How does one describe the music of the great composer whose 114th birth anniversary we'll celebrate with several of his best works in Monday's WFCR classical music? Here goes: Insouciant, reverent, restrained, hedonistic, sentimental, perky, mesmerizing, giddy, touching, as lovable (and occasionally annoying) as a puppy, as elegant as a well-aged Bordeaux, with one foot in the concert hall and the other in the music hall, perhaps not the most profound music around (thank God), but utterly, shamelessly, wonderfully comfortable in its own delightful flaws, excesses and virtues. In other words, the music of Francis Poulenc is very, very French.
Admittedly, Poulenc doesn't appeal to everybody, especially to those everybodies of a more Teutonic taste, for whom Poulenc is the preferred bête noir. In his superb 2009 New Yorker article on the Marlboro Music Festival, a bastion of Central European sensibilities, Alex Ross quotes a young festival participant quipping in a mock-infomercial, "Remember the time when only German music was considered important? When Poulenc was not allowed? At Marlboro, you can live that time again." Remind me to tell you sometime of the local musical luminary and Marlboro regular of cherished memory who delighted in upbraiding me every time he saw me for programming Poulenc.
Well, in the 21st century, we should be past that, even at Marlboro. My goodness, what an airless and joyless thing classical music would be if it couldn't make room among its Austro-German heroes for its Joaquín Rodrigos, its Luigi Boccherinis, its Astor Piazzollas, its Nino Rotas and its Francis Poulencs. So, please make room in your heart for "Mouvements perpétuels," the Sonata for horn, trumpet and trombone, the Suite from the ballet Les biches, the song "Les chémins de l'amour" (sung by Bevery Sills!), the Gloria, the Sinfonietta and the "Suite français d'après Claude Gervaise," Monday from 9 to 4 on WFCR. All that, and we'll still leave room for Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata and Piano Concerto No. 1, Schubert's "Tragic" Symphony, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 and Brahms's Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8. Bon anniversaire, Monsieur Poulenc!