Work: Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor
Tempo allegro, molto agitato
Tempo de l'allegro initial
Tempo introduction. Largo
About This Work
In reference to his nearly completed Concerto for organ, strings, and timpani (1938), Poulenc wrote that "This is not the happy-go-lucky Poulenc who wrote the Concerto for two pianos, but a Poulenc en route to the cloister -- a fifteenth century
Poulenc, if you like." Though not explicitly religious, the concerto follows a new development in the composer's style that led to the composition of numerous sacred works and several secular works distinct in their sense of gravity and deliberation.
The concerto was commissioned by and dedicated to Princess Edmond de Polgnac. In essaying his first work for organ, Poulenc sought counsel from masters living and dead. Maurice Duruflé, who was the solost in the earliest performances, advised the composer on matters of the instrument's registration. Poulenc also studied the organ music of Buxtehude and Bach, whose influence is reflected in the work's neo-Baroque figuration and ornamentation and in its occasional harmonic anachronisms.
The concerto is structured as a single continuous movement with the character of a fantasia. It begins with a dense chord in the organ, followed by a graceful unaccompanied melody in dotted rhythms. The slightly askew sonority of the next chord bumps the melody from its previously diatonic path. A duet follows between the organ, mysterious in its high range, and foreboding timpani. The opening material returns with a different "wrong" chord, followed by a lushly harmonized string melody underpinned by timpani. The intensity increases with a low faint rumble in the timpani and organ pedal, which is suddenly punctuated with percussive exclamations.
The long-building tension finds release in the subesquent Allegro section, in which the strings and organ alternately take the foreground with a nimble melody that makes its way through an ever-changing harmonic context. A new figure enters, characterized by of a series of repeated ascending tetrachords that outline a triumphant major seventh chord. The Andante section begins abruptly with a plaintive organ solo that eventually evokes a rich, lyrical response from the strings. This conversational passage is followed by a more somber mood, evoked by worrisome melodies and an unyielding pulse. Poulenc once again builds dramatic tension by thickening the harmonies, bringing the music to a peak with a series of stout, cathartic chords in the organ.
A dreamy string interlude provides a transition to a brief Allegro section. A rhapsodic melody floats atop lucid, soothing harmonic progressions borne upon a gentle pulse. The organ emerges with ever-thickening harmonies to usher in the next section, a fast passage with thematic roots in the first Allegro. The organ introduction returns, followed by a reverent viola solo accompanied by delicately plucked strings. As the orchestra fades, the organ ends the concerto with a final emphatic proclamation.
-- Jeremy Grimshaw
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