P0013. FRANCIS POULENC: Francis Poulenc et ses Amis, incl. Francis Poulenc, Claire Croiza, Yvonne Printemps, Gérard Souzay, Pierre Bernac, Suzanne Peignot, Lucienne Tragin, Georges Auric, Walther Straram, Jacqueline Bonneau, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz & Les Chanteurs de Lyon (Bourmauck). (France) 4-Dante LYS 495/98, recorded 1928-47. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 3421710444958
“Francis Poulenc (January 7, 1899 - January 30, 1963) had his first major successes as an 18-year-old composer without a single composition lesson. Despite some study, he remained largely self-taught. In fact, his music is so individual, it's remained largely self-taught. In fact, his music is so individual, it's difficult to imagine what anyone could have taught him. The music is eminently tuneful - his major strength. I regard him as a melodist fit to keep company with Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Mozart. As a French songwriter, he is the great successor to Fauré.
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.
In the Twenties, Poulenc was part of LES SIX, an informal confederation of French composers who wanted to divorce both Impressionism and Germanicism from French music and create an amalgam from Igor Stravinsky, Eric Satie, and popular forms (Poulenc loved French vaudeville, especially Maurice Chevalier; Darius Milhaud, another member, liked American jazz and Brazilian dances). Artistically, they allied themselves with Cubism. In literature, they found themselves with the French surrealists Cocteau, Eluard, and Apollinaire. Poulenc's works around this time include the brilliant RAPSODIE NÈGRE, in which a baritone chants the ‘Madagascan’ word ‘Ho-no-lu-lu’ over and over, the surrealist opera LES MAMELLES DE TIRÉSIAS, a classic ballet for Diaghilev, LES BICHES, about flirtatious girls, and the ‘Concert champêtre’ for harpsichord. In the last two works, the neoclassic influence stands out clearly, but it's Poulenc's own brand of classicism, recalling eighteenth-century France rather than Mozart's realm.
In the Thirties, after the death of a friend, Poulenc's Catholic faith re-awoke. He became one of the great religious (and choral) composers of the century. This period includes among its masterpieces the organ concerto (arguably the finest for the instrument), ‘Litanies à la Vierge Noire’, ‘Mass in G’, and ‘Quatre Motets pour le temps de Pénitence’. The works have power, despite their generally short length. In this, they evoke the massiveness of a Mantegna miniature.
Some composers, like Beethoven, aim at a Titanic profundity. They rage and storm and consider the universe. Others, like Delius and Ravel, dream of worlds more beautiful than this one. Poulenc, like Haydn and Schubert, is one of the few great composers not only content with, but modestly amazed at being human. The music doesn't strive for the extraordinary, not even the religious music. What's in us is extraordinary enough. There's a sincere simplicity of effect.
Poulenc's concerti are all twentieth-century landmarks. In addition to the organ and harpsichord works cited above, they include a piano concertino (Aubade), a piano concerto, and a two-piano concerto.
Poulenc excelled in chamber music as well. His series of wind sonatas especially (flute, clarinet, oboe, brass trio), his trio for winds and piano, and his Sextuor for winds and piano are all repertory classics - this, in spite of the fact that his music doesn't really develop in the Brahmsian sense of the word. Generally, Poulenc just strings together one great tune after another.
Poulenc wrote three operas. All have had frequent revival, and one, DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES, about an order of nuns martyred during the French Revolution, seems about to become part of the standard repertoire, even though it lacks a love scene and sordid melodrama.
Poulenc never really cottoned to the symphony and wrote few orchestral works not tied to the theater. To me, his best orchestra pieces include the ballets LES BICHES and the profound MODEL ANIMALS (based on La Fontaine) of 1942. His final period contains at least four masterworks: STABAT MATER (to me the best thing he ever wrote), DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES, the Sonata for two pianos (decidedly influenced by Stravinsky), and a beautiful GLORIA.”
- Steve Schwartz, ClassicalNet.com
“Francis Poulenc was the leading composer of LES SIX, the French group devoted to turning music away from Impressionism, formality, and intellectualism. He wrote in a direct and tuneful manner, often juxtaposing the witty and ironic with the sentimental or melancholy. He heavily favored diatonic and modal textures over chromatic writing. His music also shows many elements of pandiatonicism, introduced around 1920 by Stravinsky, whose influence can be heard in some of Poulenc's compositions, such as the religious choral work, GLORIA. Poulenc is regarded as one of the most important twentieth century composers of religious music, and in the realm of the French art song he is also a major voice of his time. Poulenc was also a pianist of considerable ability.
Poulenc was born into a wealthy family of pharmaceutical magnates. The agrochemical giant Rhone-Poulenc is the present-day corporation started by his forebears. His mother was a talented amateur pianist who began giving him piano lessons at age five. Later Poulenc studied with a niece of César Franck, and then with the eminent Spanish virtuoso Ricardo Viñes, for whom he would later write music.
At age eighteen, Poulenc wrote RAPSODIE NÈGRE for baritone and chamber ensemble, which made him an overnight sensation in France. The young composer served in the military during the years 1918-1921, during which time he composed the popular ‘Trois Mouvements Perpétuels’ (1918).
By 1920, LES SIX - Georges Auric, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Germaine Tailleferre (the sextet's lone female representative), Louis Durey, and Francis Poulenc - had begun making its impression on the music world. In 1923, Poulenc wrote the ballet LES BICHES, which Diaghilev staged the following year with great success, the public finding its mixture of lightness, gaiety, and occasional moments of sentimentality irresistible. Poulenc continued writing at a fairly prolific pace in the late 1920s and early 1930s, producing many piano compositions, songs and other works. In 1935, he rekindled his friendship with baritone Pierre Bernac, thus launching a productive and enduring professional relationship. He also returned to the Roman Catholic Church that year when close friend Pierre-Octave Ferroud was killed in an automobile accident. Thereafter he wrote many important works of a religious nature, the first of which were ‘Litanies à la Vièrge Noire’, for soloists, chorus and organ, and ‘Mass in G’ for mixed a cappella chorus, both from 1936.
During the war, Poulenc remained in German-occupied France, writing music of an antiwar or defiantly anti-Nazi bent, sometimes writing songs on texts by banned authors, such as Lorca. He also wrote a ballet LES ANIMAUX MODÈLES (1940-1941), Sonata for violin and piano (1942-1943; rev. 1949) dedicated to Lorca, and the masterful ‘Figure Humaine’ (1943), a choral cantata which is a hymn to freedom.
In the postwar years, Poulenc turned out his Sinfonietta (1947) and Piano Concerto (1949), both not entirely successful. In the period 1953-1956, Poulenc produced his most ambitious work, the opera DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES, considered by many the greatest French opera of the twentieth century.
Poulenc finished his last opera in 1958, LA VOIX HUMAINE, a work whose lone character talks (sings) on the phone to her deserting lover for the work's 45-minute length. Notable also in this period is his GLORIA (1959), a work shorn of sanctimony and rich in communicative simplicity and fervent religiosity. Poulenc's last major work was his Sonata for Oboe and Piano in 1962, dedicated to the memory of Prokofiev, whom he had befriended in the 1920s. Poulenc died suddenly of a heart attack.”
- Robert Cummings, allmusic.com