This “musical promenade” proposed by the performers will lead us to listen to four representative French composers of the 20th century: Camille Saint-Saëns was born in 1835, a prodigy child (he began composing when he was three years and a half ). He wrote his unique work for clarinet and piano just a few months before his death in 1921. But what a Sonata, with post-romantic accents! Darius Milhaud (1892–1974). A prolifi c composer with more than 450 works including dozens with clarinet; and a protean composer: he was interested in all musical forms (instrumentation and styles) and was particularly influenced by jazz and folklore. Scaramouche displayed here is one of his best examples. Francis Poulenc (1899–1962) wrote like Milhaud various works with clarinet throughout his life (and they were both members of the „Groupe des Six”); like Saint-Saëns, his last works were Sonatas for wind instrument and piano. As for Jean-Louis Petit, born in 1937, his catalog has already more than 400 works, including 67 with clarinet (as to, 2007). […] It is also a skilled arranger, what we will listen in his virtuoso Variations on Carmen.
Darius Milhaud (1892–1974) ; Scaramouche op. 165d for Clarinet and Piano (1941): Scaramouche (Scaramuccia in Italian) is a character-type of the Commedia dell’arte, whose name (escarmouche in French) means little fighter. By extension a coward buffoon.[…] The extreme movements of Scaramouche (the first, Vif, and the last, Brazileira) come from the incidental music for Molière’s Le Médecin volant written in May 1937, and designed from the outset for clarinet or saxophone and piano. In the middle movement, Milhaud borrowed the theme of the opening of this stage music composed in 1935–1936 for the play of Jules Supervielle, Bolivar. […] It is said that Benny Goodman would have preferred the arrangement of Scaramouche to the Clarinet Concerto op. 230 (1941), a piece he had commissioned and was dedicated to him, but he never played.
This suite in three movements has many technical features of the style of Milhaud. In the first movement Vif, Milhaud experimented polytonality: although this movement is rooted in the tone of C major, and several unexpected tonalities are juxtaposed without a direct link. The second movement Modéré is remarkable for its polyrhythmic textures that are inspired by different musical styles: blues, jazz… The third movement Brazilieira presents another feature of the compositional identity of Milhaud: his interest in South American rhythms he discovered during his stay in Brazil after he concludes with a flamboyant and exotic samba. […]
Poulenc, Francis (1899–1963); Sonata for clarinet and piano op. 184 (1962)
Francis Poulenc was early interested in the clarinet;[…],. But the Sonata for clarinet and piano op. 184 holds a special place. It is Poulenc’s last work with his Sonata for Oboe op. 185. They belonged to a series of sonatas for piano and wind instrument..[…] This Sonata for clarinet and piano is dedicated to the memory of his friend and composer Arthur Honegger, who belonged to him as the Group of Six. More than forty years after his Sonata for two clarinets, sometimes dissonant, Poulenc returns here to a more melodic language. Shaped in a free form, without a development, the Sonata begins paradoxically by an Allegro Tristamente, full of melancholy and poetry, which divides itself into three periods (allegretto – très calme – allegretto). The Romanza (also very sweet and melancholic) follows a clear and simple melodic line. The Allegro con fuoco, with agile articulations, changes constantly of atmosphere, sometimes serious, sometimes light, which represents very well multifaceted genius of Poulenc.[…] The Slow movement was already written in 1959, and writing went on until his death in January 1963 (This sonata was found on his desk, with his last corrections on January 30, 1963, the day of his death).[….] For the interpretation, French clarinetists follow the tradition that was transmitted by André Boutard .[…] A. Boutard worked closely with Poulenc, and premiered the work in France at the Festival d’Aix en Provence on July 20, 1963 with pianist Jacques Février, the preferred pianist of Poulenc, they also recorded it the same year. Benny Goodman with Leonard Bernstein at the piano made the world premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York on April 10, 1963 as promised by Poulenc.[…].
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921); Sonata for clarinet and piano op. 167 (1921)
Camille Saint-Saëns was born in Paris on 9 October 1835 […]. As a pianist, organist, composer and teacher, he traveled a lot (he died in Algiers). His musical life is filled with more than 300 works,[…]. Saint-Saëns wrote his Sonata for clarinet and piano in May and June of 1921. It was published in November of the same year by the publisher Durand. The Sonata for clarinet and piano, dedicated to professor at the Paris Conservatoire Auguste Périer, is in four movements: First movement Allegretto is based on a smart theme for the clarinet in a form of questions and answers sustained by the piano. The possibilities of the clarinet are magnificently exploited: virtuoso arpeggios, registers leaps, … The Allegro animato which follows, in the form of a scherzo, shows unorthodox piano chords for a supposed-conservative composer… Third movement lento et grave is based on the low register of the two instruments; some have seen a slow procession in a winter landscape… In the finale Allegro molto, volubility and brilliance of the clarinet also show some audacious writing, a nod to his contemporaries of the 20s, like the diminished seconds. Then the melody of Allegretto reappears with nostalgia ensuring the unity of the whole.
Jean-Louis Petit (1937–…). Variations on Carmen, for clarinet and piano (1993)
The CD ends, not on an original work of a composer, but with variations on a popular opera devised by Jean-Louis Petit.[…]. As a composer he has a catalog of over 400 works, including 67 with clarinet (as to 2007), which deserves to be more known and played:[…]. Bizet (1838–1875) died when he was 36 years old without having time to enjoy this glory. Transcriptions may indeed have two very different goals; – simplified, it allows amateur musicians and other audiences to have fun listening to familiar themes; – virtuoso-style with Variations, they allow a soloist to exhibit his talent Transcription sometimes repelled the purists, while composers have always practiced it. In the nineteenth century, Liszt offer the pianists a very broad repertoire through this way… A tradition that continues today with Jean-Louis Petit, composer, conductor, harpsichordist but also excellent transcriber, he shares with his eldest Saint-Saëns (also organist!) the concern of promoting other composers of his time. Here he is at the service of Bizet to offer us very difficult Variations as he also did for Variations on Faust by Gounod; paradoxically a rare thing for French music when Italians arrangers (Bassi, Lovreglio,…) have been keen to adapt the operas of Verdi and others […]
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