POULENC: Piano Music, Vol. 3

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Francis Poulenc(1899-1963)

Piano Music, Volume 3

Francis Poulenc was born on 7th January 1899 in Paris into a well-to-dofamily of pharmaceutical manufacturers. His childhood passion, as he oncewrote, was playing the piano, encouraged by the present of a child's piano whenhe was two. His mother was his first teacher and by 1915 he had decided tostudy the instrument seriously, embarking on lessons with the eccentricvirtuoso and family friend, Ricardo Vines. It was Vines who, about a yearlater, introduced him to the remarkable Erik Satie, and it was through Vinesthat he met a composer of his own age, Georges Auric, who became his lifelongfriend. Francis Poulenc quickly became an excellent pianist and oftenperformed, chiefly his own compositions, both as soloist and accompanist.

Poulenc's earliest piano compositions date from 1917. After the war hereturned to the study of music, although he remained in the French army untilafter the Armistice. In 1921 he became a pupil of Charles Koechlin, an excellentteacher, who advised his pupils to avoid the exaggerations of romanticismwithout sacrificing depth of feeling. In 1919 concert audiences had heardPoulenc's three Mouvements Perpetuels, the immediate popularity of whichbrought his name to public attention. It was in 1920 that the critic HenriCollet, somewhat arbitrarily, grouped together Auric and Poulenc, with Milhaud,Honegger, Durey and Tailleferre, as Les Six ('The Six'), but theassociation remained one of friendship rather than close musical affinity.

The following decades were fruitful for Poulenc, the period of many ofhis finest works, including the Concert champ?¬tre, a Concerto for TwoPianos and Orchestra, the Mass in G major, songs, chamber music and,of course, more piano pieces. During World War II, he showed through his musichis support of the French Resistance. Works from these years include thepoignant Violin Sonata dedicated to the memory of Federico Garcia Lorcaand the deeply moving, tragic choral work, Figure humaine, for unaccompanieddouble chorus, based on a poem of Paul ?ëluard. In 1947 his opera bouffe, Lesmamelles de Tiresias, was performed at the Opera-Comique. The audienceswere both shocked and delighted by the tongue-in-cheek score and the strangelibretto by the composer, based on the play by Guillaume Apollinaire, where onecharacter changes his sex and another gives birth to 40,000 babies. In 1956 hecompleted the opera the Dialogues des Carmelites, which was firstperformed at La Scala, Milan, the following year. In 1959 came La Voixhumaine, and in 1961 the six-part Gloria for chorus and orchestra.

Poulenc died suddenly at his home in Paris on 30th January, 1963.

The third volume of Poulenc's piano music opens with his Th?¿me varie,written at his country house, Le Grand Coteau, at Noizay in Touraine,between February and September 1951. The work is dedicated to a family friendGenevi?¿ve Sienkiewicz, but the manuscript carries the words "Pour mon cherVolodia, 'le' pianiste de mon coeur et de ma musique tr?¿s affectueusement.

Francis, Paris Nov. 51.\ (For my dear Volodia, the pianist of my heartand my music, very affectionately Francis, Paris Nov. 51). This dedication onHorowitz's copy of the score indicated that Poulenc had hoped Horowitz wouldgive the first performance, which, instead, was given in Paris on 15th December1952 by Jacques Fevrier at the Salle Gaveau. In the style of a classical themeand variations, Poulenc gives each variation a descriptive mood - joyous,noble, pastoral, sarcastic, melancholic, ironic, elegiac, voluble andfantastic. Mood succeeds mood, and in the tenth of the eleven variations,entitled Sybilline, we hear an acerbic and dissonant chorale. The titleis presumably a reference to the oracular Sybilline Books and the prophetess,the Sybil, of antiquity, consulted in time of national emergency in ancientRome. With this variation Poulenc creates an oratorical break before concludingwith a rousing and extended Finale and Coda.

The 15 Improvisations were among Poulenc's favourite piano works.

Composed intermittently between 1932 and 1959, they contain some of his mostdazzling and memorable music. In the first, the musicologist Pierrette Marihears a bouncing elf performing gleeful pirouettes. The second, dedicated tothe composer Louis Durey, is tenderly lyrical. We hear laughter and whimsy inthe third, and in the fourth the percussive rhythm and frenetic dance-like moodare perhaps in homage to Prokofiev. The fifth, with its chromaticism andsyncopation, is dedicated to Georges Auric. It is followed by a sixth, acharacteristic bugle-call march in ancient style. The opulent seventh opens inPoulenc's child-like style, yet blossoms with much outgoing passion. PierretteMari imagines, in the eighth, "opening a toy box and discovering a tin soldierin love with a pretty doll." The ninth is a perpetuum mobile, while thetenth, subtitled Eloge de Gammes" ('In Praise of Scales'), is awhimsical view of what an exercise should be. The eleventh is short, simple andnaive, and the twelfth, Hommage ?á Schubert, imitates a typical Schubertwaltz melody, imbuing it with Poulenc's own wry Parisian wit. One of the mostbeautiful of the series is the thirteenth, which is full of nostalgictenderness. Several interesting themes flow together in the sensitivefourteenth. The last of the series, Hommage ?á Edith Piaf, is a hauntingportrait of the French singer and actress. After a lovely introduction, Poulencmimics the theme "c'est une chanson qui te ressemble..." and providesan unforgettably poignant picture of a great musical personality, a symbol ofParis itself.

The Trois pi?¿ces from 1928 were dedicated to Ricardo Vines,originally conceived as a set of three pastorales, composed in 1918. Poulencretained the first Pastorale and combined it with two newly-composedmovements. In 1953 he revised the score again. The opening Pastorale carriesthe direction calme et mysterieux and creates an impressionisticatmosphere full of soft dissonances. The Hymne, in E flat major, isgrandiose, severe and solemn, while the Toccata is a bravura pieceinvolving crossed hands, broken chord figures and oscillating melodies. Oftenperformed by Vladimir Horowitz, it is a brilliant piano piece, full ofunbounded joie de vivre.

Poulenc began the three-movement Napoli - Suite pour le piano in1922 during a visit to Italy, completing it in Nazelles in September 1925. Thefirst complete performance was by the pianist Marcelle Meyer at the Salle desAgriculteurs in Paris on 2nd May 1926. Conceived on a large scale as virtuosopiano music, the suite opens with a Barcarolle, a flowing cantilena. TheNocturne which follows is similarly lyrical. The third movement, Capriceitalien, suggesting the bustle of Naples, is described by Poulenc as adance in the style of Chabrier's Bourree fantasque. It is effective,virtuosic, exuberant, and difficult.

The first two Novelettes were written in 1927 and 1928. There isa simplicity and gentleness to Novelette No. 1 in C major, giving thismusic particular charm. Novelette No. 2 in B flat minor is impish andfull of childish playfulness. In 1960 Poulenc composed his Novelette No.

3 in E minor, splendid and haunting music, a luxurious and free improvisationon a theme from Manuel de Falla's El amor brujo.

Marina and Victor Ledin
Item number 8553931
Barcode 730099493123
Release date 01/01/2000
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Cazal, Olivier
Cazal, Olivier
Composers Poulenc, Francis
Poulenc, Francis
Disc: 1
Novelettes, Nos. 1-3
1 Theme (Tres calme et sans hate)
2 Var. No. 1: Joyeuse (Allegro molto)
3 Var. No. 2: Noble (Lent)
4 Var. No. 3: Pastorale (Allegretto)
5 Var. No. 4: Sarcastique (Allegro molto, tres viole
6 Var. No. 5: Melancolique (Tres calme)
7 Var. No. 6: Ironique (Allegretto)
8 Var. No. 7: Elegiaque (Excessivement lent)
9 Var. No. 8: Volubile (Presto)
10 Var. No. 9: Fantasque (Allegro molto)
11 Var. No. 10: Sybilline (Bien lent)
12 Var. No. 11: Finale (Allegro molto) and Coda (Molt
13 Presto ritmico
14 Assez anime
15 Presto tres sec
16 Presto con fuoco
17 Modere mais sans lenteur
18 A toute vitesse
19 Modere sans lenteur
20 Presto
21 Presto possible
22 Modere, sans trainer
23 Assez anime
24 Mouvement de Valse
25 Allegretto comodo
26 Allegretto
27 Tres vite
28 I. Pastorale (Calme et mysterieux)
29 II. Hymne (Modere)
30 III. Toccata (Tres anime)
31 I. Barcarolle (Assez anime)
32 II. Nocturne (Lent)
33 III. Caprice italien (Presto)
34 Modere sans lenteur
35 Tres rapide et rythme
36 Andantino tranquillo
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