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Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) - Concerto for Two Pianos

The key to converting promising talents into well-rounded composers is, surely, comprehensive education. Hum! If that was law the world would be a poorer place, because then the likes of Francis Poulenc would be illegal! His unique qualities are the product of a scant, lop-sided education: piano lessons from Maman, some study with Ricardo Vines and, somewhat belatedly, a spot of harmony under Koechlin. With scarcely an inkling of matters formal, he pretty well invented his own. Guided by an innate lyrical facility, he created larger structures using lots of “tiles” to make mesmerising “mosaics”.Whilst the method is similar to Messiaen’s, the results aren’t! His natural-born feel for sonority conspired with the street-wise and arguably dubious influence of Les Nouveux Jeunes to give his music a vaguely sleazy, but dangerously seductive, charm. 

The Concerto for Two Pianos (1932) has it all. The first movement’s “form” is R-S-R-E, or “Rowdy-Sleazy-Rowdy-Exotic”, that last an ear-tickling idea gleaned from a gamelan at the 1931 Paris Exposition. The second movement starts off like Mozart, though Poulenc’s admiration doesn’t linger over-long - he soon wanders off into a garden of enchantment all his own. Finally more rowdy, rondo-esque romping - and a reminiscence of the “gamelan”. No doubt some musicologist will say this merely lends some semblance of coherence to a formal shambles. Me? I just love it to bits! 

Note originally commissioned by the Vancouver Symphony for a concert given on 31 January 2004


© Paul Serotsky
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