By Francis Poulenc
Composed in 1947
French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) almost defies characterization in terms of musical style. He was a member of the famed composer group known as “Les Six” and played a prominent role in 20th-century music.
He wrote many well-known works for the stage (Les Mamelles de Tiresias, Les Biches, Dialogues of the Carmelites), as well as numerous chamber works and concertos.
His Sinfonietta is one of his few large-scale orchestral works. It was commissioned in 1947 for the BBC, and premiered the following year. While Poulenc originally conceived of it as a short, 15-minute work (hence the title), it blossomed into a more substantial four-movement symphony, full of vigor, beauty and wit, with equal prominence given throughout to strings, woodwinds and brass.
The first movement begins with a serious and dramatic minor-key opening, with subsequent rising motifs passed around the orchestra. There is an unusual slow interlude in the middle of the movement in which solo winds are prominently featured, and a calming major-key ending.
The second movement is a lighthearted scherzo, with three witty themes introduced by the strings. The Andante cntabile features winds and strings in melodies written by Poulenc in late-Romantic, almost Brahmsian, style. The Finale is a romp, with an abrupt introduction, several incisive and witty themes, and a surprise ending.