Les Soirees de Nazelles, by Francis Poulenc

August 29, 2013

This project started as part of my doctoral research at the University of Oregon. After I worked for at least a year on Les Soirees de Nazelles for one of my recitals, I could not get enough of Poulenc. I devoured his chamber works, concertos, solo pieces and songs in endless sight-reading sessions. I got his books, interviews and letters. His music and exquisite writing fascinated me. The only logical path to follow was to produce a lecture-document on Poulenc. On the other side, my extensive background in vocal collaboration induced me to sing for real. I noticed how expressive Poulenc's language is in his songs. However, his piano repertoire was filled with enigmatic indications, and it was somehow more difficult to grasp. Long story short, I decided to focus on the ways to transplant the vocal ideal in Poulenc's music to his piano works. And you know? It worked magic. Suddenly the piano music acquired wings, begun to sing, become airborne. The secret was in making justice to the breath marks (yes, the pianists need to learn how to breathe!), in the direction of phrasing (listen to the spoken French), in the characteristic agogic accents, in the importance to take into account the loved by Poulenc music of chansoniers, and the flexibility of tempos (not the rubatos). After all this detailed investigation on the subject, I found that I neede to record both vocal and piano music, in order to illustrate my discoveries. I hope that this CD will make you feel differently about Poulenc's piano music. I also hope to transport you to a different dimention - the dimention of dreams, finest and strongest emotions, tender love, trascendent devotion, melancholy, nostalgia, and the witty humor.

Recording Date: April 8, 2013
Recording Location: University of Oregon Beall Concert Hall
Ensemble Type: Piano solo
Duration: 0:22:35
Performer: Svetlana Kotova

About the Music

Composer: Francis Poulenc
Instrumentation: Piano solo
Place of Composition: Noizay
Date Composed: 1930-1936
Music Styles: Aleatory, Modernist, Neo-tonal, Popular styles, Tonal/modal

Poulenc begun writing his piano suite Les Soirées de Nazelles in 1930, during summer gatherings at a country house in Touraine of an elderly friend, Virginie Lienard. The work is dedicated to the memory of “Aunt Lienard,” the name Poulenc used to refer to her.

As it was with the great majority of his works, Les Soirées took Poulenc several years to finish and the piece underwent many transformations along the way. The final version was finished in 1936, and even after publication Poulenc kept revising the piece, offering an abridged version as a possibility for performance.

Although later in life Poulenc changed his opinion about this cycle, at the time of composition he was very happy with the piece. Poulenc noted that he had in mind Les Folies Françaises by Couperin when he embarked on the writing of these portraits of friends and neighbors. He also considered the title Le Carnaval de Nazelles, clearly suggesting the work’s affinity with Schumann's Carnival and his Carnival of Vienna (Faschingsschwank aus Wien), with which it shares key, meter and the overall exciting mood.

Poulenc called his suite Variations; however, the work does not feature a theme and there is no motivic element that can be identified as the subject of variation technique. There is a little melodic turn that comes back in some of the pieces, but it is not enough to be considered a serious structural element. It is quite possible that his view on Variations in this case is as a “unity” of different characters, each being a variation on a different theme and different character.

Some of the portrayed characters are: Aunt Lienard in variation VIII, Pierre Bernac in variation VI, and the composer himself in Finale.

Préambule 0:02:04

Cadence 0:01:16

Le comble de la distinction 0:01:06

Le cœur sur la main 0:02:48

La désinvolture et la discrétion 0:01:05

La suite dans les idées 0:01:53

Le charme enjôleur 0:02:14

Le contentement de soi 0:01:05

Le goût de Malheur 0:02:39

L’alerte vieillesse 0:01:02

Cadence 0:01:29

Final 0:03:53

4841 Last modified on December 12, 2013