07 January 2009

Happy Birthday Francis Notre Frere

As readers of Scrum Central know, here you'll find not just hypnotically compelling social & theological analysis, outrageous humor, brutally realistic sports stories, and a huge amount of time-wasting fluff, but also the rare bit of useful information that might actually make your life a little nicer. Scrum Central hopes this post falls into that last category. So if you are a mindless juvenile schlub uninterested in self-improvement or raising your cultural awareness, might as well stop reading right here because I guarantee you'll stop reading in the next paragraph.

One of my chief delights is introducing friends to new music. Sure, everybody knows the Beatles and Death Cab and Coldplay and Jack Johnson and Ben Folds and The Fray and 100 other groups I could name. But how many of you know Francis Poulenc?

[sound of crickets chirping as we wait]

That's what I thought. If you don't know this guy, you are seriously missing out. And here's why.

Today is Francis Poulenc's 109th birthday. Now, before you say Why should I care about some dead guy and then click away to your latest Facebook ping, give me just a minute. You might learn something here. After all, you're reading this blog which means you already have above-average intelligence. So indulge me. You might be very glad you did.

Poulenc was an openly gay French composer at a time much less tolerant than ours. So you gotta respect him for that alone. But beyond that, he wrote some amazing music. Personality-wise, he's been described as "half hoodlum, half monk." A fascinating, self-contradictory combination of devout Christian and outrageously cynical and humorous party animal. And the cool thing is that his music reflects those contradictions. You can actually hear these parts of his personality coming through, often in the same piece. He was a member of "Les Six," a group of French musicians who rebelled against Romanticism and Impressionism in the early 1920s. How many of you, dear readers, have felt like rebelling against the social conventions of YOUR time? You know who you are, and I do too—and you know what I'm talking about don't you. Well, then you should consider Poulenc a kindred spirit. His music has wonderful melodies and covers the entire world's worth of emotions, from wit and playfulness to melancholy and profound spiritual contemplation.

Imagine the most moving piece you've ever heard in a General Conference broadcast suddenly breaking open into jazz and ragtime and Broadway show tunes, then back again to deep spirituality. Yet somehow it all fits together wonderfully. That's Poulenc.

So if you have reached a level of maturity sufficient to be comfortable without electric guitars and a throbbing drum beat, and you can actually sit through a piece of music longer than 3 ½ minutes, let me introduce you to the music of Francis Poulenc, one of the 20th Century's greatest composers. I guarantee that he will be remembered and his music will still be played decades and even centuries from now when Coldplay and The Fray and Jack Johnson are footnotes in some obscure encyclopedia.

Here's a sample, in which you will hear some of his sparkling wit and the sudden, unpredictable, and delightful shifts in key and mood that typify his music:

If that delightful piece intrigued you, this one's even better, it runs through the entire range of emotions and mood, from hysterical laughter to sadness to deep contemplation and back again to sparkling playfulness (and notice that the soloists are definitely of the Coldplay and Green Day generation):

So if you have half a brain in your head and would like to hear more of this genius's amazing music, go to Amazon and check out the following titles by Poulenc:

Concerto for Piano & Orchestra
Concerto for 2 Pianos
Stabat Mater
Sonata for Flute & Piano

Happy birthday Francis! You are an example and an inspiration to us all. Our world is much better because of your courage and your talent.

Scrum Central now returns to its normal programming of useless navel-gazing and mindless drivel.


MoHoHawaii said...

I saw Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Met a few years ago. It was unforgettable.

Romulus said...

Wow! I didn't know that Poulenc was gay! I played in an orchestra that accompanied the Double Piano Concerto.

Beck said...

Thank you for sharing your love of music and stretching some of us to know and appreciate and be exposed to new and wonderful discoveries.

Please keep the education going!