Movement 1: Introduction à la vie joyeuse
Movement 2: Aminte délaissée
Movement 3: Le consolateur facétieux
Movement 4: Subtile tendresse
Movement 5: Les larcins galants
Movement 6: La belle Damnée de Chez Maxim's
Movement 7: Les amours ont chassé l'amour
In classical literature the island of Cythera, off Cape Malea in the Peloponnese, was considered the birthplace of Aphrodite. In consequence it was celebrated as the ‘Isle of Love’ whose inhabitants lived a life of paradisal pleasure. Watteau and Boucher depicted goings-on there, and French composers had a more than nodding acquaintance with the place – it is Paris’s destination when he abducts Helen in Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, it is Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse, and Poulenc sets sail for there in his waltz L’Embarquement pour Cythère, actually composed after Françaix’s suite. But it is clear that, just as Watteau’s paintings put the denizens of Cythera into eighteenth-century dress, so Françaix puts them into that of the twentieth. There may be a smattering of classical figures like the abandoned shepherdess Aminte, but also modern Parisians who have dined at Chez Maxim’s, the famous fashionable restaurant of the Belle Époque and the Roaring Twenties. Indeed the pleasures to be taken in the groves of Cythera may be ambiguous at best, for this stylish and sparkling score is loaded with irony.
The prelude, initially dapper, soon turns breezy and rumbustious, only to vanish unexpectedly. In the gentle movement that follows, depicting the unfortunate Aminte, the influence of Ravel is patent, not least in its melancholy clarinet tune. The ‘consolateur’ of the next movement is distinguished by sublimated music-hall rhythms and sudden rhythmic quips and flourishes. While the exquisite ‘Subtile tendresse’ harks back to the Baroque manners of Couperin, the ensuing ‘Les larcins galants’ is almost a waltz-polka in its ebulliently tripping movement. It is the beautiful temptress from Chez Maxim’s who is the hit of the suite, however. She gets the most extended movement – a sumptuously elegant concert waltz with a decidedly ‘jazz-era’ middle section. The finale, in which the lovers are to be imagined as turning on and pursuing the god of love, works up to a fine explosion of energy before being finally cut short.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2004