Francis Poulenc

Sonata for clarinet & piano, FP 184

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    The premiere of Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano took place on April 10, 1963, with Benny Goodman on clarinet and Leonard Bernstein at the piano. But what was originally to be the premiere of a piece in memoriam -- the work bears the dedication "to the memory of Arthur Honegger -- turned out to be an in memoriam performance; Poulenc had died suddenly of a heart attack in January of that year, just shy of his 63rd birthday. "His death is a disaster for music and for personal friendship," lamented Jean Cocteau; "Poulenc had inherited Ravel's mantle," commented Ned Rorem, "and today, in leaving us, he has taken with him the best of what remained in musical France." Perhaps some of those in attendance at the premiere of the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano heard a musical self-eulogy, a documentary looking backwards through Poulenc's musical career. The religious devotion of his maturity finds expression in the first two movements, while in the third Poulenc returns to the devil-may-care style of his youth. One reviewer called the sonata a "swan song...as delightful as ever."

    This sonata is one of three Poulenc wrote for solo woodwind and piano. The other are one for flute from 1956, and one for oboe from 1962; Poulenc meant to work on a bassoon sonata next, but never got around to composing it before his untimely death. Though an autonomous work, the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano holds several formal and thematic traits in common with other works in the group. The Flute Sonata shares with the clarinet/piano work a structure that features a more restrained attitude in the first two movements, followed by a more playful finale. Also, as scholar and biographer Keith Daniel observes, certain thematic materials appear in all three works. The thirty-second note figure that opens the Flute Sonata appears with some alteration in the first movement of the Oboe Sonata, and in rough inversion during the second movement of the clarinet piece; likewise, a motive consisting of a dotted note filled out by two shorter notes appears in multiple places in all three sonatas. Finally, Daniel notes the overall similarity of mood in the second movements of the Flute and Clarinet Sonatas.

    The first movement of the Clarinet Sonata bears the somewhat enigmatic subtitle "Allegro Tristamente"; accordingly, the piece is always in motion, but proceeds with a sense of trepidation. After a brief fortissimo introduction consisting of angry spurts of figuration in the clarinet punctuated by piano chords, the piano quiets to a murmur. The clarinet's lines are built of a self-perpetuating series of arcs that leave a shape but not a tune in our ears. At one point the clarinet seems stuck in a motivic rut, sadly leaping up and down between octave B tones over a shifting harmonic background. As the movement ends, the lingering memory is a fuzzy one of melancholy gestures and moods.

    The second movement, "Romanza," is both clearer in its melodic makeup and more cathartic, perhaps, in its emotional expression. The clarinet melody is simple and somber throughout, but is elaborately embroidered in a few places, as if losing composure. Two particularly poignant examples are the sixty-fourth note runs near the beginning, and the trembling half-step figure that appears at the beginning and end. The third movement, "Allegro con fuoco," energetically combines various nimble, articulate, and rhapsodic themes, bookended by a delightfully clownish tune -- a mixture of serious and silly that well represents Poulenc's oeuvre as a whole.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro tristamente
    2. Romanza
    3. Allegro con fuoco

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    Farao / Farao Classics
    B 108103
    2019
    Claves
    CD 1804
    2018
    IBS Classical
    IBS 62018
    2018
    Various Artists
    Paladino Music
    PMR 0095
    2017
    Genuin
    GEN 17451
    2017
    Brilliant Classics
    BRI 95351
    2017
    Mark Custom Recording / Mark Custom Recordings
    51605 MCD
    2016
    Eigenart
    EA 10520
    2016
    Sony Classical / Sony Music Distribution
    88875192942
    2015
    MSR Classics
    MS 1540
    2015
    Zig Zag Territoires
    ZZT 358
    2015
    Gall (formerly Gallo)
    CD 1450
    2014
    Melodiya
    MELCD 1002152
    2014
    Aparte
    AP 096
    2014
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMX 290871015
    2014
    Urlicht
    UAVCD 5986
    2013
    ATMA Classique
    ACD 22646
    2013
    Naxos
    8573032
    2012
    Paladino Music
    PMR 0024
    2012
    CPO
    7777112
    2012
    ART
    50162134
    2012
    ATMA Classique
    22680
    2012
    Gramola
    GRAM 98939
    2012
    Audite
    AUDITE 97536
    2012
    Champs Hill Records
    CHRCD 208
    2011
    Indesens
    INDE 030
    2011
    Harmonia Mundi
    1951596
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    Paul Green
    PJGLADG
    2011
    Chandos
    10637
    2011
    Harmonia Mundi
    HMX 290845051
    2010
    Meridian Records
    84581
    2010
    Oehms Classics
    114
    2010
    Thorofon / Zebralution
    2010
    Indesens
    013
    2010
    Nimbus
    6121
    2010
    Soundset
    1030
    2009
    Tudor Records
    7047
    2009
    Blue Saphir
    1019
    2008
    Teldec
    4696734
    2008
    Blue Saphir
    001040
    2008
    Avi
    8553128
    2008
    Editions Hortus
    536
    2007
    Doremi Records
    7883
    2007
    Warner Classics
    2007
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    0946379787
    2007
    Nosag Records
    109
    2006
    Linn / Linn Records
    280
    2006
    Brilliant Classics
    7980
    2005
    Harmonia Mundi
    911853
    2005
    Decca
    4757097
    2005
    EtCetera Records
    1247
    2005
    EtCetera Records
    1282
    2004
    Boston Records
    1064
    2004
    EMI Music Distribution
    585639
    2004
    ASV / Resonance
    506
    2003
    Arts Music
    47586
    2003
    ATMA Classique
    22121
    2003
    Kleos Classics
    5125
    2002
    Clarinet Classics
    41
    2002
    Centaur Records
    CRC2587
    2001
    Marquis Classics
    81273
    2001
    EMI Music Distribution
    569267
    2001
    Boston Records
    1023
    2000
    Centaur Records
    2201
    2000
    Arcobaleno
    9434
    2000
    Naxos
    8 553612
    1999
    Arsis
    97017
    1999
    Klavier Records
    11076
    1999
    Claves
    509322
    1999
    Disques Pierre Verany
    799012
    1999
    Hyperion
    CDA672556
    1998
    Praga
    250109
    1997
    Harmonia Mundi
    911596
    1997
    Camerata Records
    30CM415
    1997
    EMI Music Distribution
    724356629028
    1996
    Cala Records
    509
    1996
    Teldec
    11022
    1995
    Doron Music
    3014
    1995
    BIS
    693
    1995
    Arte Nova
    30465
    1994
    Clarinet Classics
    01
    1994
    Cala Records
    1018
    1994
    Gallo
    573
    1994
    Ongaku
    024102
    1994
    Chandos
    6589
    1993
    Denon Records
    79282
    1993
    Centaur Records
    2165
    1993
    ASV
    621
    1992
    Chandos
    8526
    1990
    RCA Victor Red Seal / RCA
    60198
    1989
    London
    421581
    1989
    Deutsche Grammophon
    1989
    Deutsche Grammophon
    427639
    Rene Gailly
    87116
    Calig
    50907
    Mark Custom Recording
    6105
    De Plein Vent
    9007
    Syrinx Record
    94107
    Jecklin
    272
    Azzurra Music
    TRI1049
    Lyrinx
    2195
    Accord
    202022
    REM
    311088
    Onossa
    219120
    Accord
    205192
    Agora Musica
    021
    Adda
    590042
    Gega
    120
    Trio Apollon