Poulenc and Ideas

Poulenc and Ideas - Marc Rumilly BEETHOVEN. I would imagine...

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Marc Rumilly BEETHOVEN. I would imagine that upon seeing the above word, a multitude of ideas, fragments of mental concepts, would flash through the mind of the reader in a fraction of a second. Perhaps ideas of deafness, an image of the man’s face, maybe the notes of a motif from a symphony, or even the idea of a big, drooling dog, to name only a few, can all “fly” through the mind seemingly at once. I must then wonder, what exactly is an idea? Some people would simply conclude that an idea is a thought; but thoughts are represented by words, and language is but one means of carrying and “un-abstracting” an idea. I think of ideas as similar to the concept of energy: “energy”, in physics, is a pure, fundamental entity—but in order to actually exist, to travel and to be modified, it must do so within a vehicle—heat energy, light energy, or kinetic energy, for example. Likewise, ideas, in order to travel between people, must have a similar medium. We certainly have language and thoughts, but I wonder what amount (it must be quite significant) of ideas that we encounter in a day are through other means. Music is often called a “universal language”, and musicality (more so than, say, electronic MIDI music) can certainly be considered one form of an idea. Artwork can be another. A chef, or a perfumer, might even argue that the flavors of foods, or the scents of perfumes, are equally viable modes of transportation for ideas. In that case, an idea can in fact be transferred, or translated, from one mode to another (as potential energy is transferred to kinetic energy, for instance, or even how energy can transform to mass—perhaps similar to how the “idea” becomes an actual, tangible word, work of art, piece of music, etc.) What I would like to
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focus on here, however, is the idea of ideas in Francis Poulenc’s (1899-1963) piano music. I like to think of Poulenc as more of an alchemist than an inventor. He himself is quoted as saying, “I certainly know that I am not among the musicians who will have been harmonic innovators, like Igor, Ravel, or Debussy, but I think there is room for new music which doesn’t mind using other people’s chords. Wasn’t this the case with Mozart and Schubert?” (Daniel, 75) He has also mentioned those composers as among his favorites in an interview (Audel, 58). Musically speaking, he was not especially known for creating new ideas, but rather for taking something already in existence and transforming or transmuting them into their own unique entity, and having something original to say in that respect. The main sources of inspiration for Poulenc were music previously written by others and nonmusical artistic ideas (by comparison, Debussy was known for using the ideas of nonmusical laws-of-nature (and nature itself) expressed through his music). To begin looking at previous musical ideas being used in Poulenc’s music, we
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Poulenc and Ideas - Marc Rumilly BEETHOVEN. I would imagine...

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