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Two rough and vigorous movements—characterized by Milhaud as Très rude (“harsh”)—frame a more reflective and melodious central movement. The brusque style of the outer movements is all the more accentuated by the piano’s parallel ninth chords and moments of polytonality which here and in the finale—unsurprisingly for a composer who exalted popular music genres—often suggest the rough-sounding ensemble of a village wind band, and indeed the peasant-derived polytonality of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Les noces. Yet the music is both virtuosic and increasingly sophisticated as it progresses, recalling other Stravinsky works such as The Soldier’s Tale and Symphonies of wind instruments. The more limpid style of the central movement, Lent, opens with an apparently artless, graceful melody accompanied by increasingly bluesy “crushed” harmonies in a style distinctively Milhaud’s own. The piano introduces a darker tone for the central section, in which the clarinet broods while the music steadily rises to an anguished and bleak climax, then sweetening for the return of the limpid opening melody. The finale brings the work to a rude yet joyous end.
from notes by Daniel Jaffé © 2014