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Francis Poulenc
8 Nocturnes
1. C-major (1929)
2. Bal de jeunes filles (1933) – The young girls dance
3. Les cloches de Malines (1934) – The bells of Malines
4. Bal fantôme (1934) – Ghost dance
5. Phalènes
6. G-major (1934)
7. E-flat-major (1935)
8. (pour servir de Coda au Cycle) (1938) – To serve as a Coda

Perpetuum Mobiles (1918)
9. I
10. II
11. III

12. Mélancolie (1940)

Trois Intermezzi
13. C-major (1934)
14. D-flat major (1934)
15. A-flat major (1943)

Trois Pièces
16. Pastorale (1918-1928)
17. Hymne (1928)
18. Toccata (1928)

Francis Poulenc ©
By John Damgaard                                 

As a young student I had the pleasure to play Francis Poulenc’s Sextet for Nadia Boulanger. Feeling uneasy with some of the more or less banal themes I asked for her help. She said that Poulenc had a strong sense of humor, but always expressed it in an extremely serious way which made it even more humorous. And you had to treat his music in the same manner. Always serious.

Poulenc’s musical life was at a time, where the tonal system more or less had outlived itself. The 12-tone music had taken over. At least in the Germanic musical world. But Poulenc detested this form of intellectual way of making music. Music had to be conceived through the ear.

In 1943, when he wrote his Intermezzo in A-flat major, he ended the piece with 12 chords in all the keys…probably an ironic greeting to the Germans in Paris!

Already in 1928, he showed – in one of his most beautiful pieces – the Pastorale – that it is possible through the ear to make beautiful chords containing almost all the 12 different notes at the same time. Beautiful sonority has always been a major key to French Music. Many years later Pierre Boulez said “I wish I could compose in major/minor keys. But I can’t!”

Another of his beautiful pieces the Mé lancolie is written in August 1940 – 3 months after the Germans went into Paris. Leonard Bernstein suggested in one of his Harvard Lectures that the interval of a downward third is an archetype. In all cultures that means “mother”! Mé lancolie ends with a downward third 3 times – a definite cry for help.

It takes a genius to write music in a tonal system that is almost passé. Poulenc expands the tonality of Debussy and Ravel and his endings of the pieces are very original. Often, he uses the normal subdominant/dominant/tonic maybe with different bass notes, or – like the ending of the 8 Nocturnes with a subdominant suspension that goes directly into the tonic leaving out the dominant. Quite often he leaves the “third” – which indicates major or minor completely out. And where Bach normally ends a minor piece in major, Poulenc often does the opposite…or even both at the same time! One can easily hear the influence of Erik Satie and Stravinsky in his music, and the more bizarre side of his character shows in the piece Phalè nes (a dog breed) or the Mouvement Perpé tuels from 1918, one of his first real successes. Les Cloches de Malines from 1934 is from the period, where he returned to Catholicism. Subsequently the bells are not only an impressionistic illustration, but rather an attempt to create a genuine church bell illustration with the religious implications.

With these elements in consideration, it is totally wrong to judge Poulenc a light weight French composer – which has often been the case. He is much more an original, serious French composer with a lot of humor.

RELEASE DATE: February 2023

CATALOGUE NUMBER.: DACOCD 960

EAN: 5709499960004