Francis Poulenc: Trois mouvements perpétuels


Composed in 1918 when Poulenc was only 19 years old, Troi mouvements perpétuels is a short three movement suite for solo piano. The suite was premiered in December 1918 by Poulenc’s teacher, Ricardo Viñes and was dedicated to the artist Victor Hugo.

The suite was a big hit with critics and audiences and has become one of Poulenc’s most beloved works. The suite has been described as “reflections of the ironical outlook of Satie adapted to the sensitive standards of the current intellectual circles.” Poulenc wasn’t all that mad about this work, he assumed people would gravitate towards his much more serious works. In one way they do, but his younger works have a charm about them that seem to still draw people in.

The Music

Trois mouvements perpétuels takes around five minutes to perform. Poulenc described them as “ulta-easy to perform” and compared the suite to taking a brisk stroll by the Seine.

Movement I – Assez modéré

The sweet sounding opening movement consists of only 24 bars of music. The first 19 bars are repeated twice making the piece longer. Starting in the major, the music soon slips into the minor mode, which creates a very different kind of atmosphere. The cascading accompaniment supports the flowing melody that is based on a scale. The last three bars are marked Trés lent (very slow). The movement ends rather inconclusively.

Movement II – Trés modéré

Most of the short second movement is marked either p or pp, which gives it more delicate and mysterious atmosphere. The melody moves in pairs and becomes decorated the higher up the piano it moves. There are only 14 bars in this movement, last just over a minute. The movement ends with a ppp upwards glissando. Similarly to the first movement, the second also ends inconclusively, with this one being more abrupt.

Movement III – Alerte

Bursting with more colour and energy, the exuberant third movement is the longest and most joyful of the three. Poulenc experiments with various time signatures in this movement, shifting between 4, 7, 3 and 5. The melody is passed between the hands in this movement, with the pianist utilising a larger surface area of the piano’s range. Similarly to the second movement, the third ends with a ppp sequence before finishing on an interrupted chord.


Final Thoughts

There is a trend throughout these three movements that the ending leaves the listener wanting more. The interrupted and inconclusive endings leave a lot to the imagination, which is perhaps what Poulenc was aiming for. The music stays unresolved so it lingers in our minds for longer. A twee piano suite that has stood the test of time. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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