Poulenc - Staccato: No 2 from Villageoises
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (1899 - 1963) was a French composer and pianist who wrote orchestral music, opera and oratorio, ballet music, chamber music and art songs as well as composing for piano.
Poulenc was a member of a group of French and Swiss musicians called Les Six and he developed a very distinctive harmonic style.
Poulenc's music was often full of tongue-in-cheek humour and sometimes romantic in a Parisian sort of way, although some of his later compositions show a rather more sombre character.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This would suit a student with a sense of humour.
Someone who often gets nervous when performing may not be best suited to this piece since it could easily fall apart and might not be readily recoverable.
A confident student who enjoys performing and likes to show off should be ideally suited to a piece such as this.
Style & Tempo
Listen to some of the other pieces from this set of six pieces here (Villageoises). These pieces are all about light hearted humour and having a good time!
The tempo should reflect this, but bear in mind Poulenc’s marking of ‘pas vite’ – i.e. not (too) fast. When he wants a hectic tempo he usually marks it as presto or sets a high metronome mark.
The mood is that of the circus clown walking around with his bucket saying “I say, I say, I say...” It is the kind of music which would readily create the right backdrop for a clownish interlude.
Phrasing & Articulation
The opening section readily falls into two 8 bar sections of 4 bars each.
Aim to convey this shape rather than a flat and monotonous series of staccato chords. It might be helpful to imagine a conversation, or speaking/singing a phrase. We have to breathe, and likewise the musical phrases, played on the piano, need to have the merest hint of a moment of breath in order to make the effect clear.
Note carefully the detailed articulation. It is important not to get the accents in the wrong places - being on the second and fourth bars comes as a kind of unexpected shove in the back !
Listen to Roge's detailed articulation here.
Tone & Texture
A pizzicato string texture would evoke the mood rather well in the p sections.
Precision of touch is vital to create this effect (see the technique section on how best to achieve this).
Note the contrast in dynamics and really work to achieve this.
Listen to Cazal here, noticing that his tone is always poised, with the accenting detail in place.
One specific technique prevalent here is wrist staccato. This is relatively easy, in as much as it is an action we use in everyday activities such as knocking on a door or surface, using a hammer, often typing on a keyboard. All these activities use the wrist in this way to some degree.
All the RH quavers should make use of this technique fairly readily. The ‘knocking’ action is fairly easy at this tempo. It is the semiquavers which will cause greater difficulty.
Bar 17 Be certain to take the whole of the A major Beat 1 arpeggio with the LH and the RH playing from the C sharp (thumb).
Bar 18 Start with 2nd finger on the D sharp then 2-3-4-3 followed by the thumb on the D natural of beat 2.
Bar 23 Try 5-4-3-2-1 then 4th finger onto the F leaving the thumb in position to play the accentuated Bb of the following bar.
There are two possible places where pedal can added to the legato:
Bar 17 – can be used for the whole bar
Bar 23 – only use briefly at the top of the run.
Note that use of the pedal is not actually needed but could help to clarify the brief legato moments. It should not be used in bar 19 as this would really blur the line.
This should not appear difficult to learn due to the amount of repetition of material. Whilst the entire piece contains 45 bars, the amount of unique material only amounts to 22! Therefore it should not be too arduous to learn.
It is worth spending time getting the more tricky aspects of technique correct before moving on or quickening things up. If it is wrong from the start then this will prevent enjoyment in the learning of this piece, not to mention causing unwanted tension.
Work up the wrist technique in bits. If this kind of technique is new, then building it up slowly is important as it could otherwise cause problems.
If time allows, begin by using a much easier piece as an introduction to the wrist technique.
Give your students different exercises to try out in their practice and do not simply rely upon the printed material.
Tension will often manifest itself in pieces which appear fast and difficult. This simply makes it harder!
Spend time in getting your student to play in a comfortable and effective fashion.
Do not press ahead if things are not right. Better to spend time in working on these aspects – even if it is on other material – and get them right than to end up with lots of tension and the inability to play it. It takes a lot longer to undo bad habits than to set up correct ones.
An excellent performance will bring a wry smile to the face. The dynamics will be vivid and well contrasted and the accentuation detail will add great vitality to the line. It will have a keen, but not too fast, tempo.
A good performance will bring out the colour and put character into the playing. It may not have the same consistency of touch and panache which characterize an excellent performance, and it may not be rhythmically precise throughout.
A sound performance will have a good sense of rhythm and plenty of well projected tone, with some contrasts, but the colours are likely to be nowhere near as vivid and the character not as compelling.