-Poulenc's adaptation of Gamelan Music- How far does inspiration reach?

Essay by verycrazygirlHigh School, 12th grade June 2004

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Through out history western composers have been influenced by the most remote parts of the world. Inspiration seems to overcome distances where originality is concerned.

Francis Poulenc's "Concerto for two pianos" is very highly influenced by Indonesian music. A particular piece from a Javanese Gamelan, "Lancaron Jokowo" can be used to demonstrate the relationship between Poulenc and this trend inspired to great extent by the World Music fair hosted by Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.

Poulenc attempted to translate - quite successfully - the language of Indonesian music to western classical music. Evidence of this can be seen in the ostinato patterns of a cyclical nature creating a very thick texture, contributing largely to the pieces' polyrhythmic attributes.

Indonesian Gamelan music is based around the pentatonic scales which they call the 'pelog'. Poulenc incorporated this scale in his double piano concerto creating a tonality that quite resembles "Lancaron Jokowo".

However, there is a limit as to how far Poulenc could successfully recreate this harmonic effect. Although Poulenc attempts to use the instruments in a way that would mimic a gamelan, such as the percussive use of the piano, and imitating the instruments commonly found in such an ensemble, the instruments used in "Lancaron Jokowo" have a microtonal quality to them This is due to the fact that they are handmade whereas western instruments are all tuned to concert pitch producing a more precise tonality. Perhaps Poulenc found himself limited by the 'well tuned clavier'.

Investigating further into the melodic concepts found in "Lancaron Jokowo", it is evident that the core melody line is played by the instrument with the highest pitch. This is very common if not almost mandatory in Indonesian Gamelan music. Furthermore the lowest pitched instruments also play longer notes than the core melody line.