Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos”: An Exuberant, Childlike Romp

A spirt of childlike exuberance permeates Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, completed in 1932, the same year that saw the premiere of Ravel’s G Major Concerto. It’s bright, ebullient music filled with teasing, innocence, and caricature. Strands of jazz mix with the sounds of the Parisian street cafe. As with Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony (1917) and the neoclassical works of Stravinsky, this double concerto arrives in a fresh, new place by looking …

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Francis Poulenc: Four Motets for Christmas

Francis Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël, completed in 1952, are inspired by four scenes from the Nativity story. The first, O magnum mysterium, captures the awe and mystery of the birth of Jesus, and praises the Virgin Mary with a hushed reverence. The second, Quem vidistis, asks the shepherds, “Whom did you see?” The third, Videntes stellam, transports us to the serene, starlit night through which the Magi travel, bearing their gifts. The final motet, Hodie Chistus natus est, is a …

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Finding “Joie de vivre” in Poulenc

Music has the ability to unleash mysterious powers which transcend the literal. I was reminded of this recently, as I listened to George Gershwin’s ebullient song, Of Thee I Sing, featured in Monday’s post. It’s the title song of one of the Broadway musical theater’s most zany political satires. Within the show, the premise of the song is delightfully ridiculous: It’s the campaign song of a goofy presidential candidate who’s running on a …

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The Recorded Legacy of Ginette Neveu

Tomorrow marks the 104th anniversary of the birth of French violinist Ginette Neveu. At the time of her tragic death at the age of 30 in an airplane crash, Neveu was widely regarded as one of the finest violinists of her generation. Her playing was characterized by an almost otherworldly fire and searing intensity. Her recordings exhibit a natural perfection of phrasing and a soulfulness of sound that cut through the limitations …

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