Monday, March 30, 2009


Francis Poulenc
(1899-1963)

Today we began the "Landmark Works" unit of our class, with a listening/score study of Francis Poulenc's Brass Trio. Here are a few quotes from several sources about this piece and its composer:

From ClassicalNet:
"Poulenc behaved like a sophisticated eccentric (he once chatted up a stupefied Cannes bartender about an ingenious harmonic progression he managed to pull off that morning), and the eccentricity not surprisingly showed up in his music. Many have called attention to his split artistic personality, "part monk, part guttersnipe," but really he has many more sides. Like most French composers of his generation, he fell under the influences of Stravinsky and Satie. Yet he doesn't imitate either. You can identify a Poulenc composition immediately with its bright colors, strong, clear rhythms, and gorgeous and novel diatonic harmonies. He is warmer and less intellectual than Stravinsky, more passionate and musically more refined than Satie."
"Francis Poulenc: Shocking the bourgeoisie" from The Timid Soul's Guide to Classical Music by James Reel:

"All right, it's an exaggeration to say that Francis Poulenc was the Sid Vicious of 1920s French art music. But Poulenc and his circle hit the classical music scene with almost the same biting, nihilistic force with which the punk movement slammed into popular music in the 1970s and early '80s.

Both movements were big on
irony and mockery, including self-mockery. The goal was to shock the bourgeoisie, to burn off the sugar coating that music had been collecting in the previous decades. And both movements were absorbed into the mainstream in barely a decade. Francis Poulenc joined a circle of young composers gathered around the eccentric Erik Satie, the famous scribbler of whimsically titled pieces ("Gymnopédies,'' "Vexations'' and the like) with nonsensical comments running through the scores.

Satie's followers opposed the vagueness of Impressionism, the style typified by Claude Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.'' They advocated simplicity and clarity. They also thought emotions should be more restrained than they had been in late 19th century Romantic music, although the Satie set eagerly made exceptions to the rule of restraint for the purposes of satire.

In 1920, a critic dubbed the half-dozen leading members of this circle - Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine, Tailleferre and Louis Durey - "Les Six.''

As a composer, Poulenc was largely self-taught, and one method of self-education is imitation. Many of Poulenc's early works, including a sonata for two clarinets and a
brass trio, mimic the ironic Neoclassicism of Igor Stravinsky."

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