It’s that time of the week again, where we dive deep in to the life and times of one of the composers from the RSL Classical Piano syllabus. This time it’s French extraordinaire Francis Poulenc!
Throughout his life, this composer and pianist wrote just about everything. From solo piano works (of which we’re most interested in today!), chamber music, choral songs, operas, ballets and even pieces for full orchestra! Though it might seem like Poulenc is a composer of the distant past, he was in fact alive right into the 1960s.
He was incredibly influenced by the music of Debussy – come on, who isn’t?! He also loved Ravel and Stravinsky, and took huge inspiration from these composers. One day, he met the wonderful Erik Satie and befriended him. Soon, the pair would become teacher and student and it was under his watchful eye that Poulenc became a member of the famous Les Six, who you may remember from our conversation about Germaine Tailleferre some time ago (you’d better catch up if not!).
Poulenc grew up in a very musical household but being the son of a pretty successful manufacturer meant that he was expected to be the receiver of the family torch and continue the business. Due to this, he wasn’t allowed to join music college!
So, place yourselves in the streets of France and imagine a little 19-year-old Poulenc, still under the wing of Mr Satie, composing an incredibly difficult and impressive piece called “Mouvements Perpétuels”. Written at the piano of a local primary school, these three movements were an immediate success, although Poulenc himself was known to not be too keen on them. He famously talked down the suite by saying that in comparison to some of his later works it was pretty rubbish, and that it definitely wouldn’t stand the test of time. We have certainly all been there, judging the work we did in the past and it’s reassuring that even globally recognised composers like Poulenc feel the same!
But despite how Poulenc feels about it, we LOVE the “Mouvements Perpétuels”, so it’s been included in the RSL Classical Piano Grade 8 syllabus, of course! The first movement starts out with a simple melody line, almost reminiscent of a folk song. We’d recommend getting a really good rolling hand motion and practising really slowly in order to nail this. The second movement is much shorter and slower, perhaps almost as the calm before the start that is the third movement which is incredibly demanding! A complex texture and frequent meter changes might leave you a little frazzled but stay persistent and we have no doubt that you’ll nail it.
So, despite his hatred for the “Mouvements Perpétuels”, they really have stood the test of time, with pianists all over the world including them in their repertoire today. Will you be next?