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8.223775 - POOT, M.: Symphonic No. 6 / Pygmalion (Moscow Symphony, Devreese)

Marcel Poot (1901–1988)
Symphonic No. 6 / Pygmalion (Suite)


The Belgian composer Marcel Poot, born in Vilvoorde, Brussels on 7th May 1901, taught harmony from 1939 to 1940 and counterpoint from 1940to 1949, and later became director, from 1949 to 1966, at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels. He was one of the most remarkable musical personalities of his generation of Belgian composers, and left behind an extensive selection of mainly instrumental works for orchestra and chamber ensembles. He died in 1988.

Marcel Poot’s lively and spirited style of composition reveals youthful mischievousness and an uninhibited lust for life, expressed in lively rhythms and often short melodic themes. Poot’s music is seldom backed by deep thoughts, but the refined musical taste of the composer protects him from superficiality by an innate sense of balance in the formal build-up of his works, which as a rule are classical in structure. Poot’s modernism was never dogmatic, but a spontaneous synthesis of old and new, averse to systems and experiments. That is why Poot is in many ways a neo-classicist, even though he never admitted to this or any other style of composition. His preference for classically formal schemes is derived from his respect for the important traditions of West European art-music of the past, while the pulse of his own age beats in clearly chiselled and tersely formulated themes. Thematic work and motivistic analysis of these often starkly contrasting elements dictates to him a logical extension of the musical idea, brusquely expressed in biting rhythms and muscular ostinatos. Poot’s music is mostly abstract, without reference to extra-musical content of meaning, and it emerges, as it were, from the logic of a strictly personal musical imagination.

Marcel Poot wrote seven symphonies, at different periods of his career. From the moment that the first three symphonies were composed, however, it appears that the young composer handled the symphonic genre with some hesitation and prudence, while the last four symphonies clearly show that the retired, older Poot felt himself fundamentally attracted to symphonic form. The First Symphony(1929) is more looked upon as a sort of exercise, in which the young composer follows the example of Ravel, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, seasoned with the new sounds of the roaring twenties, as they sounded when played by cinema pianists and jazz musicians. The Second (1938) and most surely the Third Symphony (1952), written after an interval of nine and fourteen years respectively, point to an emotional change and a deeper feeling. Poot’s language has become more dramatic and also more romantic, a trend that is no longer found in the last four symphonies. After eighteen years, the Fourth Symphony (1970) heralded a consecutive series of mature symphonic works, a Fifth (1974), a Sixth (1978) and a Seventh Symphony (1980). Marcel Foot’s style does not change any more and has found its own objective, in business-like sobriety and formally clever and emotionally reserved language.

The Sixth Symphony was completed in May 1978. Like the Fourth, it is also in three movements and is a free adaptation of classical form. Here also the opening Allegro begins with a powerful and strong rhythmic theme, beginning in unison. Here is also an instrumental solo, in this case a violin solo, leads to a more lilting fragment, Poco ritenuto, and a central concertante section middle part (tempo primo). A more soloistic-fragment, Moderato, is used as a transition to a powerful close, in which reprise and coda in fact melt into one another.

The slow central movement marked, Andante maestoso, begins with an atmospheric introduction, in which chord declamations of the brass are answered by solo parts from various instruments. The violins announce the first main melodic fragment. A short solo passage from the oboe becomes the transition to a more rhythmic central section, poco animato, in which it is mainly the brass section that we hear above a sort of ostinato that turns into a great climax, Allegro vivo e con calore. When the chords of the brass are interchanged with a melody from the cello a sort of recomposed repeat of the opening fragment begins, with which the middle part closes.

The finale of the Sixth Symphony has the character and the form of a recomposed and loosely elaborated scherzo, in which an element of the old minuet and trio form can be found. A Presto, that has, during the whole symphony, both the function of a coda at the scherzo and that of a short finale, closes the work.

The ballet Pygmalion was written to a script from Reno Jonglet and was first performed in the Koninklijke Muntschouwburg in May 1957. The story behind the ballet is a paraphrase of a fragment from the ancient myth surrounding the legendary sculptor Pygmalion, who lived on the island of Cyprus. He opted for a celibate life, because he abhorred the behaviour and life-style of the women around him. It is said that he once sculptured a life-size statue in ivory of a woman of astonishing beauty, whom he named Galatea. To revenge herself on his dismissive behaviour towards women in general, the goddess Venus made sure that Pygmalion fell madly in love with the statue, which she then brought to life. This is in fact the beginning of the passage in the story that Marcel Poot uses in his ballet (Awakening of Galatea. Dances and scenes of love).

According to ancient myth Pygmalion married Galatea, who also bore him a son, Paphos, who founded the city hearing his name, which was dedicated to love. However here any resemblance to Jonglet’s and Poot’s scenario finishes. They bring on jesters (Intermezzo des bouffons – Intermezzo of the jesters), have the company perform erotic dances (Sarabande) and drive Pygmalion to despair, where Galatea seems no better than the women that he so despised Danse de Galathee (“Dance of Galatea”), Desespoir et mort de Pygmalion (“Despair and death of Pygmalion”).

Between his First (1929) and his Second Symphony (1938) Marcel Poot wrote about a dozen shorter and mostly one-part works for symphonic orchestra, from which the Vrolijke Ouverture – Cheerful Overture (1934) and the Allegro Symphonique (1936) are two striking but quite distinctive examples. The Overture is without doubt the best known and also the most popular of Poot’s works. It illustrates the playful, lively, sharp and brilliant style of w hat we now could call Poot’s first creative period. The Allegro however points more to the greater profundity as regards content and to the more serious and more romantic moments of his second period.

The Allegro Symphonique is built up as the first part of a symphony in sonata form. A scale exercise serves as an introduction to an initial theme that is consists of a rhythmical Allegro vigoroso and a melodic element largement. A powerful and march-like passage (violente) forms the central part from a somewhat broadly worked out transition fragment that leads to the second theme. After a short coda a noticeable development follows, in which besides material from both themes, the march motif from the exposition plays an important role. The mischievous Poot also adds to the development a short light-hearted passage (umoristico) which can be looked up as a free variation on the rhythmic element of the first theme. A real reprise and a coda round off the Allegro Symphonique, although the march-like passage from the exposition is missing here. The piece is clear, self-explanatory and built up in a quite orderly fashion, and the form can be heard quite distinctively.

Marcel Poot dedicated the Vrolijke Ouverture to his teacher Paul Dukas, under whom he had studied for some time in Paris in the thirties. In 1930 Marcel Poot won the Rubens Prize, and the accompanying scholarship allowed him to study further in the French capital. The Vrolijke Ouverture was very popular and helped Poot to become known abroad. It was also the first score of Marcel Poot which was published by Universal Edition in Vienna.

The work is built up as a simple varied song form with two contrasting elements. A sharp, fresh and light-hearted melody above an infectious ostinato (Allegro giocoso) and a more tuneful and melodic fragment (meno vivo) are its corner-stones. After being heard once they are repeated in a variation again and further worked out according to an ABA ’B’ scheme. A powerful coda on material from the first melody (violemment rythme’) rounds off the piece afterwards in a grand climax.

© 1995 Jacques Van Deun
Translation by Simon Shrimpton

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