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Hommage a Edith Piaf

by Francis Poulenc

The Improvisations are fifteen short works for piano, none lasting more than three and a half minutes, and most not even half that length.But just as historical perspective has recognized the startling originality of Poulenc’s voice, so does closer examination of the Improvisations reveal their impeccable technique and graceful touch, both on the part of the composer and in their demands of the performer. And however one regards them, they are undeniably irresistible works.

The first six Improvisations date from 1932. The first, in B minor, starts off as a Presto ritmico with volatile sixteenth-note gestures played très sec. 

The melodic beauty of Improvisation no. 7, composed in 1933, contains a whisper of Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte. The following three of the set were completed the following year. No. 9 in D Major reflects the playfulness of much of Poulenc’s chamber music. No. 10 bears the subtitle “Éloge des gammes.” 

Poulenc composed Improvisations nos. 11 and 12 in 1941. The latter, an Hommage à Schubert, is a waltz. This music honors the Schubert of the drawing room Schubertiades – the composer of lieder and keyboard miniatures, designed to delight intimate gatherings of friends rather than the majestic Schubert of the Great C Major Symphony, or the profound Schubert of Winterreise.

Improvisation no. 13 in A minor, composed in 1958, is a seductive number, owing largely to une beaucoup de pédale, setting the darkly mysterious melody and sultry harmony in a smoky film noir. The final Improvisation is Poulenc’s Hommage à Edith Piaf, Poulenc wrote this after he heard Edith Piaf sing “La vie en rose”.

I chose this piece because the middle register of the flute can be thin and uninteresting. This piece will definitely sort that out and place demands on the players skills. The harmonics have to be in tune for and depth of tone to be present and project.