Sonata for Violin and Piano . . . Francis Poulenc

(Born January 7, 1899, in Paris; died there January 30, 1963)


Francis Poulenc belonged to a group of French composers, also including Milhaud and Honegger, who in 1920 were dubbed “The Six.”  This group helped to turn French music away from stultifying formality, elevated pretense and empty pomp.

Poulenc’s most widely known chamber music involves wind instruments, not strings.  He discarded two violin sonatas before he composed this one, which was a long time in reaching its final form.  He originally wrote this sonata in 1942 and 1943, for the magnificent young French violinist Ginette Neveu, who lost her life in a plane crash at the age of thirty, in 1949.  Poulenc decided to revise the sonata in that year, especially making many changes in the last movement.  The sonata recalls the composer’s memory of the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1899-1936), who was shot by the Fascist Falangists soon after the outbreak of civil war in his country.

This Romantic and melodic work is infused with tragedy that is expressed in the opening Allegro con fuoco in a musical language related to that of the best known French sonata, one by César Franck.  Poulenc headed his second movement, an Intermezzo, with a quotation from García Lorca, “The guitar makes dreams weep,” an allusion to the poet’s own guitar arrangements of Spanish folk and popular songs.  The third movement carries the uncommon indication, Presto tragico, calling for a very quick beat but a tragic mood.  The sonata progresses lyrically, yet speedily, to its close.