Violin Sonata (Poulenc)

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Sonate pour violon et piano
Violin Sonata
Chamber music by Francis Poulenc
Garcia Lorca en Rosario.JPG
Bust of the poet Federico García Lorca, in whose memory the sonata was written
CatalogueFP 119
Composed1942 (1942)–1943
Performed21 June 1943 (1943-06-21): Paris

The Sonate pour violon et piano (Violin Sonata), FP 119, by Francis Poulenc was composed in 1942–1943 in memory of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. The score, dedicated to Poulenc's niece Brigitte Manceaux, was published by Max Eschig. The work was premiered by the violinist Ginette Neveu with the composer at the piano on 21 June 1943 in Paris, Salle Gaveau.

Genesis and creation[edit]

Francis Poulenc tried several times to write a sonata for a string instrument. As early as 1918, he made sketches for a violin sonata, which he later destroyed.[1] He made several further attempts between 1925 and 1935.[1] The published violin sonata was at least the fourth approach, and the only one to have been preserved. As Poulenc himself pointed out, he did "not like the violin in the singular".[2] The writing of the sonata was largely due to the insistence of Ginette Neveu whom he did not want to antagonize and who gave him many tips for the violin part. He later confessed that "the few delicious violinistic details of the score" were due to Neveu.[2]

Poulenc wrote, when he completed the draft of the sonata:

The monster is finished. I will begin the realization. It is not bad, I think, and in any case very different from the eternal "violin-melody line" of the French sonatas of the 19th century.... The violin prima donna over piano arpeggio makes me vomit.

Le monstre est au point. Je vais commencer la réalisation. Ce n'est pas mal, je crois, et en tout cas fort différent de la sempiternelle ligne de violon-mélodie des sonates françaises du XIXe siècle.... Le violon prima donna sur piano arpège, me fait vomir.[3]

The work was premiered during a concert de la Pléiade at salle Gaveau in Paris 21 June 1943[4] with Ginette Neveu, violin, and the composer as pianist; the violinist's performance was appreciated even if the criticisms of the work were negative. Poulenc revised the sonata in 1949.[5]

Reception and legacy[edit]

In his work Journal de mes mélodies, the composer himself is critical of this sonata: "I am struggling to testify, musically, of my passion for Lorca, but my Sonata for piano and violin, dedicated to his memory, is alas not the best Poulenc".[6]

The sonata was judged harshly by critics.[7] Adélaïde de Place wrote in the Guide la musique de chambre (published by the editions Fayard): "this work in three movements ... is a little disappointing".[8] The Poulenc biographer Henri Hell claims that its "only merit is to have been written in memory of Federico García Lorca ... Poulenc is no longer quite Poulenc when he writes for the violin".[9]

There are, however, numerous recordings of the work, including that of the virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin accompanied by Jacques Février on the piano.[10]


A girl in a gray satin dress sits on the edge of a sofa with large orange and white stripes, her body leaning forward, her naked forearms resting on her thighs. She reads a book she holds in her hands. Around her other books are scattered.
Tatiana, from Eugen Onegin by Elena Samokysh-Sudkovskaya, 1899

Poulenc was little inspired by string instruments, (as can be seen in other works, for example the Cello Sonata written between 1940 and 1948).,[11] The sonata uses borrowings, including self-citations. At one point he uses one of the oboe themes of the "letter song"[4] from the opera Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The thematic influence of Sergei Rachmaninov can also be heard in the work.[4]

Structure and analysis[edit]

Like most of the composer's chamber works, the sonata, with a performance time of 15 to 18 minutes, adopts a fast-slow-fast three-movement plan:[3]

  1. Allegro con fuoco
  2. Intermezzo
  3. Presto tragico

The execution time of each movement is about 5 to 6 minutes.

Allegro con fuoco cites the first of Trois Poèmes by Louise Lalanne.[4] The central passage of the Intermezzo in thirds, by the violin, is the summit of the work. From the point of view of harmonic style, this movement is the least in the usual language of the composer[4] and denotes a "vaguely Spanish" memory.[1]

Selected recordings[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Machart 1995, p. 136.
  2. ^ a b Poulenc 1993, p. 125.
  3. ^ a b Schmidt 1995, p. 332.
  4. ^ a b c d e RCA 2017.
  5. ^ Salabert, p. 12.
  6. ^ Poulenc 1993, p. 53.
  7. ^ Machart 1995, p. 138.
  8. ^ Place, p. 704.
  9. ^ Hell 1978, p. 180.
  10. ^ BNF 2017.
  11. ^ Machart 1995, p. 161.


  • Hell, Henri (1978). Francis Poulenc (in French). Paris: Fayard. ISBN 2-213-00670-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Machart, Renaud (1995). Poulenc (in French). Paris: Éditions du Seuil. ISBN 2-02-013695-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Place, Adélaïde de. Guide la musique de chambre (in French). Paris: Fayard. ISBN 2-213-00670-9.
  • Poulenc, Francis (1993). Journal de mes mélodies (in French). Paris: Cicéro Éditeurs, Salabert. ISBN 2-908369-10-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Schmidt, Carl B. (1995). The Music of Francis Poulenc (1899–1963): A Catalogue (in English and French). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-158516-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • François-René Tranchefort (dir.) (1989). "Francis Poulenc". Guide de la musique de chambre. Les Indispensables de la musique (in French). Paris: Fayard. ISBN 2-213-02403-0.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  • "Sonates . Violon, piano. FP 119" (in French). BNF. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  • Francis Poulenc – Intégrale Musique de chambre. RCA Red Seal. pp. 4–5.
  • Catalog of Francis Poulenc's works. Éditions Salabert.

External links[edit]