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Name of Work

Poulenc, Francis (1899-1963)
Sextet for Piano and Winds (1993)

Movements:
Allegro vivace
Divertissement
Prestissimo

Performances:


Mar 28, 1993



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Deborah Sobol, Piano
Michel Debost, Flute
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Gail Williams, Horn


Mar 29, 1993



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Deborah Sobol, Piano
Michel Debost, Flute
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Gail Williams, Horn

POULENC - Sextet for Piano and Winds

Composed in 1930-32

"Poulenc was the one who kept on growing," wrote music critic Harold C. Schonberg in a retrospective on "Les Six," the group of 1920s Parisian composers whose affiliation was based in part on simple friendship, but also on shared artistic attitudes. These included dislike of Romantic music, especially if it came from Germany; an interest in jazz, which they sought to fuse with classical modes; opposition to the conservatives in the French musical establishment; and a gleeful delight in iconoclasm, almost for its own sake, the same spirit that activated their Russian contemporary Sergei Prokofiev when he talked about "teasing the geese" with the dissonances of his Classical Symphony. "Les Six" took as their hero Erik Satie, France's somewhat quirky revolutionary who was fond of poking fun at tradition, in his compositional style and in the satiric titles he invented for his pieces.

Schonberg's assessment of Poulenc implies disparagement of the other members of "Les Six": Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Germaine Tailleferre, Georges Auric, and Louis Durey; what his statement does call attention to is the remarkable scope and variety of Poulenc's music, and the increasing depth of emotion that characterizes his later works, especially the sacred compositions and such operas as Dialogues of the Carmelites and La Voix humaine. His instrumental music generally reflects the neo-Classical orientation that Stravinsky exemplified during the 1920s, but while Stravinsky turned away from this recollection of 18th-century formal patterns and clear-eyed objectivity to pursue other paths, for Poulenc the neo-Classic approach seemed to fit his basic nature. Basic also to many of his instrumental pieces are flashes of humor and parody, clarity of texture, energetic rhythms, and a kind of improvisatory feeling.

Written between 1930 and 1932, the Sextet exists on the cusp, so to speak, of the transition Poulenc made between the 1920s, when he was content to mock the musical past, and the 1930s, when he undertook to learn from that past, to enrich his rather sketchy formal education with serious study of compositional techniques. The Sextet is an ingeniously crafted piece, but its intricacies are subtle and unobtrusive; we hear and enjoy not its complexity but its thematic inventiveness, its propulsive pace, its echoes of jazz and musical theater.

The "Allegro vivace" finds the wind instruments in a veritable playground of lively melodic interplay, anchored by the piano; a bassoon cadenza interrupts, leading to a slower passage, followed by a brief recapitulation and coda. The middle movement, "Divertissement," is altogether more lyrical; its name recalls the 18th-century term "Divertimento," and both words translate into English simply as "entertainment." The tempo marking of the finale, "Prestissimo," is probably best translated by "As fast as possible;" this is the jazziest part of the Sextet, featuring another bassoon solo, and making references to earlier motives, uniting the end to the beginning.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed March 28 and 29, 1993



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