Music to Please

"From very early on, I have been infested with the compositional virus. To create something from a blank page: what ecstasy! To be able to escape from one’s self-inflicted prisons: what a privilege."

Jean Françaix's affinity for composition, which became evident with his first published work at the age of 10, was met with praise from the likes of Ravel, Poulenc, and the figure behind so many eminent names in composition: Nadia Boulanger. Upon seeing the 10 year old's first manuscript, Ravel wrote to Françaix's parents saying "you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever." In a letter to a prominent musicologist in 1942, Poulenc singled out only two composers he considered to be of any merit, one was Olivier Messiaen, the other was Jean Françaix. The young Françaix was very quickly sent to Nadia Boulanger for composition lessons. Boulanger was one of the best composition teachers in France at the time and after two months of teaching the boy said to his mother “Mrs. Françaix, I do not know why we are wasting our time in teaching Jean harmony; he knows harmony. I do not know how, but he knows it."

Françaix now presents us with a bit of a mystery. After such a promising start we now know that many of his works have not received more than one performance, and very few recordings. The composer was also a highly acclaimed pianist, but comparatively little remains of his career now. For a composer with such support, as well as being a very talented pianist capable of holding his own in some of Europe's top concert halls, for Françaix to have dropped off the radar seems rather odd. He preferred writing "musique pour faire plaisir" ("music to please"), rather than works worthy of critical acclaim. His music is full of wit and humour, and struggled to make an impact among his more daring contemporaries. This didn't put a dent in his creative productivity however, as he continued to write non-stop until his death in 1997.

Françaix's Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano is a true example of his Neo-classical style. Formally structured, the piece is built of quotations from several different styles that interweave throughout the piece. The trio is light-hearted and full of wit, and takes pleasure in the unexpected.

Francaix with his teacher, Nadia Boulanger. 

Francaix with his teacher, Nadia Boulanger.