POULENC: Sonata for Two Pianos / Clarinet Sonatas

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Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) Complete Chamber Music, Volume3

'Francis Poulenc is music itself, I knowno music more direct, more simply expressed nor which goes so unerringly to itstarget.' This praise from his friend, the composer Darius Milhaud, can only beequalled by that from Arthur Honegger who admired 'the man, a born composer,'who, 'in the midst of fashions, systems, prescriptions, has stayed true tohimself with that rare courage which demands respect.'

A French musician par excellence, FrancisPoulenc grew up in the heart of Paris, between the Madeleine ('my home town'),the Marais ('my village') and Nogent-sur-Marne ('my countryside... my paradisewith its open-air cafes, its chip-sellers and its dances to the accordion'). Aprecocious pianist, his creativity fed on Debussy who had 'awakened him tomusic', Stravinsky whom 'he took as his guide', Ravel and, above all, Satie,who influenced him considerably 'more aesthetically than musically'. Though heconsidered Chabrier a 'grandad', the music-hall fascinated and enthralled him.

For many years, Poulenc had to put up with being labelled a 'superficial' and'light' composer. Nothing is further from the truth. His correspondence,collected by Myriam Chim?¿nes, and the magnificent biography by Renaud Machart,both bear witness to this. ' And his music remains brazenly up-to-date.'

From the first work that he dared makepublic, the Rapsodie n?¿gre, at the advanced age of nineteen years, tothe very last, the Sonata for clarinet and piano and Sonatafor oboeand piano, completed shortly before his unexpected death, Francis Poulencdevoted himself intermittently to chamber music, sometimes following an urgentdesire to write, sometimes in response to the wishes of virtuosi friends. Heliked to say, 'To write what seems right to me, when I want to, that is mymotto as a composer.'

Saturated with the Parisian excitementgreeting the end of the Great War, Poulenc's first chamber works display 'theNew Attitude', the often jocular musical vitality of the circle of friendswhich the critics referred to as the Groupe des Six, The Rapsodienegre, the Sonata for two clarinets, the Piano Sonata for fourhands, the Bestiaire and Cocardes were created by a man yetto reach his twentieth birthday, who, replying to a request from his Londonpublisher, described himself as follows: 'I was born in Paris on 7th January1899... I studied piano under Vines and composition almost solely through booksbecause I was fearful of being influenced by a teacher. I read a lot of musicand greatly pondered musical aesthetics... My four favourite composers, my onlymasters, are Bach, Mozart, Satie and Stravinsky, I don't like Beethoven atall... I loathe Wagner... In general, I am very eclectic, but whileacknowledging that influence is a necessary thing, I hate those artists whodwell in the wake of the masters... Now, a crucial point, I am not a Cubistmusician, even less a Futurist and, of course, not an Impressionist. I am amusician without a label.' (Letter of 6th September 1919, quoted in Correspondence)

Trusting his instinct, Poulenc was 'likeall Latins... more into harmony than counterpoint.' Though he had refused tojoin the Schola Cantorum or the Conservatoire, to increase his knowledge heturned to Charles Koechlin, a musician more renowned as a teacher than acomposer. From the four years, 1921-25, when he concentrated on improving-among other things -his knowledge of counterpoint, Poulenc has left us a Sonatafor clarinet and bassoon, a Sonata for horn, trumpet and trombone anda Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano. The chamber music was definitivelyassociated with wind instruments.

Following a fairly long period when hemoved away from the genre, Poulenc set out to write for strings and piano, The Sonatafor piano and cello was first written in 1940 and reworked eight yearslater, whilst his Sonata for violin and piano was first performed in1943 with Ginette Neveu at the violin. From this same period date L'histoire de Babar and Poulenc's collaboration with the dramatist JeanAnouilh, for whom he composed the incidental music for Leocadia and L'invitation au ch?óteau. The start of the 1950s saw the creation of aprofusion of pieces for two pianos for les boys, the Americanpianists Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale: L 'embarquement pourCyth?¿re, a capriccio in the style of Le bal masque, the Sonataand the Elegie. From 1956 Poulenc renewed his relationship with windinstruments, with an Elegie for horn and piano. 'I believe thatspecialising in the woodwind side is the solution for me at the moment,' hewrote to Pierre Bemac. Like Debussy and Saint-Sa?½ns before him, at the heightof his powers he composed three sonatas for wind instruments and piano. The Sonatasfor flute and piano, for clarinet and piano and for oboe and piano eachrepresent a poignant homage to a dear departed friend.

To celebrate the centenary of Poulenc'sbirth is to celebrate French music stripped of the ideological abstractions socommon in twentieth-century artistic trends, it is to celebrate the freedom tolive and the courage to follow instinct's inner path, it is to celebrate themartiage of poetry freed from the Romantic heritage with music enamoured ofFrench classicism, it is to celebrate the union of Stravinsky with Chevalier,of Pelleas with the music-hall, of the Madeleine with the boulevards, of the'monastery and the mob' .Celebrating Poulenc means also celebrating the Parisof Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Eluard, Cocteau, Picasso, Dufy. This is acelebration of friendship transcending differences.

That is why Naxos decided to entrustthese complete works to a team of young French musicians inspired with thecamaraderie seen on Saturday nights when Milhaud, Auric, Tailleferre, Poulenc,Cocteau and so many others got together to share their latest creations, toeat, drink and have a good laugh. But good spirits are not enough: seeing thisproject through, from its conception to the last recording, took no less thantwo years and offers an opportunity to appreciate the vitality of the youngFrench school of chamber music.

The Capriccio d'apres Le bal masquefor two pianos was composed in 1952 and published in 1953 by Rouart,Lerolle & Co., Salabert. Though this adaptation for two pianos of thefinale of Le bal masque is faithful overall to the original, thisessentially pianistic rewriting allows us to appreciate the care with whichPoulenc used the powerful, richly varied sound palette of the pianos workingtogether. This Capriccio is dedicated to Samuel Barber whose PianoSonata Poulenc had so appreciated two years earlier and from which he hadcreated (with Bernac) the Melodies passag?¿res, Opus 27.

Poulenc's Sonata for two pianos wassketched in 1952 and completed in the spring of 1953. It was first performed on2nd November 1953 in London's Wigmore Hall and published in 1954 by Max Eschig.

It is dedicated to American pianists Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale 'as muchwith friendship as with admiration'. On 17th September 1955, at their requestfor a few words to introduce his sonata to the American public, Poulencconfided to les boys: 'I began with the Andante, knowing alreadythe overall architecture of the work. Framed by a Prologue, an Allegromolto and an Epilogue, for me this Andante is the very heartof the work... a lyrical,
Disc: 1
Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone
1 Capriccio d'apres Le bal masque for Two Pianos
2 Prologue: Extremement lent et calme
3 Allegro molto: Tres rythme
4 Andante lyrico: Lentement
5 Epilogue: Allegro giocosco
6 Elegie for Two Pianos
7 L'embarquement pour Cythere (Valse-Musette for two
8 Prelude: Modere
9 Rustique: Naif et lent
10 Final: Tres vite
11 Presto
12 Andant: Tres lent
13 Vif: Vite, avec joie
14 Allegro: Tres rythme
15 Romance: Andante tres doux
16 Final: Tres Anime
17 Alegro moderato: Grazioso
18 Andante: Tres lent
19 Rondeau: Anime
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