About the album
The music of the Suite Italienne originated in IGOR STRAVINSKY’s ballet score Pulcinella of 1920. The music for this ballet, scored for three solo voices and chamber orchestra, was arranged by Stravinsky from various 18th-century pieces which for many years were believed to be by the Italian composer Pergolesi (1710-36). However, subsequent research has shown that about half of these attractive pieces are actually by other composers such as Gallo, Chelleri, Parisotti and “Anon”. Masterminded by Serge Diaghilev, the ballet was premiered at the Paris Opera in May 1920. Stravinsky arranged a suite of several orchestral movements from the original ballet score, then in 1925 he produced a version for violin and piano. This came about when Stravinsky and the violinist Samuel Dushkin were preparing a recital programme and Stravinsky decided to arrange a selection of movements from the Pulcinella ballet as “Suite Italienne”. Collaborating with the virtuoso cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, he subsequently (1932) completed a quite different cello-and-piano selection of music from Pulcinella – again entitled Suite Italienne. As Dushkin observed, Stravinsky was never interested in routine arranging, but always “rewrote or recreated the music in the spirit of the new instrument” – whether violin or cello.
FRANCIS POULENC’s most frequently performed works include the Organ Concerto, his ballet score Les biches and a setting of the Gloria, but he also composed three operas, much choral music and concertos for piano, two pianos and harpsichord. He was among the outstanding 20th-century composers of songs and he wrote many fine pieces for solo piano. His extensive list of works does feature chamber music, but these compositions favour wind or brass, rather than strings. There are several duo-sonatas with piano – for flute, clarinet, oboe, violin and cello respectively, as well as sonatas for two clarinets; clarinet, bassoon and piano; oboe, bassoon and piano; and horn, trumpet and trombone. Poulenc admitted to struggling when writing for solo strings – he even destroyed two early violin sonatas – but nevertheless the mature sonatas for violin and cello are both attractive and characteristic works.
Poulenc completed his cello sonata in 1948, though his sketches date from eight years earlier. Having advised on the cello part, the distinguished soloist Pierre Fournier gave the premiere with Poulenc on 18th May 1949 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris.
In 1915 CLAUDE DEBUSSY planned a series of six sonatas for different combinations of instruments. Seriously ill with cancer, he lived to complete only the violin and cello sonatas and the sonata for flute, viola and harp. The latter indicates a new interest in unusual instrumental groups, which Debussy intended to further pursue in the other sonatas – for oboe, horn and harpsichord, and for trumpet, clarinet, bassoon and piano. Debussy is just one of many composers who have shown classical tendencies – a new clarity, economy and simplicity – in their late works, and he would also have been aware of Saint-Saëns’ determination to revive the dominance of classical forms in French music. Debussy’s Cello Sonata is an elusive work of wide expressive range, its 11-minute duration encompassing frequently changing moods and tempo fluctuations. When he described his new work to his publisher the composer stressed “The proportions are almost classical ... in the best sense of the word.”