Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart


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Popular Features. New Releases. Description 'He plays the piano well,' wrote the society hostess Mme de Saint-Marceaux in her diary on 18 March Poulenc has in fact outpaced his colleagues in Les Six by many a mile, as singers and instrumentalists all over the world will attest, and while he would never have accepted the title of 'genius', preferring 'artisan', a genius is increasingly what he appears to have been.

Part of the answer lay in always being his own man, and this independence of spirit shows through in his writings and interviews just as brightly as in his music, whether it's boasting that he'd be happy never to hear The Mastersingers ever again, pointing out that what critics condemn as the 'formlessness' of French music is one of its delights, voicing his outrage at attempts to 'finish' the Unfinished Symphony, writing 'in praise of banality' - or remembering the affair of Debussy's hat.

And in every case, his intelligence, humour and generosity of spirit help explain why he was so widely and deeply loved. This volume comprises selected articles from Francis Poulenc: J'ecris ce qui me chante Fayard, edited by Nicholas Southon. Many of these articles and interviews have not been available in English before and Roger Nichols's translation, capturing the very essence of Poulenc's lively writing style, makes more widely accessible this significant contribution to Poulenc scholarship.

Product details Format Hardback pages Dimensions x x Part V Lectures: My teachers and my friends; My songs and their poets. Review quote ' Tellingly, the book prompted this reviewer to dust off his Poulenc CD collection to hear again some delightful music Highly recommended.

All readers. Sometimes catty but constantly captivating, Poulenc's prose is definitely worth reading'. International Piano Magazine ' The warmth of Poulenc's conversational style is effortlessly conveyed in Roger Nichols' translation'. The choral writing too has a vivacity and a clarity of outline that is entirely operatic and free of any oratorio style.

Add to that a storyline that is unfailingly human and poignant, and you will understand why Fidelio can cast a spell over the least convinced of Beethovenians. I do prefer — maybe simplistically, but too bad — for Beethoven to be conducted in a rough, sinewy manner and Mozart in an airy, pungent one. Clement Krauss turns the celebrated Leonora no. It is the heart of the transition from the dungeon up to the sunlight. Few passages of music move me as much as this overture. There is a kind of circling motion in the modulations that surprises me every time and of which I never grow weary.

I am not talking here of momentary modulations, but of broad sweeps of melody whose key relationships are a perpetual delight. In Fidelio Mme Lotte Lehmann is inimitable. Without a singing voice, Mme Lotte Lehmann would still be a great tragic actress. Endowed with a voice as smooth as a Stradivarius, she is incontestably the greatest German soprano since Lilli Lehmann. I am improvising it on my knees, quite some time afterwards, in the bus that is taking me to dine with my friend Nadia Boulanger near Mantes.

The countryside has that enveloping gentleness of Saturdays in September. A hunter is sitting opposite me, like Tartarin newly kitted out by Dufayel. No question, we are in France! So much the better, because it is when I am back home that I appreciate most vividly the memories gleaned during a journey. It is then that I get my bearings and sort out what is useful among the things I have admired. Very shortly, in the family atmosphere of pupils gathered round Nadia Boulanger, I know that I shall be singing the praises of Fidelio, ever mindful of the respect and emotion such a subject demands of the person who does so.

Even though Poulenc was not a pupil of hers, he valued her advice and was grateful to her for getting him interested in ancient choral music. It was founded by Georges Dufayel in and closed its doors in In the domain of art, I cannot deplore it too strongly. It is frankly in response to this currently popular taste for simplistic classification that critics stick a label any old how on the back of a painter, a poet or a composer, sometimes an accurate one, but more usually one that applies to only a tiny part of their work. It is almost impossible to read an article on Ravel without finding at least once the words: magician, clockmaker of sound, sorcerer, artificer; and so on.

The certainty of this struck me again the other Sunday during the splendid Mozart—Ravel festival given in the salle du Conservatoire by Charles Munch. When it comes to music by Ravel, it is absolutely fascinating to hear an orchestration the wrong way up, that is to say with more wind instruments than strings, more percussion than bows. Few orchestrations pass this formidable test.

It must be admitted that, just like having a picture by Raphael next to yours on a dado rail, sharing a festival with Mozart is a fierce, not to say insurmountable challenge. At the end of the Rapsodie, the audience gave a rapturous ovation to the work, to the simply marvellous conductor, and to the orchestra. Nothing indeed is more ephemeral than orchestral novelty because it is, inevitably, surpassed.

Instrumental innovation does not only gather moss with time. If I enjoyed the Concerto for the left hand more than ever the other Sunday, I should confess that it was perhaps because, being unable to see, I totally forgot its experimental, physically repellent aspect. Debussy liked the unctuous tone of Steinways and Bechsteins in which he found the sensual echo of his magic touch. Ravel always worked at a dry, wiry Erard which he used almost like a guitar. This work is without question one of the high points of his art. I could count on fewer than the fingers of one hand the successes born of this transatlantic fertilization.

What was he dreaming about? What was he humming as he put his boots outside his bedroom door? I imagine some tune on the lines of the theme of this concerto, that is to say a melody nearer to the jazz of the rue Blanche and the Casino de Paris than to that of the nightclubs of Harlem. How could it be otherwise? Ravel, per cent French, was the opposite of a cosmopolitan. The authors of romanticized lives and the film makers of the future I know one more lie from the latter would not make much difference will have a hard job writing or filming a life of Ravel.

His emotional life was so fiercely secret and his discretion so great that there will be practically nothing accurate to be said. But why should we suppose that the heart of an artist can beat only with sexual passion? It can also, believe me, be moved by childhood as Ravel has abundantly proved , by an animal, a flower, the beauty of a landscape, the colour of the sky, the sounds of music. This was, I think, the case with Ravel. In January , coming back from Portugal and being held up for a day in Saint-Jean-de-Luz through a cancelled connection, I became an ardent pilgrim and, in the solitude of a town emptied by war and winter, went looking for the shade of Ravel.

When the sea turned to emerald and the mountain peaks to aubergine, I went into the church where the baby Maurice was baptised. A few candles were burning on the altar of the Virgin. Then, Ravel, I prayed for you; do not smile, dear sceptic, because if I am sure you had a heart, I am even more certain that you had a soul. Fargue was also a friend of Satie, who set three of his poems two of the Ludions and La Statue de Bronze. He had been born in Ciboure, on the opposite bank of the river. What a delight it is for those who, like me, have never ceased to admire Debussy, to contemplate the panorama of his work, as it now appears.

It is the followers and plagiarists who determine the duration of the purgatory that no work of art can escape. The wild goat of the Casino de Paris, by wrenching the flute out of the hands of the Faune, had for a time distanced us from the Debussyan dreamscapes. How was it possible to accuse of decadence and artificiality a work that celebrates love, jealousy and death? It was under that title that he published his final works. His constant wish was to revive the tradition of Rameau and Couperin. The only proof I need is the letter he wrote me in ; I was then Saturday 23 Oct Dear Sir, In these times we must try to recover our ancient traditions, those whose beauty we have neglected, a beauty they have not ceased to contain.

I remain, dear Sir, Yours faithfully, Claude Debussy. We may be sure that under the present circumstances Debussy would reply in the same vein. To write music that is entirely our own, whether it comes from Couperin, Berlioz or Bizet, that is the lesson of Debussy, a lesson that should be heeded, more than ever, by young French composers.

This monograph was completed in August You know with what interest and pleasure I read your manuscript last year. Your excellent study makes me think, my dear Laplane, of those collectors who are in love with the treasures they possess and who speak so much better about a work of art than certain specialists, who dissect it to the point that nothing is left but a skeleton with every limb labeled.

Also, my dear Laplane, you give the virtuosos a lesson in good behaviour, which is splendid.

Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (Poulenc)

Even if the two composers were alike in several respects — the beard, the perpetual cigar, the bonhomie, the earthiness, the generosity — in fact they were profoundly different. You have, my dear Laplane, explained all that wonderfully by restoring to the superb pieces of Iberia their epic splendour, whereas all too often both public and performers see in them nothing but picture postcards.

Here we are probably going beyond the limits of the possible; should we content ourselves with simply imagining how Iberia might be played? In general, conversations with Ravel were unsurprising, but they became fascinating as soon as the subject turned to music. I was never one of his pupils, but the various pieces of advice he gave me when we happened to meet have been more useful to me than any extended lessons.

His judgments were of an astonishing lucidity not only about the music of others but also about his own. No detail escaped him and he was always able to give a technical explanation for the sympathy or lack of it he felt for any work whatever. At various times he considered writing a short orchestration treatise in which, in the opposite way to Rimsky- Korsakov, he would have pointed out what one should not do, taking the examples from his own music. We were coming out of a Concerts Colonne rehearsal where he had conducted, for the last time, his Rapsodie Espagnole.

In a photo I possess Ravel has a top hat and a light-coloured, very short, raglan coat, for casual wear, over a dinner jacket and polished shoes. Attention to his clothes was his main preoccupation. Ravel then turned back all the fingers of his gloves, which were covered in inscriptions, and muttered, as if to apologise:. I have often wondered whether Ravel would have liked serial music, and it is hard to give an answer.

Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

When Milhaud conducted Pierrot lunaire for the first time in Paris in , Ravel did not miss a single rehearsal. He admired Wozzeck but did not know much of the music of Webern, the serial composer who would certainly have interested him more, because of his elliptical forms. I do not think that Ravel would, like Stravinsky, have embraced the serial discipline, but he would certainly have made some of the Viennese innovations his own, since every novelty awoke in him a creative echo.

Notes 1 [This took place on 15 May , with Koussevitzky conducting. Milhaud had already conducted the first part of Pierrot lunaire on 15 December His organ works are unrivalled and contain pages of unalloyed beauty. Notes 1 The treatise is Technique de mon langage musical, 2 vols, Paris, Leduc, On the latter front, Messiaen has been a windfall for the French musical school. You know, we always have to take account of our origins. And that gets in my way, you know. Likewise the made-up language in Harawi — the made-up Hindu language. So here I go.

I was born just a few steps away from here in the place des Saussaies on 7 January and until I was 18 I never left the area which remains for me my home village. My love for my dear city has led me to sketch out in my heart an ideal map of Paris that goes, roughly, from the Etoile to Montmartre, takes in all the eastern arrondissements, crosses the Seine at the Jardin des Plantes, follows the left bank and returns directly via the place de Breteuil to its point of departure.

I count more on my instinct than on my intelligence, which is wiser, I think, in my case. This digression will explain to you why, from a small boy, I have chosen certain masters for good, and how, despite the ratiocination that comes with maturity, others have never touched my heart. Being brought up in a family where music was more than a simple pastime, I studied all these masters from childhood onwards.

In fact Debussy has fascinated me from my childhood. Sometimes, with my pocket money at the end of a more successful week, I would go in to buy music and the salesmen would greet this little music-loving boy with an indulgent smile. That shop, as well known as the Galerie Bernheim, and now replaced by Madelios, was the favourite place of my childhood.

It was also a few steps from where I lived how can you expect me not to love my quartier? I had often seen Debussy on Saturday mornings at the concerts Colonne, but I had never spoken to him. It was hot. I can see Debussy, his overcoat on his arm, hat in hand, wiping his forehead and placing a packet of proofs on an armchair. I was stunned, as though suddenly Mozart had materialized in front of me. You smile, of course. But for me, I cannot think of that without feeling melancholy because, alas, I never got to know Debussy. Everything I know about the piano, I owe it to this teacher of genius, and it is he who decided my vocation.

To begin with, it was decided I would have one half-hour lesson each week, but this lesson soon lasted an hour, then two, and before I knew it I passed my life next to this hidalgo with the face of a gentle inquisitor. The house was inhabited, for the most part, by ladies of whom the best one can say is that they must have been acting in loco parentis to two or three soldiers back from the front.

This was in Almost always, either before or after me, a young girl with great coils of hair over her ears would have her lesson. I used to listen through the door, astonished and extremely jealous. It was Marcelle Meyer. From then on we were friends. I add to those two names that of Horowitz, whose genius turns my poor leaden pieces into gold. As for Georges Auric, our first meeting led to a fraternal friendship that has made him my other half. Erik Satie had a considerable influence on me, both spiritually and musically. He saw things in such a true light, to the point of sometimes limiting himself through self-control, that a young composer could only profit by being in contact with him.

He was also wonderfully funny. In Jane Bathori, that tireless friend of new music, gave the first public performance of any of my music at the Vieux-Colombier theatre. The words of this vocal intermezzo were by a made-up black poet: Makoko Kangourou. So it was only natural that a young composer should be swayed by the ambience of the day. As the evening was a success, we arranged another two weeks later. We were a group of friends, certainly, but in no way following a common aesthetic.

Francis Poulenc - Les mamelles de Tirésias [With score]

What could be more different than Auric and Milhaud, or Honegger and myself? The surest proof that we were bound only by ties of affection is that, 15 years later, with all of us pursuing our own paths, we have remained good friends. Several portraits by Jacques-Emile Blanche paint me like this, looking dazed, slightly naughty, slightly drunk. It was not until that I was free again and went to work on composition with Charles Koechlin, who for me proved to be a wonderfully broadminded and indulgent teacher.

Meanwhile I had composed Le Bestiaire, Cocardes and various works for wind instruments. Like all the musicians of my generation, I fed on Stravinsky, and I must confess that the most powerful musical emotions I have felt since I owe to Stravinsky. I wept at Les noces, cheered Mavra.

Thanks to Diaghilev, Les Biches were produced with such perfection that, since then, ballet has lost its attraction for me. I retain a cult for this man of genius and could not say to you often enough how much I owe him. Does so; wild applause. And now I should like to talk to you about jazz. Well, no! I do not like it, and especially not that anyone should speak to me about its influence on contemporary music. Can anyone name for me a single work of quality inspired by it?

During a ball the sound of the cannon is heard. A young girl dances with her lover for the last time. Same theme for the sixth. The seventh sings of the charms of the Vistula. While the first seven songs are urban in character, the last is rustic, sung by peasants in Upper Silesia. It depicts the despair of a young girl abandoned on the shores of a lake. I simply imagined, in a French manner, a Polish atmosphere just as others have evoked Spain without knowing it. My work is similar to those delicate bronze frames in which eighteenth-century French artisans used to set porcelain from the Orient.

Mme Modrakowska is beautiful and sings the songs of her homeland superbly, accompanied by the composer. The audience applauds both of them enthusiastically. Dear listeners, the reason why, after talking to you about Les Biches, I abandoned the autobiographical ordering with which this talk began, is that, as with many artists, the early years of my career were the ones most full of notable events.

Before I finish, and to help you place my music better in the contemporary musical scene, I think you might like to know some of the sources of my inspiration.

In the case of piano music, simply touching the keys is enough to arouse my creative urge. But … every rule has its exceptions. On the other hand I do not disown the suburban side of my music which has often been criticised. I need a certain musical vulgarity as a plant lives on compost. For a poem to attract me, it has to summon up an image.


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It it has no precise subject, then I need at least an atmosphere. So I relied on allusions in my ballet Les Biches, in which you can either see nothing but innocent games or, just as possibly, the worst. But Heavens above! Here I am embarking on territory highly inappropriate for the charming young ladies I see all around me. Loud applause. I hope it will entertain you and, by the free flow of its instrumentation, allow you to forget the unpractised orator who ought never to have made an appearance before you.

To this end, I now call upon MM. I should like, even so, to thank them publicly for joining me today. The composer, the players and the brilliant speaker share the huge success of this occasion. He was born not far from there, as he intimates a few lines further on. The site was taken over by the department store Aux Trois Quartiers-Madelios. It is likely that it was composed specifically for this talk. It was probably through them that she met Poulenc. The composer harmonised eight Polish songs for her and accompanied her in several recitals in , notably during a tour of Tunisia and Algeria in February.

The Huit chansons polonaises were composed between January and April The date of their first performance is not known. The earliest verified performance was that given on 20 November by Modrakowska accompanied by Nadia Boulanger. Several film adaptations were already in existence when Poulenc gave this talk. I explained to Mme Sarcey that this was a risk and that, with spring on the horizon, it was important not to spoil the clear skies with vengeful downpours. Such are the fluctuating ambitions of childhood. At that period heaven had blessed me with a nice voice; but when it broke, there followed a nasty conversion into nasal braying.

During the winter of Paris, if you remember, took on an unaccustomed appearance: you had to cross the Place de la Madeleine by boat. And it was there that a vital event took place for me. I passed from wonder to wonder. By a strange coincidence I, a city child, was discovering simultaneously the beauty of the countryside in winter and its sublime transformation into music. Thirty-five years later, this song still holds for me the same emotive power and, with your permission, we shall begin the musical part of this talk under its august patronage.

This eclipse lasted a long time, as it was only in April that I suddenly felt the need to write my first vocal work. My friend Adrienne Monnier, the well-known bookseller, had slipped a copy into a parcel of books. I immediately learnt several stanzas off by heart and, on the old piano in a country house, set 12 of them to music. More than 80 songs date from between the winter of and the present one. He was the utter enchantment of my early youth and remains that of what we have to call bluntly … my maturity.

From as early as I was fascinated by everything of his I read. A crucial fact: I heard the sound of his voice. What he said was sometimes tinged with irony, but never with the deadpan humour of someone like Jules Renard. Before talking about my first collaboration with Paul Eluard in , I think it makes sense, since the two things happened around the same time, to tell you how I came to work with Pierre Bernac. The result was marvellous, but once the concert was over we lost touch with each other. I concurred instantly with this judgment, even though — I confess — I was sorry to lose the promised dollars.

In the train I met a female friend who knows all about fortune telling with cards. The second, more comfortable one took place the following winter in the concert hall of the Ecole normale. I decided to write some new songs for the occasion. I took the plunge and in less than a month I set five of his poems to music. Understanding every word carries no weight with me if the singer, of whichever gender, has no legato and if technical shortcomings produce breaks in the musical line!

If an interpreter is intelligent, as a bonus, so much the better! But if he sings well, that by itself is quite enough for me. But do you know what, for me, is worse than a bad singer? You should know that, in this very hall, I almost committed a crime. Freud claims, with reason, that each one of us, at least for five minutes in the course of our life, has felt within ourselves the soul of an assassin. Luckily I never carry one on me! No, ladies and gentlemen, it was worse. Despite my repeated observations, she insisted on playing my music without pedal. Now playing my music without pedal is the end of everything, and especially the end of my music.

But it must always be present. I trust I shall convince you by accompanying Tel jour telle nuit. As for Bernac, he had his voice lesson earlier. I wipe away a large tear and press on. To end this overlong talk about myself, I shall ask Bernac to sing my Chansons villageoises on poems by Maurice Fombeure. Thank you for your indulgence. Notes 1 Poulenc made regular use of this meteorological joke in his talks, and sometimes in his concerts, which did not prevent him in the slightest from occasionally demonstrating his nasal voice, going up into falsetto when required. The composer orchestrated them in They were premiered by Bernac and the composer at the Ecole normale de musique in Paris on 3 April This date, after they had met again at Salzburg in August , marked the beginning of their collaboration which lasted until The songs were premiered by Bernac and the composer on 8 December in the Salle Gaveau.

Both are in the eighth arrondissement. Schubert according to Poulenc. AL: Vienna will shortly be celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the death of Schubert. The municipality is exhausted.

Within a range of a hundred kilometres, all the hotel beds are already taken. Pressburg [Bratislava] alone, which is 60 kilometres from the capital, will be welcoming 20, people. Not only that: thanks to an agreement between Czechoslovak and Austrian railways, the line between Vienna and Pressburg will be carrying 50 trains daily … And with us, in France?

What echoes does this centenary awake, at least in our hearts? Who should one talk to about this? The young composer of Les Biches for the Ballets russes, could he be a Schubert lover? I find M. FP: Schubert! Never mind! Schubert is a great precursor. His harmonic discoveries! His modulations! I repeat: Mozart and Schubert! AL: Two Austrians! FP: Yes, I love Austrian music. Austria, as we all know, is, like France, halfway between the North, Germany and the Mediterranean.

Nowhere is Schubert played so wonderfully as in Vienna. I admire him, but there is such a distance between us! While Schubert! At best I can claim to be trying to follow in his wake. And maybe — only a suggestion — Stravinsky is more or less in the same position. His well-deserved fame is greater than ever.

My dear sir! To have the nerve to attempt that! As if this symphony were not nobler in finishing as it does — in tragic fashion! Poulenc worked for a long time on some Marches militaires for piano and orchestra, also referred to by him as Marches or Symphonie pour piano et orchestre. He mentions the work in his correspondance between and , and certain newspapers even announced its completion or performance, but it never saw the light of day and we do not know whether the material was incorporated in some other score.

Nothing suggests that Poulenc wanted this work to refer to Schubert, even though the latter composed a number of marches for piano duet, including the three Marches militaires, op. If a harpsichord is not available, the solo part can equally well be played on the piano, following the example of the composer and others. The candidates could also offer an entirely new work, which was the choice of the majority. The two main winners of the competition were the pianist Frank Merrick, who offered a completion of the Unfinished, and Kurt Atterberg with his Sixth Symphony.

And I leave his presence absolutely convinced. Every race has its own particular strengths. Landowska is. I worked with her on the first version of my Concert. We went through it bar by bar, note by note. For the most part we clarified the writing, either by simplifying chords or by taking out notes. Quite simply, we arrived at a score which will undoubtedly strike you by its simplicity, but whose effect will nonetheless remain rich and varied.

I wanted to prove that the harpsichord was not an obsolete, inefficient instrument of merely historical interest, but on the contrary that it was and remains an instrument that had reached its point of perfection, with its specific characteristics, its own properties, timbres and accents that no other instrument can replace. Poulenc moves to the piano. If they operate in dialogue, neither obscures the other. Here the composer has been able to avoid the rigidity of the Classical mould while retaining its formal strength.

A complete simplification, down to a unison. Interview with Lucien Chevaillier The action takes place between 4 and 5. What profound pathos there is in this old Huguenot song, as sung by Yvonne George! Eau de Cologne. And the morning greeting of the composer of Les Biches is a counterpoint to the final chime of the bells — the bells of Nantes — from the depths of the magic box … No need now to ask him whether he likes recorded music — passionately? Not at all? France is built on a well-filled stocking. Nothing can prevail against it. The Miser can perfectly well cross the Channel to dress up as an Italian in Volpone.

This Frenchman was born in Paris, in Paris near Pontoise. Poulenc, like Ronsard and Rabelais, is also a man of Touraine.

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Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (Poulenc) - Wikipedia

His age? But music, so as not to fall into this lyricism, veered off towards the deadpan and the hair-ruffling caress. And whatever the influence of Satie, Poulenc is already there complete. The style is the man. Ten years later, these first confessions have lost nothing of their unselfconscious and slightly mocking grace.

Does he force his talent in his Promenades? This grace brings the energy of a popular song to the dances and goings-on! Because true grace, that comes from heaven, is, for a composer, the gift of melody.

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Here Francis Poulenc takes his place in the tradition that runs from Haydn to Massenet. And why not? Add to these Lully, Scarlatti and Pergolesi. A comfortable monologue, may I say, with nothing hurried about it. But this music that overwhelms you, or better, that wins you over simply by its sweetness and by this lucid intelligence which is no different from love. I loathe writing about music, but people are bound to write nonsense about this work. Why should we expect our professional critics to appreciate a miracle?

The tiger has assumed the voice of a nightingale. Which is not much. Russia: Stravinsky, Prokofiev. Germany: Hindemith. Spain: De Falla. Stravinsky the great lawmaker, and the great enchanter, has taught us all we know. Les Biches in their new orchestration will become an orchestral suite. They are still no more than three simple little touches of colour, on a ground of white paper. Afterwards, I went a long time without composing anything.

I learnt to master my pen in order to express freely what I wanted. Stravinsky too has recently played us his op 1, his Symphony. From the first bar, Ravel is already Ravel. But early Honegger — does anyone still look at his first sonatas? The fact is, I try to live and work without telling lies, and keeping away from the politics that spoil everything on our musical scene. What I like is principally what least resembles what I myself produce. Salade, then, too clearly shows me my faults.

Not only do we like and dislike the same things and the same people, but we dislike or like them for the same reasons. We first approached Satie together, Auric and I. Our friendship grew from the admiration we had for the old master. Politics — always with us — made use of Satie. The attitude towards him today is no less unfair than that of ten years ago. Notes 1 The Belgian Yvonne George — was one of the leading popular singers in Paris in the s, even though her career was supported more by the cultural elite than by the public at large.

It had a partial premiere on 17 March at the Salle des Agriculteurs, and a complete one in the same place on 2 May On both occasions the pianist was Marcelle Meyer. It could be that Poulenc is alluding simply to the legend. In January , Poulenc had placed the manuscript of the work in the coffin of his very close friend Raymonde Linossier, buried at Valence. For the season of the Monte-Carlo Opera, Diaghilev wanted to put it on in a through-composed version, and asked Poulenc to replace the spoken dialogue with recitatives in the style of Gounod.

A Jew by birth, he converted to Roman Catholicism and took orders in Poulenc seems to have had no great affection for him. The composer Maurice Jaubert — devoted himself mainly to film music in the s. His relations with Poulenc were friendly, and Poulenc showed a certain indulgence towards him when he was accused of being a collaborator at the Liberation. Delannoy was also close to Honegger and wrote a biography of him in , which Poulenc valued highly.

At the time he gave this interview, Poulenc often stayed with his friend, the art historian Georges Salles who later became director of the Museums of France at 24, rue du Chevalier de La Barre. French windows lead out on to a charming small garden on the side of the hill: if you look up, the clock towers seem to become flesh, whiter than ever in the morning sun. I adore setting poems by the author of Le Bestiaire … I respond on the deepest level to his lyricism: emotional correspondences always come about between poets and composers, look at Debussy and Verlaine, Ravel and Renard; in my case, I admit to feeling a kind of kinship with Apollinaire and Max Jacob, two very great poets.

Sometimes I go for a month without producing anything … But country air suits me far better than the Parisian variety. Each work interests me because of the aesthetic problem it poses … My preferences? What I like best in my own work? My piano music is the genre least characteristic of me. These composers contributed the bulk of the music programmed by the society, whose artistic manifesto was to promote works that were in line with public taste and that demonstrated an essentially neo-classical outlook.

In , Apollinaire had mystified the literary world by signing various articles and three poems in the review Marges under the pseudonym Louise Lalanne. Marie Laurencin, who was then his mistress, admitted to Poulenc in see Echo and Source, pp. Poulenc is perhaps referring to the last of these, from Certainly not the fifth, from , which he loathed — the reason why his friend dedicated to him the sixth, from In the window, an orange blind, half drawn, and a pot of pink geraniums in full flower frame a bright patch of blue sky and green vegetation, proclaiming the height of summer.

I owe this devotion for classical dance to the many years I spent close to Diaghilev. I repeat, for me dance is not possible without a classical technical base. The volume of his Fables always sits on my bedside table, like a glass of water, and it needs just a few lines to slake my thirst.

The planning and detail of the choreographic scenario took me far longer than the composition of the musical score, because I had simultaneously to cater for the needs of the choreography and also avoid distorting the deeper meaning of the fables. But it was to reveal their hidden meaning that I restored to the characters their human appearance. As La Fontaine puts it:. A less aggressive son-in-law. The poems of this writer — so inappropriate, frankly, for children — contain messages of a sharp realism that has to be uncovered.

Only the cocks and hens will wear costumes with decorations that remind one slightly of these animals. But this hair decoration is more to indicate their femininity. The costumes are in Louis XIV style. The Catholic conception I have of death, a conception fairly close to the one current in the sixteenth century, in any case prevents me from representing Death as a ghoul.

Death is happy to let the woodcutter go, confident as she is of coming back for him one day. Musical composition is too mysterious to lend itself to analysis. Notes 1 The collection of 60 piano studies Schule des Virtuosen, op. This interview, given when the cantata Figure humaine had been composed but not yet performed, is without doubt the best source for understanding its origins and development.

In talking about this score, which had become symbolic of a form of resistance under the Occupation, Poulenc often subsequently became inaccurate see the Interviews with Claude Rostand, p. That was in March At the time I was terrified by the difficulty of the task. But then I went off to give a concert in Lyon where, in a bookshop, I found the little Swiss edition of these poems. I read them again. The different layout of the work showed it to me in a new light, and impressed it on me once again. All through that spring I thought about the idea, already enthusiastic about it but not yet knowing what form the work might take.

Then, in July , I left for Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne and there, in six weeks, I wrote this cantata for unaccompanied double choir. When Francis Poulenc had finished this cantata, his publishers, Rouart et Lerolle, took the brave decision to print it while the Germans were still in control and to hide the copies away until the Liberation. Rehearsals are in hand. They will continue for four months and the work will be premiered in Anvers next spring. Let us hope that the singers will then be able to come here to give the work its Paris premiere and allow us to hear this cantata in which nobility of thought is matched with means of expression.

So let us wait patiently. And let us note that this work bears the following words of dedication, written at a time when the great painter was proscribed:. Poulenc set to music texts from the volume in nos 6 and 8 of his cantata Figure humaine. Poulenc set to music texts from the volume in nos 1 to 5 and 7 of his cantata Figure humaine. The enterprise grew initially from the desire of the publisher Gaston Gallimard to revive a social network in the heart of the cultural and literary world, within a political context that had rendered such a network fragmentary.

Poulenc gave this interview on his return from a month in Great Britain. Francis Poulenc has been to give concerts in London and several other British cities. He also began a series of recordings in the capital that were made using new techniques that mark real progress in the art of producing records.

We asked the composer on his return to give us his impressions of musical life on the other side of the Channel. There are several extremely interesting English composers. Mayer and Felix Aprahamian, who gave a series of concerts of French music during the Occupation and who have brought several French artists over to England since the Liberation.

Everything is arranged to assure the maximum perfection in the broadcasts and the maximum comfort for the artists. The engineers too are punctilious. They are musical and inquisitive. They find every musical occasion interesting and sometimes display wild enthusiasm. The organisers show unceasing energy. Berkeley had already met Poulenc during the mids while he was at Oxford and the two became friends, as can be seen from the visits Poulenc made to Berkeley and his wife Freda during his trips to Britain.

Flute Sonata in He completed his Symphony no. He then directed the Detroit Symphony Orchestra until He then became conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra until He gave up conducting only in I was playing in the orchestra, and was intrigued — as many people were — to see Poulenc coming into the BBC wearing his bedroom slippers! So he sat down at the piano, and proceeded to play his concerto, and it was very nice, very fine. He had a very pleasant personality.

The next day was the concert in the big studio in Maida Vale. To my astonishment in comes Poulenc, in front of an invited audience, still in his bedroom slippers. The two of them were there. We chatted a little bit. Pourquoi portez-vous des pantoufles? I am usually at home, and I have to practise at home because I do not play so much. So when I come to sit for the concert, it is SO different without my slippers.

Wells Ballet, which was invited in to become the resident company of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, which had reopened after the war. He had also been familiar with France between the wars. After studying in Lisbon, he came to Paris in to study with Charles Koechlin composition and orchestration and with the musicologist Paul-Marie Masson.

After the victory of , life became happier. Already in , Montparnasse had become the artistic capital of the world, where life was full of joy. Thanks to that period of open liberty and open good humour, an art like that of Les Six could logically flourish. In the same way that Cubism as a system has produced nothing, so note writing as a system is simply a recipe for sterility.

There have been three great painters, Picasso, Braque and Juan Gris, for whom Cubism was a natural means of expression. For these painters and composers, cubism and tone writing were entirely natural things, like breathing. And especially in modern music? Debussy was anti-Dreyfus, while Alfred Bruneau was entirely pro-Dreyfus. There is not and can never be a general rule about this. When I composed Figure humaine, it was an expression of my invincible patriotism and most of all of my need for liberty.

Any country invaded by an enemy can make this work their own. My profound religious conviction has led me, with the same liberty and the same absence of preconceived ideas, to write a large number of unaccompanied motets. In fact, unaccompanied choral music is one of my most frequent means of expression. Apollinaire was the first poet I set to music, since Le Bestiaire, dating from , is my first song cycle. They were a national network of associations designed to promote music through concerts and lectures. His loosely held chin pulls his face downwards as if waiting for some new surprise.

His eyes betray innumerable nuances of amazement and sleepiness. He is not bothered by his destiny. The blows of fate will find him unmoved and listless. My father ran a pharmaceutical business in the Marais, my village. A childhood on the Place des Saussaies spent between bronzes and pinned- up curtains. This high-class merchant family was crazy about music and the theatre. The mother played the piano to perfection. The daughter sang — she had been a pupil of Claire Croiza. Oh yes … Beethoven, Beethoven! The three things I like best are: music, painting and poetry.

From the age of ten, I was always in the Bernheim gallery! He digs deep into his memories of those idle years. But even so comes up with one compliment. On his return he did not go to the Conservatoire. Back in civilian life, Charles Koechlin taught him composition. He had been learning the piano for four years. He understood that my nature was an essentially harmonic one. He insisted particularly on the four- part harmonization of Bach chorales.

Instead of talking about these six who are still alive, Poulenc prefers to consider the dead. Or rather, five of the dead and one living. Chopin … Ah! Hold on! Debussy … Stravinsky … Yes! Add Schubert! That makes my six composers! The easing of his conscience brings them down again. Just the opposite. The older I get, the more I admire it and the less I like it. After that there was time for me to prove to Ravel how much I admired him. One of his last outings was to hear me perform his Histoires naturelles at the Salle Gaveau with Pierre Bernac.

Then he points an index finger to underline his words. Paradoxical as it may seem, Eluard touched my religious lyricism. What overwhelmed me about these poems was that they are, beyond time and present circumstance, a hymn to liberty in all its forms. Poulenc is delighted by the constant progress of choral societies in Europe. I thought about it for a long time but wrote it very rapidly during the summer of , just after a piano concerto written in a rather cheeky style, which had earned me a welter of brickbats.

He chose the classical form of a Pergolesi. The vaulting repels the secular brass and strings. The church of Saint-Roch is one of those whose acoustics are somewhat kinder. Poulenc has chosen it deliberately. There are some areas of Paris I detest. I never go to Neuilly except to visit the sick. I spend the bare minimum in the Plaine Monceau, very rarely in Passy, never in the rue de Prony. Paris, for me, starts at the Etoile and goes east. Saint-Roch is my Paris. The music of splendour and sorrow. He has brought that home to you. He is one of the old guard and he has thrown you off course.

Laugh it off, mon bon! So I took myself in hand and began to admire him. What can I do! This was an anticommunist association, secretly funded by the CIA, whose aim was to have an influence on artistic life in the context of the Cold War. I used to read his books, of course. Some people were astonished by it. Faith and a similar religious feeling led to our collaboration. I was happy shortening his text. Spoken theatre needs long developments to be understood; music has other powers.

At the most, I allowed myself to put into the mouths of one nun words which, in the book, are spoken by another. In reality, it was the setting for some absolutely orgiastic behaviour. Women gave the blood of the executed women to their children to drink. But the Revolution remains in the wings. The most popular move would have been to have processions of Sans-culottes and La Carmagnole in every scene.

But the real subject is Blanche. This young girl is sick, mad! Grace works through her, and the subject of the opera is the transference of grace and the communion of saints. Jacquemont and Suzanne Lalique, who has designed the sets, are both deeply religious and so have been able to recreate the atmosphere of this tragedy in an admirable manner. And truth to tell, we are a long way from the theatre. Are we not working for the glory of their blessed ones? Their religion does not admit of half-measures. The tune, of unknown origin, probably dates from somewhat earlier. He met Poulenc in the s and was responsible for the first French production of the opera.

His biography of the composer, published by Plon in and in a revised edition by Fayard in , was for a long time the accepted reference work, despite its gaps and hagiographic tone. Through his spangled orchestration, listen to the sound, see the glistening of the gold and the fleece, born of a rich soil!

Look at Poulenc: are those the features of a water drinker? His nose is strong and smells things keenly, his eyes change expression in a moment. He is confiding and cautious, at ease in friendship, and poetic like a peasant. He has been enjoying long stays there for 30 years. Not from love of nature — the countryside bores him. But thanks to that boredom, he works there very productively. It is at Noizay that he has written most of his music: at Noizay, but with his mind elsewhere. Cocteau after Bernanos? FP: Yes, some people may be surprised by this choice, just as they were by the Dialogues after my comic opera.

FP: Precisely … But to come back to Cocteau, I must say that my collaboration with him goes back before today. I was 20 when I set to music three of his poems under the title Cocardes. A few years later I tried again with poems from the collection Plain-chant. A long monologue, without action, fairly rhapsodical in character … not to say rambling ….

Like everything Cocteau writes, La Voix humaine is wonderfully constructed.

Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart
Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart
Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart
Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart
Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart
Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart
Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart Francis Poulenc, Articles and Interviews: Notes from the Heart

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