publication of the original score. The dancesappear in true neo-classical style, recalling the techniques used by Stravinskyin Pulcinella. The opening Bransle de Bourgogne recalls the Memoiresof the Queen, who mentions the branles of Burgundy and of Champagne,danced by villagers avec le petit-hautboys, le dessus de violon ettambourins de village (with the little oboe, the violin and the villagetambourines). The second dance is a solemn Pavane, marked Grave etmelancolique (Serious and sad), with its predominant dactylic rhythm. Thisis fo