The French composers who were attracting attention around 1920, and who were given the collective title of the Groupe des Six by the critic Henri Collet, were united above all by negative characteristics: they were all in rebellion against the powerful influence of Wagner and against the (in their opinion) vagueness of symbolism and impressionism. In their battle they sometimes resorted to musical pranks which were a transitory characteristic, for example, of the music of Honegger and Milhaud, but which would remain characteristic for Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) for some years to come.
Poulencs cantata Le Bal Masqu is written to texts by the poet Max Jacob, whose work can be seen as closely approaching surrealism; it dates from 1932. The instrumentation is strongly reminiscent of Stravinskys LHistoire du Soldat: oboe, clarinet, bassoon, cornet a piston, piano, violin, cello, and percussion-the latter under the control of one single player. In addition, the composer has precisely specified the placement of the nine performers and the conductor on the podium. Poulenc considered the work as a sort of carnival which he had set up in collaboration with the poet. This makes the introduction of a blind lady acceptable, a device which would be in questionable taste outside of this absurdist setting. (Note: This cantata was composed on the eve of Hitlers Machtubername in Germany.
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