|About this Recording
8.553642 - POULENC: Melodies
The importance of Francis Poulenc's vocal output within his work is well-known, as is his place in the history of the French mélodie. The pieces he devoted to the human voice, whether single songs or cycles, vary in genre as much as do the poets which inspired them, from Pierre de Ronsard to Paul Éluard, via Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob or Louise de Vilmorin. "Setting a poem to music must be an act of love, and never a marriage of reason," declared the composer to Claude Rostand during the famous radio interviews which took place between October 1953 and April 1954. "Once I have chosen a poem, whose musical setting I do only several months later, I examine it in all its aspects. If it is Apollinaire or Éluard, I give great importance to the arrangement on the page, blank spaces, margins. I recite the poem to myself often. I listen to it, looking out for problems, I often underline the difficult bits of text in red. I note the breathing points, trying to uncover the internal rhythm through one line, not necessarily the first one. Then I try setting it to music, taking into account the different densities of the piano accompaniment. When I run into some detail of prosody, I don't get desperate. I sometimes wait for days, I try to forget the word until I can see it as a new word."
The programme here gives an idea of the musician's melodic art, from the Chonsons gaillardes composed in 1926 on anonymous seventeenth century texts, to the Demier poème a poem by Robert Desnos, set to music in 1956. Thirty creative years during which Poulenc increased his poetic experience of which he was to make good use, particularly in his lyrical works (Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Dialogues des Carmelites, La Voix Humaine). He wrote in his Journal regarding Tel jour telle nuit: "We'll never know just how much I owe to Éluard, how much I owe to Bernac. (It is thanks to them that lyricism entered into my vocal work)."
Indeed, while the poets played a primordial rôle in developing the lyrical talent we know him to possess, the composer was fortunate, throughout his career, to have his arrangements entrusted to interpreters without equal, themselves attracted by the vocal qualities of his writing. Jane Bathori, Claire Croiza and Suzanne Peignot were the first to sing, love and defend his works. Pierre Bemac had a decisive influence upon the composer, through his qualities as an interpreter as well as the value of his technical and artistic advice. Though today it is part of history, the famous duet that Poulenc made up with the baritone for more than twenty years is still present in people's memories. From 1958, Denise Duval, the incomparable interpreter of his lyrical works and a faithful friend, who in turn worked with the composer for a group of recitals and from 1959 took around the world his arrangement of La Voix Humaine (often with piano accompaniment) within various melody programmes. Francis Poulenc died a few days after their last recital, given in Maastricht, at the end of which he had flowers sent to Denise Duval with the words. "My Denise, To you I owe my final joy, Your poor Fr.".
The Chansons gaillardes were composed in 1926 on anonymous seventeenth century texts, whose sauciness is translated by the composer into almost naïve poetry. Introduced boldly by La maîtresse volage, the cycle continues with Chanson à boire, a march where the solo is virtually declaimed. Madrigal is a movement as brief as it is lively, with a comical spirit. Though Invocation aux Parques is indicated as "grave" to be sung "tenderly", the Couplets bachiques, "very lively", contrast strongly with their very rhythmic nature and full-throated coda. Poulenc wanted L 'Offrande to be made into a piece of pure poetry, as the melodic line, rather than the text, obviously demands. After Serenade's most poetic invocation, La belle jeunesse confirms that we are dealing with "songs", as the composer stressed to Claude Rostand.
In 1931 Poulenc went back to the Bestiaire's poet for the anthology of Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire. Half-way between melody and street-song, these pieces move between a "sordid Parisian atmosphere" (L 'anguille), amorous mockery (Carte-Postale), biting irony (Avant le cinéma) and finally a "Kaleidoscope of words" (1904).
The cycle Tel jour telle nuit was written between 1936 and 1937 on poems by Paul Éluard. It was first performed on 3rd February 1937 in the Salle Gaveau, by Pierre Bernac accompanied by Poulenc. This is a cycle as Robert Schumann would understand it. This recording provides a version established by Bernac and supported by the composer. The cycle opens with a solemn movement on the piano, the singing evolving from an almost recitativo style towards a lyrical flight which concludes the melody. Une ruine coquille vide furnishes an atmosphere perhaps conveying the poet's "midnight's silence" and continued into Une herbe pauvre. Swift and short, Je n'ai envie que de t'aimer suggests the ardour of amorous desire. Lastly, Nous avons fait la nuit recalls the introduction's muffled atmosphere and concludes the cycle with a piano coda which seems to want to prolong the poetry beyond the words.
Priez pour paix was written in 1938 on a text by Charles d'Orleans. Francis Poulenc explains in his Journal how he tried to give here an impression of fervour and above all of humility which, for him, was "the finest quality of prayer."
Moved simply to his very depths by the resonance, so human, of the Apollinaire poem - as he likewise states in his Journal, Poulenc composed Bleuetin 1939.
Banalités was written in October and November 1940 in Paris and Noizay on sparse poems by Guillaume Apollinaire and use the title of a collection of seven poems appearing in the review Lacerba of April 1914. It was first performed on 4 December 1940 in the Salle Gaveau by Bemac and Poulenc. Whereas the Chanson d'Orkenise must be intoned "straight-forwardly, in the style of a popular song", Hôtel is the poetic evocation of idleness in ..a room in Mont- parnasse". soothed by smooth, langorous harmonies. Noted as "very fast, in a single dash", Fagnes de Wallonie interrupts the earlier atmosphere with a curious passage of speed. rushing to its conclusion in a short coda on the piano. Dedicated to Paul Éluard, Voyage à Paris takes a waltz rhythm, conveying a Parisian mood at once both popular and spiritual. Sanglots, which completes the cycle, is definitely one of the most moving pieces written by Poulenc. Swung to and fro’ by the accompaniment's off-beat rhythms, this melody is charged progressively with a more and more tense emotion through a particularly restrained modulation technique.
The Chansons villageoises were composed on poems by Maurice Fombeure between October and December 1942 and first sung on 28th June 1943 by Roger Bourdin with Poulenc at the piano. "I conceived them as a symphonic item in song for a strong Verdi baritone (Iago)," says the composer, now writing them with orchestral accompaniment. In fact, these melodies are especially rich in colour and tone and bear witness to a search for strong harmonies. characteristics to be found in their piano version. "Very gay and very fast", Chanson du clair tamis joyfully opens this new cycle with rhythmic élan, mischevously mingling diatonics and chromatics. Les gars qui vont à la fête, noted "Wildly animated", renews the pace in a bantering mood. Sweetly poetic, C’est le joli printemps is the only song in this cycle to be calm and serene in nature. The effect produced in Le mendiant is striking with its crescendo, its rhythmic development and its use of power. "Prestissimo as possible". Chanson de la fille frivole is light in its dynamics and the repetition of its refrain. The cycle ends with Le retour du sergent, a ferocious. yet ironic, melody led baldly by its refrain.
Written in 1943 on a clandestinely published poem by Aragon, C portrays with intense contained emotion the profound despondency of the tragic days of May 1940 and the Exodus.
The melody C’est ainsi que tu es, on a poem by Louise de Vilmorin, a faithful, close friend of the composer, is taken from Metamorphoses. Composed in 1943, it maintains a conspiratorial duo between the piano's melodic line and the sung line, which answer each other and are overlaid in widely deployed lyricism.
Finished in 1945, Montparnasse, on a poem by Apollinaire, seems to allow Poulenc to re-immerse himself in one of the magic places of his youth, as in La Dame de Monte Carlo some years later. Here, we have a nostalgic evocation of Montparnasse, associated with the memory of the Salle Huyghens and the "Lyre and palette" concerts, in which the composer's earliest works were first heard. Montparnasse was first performed in the Salle Gaveau on 27th April 1945 by Bernac and Poulenc, during the first festival to be devoted entirely to the latter's melodies.
Rosemonde is the only poem drawn from Apollinaire's Alcools to be set to music by Poulenc, Composed in May 1954 and first performed on 2nd February 1955 at Gaveau, for the celebration of the Poulenc-Bernac duo's twentieth anniversary, this work betrays, in Pierre Bernac's terms, a "happy nostalgia", Dernier poème was written in 1956 on a heart-rending text by Robert Desnos found after the poet's death at Drancy, and in which he had rewritten an earlier poem, J'ai tant rêvé de toi.
Translation: Wil Gowans
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