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Francis Poulenc:

Articles and Interviews


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Francis Poulenc:
Articles and Interviews
Notes from the Heart

Collected, introduced and annotated by


Nicolas Southon

Translated by
Roger Nichols
© Nicolas Southon and Roger Nichols 2014

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.

Nicolas Southon and Roger Nichols have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the editor and translator of this work.

Published by
Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company
Wey Court East 110 Cherry Street
Union Road Suite 3-1
Farnham Burlington, VT 05401-3818
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England

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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:


Poulenc, Francis, 1899–1963.
[Prose works. Selections. English]
Francis Poulenc, articles and interviews : notes from the heart / [edited and annotated] by
Nicolas Southon ; translated by Roger Nichols.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4094-6622-2 (hardcover) -- ISBN 978-1-4094-6623-9 (ebook) -- ISBN
978-1-4094-6624-6 (epub) 1. Music--History and criticism. 2. Poulenc, Francis,
1899-1963--Interviews. 3. Composers--France--Interviews. I. Southon, Nicolas. II.
Nichols, Roger, translator. III. Title.
ML410.P787A2513 2013
780.92--dc23
2013009010
ISBN 9781409466222 (hbk)
ISBN 9781409466239 (ebk – PDF)
ISBN 9781409466246 (ebk – ePUB)

This is a translation of Francis Poulenc: J’écris ce qui me chante, edited by Nicolas


Southon © Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2011.

V
Contents

List of Illustrations   xi
Preface to the Translation   xiii
Acknowledgements   xv
Translator’s Note   xvii

Introduction   1

Part I: Articles

I Le Coq and Le Coq Parisien: May–November 1920   17

II ‘On Igor Stravinsky’s “Mavra”’, Feuilles libres, no. 27,


June–July 1922, section ‘La musique’, pp. 222–224   21

III ‘On Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”’,


Le Mois, no. 2, February 1931, pp. 249–250   25

IV ‘In Praise of Banality’, Présence, no. 8, October 1935, pp. 24–25   27

V ‘Long Live Stravinsky!’, Le Figaro, no. 199,


7 April 1945, ‘Chronique’, p. 1   31

VI ‘The Composer and the Sorcerer’, Les Lettres Françaises,


no. 54, 5 May 1945, p. 5   35

VII ‘Francis Poulenc on His Ballets’, Ballet, no. 4/2,


September 1946, pp. 57–58   39

VIII ‘For the Harpsichord, Wanda Landowska has Completed in New York
“Her life’s work”’, Le Figaro littéraire, no. 214, 27 May 1950, p. 1  43

IX ‘Pages from America (Diary extracts)’, La Table Ronde,


no. 30, June 1950, pp. 66–75   45
vi Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

X ‘Erik Satie’s Piano Music’, La Revue Musicale, Satie number,


no. 214, June 1952, pp. 23–26   51

XI ‘How I Composed Les Dialogues des Carmélites’,


L’Opéra de Paris, no. 14, Second Quarter, 1957, pp. 15–17   55

XII ‘Opera in the Cinema Era’, Opera, vol. 12/1, January 1961, p. 18
(as told to Elliott Stein)   61

Part II: Critical Articles and Reviews

XIII ‘On Richard Strauss’s Elektra’, Le Figaro, no. 244,


1 September 1934, p. 4   65

XIV ‘On Oberon’, Le Figaro, no. 247, 4 September 1934, p. 5   69

XV ‘The Paris Opéra Ought to Put on Fidelio’, Le Figaro,


no. 272, 29 September 1934, p. 5   73

XVI ‘The Heart of Maurice Ravel’, La Nouvelle Revue Française,


no. 323, 1 Jan 1941, pp. 237–240   77

Part III: Contributions to Works by Others

XVII ‘The Lesson of Claude Debussy’, in Auguste Martin,


Claude Debussy, Chronologie de sa vie et de ses œuvres,
Catalogue of the Exhibition Organised from 2 to 17 May 1942,
in the Foyer of the Opéra-Comique, pp. XII–XIII   83

XVIII ‘Preface’ to Gabriel Laplane, Albéniz: sa vie, son œuvre, [Geneva],


Editions du milieu du monde, 1956, pp. 11–12   85

XIX ‘Notes on Ravel’, in Enciclopedia della Musica,


vol. 3, Milan, Ricordi, 1964, pp. 540–541   87

Part IV: Response to a Survey

XX ‘Is there a “Messiaen Affair”?’, Le Littéraire,


no. 4, 13 April 1946, p. 4   91
Contents vii

Part V: Lectures

XXI ‘My Teachers and My Friends’, Conferencia, vol. 29/21,


15 October 1935, pp. 521–527   95

XXII ‘My Songs and Their Poets’, Conferencia, no. 36,


15 December 1947, pp. 507–513   105

Part VI:  Interviews

XXIII Interview with André Laphin   115

XXIV Interview with Lucien Chevaillier:


‘An Interview with … Francis Poulenc’,
Le Guide du Concert et des Théâtres Lyriques, no. 30,
26 April 1929, pp. 855–857   119

XXV Interview with José Bruyr: ‘Francis Poulenc’,


L’Ecran des Musiciens I, Paris, Des Cahiers de France,
1930, pp. 40–47   123

XXVI Interview with Nino Franck: ‘Poulenc in Montmartre’,


Candide, no. 424, 28 April 1932, p. 13   129

XXVII Interview with A.P.: ‘Francis Poulenc Talks to Us about


His New Ballet Les Animaux modèles’,
Le Figaro, no. 194, 14 August 1942, p. 4   133

XXVIII Interview with Jeannie Chauveau: ‘The Work of Two Great


French Artists, Written in Secret during the Occupation,
is Going to be Revealed to the World by the Chorale d’Anvers’,
Ce soir, no. 994, 25 November 1944, p. 1   137

XXIX Interview with Claude Chamfray: ‘Francis Poulenc Tells Us About


Music in England’, Arts, no. 25, 20 July 1945, p. 4   141

XXX Interview with Fernando Lopes-Graça:


‘Francis Poulenc’ in Visita aos Músicos Franceses,
Lisbon, Seara Nova, 1947, pp. 53–62   145

XXXI Interview with Paul Guth: ‘From “Les Mamelles de Tirésias” to the
“Stabat Mater” There are Two Sides to Francis Poulenc’, Le Figaro
littéraire, no. 317, 17 May 1952, p. 4   149
viii Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

XXXII ‘Poulenc: An Act of Faith’, reported by Daniel Bernet, Arts,


no. 625, 26 June 1957, p. 7   155

XXXIII Interview with Henri Hell: ‘Francis Poulenc at Work:


The Music of La Voix humaine Will be My Most Intense,
Most Carefully Worked Composition’, Arts, no. 688,
17 September 1958, pp. 1 and 9   157

XXXIV Interview with Martine Cadieu: ‘Duet with Francis Poulenc’,


Les Nouvelles littéraires, no. 1757, 4 May 1961, p. 7   163

XXXV Interview: ‘A Denizen of Noizay and the Honorary President of


Local Musicmaking, Francis Poulenc is Going to Play to Restore his
Village Church. He is Going to Perform La Voix humaine Tomorrow
Evening in Amboise with Denise Duval’, La Nouvelle République,
7 September 1961   171

XXXVI Interview with Denise Bourdet:


‘5 December Will See the Musical Birth of
La Dame de Monte-Carlo. “For Me, Monte-Carlo is Venice.”’
Le Figaro littéraire, no. 815, December 1961, p. 19   173

Part VII:  Interviews with Claude Rostand

Preface to Interviews   179

Interview 1 Paris and Nogent-sur-Marne:


A Childhood Spent between Couperin and the Dance Hall 181

Interview 2 Musical Adventures with the ‘Moderns’:


Debussy, Stravinsky   187

Interview 3 Poulenc at the Piano: Advice and Favourites   191

Interview 4 The Maître of Arcueil and Lifelong Friends   197

Interview 5 From Monte-Carlo to Paris under the Occupation   203

Interview 6 The Composer and His Poets: The Meeting with Eluard  209

Interview 7 The Keyboard Concertos   215

Interview 8 Pierre Bernac, or the Unexpected Partner   221


Contents ix

Interview 9 Choral Music   227

Interview 10 Faith Restored   233

Interview 11 Chamber Works   239

Interview 12 The Monk and the Naughty Boy   245

Interview 13 Poulenc-Janus:
Le Bal masqué and Les Mamelles de Tirésias   251

Interview 14 A Countryman’s Prayers: A Mass and Some Motets   259

Interview 15 The Composer’s Studio: The Eye and the Ear   265

Interview 16 Musical Likes and Dislikes   273

Interview 17 What Future for Music?   279

Interview 18 Conclusions and Perspectives: At Work on the Dialogues 285

Index   291
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List of Illustrations

1 Poulenc, aged 4
2 Poulenc, aged 12
3 Jean Cocteau introduces Auric, Milhaud and Poulenc to Satie
4 Schönberg and Poulenc
5 Poulenc and Wanda Landowska
6 Poulenc and Pierre Bernac
7 Poulenc and Yvonne Gouverné, descending the steps
of the chapel of Rocamadour
8 Christian Bérard, Comte Jean de Polignac, Poulenc,
Marie-Blanche de Polignac, Jacques Février
9 Picasso, Henri Sauguet and Poulenc
10 Poulenc and Denise Duval
11 Les Six and Cocteau in 1950
12 Poulenc as Maurice Chevalier
13 Poulenc tending his roses
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Preface to the Translation

I am delighted to offer the English-speaking public a selection of Poulenc’s


writings and interviews, published in French in November 2011 in the volume
J’écris ce qui me chante (Paris, Fayard, 979 pp.) This translation covers a little
under a third of the original: to be precise, 12 of the 31 articles by Poulenc for
newspapers or magazines, four of his 17 critical articles and reviews, three of
his 15 contributions to books, a single one of his eight responses to surveys,
two of his four lectures, 14 of his 30 interviews, but none of his 18 homages
to individuals, many of them unknown to the English-speaking public. These
are followed by a complete translation of the Entretiens avec Claude Rostand,
a crucial document never previously translated into English in its entirety. The
other series of interviews with Poulenc, Moi et mes amis (conducted by Stéphane
Audel), has not been included since it has already been translated by James
Harding (My Friends and Myself, London, Dobson, 1978), as has Poulenc’s
Chabrier by Cynthia Jolly (London, Dobson, 1982).
I should also like to make clear that my Introduction, my notes on the
page and my commentaries have been considerably shortened in this English
version, since it was necessary to reach a balance throughout the book between
Poulenc’s words and my own texts. The whole volume has been translated by
Roger Nichols, and I thank him warmly for his work and for the commitment he
has shown to the realisation of this project. As a musicologist with a profound
knowledge of French music, Roger has himself supplied new commentaries to
these texts, for which I am grateful to him – especially in the Interviews with
Claude Rostand: these were sparsely annotated in J’écris ce qui me chante,
because there they followed some 120 articles and interviews for which I had
already supplied copious notes.
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Acknowledgements

This work could not have come into being without the permission of Rosine
Seringe, the niece and goddaughter of Francis Poulenc, and of her grandson Benoît
Seringe, who welcomed my project with enthusiasm and have given me constant
support throughout my work on it. I offer them my warmest thanks.
I am grateful also to Myriam Chimènes, who has encouraged me unstintingly
in my labours, been generous with her advice and given me the benefit of her
great knowledge of the subject. I also thank Rémy Campos, Michel Duchesneau,
Lucie Kayas, Hervé Lacombe and Jean-Michel Nectoux for their close readings
of my work and their suggestions at an intermediary point in its gestation, which
were particularly valuable and helpful.
I am indebted also to all those who have pointed out a particular piece of
writing, suggested a path to follow, offered information, granted access to a
source or helped obtain documents or translations: Vincent Arlettaz, Thierry
Bodin, Sidney Buckland, Jean-Christophe Branger, Sophie Debouverie, Céline
Dos Santos, Sophie Dos Santos, Elisabeth Giuliani, Malou Haine, Denis Herlin,
François Hudry, Olivier Le Borgne, François Le Roux, André Lischké, Pablo
Messina, Philippe Morin, Roger Nichols, Cécile Quesney, François Roulmann and
the late Marcel Schneider.
I would not wish to pass over the library staff who have facilitated my work:
those of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and especially of the Département de
la Musique, of the Médiathèque Musicale Mahler, the Documentation de Radio-
France, the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, the New York Public Library and
the Médiathèque du Centre national de la Danse.
My parents Daniel and Nicole, my sister Caroline, my friends Anna Yafi,
François and Marion Juskowiak and their son Gabriel have responded to my
requests with a readiness for which I am particularly grateful.
At Fayard (the publishers of the work in its original French version), Sophie
Debouverie followed my work and participated in the production of that volume
with a care, patience and enthusiasm for which I thank her most sincerely.

Nicolas Southon
Paris
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Translator’s Note

I am deeply grateful to the Association des Amis de Francis Poulenc for financial
assistance that has made this translation possible, and to Mark Elliott, a good friend
for over 50 years, for his invaluable encouragement; also for consistent linguistic
support to Sidney Buckland, who throughout this project has acted (as Debussy
said of André Caplet) as ‘le tombeau des fautes’ – the graveyard of errors. Any
that remain are mine alone. [Translator’s notes appear between square brackets,
signed RN.]
Roger Nichols
Kington
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Introduction

It’s exactly as though you were there, talking,


recounting, remembering, loving and admiring,
without asking or borrowing anything from anybody.
Geneviève Sienkiewicz to Francis Poulenc

‘Remaining true to my nature, I do what touches my heart, what suits me, what
pleases me,’ confided Poulenc to Martine Cadieu in 1961. This affirmation of a
freedom and a loyalty fundamental to his being, and characteristic of Poulenc’s
musical personality, is perhaps even more clearly exemplified in his regular
activity as a writer, as the texts collected in this volume testify. Indeed, while
the composer harbours an intention to convince himself of the rightness of his
choices, as a response to the anxiety that, far more than we might imagine, the act
of creation provokes in him, Poulenc ‘the writer’ manages it all with ease, gifted as
he is with a literary talent imbued with an individual style, a marvellous way with
a story and a striking ability to present himself centre-stage.
All through his career, the composer of the Carmélites was ready with his pen
and gave interviews. The resulting texts, scattered through the press and musical
literature from the 1920s until the middle of the 1960s, constituted probably
the last collection of sources that remained to be disseminated, even if Poulenc
has, from the 1990s, hardly been a composer yet to be discovered. In addition to
works of biography and analysis, this decade saw the appearance, or reappearance
in modern editions, of three important volumes coming from Poulenc himself:
the Journal de mes mélodies,1 writings about an essential part of his output and
about his interpretation of it, the radio talks A bâtons rompus,2 revealing the
broadcaster he became in the years around 1950, and the vaste Correspondance,3
an astonishingly rich source of information about the man and the composer, and
at the same time a chronicle of his artistic milieu. The present work is a kind of
pendant to these, showing Poulenc’s public face through a thorough a selection of
his writings and interviews: more than 40 texts, many of them unknown until now
and varying in their subjects, tone and formats, in which Poulenc has his say and
takes a stand in the debates of musical and artistic life. Their wide scope shows
that writing held no terrors for the composer and allows us to see a portrait of
him that is particularly lively, brilliant, often funny or moving, always passionate
about his work, his artistic points of view and his collaborations, and also taking
on any number of other topics. This body of work is completed by an important
2 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

volume which is already known but whose first edition has long been out of print:
the Entretiens avec Claude Rostand, broadcast and published by Julliard in 1954.
Poulenc took all the opportunities that were offered to express himself and
to occupy the world of the word, as we can see from the variety of periodicals
and books in which he collaborated. The strategy, if such it was, was to show as
frequent and diverse a presence in the media as he could. Poulenc writes when
asked or when circumstances naturally dictate, playing the publicity game and
using the media to his advantage. Even if he knows better than anyone how to
place himself centre-stage or play the role demanded of him, Poulenc never
lies: never is the image he projects in contradiction with what he basically is –
cultivated, quick-witted, nuanced in his judgments, simple in expressing himself,
capable of self-criticism and a touch of self-mockery. He was well aware of the
impact of his words, of his humour and his talent as a teller of tales which was
often in evidence in the salons or among friends, and even if he writes with no
intention of exercising power or taking up a position, he does know that talking
like this is good for his career. So he minds how he appears in the press, enough
to keep articles in which he is mentioned or which he has written. He used the
press cuttings agency Argus which sent him articles about himself until 1925,
after which, more or less assiduously, he collected them himself, and around 1962
sorted out the accumulated cuttings into 18 folders, arranged by date, work or
subject.4 In a musical and artistic world in which Poulenc could count on a good
deal of sympathy and very little open hostility, the media naturally encouraged
him to write, and he acquired a reputation as a discerning critic, someone who
knew the musical world well and was able to communicate with everyone thanks
to his witty, lively prose.

Freedom of Format and of Narrative Style

The formats used by Poulenc for his writings are numerous: specialised studies,
reviews or musical judgments, manifestos, prefaces, funny little notes, exercises
of his right to reply, memories, homages, commentaries on music, a (so-called)
private diary, open letters. The way in which the genres of his writings overlap
depends above all on his frequent use of anecdote, and sometimes on his way
of telling the story. His mode of discourse, based on a principle of digression
and juxtaposition, is a veritable masterclass in the art of storytelling. Some of
these stories get repeated and understandably find a place in the Interviews with
Claude Rostand of 1954, which are the first authorised account of the composer:
for example, the music his mother played, the story of Debussy’s hat, Viñes’s
pedalling, the ‘Vidal affair’, Diaghilev and La Valse, and the fate of Poulenc’s
String Quartet. The anecdote works as a narrative device, a fundamental part of
the story, the pretext or nub of the digression, joining together two paragraphs or
two episodes, encouraging the readers’ complicity or reviving their attention, and
finally creating the ‘friendly tone’ Poulenc is after. It is a way of raising a smile, of
Introduction 3

course, but also of reintegrating music into real life and history, and of recalling a
significant event, one of moment or glory.

Poulenc as Critic

We can identify three brief periods in which Poulenc was really active as a
music critic. At the end of 1921, first of all, he wrote for the English review
Fanfare two articles describing the musical life of Paris. Then, in 1928–1929,
he was responsible for the column ‘Musique instrumentale’ in the review Arts
phoniques, the only time he ever wrote criticism regularly. Finally, there was the
period in the summer of 1934, especially when he went to the Salzburg Festival as
correspondent for Le Figaro, a job he arranged with the help of Paul Morand. He
wrote no fewer than five articles between June and early September, if we include
those for Vogue and for an unidentified periodical. He himself thought he would
be writing again for Le Figaro during the following winter.5 This suggests that he
was thinking of developing his career as a critic, perhaps as a regular source of
revenue at a time when his finances were shaky thanks to the 1929 crash. But it
was in Salzburg itself, in August 1934, that he found a permanent solution to the
problem, renewing contact with Pierre Bernac and deciding to form the duo that
would continue until 1959. At the same period, Poulenc also began to give talks,
a lucrative activity he would pursue throughout his career, as we shall see.

Alongside Music: Literature and Politics

Pierre Meylan told no more than the truth when he wrote in 1961 that ‘Poulenc
knows the ancient and modern poets better than any contemporary composer’.6
The composer’s writings testify to his literary culture and to his closeness to the
literary world, at a time when, it is true, the different artistic spheres combined
freely. Here we come across Paul Claudel, Colette, Lucien Daudet, Léon-
Paul Fargue, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, François Mauriac and Paul Valéry
among others, as well as the writers Poulenc set to music, including Guillaume
Apollinaire, Louis Aragon, Georges Bernanos, Jean Cocteau, Paul Eluard,
Max Jacob, Louise de Vilmorin and Raymond Radiguet. At the age of 17 he
was frequenting Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop, the home of the literary avant-
garde, and this helped his entry into the artistic world. In 1941 Poulenc wrote for
La Nouvelle Revue Française, directed by Gaston Gallimard whom he had known
for many years and whom, two years later, he helped organise the concerts of the
Pléiade. His friend Georges Poupet was one of the movers behind the review
La Table Ronde, for which Poulenc wrote his very lively diary of his United
States tour in 1950. The chief editor was François Mauriac, whom Poulenc had
probably met in Salzburg in 1934, and it was Mauriac that Poulenc asked to
present him with his decoration as chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1946.
4 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Poulenc took little notice of world affairs and rarely commented on anything
that did not belong to the world of art, as his correspondence confirms. Coming
as he did from a rich bourgeois family of industrialists, his political views
were on the right. In August 1936, he explained in a letter to Marie-Blanche
de Polignac that he had no sympathy with the Front populaire, despite his own
‘popular leanings’, and that at the same time he hated the nationalism of the
Croix-de-feu.7 ‘I’m an old French Republican’, he summed up, recalling his
admiration for Clemenceau and for the humility of his final wishes.8 Poulenc’s
writings and interviews give little idea of his political opinions. He is not an
ideologue and refuses to pronounce on such questions. On several occasions he
posits an analogy between artistic and political ideas, with the Left representing
for him, on the artistic front, an openness to new things, and the Right a certain
conservatism. Even so, in his interview with Lopes-Graça he explains that
‘frequently the Right and Left in art don’t coincide with the Right and Left in
politics’. So, when in 1922 he accuses the musical Left of smelling musty, that
is because the one-time defenders of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, who had been
progressives in 1913, are turning up their noses at the neoclassical Mavra, which
derives its novelty from the past. Similarly in 1945, Poulenc remarks derisively
that the young ‘detractors’ of Stravinsky, who ‘no longer belong, as they once
did, to the musical Right, but to a pseudo-Left’, owe the ‘light, modernistic
varnish’ of their music ‘entirely to the Stravinsky of 1913’. He states to Lopes-
Graça that an artist, in his view, ‘must remain completely independent of
politics’, and confesses to feeling ‘as incapable of writing a cantata for General
de Gaulle as he would for M. Thorez’.9 This did not prevent him taking a stand
against the Fascist menace in his articles of August 1934, regretting the ‘favours
to Hitler’ extended by the Salzburg Festival, which welcomed Richard Strauss
a few months after his appointment as president of the Chamber Music of the
Reich.
Under the Occupation, Poulenc published one article in Comoedia, the main
periodical of cultural collaboration, two in La Nouvelle Revue Française, run
by the collaborator Drieu La Rochelle, and one in the newspaper L’Information
Musicale.10 It would be wholly mistaken to reproach him for these entirely isolated
articles, lacking any idealogical content (the last of them is an appeal not to boycott
the works of Stravinsky because he is a foreigner). Poulenc’s contribution to the
catalogue of the 1942 Debussy exhibition was published in a complex idealogical
context; in it he offers ‘the great French Pan’ as an exemplar, recalling that he
signed his last works ‘Claude Debussy, French Composer’, but without alluding
to the antigermanic message of that title. ‘We may be sure that under the present
circumstances Debussy would speak in the same vein’, concluded Poulenc, for
whom the ‘Lesson’ of his predecessor was to have pointed the way to a music that
was ‘entirely our own’ (this text would be reprinted in Pour la Victoire, a periodical
run by those allies exiled in the United States). Indeed, what would survive of
Poulenc would be his ‘community aesthetic’,11 especially through the aura
acquired before the Liberation by his secular cantata Figure humaine, the emblem
Introduction 5

of a particular form of artistic resistance, as Poulenc would not fail to emphasise


when he talked about it. At Auric’s invitation, in May 1945 he contributed to
Les Lettres Françaises, a Resistance magazine founded in secret. Some months
later, in Contrepoints, he paid tribute to the recent works by his friend Milhaud
who, being a Jew, had gone into exile in the United States in July 1940.

Facing the Musical Changes of the Twentieth Century

Poulenc’s relationship with the music of his time is, of course, one of the
important topics to be borne in mind when reading his writings and interviews.
From 1917, the composer belonged to the Nouveaux Jeunes, a group of artists
that formed around Satie and from which Les Six emerged in January 1920. With
the Parade scandal still fresh in the memory and under the influence of Satie and
Cocteau, Poulenc at this time took an anti-Debussy line, as promoted in Le Coq
et l’Arlequin. This was borne out in 1920 by his first published statements, made
as one of Les Six, in the little pamphlet Le Coq and in La Victoire, answering
questions from Paul Landormy. Together with Auric, and to a lesser extent
Milhaud, Poulenc was the member of Les Six whose aesthetic was closest to the
aphorisms in Cocteau’s brilliant pamphlet, which sets out to defend Parade and
to provide theories to explain the rupture this ballet represented in the artistic,
and especially the musical world. ‘Tired of Debussyism – I ADORE Debussy, –
tired of Impressionism (Ravel, Schmitt), I want a music that is healthy, clear and
robust, a music as frankly French as Stravinsky’s is Slav. Satie’s seems to me to
be perfection from this point of view’, Poulenc said to Landormy, in tones that
betray the influence of Cocteau.12 Anti-Debussyism is therefore a stand that is
anti-Debussyste. ‘It is the followers and plagiarists who determine the duration
of the purgatory that no work of art can escape’, Poulenc would write when, in
1942, he returned to Debussy, then more than ever a central figure. The word
often appears in his writings: the ‘followers’ are the artists who, lacking character
themselves, latch on to some strikingly original work but produce only caricatures
or pale imitations. For Poulenc, as for Cocteau in his Coq et l’Arlequin, one of
Satie’s great achievements was to teach that it was no longer possible, for a time
at least, to admire Debussy in peace: as Poulenc wrote in 1952, ‘through irony’
– especially through the titles of his works – ‘“le bon maître” pointed out to his
followers how the times had moved on’.13 The violent hostility of Les Six, and of
Poulenc and Auric in particular, towards Ravel can be explained similarly: under
Satie’s influence, they were initially prepared to see him merely as the best of
Debussy’s imitators. Once Poulenc has found his way with Les Biches, his first
important work, he could make his peace with the composer of L’Enfant et les
sortilèges who, if we believe what Poulenc told Hélène Jourdan-Morhange in
1957, congratulated him specifically on ‘not having been one of his followers’.14
Until the middle of the century Poulenc evinced a veritable passion for
the music of Stravinsky – we may recall that the latter arranged for Chesters
6 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

to publish his first works in 1919. The year 1922 was, with Mavra, a turning
point in Poulenc’s early career. The work gave him confidence to believe
that the perfect triad was still viable and encouraged him to put an end to a
period of stylistic uncertainty between the end of 1920 and July 1922, during
which, under the influence of Schönberg and Milhaud, he got lost in atonal and
polytonal experiments that were foreign to his nature. From there on, Poulenc
developed a line of thought, in parallel with the neoclassical style in which he
was composing, based on the idea that innovation in music does not necessarily
reside in the language, but that every creative artist has to work out his own
stylistic individuality. This was the position he was to define ten years later in
his fascinating article ‘In praise of banality’, a text that is all the more important
because it is perhaps the only one in which Poulenc truly takes up an aesthetic
stance. There he explains (as he did to Lopes-Graça in 1947) that there are two
types of composer: the innovators, and those who do not need to innovate in
order to be original – among whom, of course, he numbers himself.
Dazzled as he was during the inter-war years by the ‘Stravinsky sun’, Poulenc
left the 12-note series to one side. So it was with mistrust and a certain feeling
of anachronism that he first saw some young French composers, supported by
René Leibowitz, taking an interest in it at the start of 1945. Poulenc expressed
his view in May of that year in his article ‘The composer and the sorcerer’
(see p. 35), taking care to record that he himself had been to visit Schönberg
in 1922 (at which time the latter had not yet fully worked out his method of
composing with 12 notes). ‘The Schönberg affair is closed,’ he wrote then. But
as we know, a serial avant-garde was to establish itself firmly in the musical
landscape, and with considerable energy: what at first seemed to Poulenc to
be a memory from the past turned into the principal instrument of modernity.
Poulenc, like all those of his generation, suddenly appeared as a representative
of the old guard, and all the more so because his musical language belonged to
a style that was as personal as it was traditional. This did not prevent Poulenc
taking an interest in the new school of composers, and especially in Pierre
Boulez, its outstanding luminary, whom he had met in 1947 when Boulez was
conducting his incidental music for the Amphitryon staged by the Renaud-
Barrault Company.15 It is in his correspondence and his interviews rather than in
his articles that Poulenc lavishes praise on his turbulent younger colleague. In
1950 he warmly appreciated Le soleil des eaux, which he heard on the radio, and
went to the concerts of the Domaine musical, founded in 1954.16 Real interest or
snobbery? Tardy revelation of the necessity of the series or desire to be up-to-
date? With Poulenc, nothing is that simple. It is entirely possible that he might
have been moved by social snobbery while at the same time being perfectly
sincere in his musical curiosity. With Poulenc, the eclecticism of his tastes, or at
any rate of his interests, is a matter of principle, allowing him to enjoy Boulez
and Maurice Chevalier, Schubert and Vincent Scotto, the Calvet Quartet and
Les Frères Jacques. Poulenc was passionately enamoured of the diversity of his
Introduction 7

times, and he often explained, as he did in 1961 to Martine Cadieu, that music
interested him more the further away it was from his own.
If Schönberg’s music left him cold, he was deeply moved by that of Berg
because it is music of a lyrical composer – in every sense of the word – and
Webern seemed to fascinate him by his ‘limpidity’. Poulenc was unrestrained in
his praise between 1932 and 1935 for the composer Markévitch, ‘Igor II’, whom
he considered to be one of the most gifted of his era, but who then devoted himself
to conducting. In 1937 he strongly approved of Dallapiccola, and from 1945
on was a great admirer of Messiaen, as both composer and teacher, regarding
him as the leader of the next generation, even if he remained unimpressed by
his spiritual imagination and writings. He had no time whatever for the works
of Russolo, Varèse or Antheil, but did not ignore Petrassi, Berio or Maderna,
visiting the last of these when he was in Milan for the premiere of Dialogues
des Carmélites, in his Studio of musical phonology, but declining his offer to try
his hand at electronic music. Poulenc also seems to have known Henze’s operas,
which he judged to be those of a Richard Strauss of his own time.
Poulenc’s natural curiosity aside, we need, in order to understand his
opinions of the new generation of the 1950s, to bear in mind the sympathy
he felt in principle for the young. He expected, demanded indeed, that they
should deal harshly with their predecessors, by obvious analogy with the anti-
Romantic, anti-Debussyste, anti-Ravelian attitudes of his own 20-year-old
self. The Surrealists, to whom he would often claim to have been closer than
he really was, were for him the models of the necessary ferocity of the young
towards their elders. The integrity one looked for in a composer remained the
same, whether he was tonal or serial. After attacking the followers of Debussy,
Stravinsky and Hindemith, Poulenc turned to those of the serialists. As he said
prophetically to Claude Rostand in 1954: ‘The important thing is not to embrace
twelve-note writing out of fear of missing the last train, because then cliché and
academicism, even in this revolutionary form, will stalk you and won’t fail to
catch their prey.’ Therefore Poulenc would never accept the totally unexpected
conversion to serialism of his idol: ‘Stravinsky today is passionate about a kind
of music he pretended to ignore until yesterday. […] [he] has not ceased […]
“to adore what he had destroyed”. […] everyone should bow down before the
undying curiosity of this extraordinary octogenarian,’ he wrote politely in an
article for the Enciclopedia della Musica.17 But in a talk in 1961, Poulenc allows
himself to be more outspoken, clearly relegating Stravinsky to join the followers
of the Viennese and Boulez: ‘I should like to have admired Stravinsky’s old age
[…] I don’t think Stravinsky’s domain is Webern’s. […] He produces through
hard work what others have produced through instinct.’18 Faced with the rise of
the serial generation and the development of his elder colleague, Poulenc saw
his position in the twentieth century as being increasingly marginal. That could
explain the confused attitude towards his own music that was evident in his final
years.
8 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

A Spontaneous Style, a ‘Chatty Tone’

Confident as Poulenc is of taking the reader with him, he does not burden himself
with a complicated style. This great Parisian bourgeois gives rein to his two innate
tendencies, combining elegance and spontaneity. Being familiar from his earliest
years with the rules of conversation, he knows how to lift his discourse with the
telling word, with the phrase that hits the bull’s eye. If two bars of Poulenc’s
music are instantly recognisable, the same goes for a few sentences from his pen.
Poulenc’s style does not belong on the highest literary level, but it is characterised,
moulded by the sound of his voice – reading it, one cannot help hearing in
one’s head his nasal timbre, his prosody with its unequal syllables, vigorously
bantering or sometimes escaping up into falsetto. In Poulenc’s sentences the use
of the comma is economical and the punctuation often astonishing, even clumsy.
The frequent juxtaposition of short paragraphs reveals thoughts that progress by
successive nuances. On this point, it is very much in order to make a comparison
with his composing style, since the juxtaposition of sometimes contrasting phrases
is a structural principle of both. There can be little doubt that the composer writes
as the pen takes him, barely rereads what he has written and trusts to the first
version of his text. The impression his prose gives of facility is certainly less
mistaken than that left by his scores, which he emphasised finishing only at the
cost of laborious effort.
From this narrative and writing style comes what Poulenc himself calls a
‘chatty tone’, normally announced with a formal warning and claiming as a pretext
the nature either of the event at which he is speaking, or of the publication, or of
the person he is talking about. He refuses to adopt the serious, austere tone that
could be imposed by an environment, by orthodoxy or by the requirements of
a specialised subject, and defuses the audience’s and the readers’ expectations.
He creates a confiding, sympathetic atmosphere: Poulenc’s ‘intimate tone’ is
also a friendly tone, that of a man often described as being as much at ease with
the man in the street as with high society – never intimidating, and in company
radiating merriment so as to protect the nervousness and anxiety of an egocentric
plagued by doubt and haunted by melancholy. This also explains the place he
gives in his writings to himself. In counterpoint with the subject under discussion,
and whatever the nature of the text, we find a common theme: Poulenc himself,
an omnipresent protagonist in his own discourse, taking an obvious pleasure in
delineating himself and telling his own story.

Born of the Spoken Word

It is not generally known that Poulenc had almost a third career in addition to
those of composer and pianist, as a frequent speaker in a number of different
situations. The style and content of these talks, or extracts from talks, are
interesting because they show how deeply Poulenc’s writings draw on the
Introduction 9

free flow of his speech, which can also be heard as a ‘fashionable’ approach
to cultural detail – giving talks was then an activity practised by a number of
writers and people in the arts. Poulenc began to give talks from the middle of
the 1930s, at a time when maybe he thought of taking up music criticism as
a way of earning some money. But he realised it was easier for him to give
talks to small audiences, sometimes together with concerts he was giving in the
provinces, rather than take up a post as a critic, which would put restraints on his
time and would be riskier from the professional point of view. The fact is that
Poulenc was a born storyteller and was never slow in demonstrating this talent,
for example at the end of the friendly, unpretentious meals, washed down with
wine from Touraine, that he used to give in Noizay.
As Denise Bourdet put it in 1957: ‘“Francis, tell us a story”, you ask, not
wanting to leave just yet. Because he’s an extraordinary storyteller. If there’d
been a tape recorder in the room, he could have recorded long anecdotes that
you could have published just as they were, without a comma missing.’19 The
journalist Pierre Meylan said in 1961 that he had ‘rarely met a musician whose
conversation was so sparkling, with such a subtle, caustic wit, sometimes really
colloquial, to say the least.’ These testimonies to Poulenc’s fluency and love of
storytelling are a further explanation of why he should have adopted the role of
speaker in the autumn of 1934.20 As he told a friend, ‘You’ll be surprised to hear
I have a new job. I give talks and concerts combined. I’ve got a marvellous agent
for that and I’m going to make quite a splash in France this winter. The talk of the
year is on French piano music from Chabrier to the present.’21 So initially it was
a question of piano recitals decorated with spoken interludes deriving from the
music. The format changed over the years: the piano would sometimes be joined
by a singer (usually Pierre Bernac) or instrumentalists, or on the other hand it
might disappear entirely with Poulenc happy just to talk; then the addition of a
gramophone meant musical extracts could be played, mostly recordings of his
own music which he was happy to comment on.
Later on the talks became ‘dialogues’, with an interviewer directing or rather
joining in the conversation. On 14 May 1959 this was Bernard Gavoty, in a
televised conversation with Poulenc in the Salle Gaveau, in front of an audience
from the Jeunesses Musicales de France. This was the day when Gavoty and the
composer really became friends – until then their relations had been polite but
sometimes strained – and the critic remembered how supremely relaxed Poulenc
had been, and in his storytelling as well: ‘Improvisation was his home ground,
because he was quick on the draw, with the apt response, and with an inexhaustible
supply of “things seen and heard”. […] Nothing could be easier – for his partner
– than a dialogue with Poulenc. In France we performed more than seventy of
them. He refused absolutely to have any advance plan: “We’ll see when the time
comes!” […] In his “spot” everything was improvised, I’ve never seen such a
firework display. When the session was over, Poulenc would say to me: “Really,
it’s rather scandalous: we’re being paid to gossip. If it got out, where would we go!”
10 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Happily, it was the audience who went off, delighted, and absolutely convinced
by our hypocrisy, quite certain we’d learnt our roles like conscientious actors.’22
The present volume also contains examples of the written interview, halfway
between the written and the spoken, a journalistic format that first appeared
around 1910. These texts consist of written reworkings of conversations,
normally based on notes, and perhaps, from the 1950s onwards, on recordings.
Here we can read Poulenc through the pen of someone else, which explains
why mistakes are fairly frequent – a relatively unimportant point given the great
interest of these sources, especially for their rich and varied subject matter. We
can distinguish various types of interview depending on the way the interviewers’
words are organised within the article. The dialogue with inverted commas is
the most frequent (interviews with Cadieu, Hell and Laphin), but we also find
monologues by Poulenc, introduced and concluded by a journalist’s ‘voice-off’
(Bernet, A.P., Bourdet); in these cases, there is scarcely any difference from
Poulenc’s writings. In some cases dialogue with inverted commas is mixed with
narration by the journalists, allowing them to include personal comments (Lopes-
Graça, Chevaillier). In a variation of this format, the journalists sprinkle their
own narration, which forms the bulk of the text, with quotations from Poulenc
(Guth, Chauveau), so that they do not appear in person or question the composer
directly – also journalists frequently quote Poulenc’s remarks indirectly.

Interviews with Claude Rostand (1953–1954)

The interviews with Claude Rostand are essential sources for a rounded
understanding of the composer. Even if, in their dialogue format, they come close
to the interviews with the press to be found earlier in this volume, their aim is
different: to offer themed portraits of the composer that are fairly complete in
their scope. The pattern of a series of interviews, given first on the radio and then
published, was popular at the time, relating to the general practice of a discussion
or a dialogue, which was less difficult to put together and easier to read than a
biography or an autobiography. We know that Poulenc took several books of
interviews as models:23 Honegger’s with Bernard Gavoty, Je suis compositeur
(Paris, Ed. du Conquistador, 1951; Eng. translation, I am a Composer, translated
by Wilson O. Clough, London, Faber & Faber, 1966), André Breton’s Entretiens
avec André Parinaud (Paris, Gallimard, 1952) and Milhaud’s Entretiens avec
Claude Rostand (Paris, Julliard, 1952). Poulenc particularly loved the last of these,
conducted around the composer’s sixtieth birthday: ‘You can’t imagine how many
friends your Entretiens have made you in Switzerland. […] There’s a long article
in La Gazette de Lausanne […] which said that the tone was so friendly, it made
you want to get to know your music better,’ he wrote to Milhaud at the end of
January 1953.24 Following two of his colleagues from Les Six, Poulenc wanted to
record his own interviews and see them published.
Introduction 11

The ones with Rostand were first broadcast on Paris Inter between 13 October
1953 and 16 February 1954, making about two and a half hours of conversation
altogether.25 Beginning in March, Poulenc corrected the proofs of the written
version and it was published by Julliard in the second quarter of the year.26 The
journalist and music critic Claude Rostand (1912–1970) had already written
books on Fauré, Richard Strauss, the piano, chamber music and modern French
music, and was the interviewer in the conversations with Milhaud mentioned
above. He had known Poulenc since the beginning of the 1930s and had written
a biographical article for the publicity material of the French Thomson-Houston
Company.27 The next year he invented the smart phrase, destined to be repeated
forever, ‘Poulenc, monk and naughty boy’ (Poulenc, moine et voyou) in one of
his reviews. ‘Claudichon’ (as ‘Poupoule’ used to call him) had also signalled his
intention in 1945 to write a book about the composer.28 In 1950, Poulenc could
still warn his biographer Henri Hell that he would ask Rostand to reconsider the
project if Hell was slow writing his own book.29 On the back of the title page of
the Entretiens, there is an announcement that a book by Rostand called Francis
Poulenc, Musicien français was ‘in preparation’; but it never appeared.
These Entretiens were the first written record, and the only one in Poulenc’s
lifetime, to disseminate his words. It proved to be a source of information both
for music lovers and journalists, who turned to it, without necessarily quoting
the reference, whenever they had to write about the composer or question him.
Following the usual practice of the time, the text of these interviews, in their
broadcast version, was the result of a meticulous scripting process: ‘I go to bed
at 9pm and am up at 6. I then settle down to write out […] my interviews with
Claude. I attach the greatest importance to this opportunity that’s given us to
explain ourselves,’ Poulenc wrote to Milhaud.30 Once written out, the interviews
were rehearsed like a play, then recorded and broadcast on the radio, before their
contents were more or less reworked with a view to publication. This process
explains the formal tone of the dialogue, the rather heavy compliments paid by the
participants to each other, the pretended spontaneity of their moments of surprise
and their over-regulated disagreements, as well as one or two slight rewritings
of history – against which, the reader benefits from a well structured, detailed
account that delivers what needed to be known about the composer in 1954.
A comparison of the written version with the broadcast one, published in 1996
under the title Francis Poulenc ou l’Invité en Touraine, shows that the changes
made to the text before publication, while frequent, are of secondary importance.31
In the original edition the interviews are identified simply by numbers, but it
is possible to give them titles, and we suggest those given by Renaud Machart in
the recorded version:

1. Paris and Nogent-sur-Marne: a childhood spent between Couperin and the


dance hall.
2. Musical adventures with the ‘Moderns’: Debussy, Stravinsky.
3. Poulenc at the piano: advice and favourites.
12 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

4. The maître of Arcueil and lifelong friends.


5. From Monte-Carlo to Paris under the Occupation.
6. The composer and his poets. The meeting with Eluard.
7. The keyboard concertos.
8. Pierre Bernac, or the unexpected partner.
9. Choral music.
10. Faith restored.
11. Chamber works.
12. The monk and the naughty boy.
13. Poulenc-Janus: Le Bal masqué and Les Mamelles de Tirésias.
14. A countryman’s prayers: a mass and some motets.
15. The composer’s studio: the eye and the ear.
16. Musical likes and dislikes.
17. What future for music?
18. Conclusions and perspectives: at work on the Dialogues.

Contents and Editorial Principles

Needless to say, the original French text from which this translated selection
is taken benefited from preexisting volumes on Poulenc, especially the
Correspondance compiled and edited by Myriam Chimènes in 1994, The Music
of Francis Poulenc, A Catalogue, produced by Carl B. Schmidt in 1995, and his
biography Entrancing Muse, published in 2001.32 Some of the texts included
here are noted in the bibliographies of these three volumes. The previously
mentioned press cuttings sorted by Poulenc and now in the Music Department
of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, led to other sources and other library
holdings. Systematic sorting and cross-checking, prompted by various clues,
have led to other Poulenc texts and interviews.
Numerous additional sources are cited in line with the intention of putting
Poulenc’s writings into context. Works and names are in general given a note when
they first occur in Poulenc’s text. Dates attached to works without further detail
indicate those of first performance, or sometimes of composition or publication.
Where a work or name is not accompanied by a note, it is because it seemed
unnecessary to do so or because the information was lacking. The edition of the
Poulenc correspondence compiled by Myriam Chimènes is referred to by the
single word ‘Correspondance’.

Notes
1
Francis Poulenc, Journal de mes mélodies, complete edition and notes compiled
by Renaud Machart, Paris, Cicero, 1993, p. 159 [English translation by Winifred Radford
Introduction 13

of the original 1964 edition, published as Diary of my Songs, London, Gollancz, 1985;
paperback, London, Kahn & Averill, 2006. RN.]
2
Francis Poulenc, A bâtons rompus, écrits radiophoniques, texts collected, edited
and annotated by Lucie Kayas, Arles, Actes sud, 1999, p. 249.
3
Francis Poulenc, Correspondance, 1910–1963, collected, edited and annotated by
Myriam Chimènes, Paris, Fayard, 1994, 1128p. This edition had been preceded notably by
another volume of correspondance: Echo and Source. Selected Correspondence: 1915–
1963, translated and edited by Sidney Buckland, London, Gollancz, 1991, p. 448.
4
These folders are now in the Music Department of the Bibliothèque nationale.
5
See Francis Poulenc, Correspondance, letter to Henri Sauguet of 25 October 1934,
p. 402.
6
‘Rencontre avec Francis Poulenc […] lorsqu’il terminait l’acte I des Dialogues
des Carmélites’, interview with Pierre Meylan, Gazette de Lausanne, 18 January 1961,
reprinted in J’écris ce qui me chante, texts and interviews collected, edited and annotated
by Nicolas Southon, Paris, Fayard, 2011, p. 648.
7
[Of the French Fascist leagues, ‘the biggest was the Croix de Feu, an ex-
serviceman’s organisation headed by a retired lieutenant-colonel, de la Rocque, who with
a gift for mob oratory and wealthy if occult backers, turned it between 1931 and 1933 into
a mass movement against socialism and internationalism’. Alfred Cobban, A History of
Modern France, vol. 3, 1871–1962, London, Penguin, 1965, p. 144. RN.]
8
Correspondance, letter to Marie-Blanche de Polignac of 15 August 1936, pp. 419–20.
9
[Maurice Thorez (1900–1964) was leader of the French Communist Party from
1930 until his death. RN.]
10
On this subject, see Nicolas Southon, ‘Francis Poulenc ou la ligne fragile du
“civisme esthétique”’, La musique à Paris sous L’Occupation, edited by Myriam Chimènes
and Yannick Simon, Paris, Fayard, 2013.
11
The expression ‘civisme esthétique’ comes from André Schaeffner, in his 1946
article, significantly entitled ‘Francis Poulenc, musicien français’, Contrepoints, no. 1,
1946, reprinted in André Schaeffner, Variations sur la musique, Paris, Fayard, 1998, p. 217.
12
Poulenc, quoted by Paul Landormy in ‘M. Francis Poulenc et Mlle Germaine
Tailleferre’, La Victoire, 5 October 1920, reprinted in J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 257.
13
Francis Poulenc, ‘La musique de piano d’Erik Satie’, La Revue Musicale
(no. spécial ‘Erik Satie, son temps et ses amis’), June 1952; see p. 24.
14
‘Entretien avec F. Poulenc’ with Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, unidentified periodical,
reprinted in J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 622.
15
Correspondance, letters to Pierre Bernac of 16 August 1950, p. 692, and to Darius
Milhaud of 6 September following, p. 695.
16
On this subject, see Nicolas Southon, ‘Francis Poulenc face à la jeune génération’,
Horizons de la Musique en France 1944–1954, edited by Laurent Feneyrou and Alain
Poirier, Paris, Vrin, to appear in 2014.
17
Francis Poulenc, ‘Igor Stravinsky’, Enciclopedia della Musica, vol. 4, Milan,
Ricordi, 1964, reprinted in J’écris ce qui me chante, pp. 375–6.
18
Talk given by Poulenc in Lausanne in late October 1961, an extract of which is
given in J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 376 (note 2).
19
Denise Bourdet, ‘Images de Paris. Poulenc’, La Revue de Paris, March 1957,
p. 129, reprinted in Denise Bourdet, Pris sur le vif, Paris, Plon, 1957, p. 229.
14 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

20
See note 6.
21
Correspondance, letter to André Latarjet of autumn 1934, p. 400.
22
Bernard Gavoty, ‘Mon carnet de notes’, Journal Musical Français, no. 115, 5
February 1963, p. 5.
23
See Malou Haine, ‘“Mon irrésistible, insupportable et cher Poulenc…”, Poulenc à
travers le Journal intime de son ami Stéphane Audel’, Les Cahiers du CIREM, nos 49-50-
51, 2004, p. 167.
24
Correspondance, letter to Milhaud of 28 January 1953, p. 746 (note 4).
25
The dates of the broadcasts were as follows: 13, 20 and 27 October, 3, 10, 17 and
24 November, 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 December 1953; 6, 13, 20, 27 January, 3 February 1954;
the date of the twelfth interview is missing and is unknown.
26
Francis Poulenc, Entretiens avec Claude Rostand, Paris, Julliard, 1954 (published
on 20 April), p. 223. The volume contains a single photograph of Poulenc and Rostand at
work.
27
De la Musique Encore et Toujours!, Paris, Ed. du Tambourinaire, 1946.
28
Correspondance, letter to Bernac of May 1945, p. 591.
29
Id, letter to Henri Hell of 16 February 1950, p. 678.
30
See note 23.
31
Francis Poulenc ou L’Invité en Touraine, Entretiens avec Claude Rostand, Archives
sonores Ina, edited by Renaud Machart, 2 CDs, 1995.
32
Carl B. Schmidt, The Music of Francis Poulenc. A Catalogue, Oxford, Clarendon
Press, 1995, p. 608, and Entrancing Muse, a Documented Biography of Francis Poulenc,
Hillsdale, Pendragon Press, 2001, p. 621.
Part I
Articles
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article I
Le Coq and Le Coq Parisien:
May–November 1920

The magazine Le Coq was put together by the members of the group Les Six
(Poulenc, Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud and Tailleferre) and especially by
Jean Cocteau, their theoretician and promoter.1 The idea behind it was launched
on 6 March 1920 at a dinner paid for by François Bernouard, who went on to
publish the periodical. Printed on poster paper folded into six and in a fantastical
typography inspired by that of the Dadaist writings, the magazine looked like
a tract. A notice, probably by Cocteau, defined it as follows: ‘Le Coq is not the
manifesto of any school. It is a leaflet in which six composers of different tastes,
joined in friendship, express themselves. That this friendship should find its
energy in a shared tendency differently understood, goes without saying. These
composers are joined by poets and painters who are in sympathy with them’
(Le Coq, no. 2). These included Satie, Max Jacob, Raymond Radiguet, Paul
Morand, Lucien Daudet, Blaise Cendrars, Roger de la Fresnaye and Marie
Laurencin. Le Coq lasted for only four numbers, the last two called Le Coq
Parisien. It was an offshoot or a continuation of Cocteau’s little pamphlet
Le Coq et l’Arlequin, published in 1918, a brilliant collection of aphorisms
intended to defend the ballet Parade (with scenario by Cocteau and music
by Satie) and appealing for a musical aesthetic that was French, clear and
economical, and that turned its back on Romanticism, to which Debussyism and
Impressionism were indebted. The passages below are those for which Poulenc
was the signatory, or one of them:

***

Le Coq, no. 1, May 1920

M. Marnold goes on writing as the beard of the dead goes on growing;2


We shall never give you any works.3
Francis Poulenc

By trying to separate us, people like Bernier and Braga only bring us closer to
one another. The publicity they talk about, they’re the ones who are making it for
us. As for Henri Collet, we barely know him. His articles were a surprise and we
thank him for his clairvoyance.4
18 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Tailleferre, Durey. Auric, Honegger. Poulenc, Milhaud, Cocteau


Arnold Schönberg, the 6 composers salute you.5

Le Coq, no. 2, June 1920

Auric’s Fox-Trot does not ape a fox-trot.6 It is the portrait of a fox-trot.7 It’s
not for dancing, it’s for listening. It can be criticised from the point of view of
photography, but as a portrait it is a perfect work. It should serve as an example to
all those composers who are happy to deform a modern dance. Francis Poulenc.
Cocteau has never intended to become our theoretician.8
F. Poulenc

‘Popular Accent’, Le Coq Parisien, no. 4, November 1920

A vulgar tune is good if it works. I love Roméo, Faust, Manon and even the songs
of Mayol.9
Refinement nearly always makes modern French composers lose their popular
accent. When refinement and this accent combine in a country (as they do with the
Russians) then that country finally possesses its own music.
Francis Poulenc

Notes
1
The ‘Groupe des Six’ was so called from a pair of articles by the critic Henri Collet
in the periodical Comoedia on 16 and 23 January 1920, in which he wrote of the ‘six
Frenchmen’ as a reference to the ‘five Russians’ (see note 4 below).
2
The music critic Jean Marnold (1859–1935) was a friend of Ravel, which gave
Les Six an initial reason for confronting him. His reviews of their early works were not in
fact hostile, but Poulenc detected in them ‘a mixture of incomprehension and sober advice’
(letter to Milhaud of 9 July 1919, Correspondance, p. 96) which, in his view, signalled
Marnold’s opposition to short musical forms.
3
In the final number of the periodical appear these two sentences by Cocteau:
‘The Critics ask us for works. I ask them for ears.’
4
It is highly likely nonetheless that the two articles in which Collet wrote about the
‘six Frenchmen’ were suggested to him by Cocteau. At the end of September 1919 at the
latest, Cocteau wrote to the critic: ‘Most of the music of our group is unpublished. The
best thing would be to put you in contact with the composers […] Have you read Le Coq
et l’Arlequin, a kind of undercover programme […]? A lot of new works will be given this
winter. I’m delighted to know that Comoedia will notice them as it should’ (quoted in Jean
Roy, Le Groupe des Six, Paris, Seuil, 1994, Solfèges, p. 7). We also know that Honegger
met Collet on 8 January 1920 in Milhaud’s apartment.
5
This sentence is not signed, but Poulenc confirmed to Stéphane Audel at the end of
his life that it came from Paul Morand (My Friends and Myself, p. 22).
Le Coq and Le Coq Parisien: May–November 1920 19

6
Georges Auric’s ‘Fox-Trot’ for piano, Adieu New-York! is emblematic of Les Six’s
aesthetic, as are Poulenc’s Cocardes.
7
[Almost certainly Poulenc here was quoting Diaghilev’s remark about Ravel’s
La Valse, when the composer played it to him on two pianos with Marcelle Meyer the
previous month, an occasion at which Poulenc was present. After giving signs of impatience
during the performance (fiddling with his monocle, rattling his false teeth), the impresario
finally pronounced: ‘Ravel, it is not a ballet. It is the portrait of a ballet.’ It is perhaps typical
of Poulenc’s ironical turn of mind that he should change Diaghilev’s uncomplimentary use
of the phrase into a complimentary one … RN.]
8
This phrase, like many of those published in Le Coq, or Le Coq Parisien, was
undoubtedly spoken by Cocteau, who declared shortly afterwards: ‘I’ve never been your
theoretician, Le Coq et l’Arlequin came before we met’ (‘Lettre ouverte à mes amis’,
Comoedia, 10 January 1922, p. 1); this was not quite true, since the meetings of the
‘Nouveaux Jeunes’, from which Les Six emerged, were contemporary with the writing of
Le Coq et l’Arlequin.
9
The singer Félix Mayol (1872–1941) was one of the last performers of the
café-concert.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article II
‘On Igor Stravinsky’s “Mavra”’,
Feuilles libres, no. 27, June–July 1922,
section ‘La musique’, pp. 222–224

The numerous attacks Stravinsky’s opera buffa Mavra suffered after its premiere
in June 1922 led Poulenc to write in its defence.1

***

The ‘musical left’ smells decidedly musty. One thing is certain – Mavra has
confirmed what Parade led us to suspect, that there exists a ‘pre-war critical
attitude’, but that there is not yet in evidence one that is capable of judging the
music of the present.
That is a pity, because the latest works of Stravinsky, like those of Satie, are
in sore need of intelligent commentators to persuade the public to accept them,
and then to explain them. At the time of The Rite of Spring, the opinion of
someone like Vuillermoz provided the standard. The same does not apply today,
since Vuillermoz has, for two years now, consistently given proof that he and his
colleagues belong to the past.2

So what does it matter if he finds that Stravinsky ‘lacks melody’?

What is more serious is to see that the younger critics, with the exception of
M. Roland Manuel, are no longer listening to Stravinsky’s music.3 M. Maurice
Bex, for example, declares in the Revue hebdomadaire on 17 June that he can
find nothing in Mavra except ‘a torrent of syncopations’, ‘organised disorder’ and
‘sudden leaps that are as nice to listen to as it is fun to watch a puppy playing
around.’4
It is to be regretted that Monsieur Bex did not listen more carefully to this score
which, on the contrary, is a splendid example of logic and precision.
Another critic finds ‘the orchestration heavy and vulgar’, as though the use of
a wind band was not something deliberately chosen by the composer.5
It is sad to see a work of Mavra’s artistic importance delivered up to the scalpels
of writers on music from the Ecole normale supérieure, who are interested only in
the planar or polytonal tics of MM. X and Y.
22 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

‘Composers are made up,’ Satie used to say, ‘of poseurs and poets. The
former pull the wool over the eyes of the public and the critics.’ It did not need
Mavra, my dear Stravinsky, to convince me that you are a true poet. But this
marvellous work merely serves to increase the immense admiration I have felt
for your music since the day when, in 1913, and still a boy, I was overwhelmed
by The Rite of Spring.6
Ten years have gone by since then and now the public acclaims this work that
once it detested from the bottom of its heart. More than that, it demands from
Stravinsky a new ‘Rite’, even ‘more modern’ and more polyphonic, not realizing
that a masterpiece is a point on the line. But Stravinsky, like Picasso and all powerful
artists, scorns to go on mining the same vein. He changes form and technique with
every work; make no mistake, Mavra is the beginning of a new manner.
Many people think Mavra is a parody of the style of Rossini and Verdi. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Music contains an ‘operatic form’ as it does a
‘sonata form’ or a ‘rondo form’. Everyone is free to make use of it. Stravinsky is
merely reviving the Glinka–Tchaikovsky tradition, in the same way that one might
hope our French composers would follow that of Gounod-Bizet.
There is no doubt that Glinka and Tchaikovsky are both great composers.

Why then reproach Stravinsky for taking them as a model?

Ultimately it is the harmony of Mavra that is under attack for its lack of
originality. It is amusing on this front to observe that the composers of the post-
Debussy generation, drunk on ‘rare harmonies’, have got into the habit of finding
perfect cadences banal.
We have reached a period of levelling-out in which we see every chord as
being on the same plane. Therefore it is in another area that we have to look for
novelty.
In Mavra, Stravinsky has addressed all his efforts to the system of modulation.
It is through the horizontal juxtaposition of distant keys that he has obtained a
kind of music that is precise, springy and decidedly tonal (a rare quality these
days). No critic has remarked on that. You can see, the ear drums are hardening.
So, you gentlemen with your red cards, think carefully before placing your
bets – there’s still time: if not, we shall be obliged to arrange two rows of orchestra
stalls for you at the Opéra, behind the season-ticket holders of the Jockey Club
and the Union of Artists.7

Notes
1
Stravinsky’s opera buffa Mavra, on a libretto by Boris Kochno after Pushkin’s
The Little House at Kolomna, was given privately in a concert version at the Hôtel
Continental on 27 May and publicly by Diaghilev’s troup at the Paris Opéra on 3 June 1922.
Poulenc saw in Mavra an example of the neoclassical aesthetic he proceeded to follow.
‘On Igor Stravinsky’s “Mavra”’, Feuilles libres, no. 27, June–July 1922 23

2
The music critic Emile Vuillermoz (1878–1960) had been a composition pupil of
Fauré at the Conservatoire. He had always supported Stravinsky until Mavra, which he
attacked fiercely, regarding it as a wrong turning in the composer’s career.
3
The composer and musicologist Roland-Manuel (1891–1966), born Roland-Alexis-
Manuel Levy, had been a pupil of Roussel at the Schola Cantorum and of Ravel, about
whom he wrote several books from 1914 onwards.
4
The phrases ‘torrent of syncopations’ and ‘such well organised disorder’ referred in
fact not to Mavra but to Renard.
5
[The orchestra for Mavra consists of 22 wind instruments, 9 strings and timpani. RN.]
6
Poulenc did not go to the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring, but to the 1914
concert performance.
7
In blackjack, the turning up of a red card signifies the last hand. The Jockey Club and
the Union artistique (known as ‘L’Epatant’) were two important private clubs. The artistic
tastes of their members, who belonged to the high society of aristocrats, the bourgeoisie and
financiers, were on the conservative side.
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Article III
‘On Igor Stravinsky’s
“Symphony of Psalms”’,
Le Mois, no. 2, February 1931, pp. 249–250

The work was premiered in Brussels on 13 December 1930, conducted by Ernest


Ansermet.

***

After the secular cantatas Oedipus Rex and Les Noces, Stravinsky now offers us a
sacred cantata, Symphony of Psalms.1
The term ‘symphony’ should here be understood in its strictest etymological
sense, as a combination of instruments and voices.
It is not a matter of a symphony such as we find by Mozart or Beethoven, but
of a free structure in which, yet again, Stravinsky has been able to create the form
suitable to the expression of his genius.
Written for mixed choir and an orchestra composed of five flutes, five oboes,
four bassoons, four horns, five trumpets, three trombones and tuba, cellos, basses,
harp, two pianos and timpani, this work exceeds by a long way the hopes we
had placed in it. It’s true, Stravinsky has never disappointed us, but rarely has he
provided us with such a fine surprise.
I place this Symphony very high on the long list of masterpieces stretching
from The Firebird to Capriccio.2
A comic opera can be great, an oratorio can be tiny.
The subject is almost immaterial; all that counts is the realization, and the
single act of writing a sacred cantata does not necessarily imply the notion of a
masterpiece. Albert Roussel proved this to us a couple of years ago with a psalm
that is far from being his best work.3
What appeals to me above all else in the Symphony of Psalms is the absence
of grandiloquence.
The prelude inspired by two verses of Psalm 38, in which the sinner begs for
divine mercy, consists of just two pages.
The power of this music, written in huge capital letters, sends its serene
violence echoing for a long time in the ensuing silence. The second movement is a
double fugue, the third a hymn of joy and celebration in which Stravinsky, thanks
26 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

be to God, forbears to present us with the harp and lute at the relevant point in the
Cantate Dominum.
It is a work of peace: Heaven as we imagine it through the paintings of
Raphael.
Needless to say, a few weeks from now psalms, motets and oratorios will be
bursting in upon us from all sides, because there is no record of a Stravinsky work
not sending out ripples into the infinite, but he will already be miles away on
another path.
Such a power of renewal is bewildering and astonishing.
Jean-Sébastien Stravinsky, I salute you.

Notes
1
Oedipus Rex, on a text by Cocteau after Sophocles, was given in concert performance
in Paris on 30 May 1927. Les Noces was premiered by the Ballets russes on 14 June 1923.
2
The Firebird dates from 1910, Capriccio from 1929.
3
Roussel’s Psalm 80 was first performed on 25 April 1929.
Article IV
‘In Praise of Banality’, Présence,
no. 8, October 1935, pp. 24–25

Even if it addressed fundamental questions, the article Poulenc sent to Présence


was intended as a lead-in to the performances of his secular cantata Le Bal masqué
in Lausanne on 25 October and in Geneva on the 28 October, in which the artists
were Pierre Bernac and the players of the Orchestre de Radio-Genève, conducted
by Ernest Bour.

***

Some people search for the unusual chord, the striking harmony, the new system.
I am not one of those – something I’m neither ashamed nor proud of – I simply
state a fact: there are some composers who have created their own syntax, others
have arranged known materials in a new order, that’s all. If I was not nervous
about mentioning famous examples in an article in which I shall be speaking
about myself, I should cite: Wagner, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Schönberg
in the first category; Haydn, Schubert, Liszt and Mozart – particularly Mozart – in
the second.
As we can see, singularity of language is a modern achievement. I know of
course the objections I shall face, that time engenders the most novel audacities
and flattens out for our insatiable ears the discoveries of the classical composers.
I hope I may be allowed to reply that this is not a general rule; that despite the
passage of two centuries, Buxtehude’s bold inventions remain strictly the property
of that master, whereas any number of Mozart’s harmonies are found throughout
Haydn and JC Bach and, God knows, Mozart remains the greatest of them.
In our day, when we must have the new at any price, the taste for a system has
found its way into painting as well as music, with a rigour that threatens to become
instantly old hat.
Our ears have been rendered tonal or atonal, rhythmic or eurhythmic, to such
a degree that we hear one kind of music to the exclusion of another.1 Schönberg
is the one mostly responsible for this kind of schism – I admire him, but I am
apprehensive of his sorcery. Alban Berg is a poet and, thank God, with him poetry
abounds. That is why he appeals more readily to Latin ears. Even so, I wonder
whether, in parallel with these dogmatic sorts of music, there is not place for
music that would concern itself more with the spirit than with the letter. Already,
in painting, Christian Bérard2 and Salvador Dali have abandoned Cubism, which
28 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

is suited only to the genius of Picasso, and are returning to the visual reality of the
object, transformed merely by their sensibility.
In music, Igor Stravinsky, as always the greatest, has left to others the cult of
the bizarre that appeared unexpectedly in a part of his work, and has attained an
entirely white, entirely pure perfection, that of Racine, in his most recent work,
Perséphone.3
I pay tribute to Igor Markévitch for creating an entirely new sound world with
the forces of a classical orchestra. This is, as I see it, the broadest, most vibrant
path for music at this present moment.
Some people will say that I am pleading my own cause, but can one be impartial
when one is oneself a creative artist?
I unreservedly admire this saying of Picasso: ‘The truly original artist is the
one who never manages to copy exactly.’4
Why, in Schubert, does a simple inflection of the melodic line personalize an
anonymous ländler at a stroke, and why does an orchestral texture identical to
JC Bach’s suddenly turn into Mozart?
Being afraid of what’s been heard already is quite often proof of impotence.
I made the decision a long time ago to put the unusual harmony and the
common-or-garden cadence into the same pot. One can’t live all the time on
sharks’ fins, swallows’ nests, carps’ roe and rose jam.
I detest in equal measure synthetic cuisine, synthetic perfume and synthetic
art – I want garlic with my leg of mutton, real rose perfume and music that says
clearly what it wants to say, even if it has to use vulgar words. I praise banality,
‘yes, why not’, if it is intentional, felt, earthy and not born of weakness.
España is not banal in a pejorative sense since Chabrier was quite
straightforward about it. On the contrary, how many of those contemporary
fugatos (I’m not talking, of course, about Hindemith’s which I admire profoundly)
are banal in a pedantic sense – the worst – despite inevitable key clashes, hard
work for the wind instruments and a modernism that is already out of date.5
In his Art poétique, Max Jacob wrote: ‘Authors who make themselves obscure
in order to provoke esteem get what they want and nothing more,’ and further on:
‘There is a purity of the guts which is rare and excellent.’6 These two maxims
served me as reference points when I composed Le Bal masqué, a secular cantata
on poems by the same Max Jacob.7
It is my most spontaneous tribute to banality and it’s because of its performance
this month in Geneva that I have embarked on this digression, not to exculpate
myself but to explain myself better.
In a friendly atmosphere set in the Paris suburbs, Max Jacob and I have set in
motion a kind of carnival during which Mlle Malvina, a pretentious woman whose
love is rejected, gives her hand to a monstrous blind woman in a plush dress who
is getting tipsy with her brother-in-law.
We have tried to transpose all these characters, spied through the window of
a ‘charming chalet’ on the banks of the Marne, on to a more universal plane by
exaggerating their frightfulness.
‘In Praise of Banality’ 29

A ‘Bravura aria’, leading straight out of the ‘Preamble’, sweeps away in a wild
gallop those who are happy to ride uncontrollably on words linked only by fantasy.
A violent, stupid old man, ‘a repairer of ancient cars’, concludes this gallery of
odd portraits, separated by instrumental interludes. Max Jacob and I have aimed,
above all, at the belly laugh, the laugh born of surprise, of amazement even, and
not that ironic, tight-lipped, logical smile known as ‘superior’, dear to those who
espouse extreme aestheticism.
The future will tell whether banality has led us astray. We hope in any case
that in this offering to a neglected goddess we have not fallen short of the idea we
formed of her.

Notes
1
The term ‘eurhythmic’ was used especially by the composer Georges Migot.
2
The painter and theatrical designer Christian Bérard (1902–1949).
3
Stravinsky’s melodrama Perséphone, on a text by André Gide, was premiered at the
Paris Opéra on 30 April 1934, conducted by the composer.
4
This idea, which Poulenc’s own artistic development seems to illustrate, had already
been aired by Cocteau in 1918: ‘An original artist cannot copy. He therefore needs only to
copy in order to be original.’ (J. Cocteau, Le Coq et l’Arlequin, 1918; Eng. trans. Rollo
Myers, Cock and Harlequin, London, 1921). [Ravel took a similar line: ‘Choose a model;
imitate him. If you have nothing to say, all you can do is copy. If you have got something to
say, your personality will appear at its best in your unconscious infidelity.’ Roland-Manuel,
Maurice Ravel, Eng. trans. Cynthia Jolly, London, 1972, p. 134. RN.]
5
Even if Poulenc admired Hindemith in the 1930s, 20 years later he considered him
deeply academic.
6
The complete version of the second aphorism is: ‘Good style is spirituality on an
earthy level. There is a purity of the guts which is rare and excellent.’
7
The secular cantata Le Bal masqué was premiered in private on 20 April 1932 in
the villa in Hyères belonging to Marie-Laure and Charles de Noailles, who commissioned
it and to whom it is dedicated, and in public in Paris the following 13 June.
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Article V
‘Long Live Stravinsky!’, Le Figaro,
no. 199, 7 April 1945, ‘Chronique’, p. 1

After the Liberation, French Radio, on the instructions of its musical director
Henry Barraud, broadcast Stravinsky’s complete orchestral works, which had
hardly been played during the Occupation. On 3 February Poulenc took part,
playing one of the pianos in Les Noces with Monique Haas, Geneviève Joy and
Pierre Sancan, with the French Radio Choir and National Orchestra conducted by
Manuel Rosenthal.
But on 15 March, Stravinsky’s Four Norwegian Moods were whistled at in
the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées by some of Messiaen’s pupils who had also been
pupils of René Leibowitz for barely a month, notably Pierre Boulez, then 20 years
old. Also Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes, conducted by Roger Désormière
for the Société privée de musique de chambre, had been greeted with protests
from these same young musicians. André Jolivet took up his pen to denounce the
importance given to Stravinsky in these concerts. Poulenc replied in the following
article:

***

Incredible as it may seem, I am having, in 1945, to take up my pen to defend Igor


Stravinsky, because there is currently, as in the great days of The Rite of Spring, a
Stravinsky scandal.
Only, and this is the most serious thing in the affair, the detractors of today no
longer belong, as they once did, to the musical Right but to a pseudo-Left made
up of a number of the young and, what is more serious, pseudo-young who owe
the whole of the light, modernistic varnish that covers their works entirely to the
researches of the Stravinsky of 1913 which he himself has already left behind.
For truly young composers to be turning their backs deliberately on The Rite,
as we once turned our backs on Debussyism and Ravelism: bravo! But this is not
the case here, and those same people who wildly applauded Les Noces have now
gone on to whistle at the Stravinsky of these last 20 years. A battle between giants
would be quite a spectacle. One could imagine a Strauss vs Stravinsky combat
on the lines of the earlier battle between Debussy and Wagner, but when it’s a
question of detractors of this stamp, I can only think of the little pugs in the public
gardens who cock their legs against the plinths of the statues.
32 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

When you lack the muscle to overturn a bronze idol, it’s better to go round it in
case you give your head a good battering.
You may be sure I should not have attached the slightest importance to these
yappings if there were not the possible repercussion that they might create a
misunderstanding around a first-class composer whom I admire profoundly:
Olivier Messiaen.1
It is an indisputable fact that his students whistled feebly at the Danses
concertantes and in a premeditated fashion at the Impressions norvégiennes. I am
sure Messiaen is too honest and intelligent not to realize how stupid all that is and
to advise his students to be more respectful in future, whatever his views about
Stravinsky’s latest music.
It is important – and this is the crux of the present article – that stupid quarrels
should not alienate the opinion of the public who turn up in numbers at French
Radio Concerts, full of goodwill but naïve in the matter of musical infighting.
The whole of contemporary music, inside and outside France, near or far, is
a tributary of the work of Stravinsky, in the same way that, from 1900 to 1910,
Debussy covered the music of both cultures with his elegant shadow. Let us have
the decency to admit our debt and let us not be stupid enough to move the debate
on to a nationalistic level, following the unwise action of a certain composer, of
whom one’s only hope was that we might forget a particular piece of incidental
music written, inexpediently, during the Occupation on the occasion of the
eightieth birthday of the most famous playwright in Germany.2
I imagine this frank expression of opinion will make me plenty of enemies. Far
from complaining, I am delighted, because I hate nothing more than false friends
who greet you after a concert with a ‘Bravo’, generally signifying ‘Your music is
simply frightful!’
In any case, I have always been open in acknowledging influences on my work
and, in the present case, I am well aware that on my days of self-doubt – which,
sadly, are numerous, as writing music is neither as easy nor as amusing as people
think – I have only to conjure up Stravinsky’s astonishing presence to draw from
it both comfort and the sense of musical integrity.
Of nothing am I prouder than to be the friend of such a man and to owe him the
most eloquent constituents of my musical language.
It was my firm intention to put this on paper here.

Notes
1
Messiaen thanked Poulenc for his article on 19 April. He also tried to calm the
situation in an article of 16 May in the review Volontés (cited in Peter Hill and Nigel
Simeone, Messiaen, Yale, 2005, pp. 152–154). [Furthermore, he had gone backstage after
the demonstration in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées to apologise to Rosenthal for the
behaviour of his students – an apology that Rosenthal later said he had accepted. RN.]
‘Long Live Stravinsky!’ 33

2
Poulenc is alluding to the incidental music written by Jolivet for Gerhard
Hauptmann’s play Iphigenie in Delphi, produced in a French translation on 27 June 1943
at the Comédie-Française for the playwright’s eightieth birthday, under pressure from
the Propaganda Staffel. As the conductor of the theatre orchestra refused to take part in
the occasion, Jolivet conducted the score himself. Poulenc’s insinuation over his attitude
during the Occupation should nonetheless be tempered by the fact that Jolivet’s wife was
Jewish.
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Article VI
‘The Composer and the Sorcerer’,
Les Lettres Françaises,
no. 54, 5 May 1945, p. 5

The periodical Les Lettres Françaises was founded in 1942 under the direction
of Jacques Decour and Jean Paulhan, advised by Louis Aragon. Published in
secret until the Liberation, it attracted the support of intellectuals belonging to the
Resistance, and aimed at defending a national literature, with a view to its rebirth
at the Liberation. It was in the years following that the ideological orientation of
the paper was established, when it became the intellectual organ of the Communist
party.

***

Around 1908 there lived in Vienna a composer of considerable genius, whose


career was, sadly, all too short.
Profoundly inspired, he had ‘the grave and friendly look of those who have not
long to live’.1
Searching as he was for his own voice and wanting to break with the style
of Gustav Mahler, which was dominant in Vienna at that time, he travelled a
few kilometres from there to find a sorcerer who, in a little house in the suburbs,
spent his days cutting up sounds into bundles of 12, and then bringing this strange
harmonic dust to the boil in Wagnerian test tubes. In 1921, out of sheer curiosity, I
too, with Darius Milhaud, visited this strange little man, bald and with a mysterious
smile.2
His study had the atmosphere of a laboratory. The walls were covered with
Expressionist paintings and the simplest happenings suddenly took on the
appearance of a spell.
So it was that when we had sat down at table, just at the moment when Arnold
Schönberg, the sorcerer, was about to serve the soup, I can confirm that a football,
violently expelled from his son’s bedroom, landed in the tureen and turned into an
edible melon.
After he had worked out the sorcerer–composer’s secrets, the composer–poet
Alban Berg returned home and enriched music with works that were, sadly, not
numerous, but of a startling beauty.
36 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Contrary to Goethe’s ballad, it was the apprentice who became the master.
If I have written this introduction in the style of a fable, it’s because French
readers are not familiar with the names of Schönberg and Berg, and so I thought it
was a good idea to catch their attention with these slightly Baroque images.
It is an indisputable fact that we are talking here of two great composers.
Schönberg’s Pierrot lunaire is a key work and its influence, passing but
undeniable, on the Ravel of the Poèmes de Mallarmé or the Stravinsky of
Le Rossignol is proof of its authenticity.
Schönberg opened a magic door to which Berg alone had the key.
Berg’s Lyric Suite for string quartet, the opera Wozzeck – a masterpiece on a
level with our Pelléas – and finally the sublime Violin Concerto solved instantly,
through the power of genius, all the problems posed by Schönberg, and to such
an extent that the music of the latter has, over the last 25 years, become no more
than a desert, a broth of pebbles, ersatz music, poetry reduced to atoms.
That is why we are perplexed when, in 1945, people are again talking of the
12-tone system as the only lifeboat for contemporary music.
That anyway is what M. Leibowitz would have us believe in a notorious article
in guess where … the splendid volume of Cahiers d’art that our friend Zervos
has dedicated to France’s spiritual battle from 1940 to 1944.3 Everyone knows
that from an aesthetic point of view my nationalism is extremely elastic. So I am
not enveloped in Déroulède’s Inverness cape when I protest against this grotesque
promiscuity, which I do simply in the name of common sense.4 What is Schönberg
doing among paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque and so on, or in pages of a
poem by Eluard?
This music is sister to Kokoschka’s Expressionism and far removed even from
Paul Klee’s poetic lucidity; it should be kept for an edition on Central Europe
between the wars.
However, the impact of this absurdity is minimised by the fact that I cannot
imagine more than one reader in a hundred being able to take an interest in
Schönberg’s music, ‘predodecaphonic’ (sic) or not.5
A little clear-sightedness, along the lines of Jankélévitch’s remarkable article
on Debussy, would, I feel, have indicated the need for a study of Olivier Messiaen,
given his closeness to the paintings of Rouault – a link that strikes me continually;
Messiaen’s soaring upward flight is truly the major event in French music during
these last four years.6
There is a composer who does not need hairs split into 12 to enrich our
patrimony in startling fashion.
The Schönberg affair is closed. Let’s relegate it to the past tense once and for
all. Otherwise I am prepared, whenever and wherever I can, to describe it using
Père Ubu’s word to his wife, with or without the ‘r’.7
‘The Composer and the Sorcerer’, Les Lettres Françaises 37

Notes
1
A phrase spoken by Arkel to Pelléas, and reported by the latter at the beginning of
Act IV of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.
2
It was in January and February 1922, not 1921, that Poulenc, Milhaud and Marya
Freund made a journey to Central Europe to give several concerts and make contact with
certain Viennese composers. In the house of Alma Mahler-Werfel, they met Schönberg,
Berg, Webern, Wellez and Hugo von Hoffmansthal. Schönberg also invited Poulenc and
Milhaud to lunch at his house in Mödling, where they met members of his family and his
pupils Erwin Stein and Josef Rufer. [Erwin Stein was the father of Marion Harewood, well
known in Britain for her volumes for young pianists. RN.]
3
The composer and conductor René Leibowitz (1913–1972), who promoted himself
as a pupil of Webern and Schönberg, came to live in Paris in 1945 and introduced some
of Messiaen’s pupils, including Pierre Boulez, Serge Nigg and Jean-Louis Martinet, to
Schönberg’s music and to the 12-note technique.
The annual review Cahiers d’art, founded in 1926 by the art critic and writer Christian
Zervos, had ceased publication in June 1940. It was revived in April 1945 in the form of a
thick volume, dated 1940–1944 and containing an article by Leibowitz, ‘Introduction à la
musique de douze sons’.
4
The writer Paul Déroulède (1846–1914) was known for his nationalism and
reactionary views.
5
The ‘sic’ is Poulenc’s.
6
Vladimir Jankélévitch, ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin (essai sur Debussy)’, Cahiers
d’art, XVI-XIX, 1940–1944, pp. 147–156.
7
A reference to Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu roi of 1896, which famously included the
word ‘merdre’.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article VII
‘Francis Poulenc on His Ballets’, Ballet,
no. 4/2, September 1946, pp. 57–58

A performance of Aubade by the Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo, which took


place while he was in London recently, was the occasion of the following few
remarks by Poulenc about the ballets for which he has composed the music. These
are Les Biches (1924), Aubade (1929) and Les Animaux modèles (1942) which has
never been given in England, though there are hopeful rumours of a collaboration
between Poulenc and Frederick Ashton, who would certainly be the composer’s
choice as choreographer.1

***

I write my own libretto, and cannot imagine making a ballet in any other way; for
the subject of the ballet is born at the same time as the movement of the music. Les
Biches has no real plot, for the good reason that if it had it might have caused a
scandal. In this ballet, as in certain of Watteau’s pictures, there is an atmosphere of
wantonness which you sense if you are corrupted but which an innocent-minded
girl would not be conscious of. One such simple creature said to me: ‘Les Biches
is the modern Les Sylphides,’ to which I replied ‘I am so glad that is how it strikes
you.’ This is the theme: 12 women are attracted by three men; but only one man
responds, his choice falling on a young person of equivocal appearance. (Nobody
who saw it can ever forget Nemchinova’s entry in this part.)2 A lady no longer
young, but very wealthy and elegant, relies on her money to attach to herself the
two remaining young men, who seem not to repel her advances. A diversion is
caused by two ladies, outwardly as innocent as doves, who appear on the scene
and altogether ignore the handsome males. This is a ballet in which you may see
nothing at all or into which you may read the worst. Nijinska’s rendering was
inspired, for she understood its intention without really analysing it.3 Diaghilev
wanted a ballet in the spirit of the Fêtes Galantes, and that is why he chose Marie
Laurencin to do the décor; for her pictures have the same ambiguous blend of
innocence and corruption.4
Les Animaux modèles is based on the fables of La Fontaine. I had discussed
it some time before with Massine, but he persisted in thinking of the fables as
belonging to the eighteenth century, to the time of Oudry rather than of the
brothers Le Nain or Philippe de Champagne.5 This was no doubt excusable in
a Russian, but it held up the project for the time being. As I dislike animal
40 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

costumes on the stage, I chose only those fables which do not contain animals
(with the exception of the famous fable of the two merchants and the bear), or
I substituted for the animals their human symbols. This was why Eluard, who
was responsible for the title Les Animaux modèles, originally thought of calling
the ballet A la lueur de l’Homme (By the light of Mankind). The cricket became
an old ballerina, the ant an old maid from the provinces, the amorous lion a
maquereau (pimp), Death an elegant woman, a sort of duchess in a mask.6 The
painter, Brianchon, did some marvellous designs for me, representing a little
town in Burgundy in the seventeenth century, in a Louis XIII atmosphere. Serge
Lifar also entered fully into my idea, and his choreography at the Opera showed
intelligence and feeling.
As for Aubade, bad luck has always attended it;7 for except at its first
private performance in the garden of the Vicomtesse de Noailles, to whom it
was dedicated, I have always been let down by its choreographers.8 At that first
performance I collaborated with Nijinska, who realized my idea to perfection;
but for the first public performance at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées I was
weak enough to let Balanchine modify my libretto by introducing a male part
into the ballet which I had composed for women dancers only.9 As Diana was
the heroine of my ballet, Balanchine chose the myth of Diana and Actaeon. In
loyalty to him I mentioned his version in the printed score, but hoped that future
choreographers would be intelligent enough to prefer mine, which is also given
in the score. Nothing of the sort, alas! Lifar chose Balanchine’s version, but
made it worse by bringing the orchestra on to the stage.10 I need hardly say that,
to avoid further mistakes of this kind, Balanchine’s plot will in future disappear
from the printed score. To ignore my libretto is to falsify entirely the intention
of the music. At a period of my life when I was feeling very sad, I found that
dawn was the time when my anguish reached its height, for it meant that one
had to live through another horrible day.11 Wanting to give a detached rendering
of this impression, I chose Diana as my symbolic heroine. She, a goddess and
a beautiful woman, was doomed to perpetual chastity among women, with no
other distraction than the chase. Every day the goddess must reluctantly resume
her hunting in the forest, carrying the bow that was as tedious to her as my piano
was at that time to me.
I made a note in the score to the effect that the décor and costumes were to be
in the style of Fontainebleau, which is no doubt why Aubade is generally given in
a music-hall setting. [This is the original English text of the article.]

Notes
1
It does not seem as if Ashton revived any of Poulenc’s ballets. But in 1933 he did
put on in London a ballet called Les Masques, ou Changement de dames, set to Poulenc’s
Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon. In 1964, Ashton invited Nijinska to revive Les Biches
with the Royal Ballet.
‘Francis Poulenc on His Ballets’ 41

2
The Russian dancer Vera Nemtchinova (1899–1984) danced the role of The Lady
in Blue, and also in Milhaud’s Le Train Bleu in 1924.
3
The Russian dancer and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska (1891–1972) had, like
her brother Vaslav Nijinsky, belonged to Diaghilev’s Ballets russes since 1909. As well as
inventing the choreography for Les Biches, she danced the role of the Hostess, alternately
with Ninette de Valois.
4
The painter Marie Laurencin (1885–1956) designed the décor and costumes for
Les Biches. She had been close to Les Six from the beginning, and before that had been
Apollinaire’s mistress from 1908 to 1912.
5
The dancer and choreographer Leonid Massine (1896–1979) was a Russian who
took on American nationality. He was one of the principal choreographers for the Ballets
russes from 1915 to 1920, then again from 1925 to 1929.
The painter and engraver Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686–1755) made drawings around
1730 for an edition of La Fontaine’s Fables that was published in 1755.
The painters Antoine (1588–1648), Louis (1593–1648) and Mathieu Le Nain (1607–
1677), and Philippe de Champagne (1602–1674) therefore belonged to a much earlier
generation.
6
The movements Poulenc refers to, bearing the titles of the relevant fables, are ‘The
Bear and the Two Friends’ (L’Ours et les Deux Compagnons), ‘The Cricket and the Ant’
(La Cigale et la Fourmi), ‘The lovesick Lion’ (Le Lion Amoureux) and ‘Death and the
Woodcutter’ (La Mort et le Bûcheron), nos 2, 3, 4 and 6 of the ballet.
7
Aubade, ‘choreographic concerto for piano and eighteen instruments’, was
composed in May–June 1929 to a commission by the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Noailles
and was premiered in their house on the Place des Etats-Unis in Paris on 18 June 1929: the
choreographer was Bronislava Nijinska and the orchestra, with Poulenc at the piano, was
conducted by Vladimir Golschmann. A concert version was given in public on 1 December
1929 with Poulenc again at the piano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris conducted
by Ernest Ansermet. A second ballet production took place at the Théâtre des Champs-
Elysées on 21 January 1930 with a new choreography by Balanchine, disapproved of by the
composer, with Vera Nemtchinova as Diana and Alexis Dolinoff as Actaeon.
8
The Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles (1902–1970) was a friend of Poulenc
and, with her husband Charles, a patron of all the arts. They commissioned and were the
dedicatees of Aubade and of Le Bal masqué (1932), which was premiered in their villa at
Hyères.
Aubade was revived at the Opéra-Comique in 1952.
9
The Russian dancer and choreographer George Balanchine (1904–1983) made his
debut with the Ballets russes, which led to him collaborating with Stravinsky on a large
number of ballets. In 1934 he founded the School of American Ballet and the American
Ballet, then in 1948 the New York City Ballet. Poulenc’s disagreement over Balanchine’s
conception of Aubade did not prevent him from thinking of using him for performances of
Les Animaux modèles in the United States (see Correspondance, p. 504).
10
In 1946 Serge Lifar revived Aubade for himself and the dancer Zizi Jeanmaire,
using the scenario Balanchine had cobbled together.
11
Poulenc composed Aubade at a period when he was becoming fully aware of his
homosexuality, after his friend Raymonde Linossier had possibly refused his proposal of
marriage (see Myriam Chimènes, Correspondance, p. 27).
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article VIII
‘For the Harpsichord, Wanda Landowska has
Completed in New York “Her life’s work”’,
Le Figaro littéraire,
no. 214, 27 May 1950, p. 1

The harpsichordist Wanda Landowska (1879–1959) was Polish but later became
a French citizen. Poulenc met her at the home of the Princess de Polignac at the
premiere of Falla’s Il Retablo de Maese Pedro in 1923. She commissioned his
Concert champêtre and gave its first performance in 1929 [1950 was the 200th
anniversary of Bach’s death. RN].

***

The recording by Wanda Landowska of the first eight preludes and fugues of
Das Wohltemperierte Klavier is incontestably the most important musical event in
America over the last three months.1
The influence of this undertaking is immense. Soon Europe will be in
possession of this treasure house of craft and beauty and it will for many, I am
sure, be a revelation; I say ‘revelation’ advisedly because you cannot get a true
idea of the work if you hear it played on the piano. The fact is – and I repeat
it yet again – that there is as much difference between the harpsichord and the
piano as between the organ and the piano. Everywhere, outside France, the truth
of this is recognized, and whether it is in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, England
or America, it is on the harpsichord that Bach is being celebrated this year.
The worldwide revival of an unfairly forgotten instrument is due to a woman
of genius. Albert Schweitzer, whose name carries all the weight one could ask
for, foresaw right from the early years of this century the crucial role Landowska
would play and advised her to devote her life to the harpsichord alongside the
piano.2
What might initially have seemed like the whim of an academic writer on
music today blazes forth in all its rightness. That a woman so frail in appearance
can be the greatest interpreter of the giant Bach is something that is at first
astounding. But when you get to know Wanda, you realize that her exquisite
femininity is merely the outer covering of a prodigious musical intelligence.
44 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

At the age of 70, famous, widely loved and in full command of her powers,
Wanda Landowska prepared for her recording of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier
with extraordinary care and labour, to produce ‘my life’s work’, as she calls it.
Comparing variant editions, without pedantry but with the insight of the
true scholar, fingering every note, pondering a registration over several weeks,
Landowska achieves this miracle (the secret shared by artists like Toscanini and
Casals): giving the impression of spontaneity by arduous study. What a lesson for
the young of the future!
Sadly, as I keep on complaining, France will soon be the only country in the
world not to have a harpsichord class, whereas throughout Europe and America
young players can now practise Bach, Scarlatti and our harpsichord composers on
authentic instruments.
This last winter has provided the proof that French concert audiences are happy
with the most scandalous executions (that is the word) of Bach’s harpsichord
music.
The interplay of Bach’s amazing counterpoint, so clear on the harpsichord,
on the piano grows fat, to the point of turning into a burble that sets the heads
nodding of a host of music lovers who would yawn at Beethoven quartets, but
who, mechanically, swallow that as the morning work-out on French radio.
Let us hope that the current snobbish enthusiasm for German art will convince
the Parisian public that the search for purity must be pursued to the end, and
that they must not accept Bach other than in his original language, a language
that Wanda Landowska makes as living and youthful as though Bach were the
contemporary of Stravinsky.

Notes
1
‘JS Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1, preludes and fugues nos 1 to 8’,
33rpm record, RCA Victor Red Seal Records/His Master’s Voice, recorded on a Pleyel
harpsichord. Landowska recorded the rest of the work over the following months. [These
recordings are currently available on CD: Naxos 8110314/5 (Book I, a 2-disc set) and
8111061/3 (Book II, a 3-disc set). RN.]
2
From the end of the nineteenth century, the Alsatian organist, writer on music
and doctor Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) studied the question of authenticity in musical
interpretation, especially in the works of Bach.
Article IX
‘Pages from America (Diary extracts)’,
La Table Ronde,
no. 30, June 1950, pp. 66–75

During his second tour of the United States, taking in some 30 concerts between
28 December 1949 and the following 22 March, Poulenc wrote a diary originally
intended to be published, supposedly in the form of extracts. According to the
story in the diary under the date 23 January, the composer explained to his future
biographer Henri Hell: ‘You’ll see what I say in La Table Ronde, which will be
publishing parts of my diary this spring under the title “Feuilles américaines”.’
The manuscript of the text was in fact published in full in this literary review.

***

Boston, 4 January

Today, another rehearsal of the [Piano] Concerto. A critic, who won’t be there on
the day of the concert, asked permission to sneak into the hall. After the rehearsal,
he comes up to me and, before I can get a word in, says how much he admires …
my Organ Concerto, given a month earlier in this same hall for the inauguration
of the new organ. ‘What music, monsieur, what orchestration, what nobility!!!’
Naturally, I’m not sorry to hear justice rendered to this work which is ignored
in France. But even so I am a bit surprised. My critic sees this and immediately
mumbles: ‘What a good pianist you are!’, then rushes off without even putting on
his overcoat.
This two-edged compliment worries me slightly. Anyway, we shall see.

Boston, 5 January

Spent the afternoon with Professor MG … who speaks French so perfectly that it
leaves me dumbfounded. The professor, who knows all the music of every period
and every country, is particularly fond of French music, which is why he was kind
enough to ring me at my hotel.
We talk of Debussy, Ravel, Chabrier and Stravinsky. Because I tell him I was
at a performance of The Rite of Spring in 1913 (when I was 14) he suddenly
46 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

takes me for a centenarian and this learned academic of 35 is on the point of


asking me if I knew Wagner. He adores the music of Satie. I go to the piano and
play him a few pieces. He’s blown away by my tempi which are not those of the
famous pianist AB …1 We get on to the question of tradition and deplore the fact
that tradition is something so precarious. It’s astonishing, really, how a mere 30
years after Debussy’s death, the true meaning of his message has been lost. How
many players betray Debussy for lack of sensuality. The word ‘sensuality’ amazes
my companion. I realize it’s not a term he’s in the habit of using about music.
‘Surely you mean eroticism?’ ‘Not necessarily, sensuality being sometimes a more
accidental form of eroticism.’ Then, going on to a more concrete example, I explain
to him that if Toscanini revealed La Mer and Sabata Jeux to the general public,
it’s because, being true Italians who don’t blush at Puccini (bravo!), they can’t
conceive how we might fight shy of the Massenet influence on many passages of
Debussy. I add that conductor A putting Jeux in the ice house and conductor B in
the steriliser do more damage to this jewel than silence does.

Boston, 7 January

Today, visit to the museum. What a pleasure to stand for a long time on my own
in front of the portrait of the Duke and Duchess de Morbili by Degas.2 How
grateful one is to this aristocratic couple for preferring Degas and his bourgeois
atmosphere to the palatial grandeur of a Bonnat or a Carolus-Duran.3 In an empty
room, I suddenly find myself face to face with one of Zurbarán’s many portraits of
Saint Francis.4 I already knew the one for the Valdès collection in Bilbao and the
one in the Munich Pinakothek which is so similar to a monk by Manet that used
to belong to Jacques-Emile Blanche. The Boston Saint Francis is by far the most
beautiful, the most mystical. Discovering it gave me such a shock, I was close to
falling on my knees.

Boston, 8 January

By great good fortune, this morning I was able to buy the records of Jeux made
by Sabata.5
I’m so happy to be able to give them to Professor MG … when I go to say
goodbye. I look at him while he’s listening to them. He smiles, waxes enthusiastic
and cries out before the end: ‘I understand, it’s a masterpiece.’
Listening to Jeux, once again I find it very strange that the archbishop of Paris,
who had condemned the choreography of L’Après-midi d’un faune, should have
allowed the one, just as daring, of Jeux. In the very Bonnard-like atmosphere of a
park lit by arc-lamps, a couple converse tenderly in between two games of tennis.
A second girl enters. You expect a scuffle. Nothing of the sort, the three heads
‘Pages from America (Diary extracts)’ 47

come together in a curious display of ecstasy. That has a name which I prefer not
to write down here. It was Debussy’s eroticism that attracted Nijinsky.
His wife tells us that the last time he danced, it was to the Chansons de Bilitis,
in a Swiss hotel in 1916.6

New York, 23 January

A piece of good advice: in America, don’t be modest, otherwise you’ll regret it.
The other week, a journalist calls me from the hotel reception. I tell him to come
up. Hardly has he got into the room than he declares, without preamble, that since
Hugo Wolf no one has written songs as beautiful as mine, that Schumann would
have admired me, Schubert adored me, that I have Mussorgsky’s human feeling,
and so on, and so on. I suffocate, I choke, I try and save the situation. With all
speed I explain that, unfortunately, my Violin Sonata is not the Kreutzer, that I
shall never get the measure of the string quartet, that, that, that … Result: in an
interview published this morning I read more or less as follows: ‘With charming
modesty, Francis Poulenc admits to us that, apart from his songs, his music is a
load of old tripe.’

New York, 5 February

Marvellous afternoon with Samuel Barber, who lives an hour away from New
York in a delightful house in the country. My affection for this composer equals
my admiration. Horowitz came in his car to fetch me from the hotel. I’m so
pleased to find him the same as he was in his twenties, with that unique look of
a thoroughbred. After some cajoling, he sits down at the piano and plays for us
Barber’s Sonata which I was unable to hear the other evening at Carnegie Hall.7
I’d already read through this sonata, and I like it without any reservations.
It’s a remarkable work, from both the musical and instrumental points of view.
By turns dramatic, playful and lyrical, it concludes with a fantastically difficult
fugue. We’re far away from the dismal academic fugues by the pupils (I repeat,
pupils) of Hindemith. Bursting with life, this finale delivers us a knock-out in just
five minutes.
Horowitz then plays a Clementi sonata, some of Mussorgsky’s Pictures, the
finale of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata and his own transcription of Souza’s march.8
When Horowitz plays the piano, it goes to my head. After he’s finished, I kiss his
hands. No one finds this gesture ridiculous, certainly not me. After dinner, we have
a session of automatic writing. Someone asks ‘What is love?’ to which a poet, who
has said nothing all evening, replies: ‘A trio.’
48 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Chicago, 18 February

Visit to the Chicago museum. Van Gogh exhibition. The more I admire this painter,
the less I like him. With Gauguin and El Greco he makes up the three Gs whom
I’d happily do without. A long pause, on the other hand, in front of the famous
Chardin still life with the white tablecloth (once in David Weill’s collection).9
This picture fascinates me. Imagine: on a wide table, two glasses, one empty
and upturned, the other full of raspberry wine, a large crusty loaf, a few slices of
sausage on a pewter plate and, on the floor, a wine cooler. The sensual perfection
of this painting, like the brioche with the sprig of orange blossom in the Louvre,
plunges me into an abyss of gluttony. This would come as a great surprise to the
two young female students who are looking at this slim repast with astonishment,
or this pair of lovers, with the male actually breaking out into laughter. Obviously,
for all these young people, the still life genre is a refrigerator chock full (heretical
thought!) of frozen cheese.

New York, 19 March

This morning, while having my bath, I listen to a programme of light music


(American tunes, by turns seductive, cheerful, melancholy, extra-dry or madly
sentimental). In the middle of all that, what do I hear: La Vie en Rose.10 It’s the only
sensual song in the programme. In France, sentimentality and sensuality often
mix, in America never. On one side Cole Porter, on the other Faulkner.

New York, 22 March

Menotti’s three-act opera The Consul is a curious success.11 With his amazing
theatrical gifts, Menotti is at once composer, librettist and producer. From this
ensemble derives an astonishing cohesion, but one that is not without detrimental
effects on the music. In my view that’s a serious fault. In Verdi or Puccini the music
is sovereign. Here not. But what ingenuity, what power, what persuasiveness.
Gripped by the drama, the gala public for this celebrity dress rehearsal, given in
aid of the Casa Verdi, forget for once to look at each other and come out of the
theatre with red eyes and pounding heart.12

Notes
1
On the manuscript, Poulenc originally wrote ‘conductor’, which was then crossed
out and ‘pianist’ substituted. The musician in question was probably Anthony Bernard
(1891–1963), who founded the London Chamber Orchestra and conducted both the London
Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia. Bernard had conducted Poulenc’s Aubade for
‘Pages from America (Diary extracts)’ 49

the BBC in mid-December 1929, with the composer at the piano; he was later to conduct
Poulenc in his Piano Concerto.
2
Degas’s Portrait de Monsieur et Madame Edmondo Morbilli (1865) is in the
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. [Poulenc was clearly unaware that Madame de Morbilli
was in fact Degas’s sister, Thérèse. RN.]
3
The painters Léon Bonnat (1833–1922) and Charles Emile Auguste Durand, known
as Carolus-Duran (1837–1917).
4
The Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) painted four pictures on
the subject of Saint Francis.
5
Victor de Sabata made the first ever recording of Jeux with the Orchestra Stabile
Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma in February 1947. [It is currently available on the
Testament label, SBT 1108. See www.testament.co.uk/shop/search.aspx. RN.]
6
It was in 1918, not 1916, that Nijinsky, his wife and daughter moved to Switzerland.
It was at this time that the dancer’s mental problems first manifested themselves.
7
The Piano Sonata op 26 by Samuel Barber (1910–1981) had been given its first
performance the previous year by Horowitz. Barber particularly liked the Sonata for two
pianos that Poulenc wrote for the duet partnership of Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, and
dedicated to him his Mélodies passagères, on French translations of poems by Rilke, which
Poulenc and Bernac premiered in a New York recital on 10 February 1952. Poulenc in
his turn dedicated to Barber his Capriccio for two pianos on themes from Le Bal masqué,
composed in September 1952.
8
[Horowitz made his transcription of Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever to
celebrate his becoming an American citizen. RN.]
9
Chardin’s La Nappe Blanche (1732) in the Art Institute in Chicago. [Reproduced in
Francis Poulenc: Music, Art and Literature, ed. Sidney Buckland and Myriam Chimènes,
Aldershot, Ashgate, 1999, p. 237. RN.]
10
La Vie en Rose was composed in 1947 by Louiguy and Marguerite Monnot to words
by Edith Piaf, who sang it.
11
The Consul, an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007) who also wrote the
libretto, had been premiered in Philadelphia on 1 March and was then played with great
success on Broadway from 15 March.
12
[The Casa Verdi is a rest home for retired opera singers and musicians, founded by
the composer. RN.]
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Article X
‘Erik Satie’s Piano Music’,
La Revue Musicale, Satie number,
no. 214, June 1952, pp. 23–26

The special number of La Revue musicale devoted to Satie contains tributes from
25 artists, including Auric, Boulez, Cocteau, Constant Lambert, Milhaud, Sauguet
and Poulenc. Poulenc is one of the few to contribute an article on a precise subject.

***

Erik Satie played the piano very rarely. I heard him no more than two or three
times accompanying some of his songs, and even then he would try and get out of
it at the last moment.
Usually Ricardo Viñes, Marcelle Meyer, Auric or I would do him this favour.1
After his death, the state of his piano, since bought by Braque, proves that
Satie never used it. I am amazed to think that such perfectly pianistic music was
conceived without the help of an instrument: unless Satie, given that his whole
life was a mystery, tried out his precious pieces on an unknown piano in Arcueil –
which, to be honest, I do not believe.2
He had, however, studied the piano in his youth, first in Honfleur, with the
organist of the Saint-Charles church, then in 1884 at the Conservatoire with
M. Mathias, a pupil of Chopin and Kalkbrenner!!!3
Probably because the piano reminded him of the time he spent as paid pianist
at the Auberge du Clou, Satie preferred not to use it.4 Even so (I must say it again),
just as Satie sometimes borrowed Jean Cocteau’s bathroom to trim his beard, it
is perfectly possible that, when visiting friends, he asked to use the piano to try
something for five minutes, as he did several times with me.
At all events, Satie had an innate feeling for the instrument.
Whereas so many composers, even well-known ones, too often have a tendency
to regard the piano as a makeshift, capable of dealing with anything, Satie, being
punctilious in all things, knew exactly what suits the keyboard. His writing, so
direct, so new, in such bold reaction against the bewitchment of Debussy and
Ravel, surely found an echo as late as the Sonata for two pianos of 1944 by the
great Stravinsky. Contrary to what is generally accepted, I do not regret these
delightful, jokey titles which upset the public and, sadly, most pianists. I do
not believe the music would gain from being rigged out with less bizarre titles;
52 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

far from it, the allusive character of certain musical quotations would become
completely unintelligible.
Is it not charming to listen to the ‘Bearer of heavy stones’ (Heures séculaires
et instantanées) humming: ‘C’est un souffle, un souffle rien (sic)’ (It’s a feather, a
feather, nothing) or to hear, in ‘The woman who talks too much’ (Celle qui parle
trop), rising out of a cascade of triplets, the celebrated tune: ‘Ne parle pas, Rose,
je t’en supplie’ (Don’t speak, Rose, I beg you).5
Let us not forget also, and this is one of the most remarkable things about Satie,
that through irony ‘le bon maître’ pointed out to his followers how the times had
moved on.
The Véritables préludes flasques (pour un chien) refer to certain titles in
Debussy’s music and the Valses du précieux dégoûté to those in Ravel’s.6
It could be that, because their titles are less provocative, pianists these days are
taking the risk of playing the Gymnopédies, Sarabandes and Gnossiennes. As for
the rest of his pieces, a well-known female virtuoso wrote to me one day: ‘Dear
Poulenc, in spite of everything you tell me about Satie’s pieces, I still cannot put
on to my programmes titles that are unprintable!’
For all that, Satie’s piano music is filtering slowly into the world, and it is a
joy for me, every time I see springing up, in an unexpected spot, a new fount of
admiration, like the student at an American conservatory who admitted to me,
with no thought of paradox, that his two favourite composers were Schönberg and
Satie!!!
It is not my intention to insist on the prophetic aspect of Satie’s early pieces.
It is certain that the second Sarabande, which itself owes a lot to the opening
bars of Chabrier’s Le Roi malgré lui, had a direct influence on the ‘Sarabande’ in
Debussy’s suite Pour le piano.
Also Ravel said in 1911, at a time when he was giving first performances of
three pieces by Satie at the S.M.I.: ‘“La Belle et la Bête” is the fourth Gymnopédie.’7
But all that is past history. What matters is that whereas a work like d’Indy’s
Poème des montagnes has fallen into oblivion, unfairly what’s more, Satie’s early
works are taking their place among the masterpieces of piano writing.8 Loving the
so-called ‘ironic’ pieces calls for a total absence of prejudice. My aim is not to
compile a catalogue of them, but to provoke a wish to play them.
As for the way to interpret them, that is what I shall also try and explain as best
I can. If the early period works, from the Gymnopédies to the Pièces froides of
1897, need no explanation, this is not the case for the host of pieces beginning in
1912 with the Véritables préludes flasques.
We may note in passing that from 1897 to 1912 Satie composed just three
groups of pieces for piano duet (Morceaux en forme de poire, En habit de cheval
and Aperçus désagréables) and nothing else.
It is true that these were the years when he was studying at the Schola, but that
is not a satisfactory explanation for this long silence.9
Unquestionably, it needed the revelation of the piano pieces at the S.M.I. to
rekindle the self-confidence of the ‘bon maître’.10
‘Erik Satie’s Piano Music’ 53

The fact is that Satie always needed the enthusiasm of the young or of painters
such as Picasso, Braque or Derain.
Just as it is forbidden, on pain of major excommunication as Satie said, to
read, before or during, the stories and funny remarks with which he decorates his
music (‘They are the pianist’s reward’, he sometimes used to say), similarly it is
forbidden, when starting on a piece like the second of the Embryons desséchés, to
wink at the audience.
I explain: the opening bars of this ‘Embryon d’Edriophtalma’ must be played
with the fine, noble tone and the precise rhythm of a sarabande, as gravely as
the beginning of Debussy’s Hommage à Rameau. The quotation from Chopin’s
Funeral March, indicated by Satie as being taken from a well-known Mazurka
by Schubert, will be all the more effective if played very simply and expressively
and, in the words of Ricardo Viñes, giving ‘the impression of being unaware of
anything’. Then the mood of the opening returns. On the other hand, exaggerate
of course, as a joke, the hilarious major chords that conclude the first and third
embryos. Think here of certain pieces of music played by certain pianists.
This example should be followed in all the Satie pieces.
To sum up, never lead into the musical quotations, so as to keep the effect of
surprise.
Undoubtedly, the role of the pedal is less important and indispensable than in
Debussy and Ravel. On this front too, Satie is an innovator. Many passages are to
be played dry, like the beginning of the ‘Tyrolienne turque’ (Croquis et agaceries
d’un gros bonhomme en bois). When one has to play with a lot of pedal, as in
the ‘Idylle’ of the Avant-dernières pensées, one has nevertheless to play clearly,
something Viñes could do marvellously but which, sadly, many pianists do not
manage to understand.
Great rhythmic rigour is the constant in Satie’s music. Most of the time, the
tempi are successive and not progressive.
Generally, for these changes of speed a silent beat needs to be observed, which
Satie indicates with: ‘Wait, stop, a brief moment, a pause please.’
But all this is unimportant: what is required to express this music’s exquisite
poetry is: to combine the abandon of love with the most scrupulous observation of
detail. This is in any case the secret of performing all music; one only ever plays
well what one loves; admiration is not enough.
With Satie’s music, nothing is more true than the saying of Fargue that M.
Templier put at the head of his remarkable book on Satie: ‘In art, one has to believe
in it before experiencing it.’
For my part I think that at a time when systems are, if I may say so, mandatory,
it could be interesting, for a large number of composers and pianists, to go back
to playing these pages full of clairvoyance, intelligence and lucidity and, when all
is said, of music.
Noizay, April 1952
54 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Notes
1
Poulenc studied with the Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes (1875–1943) between
1914 and 1917, and it was through him that Poulenc met Satie, Auric, Landowska and
Marcelle Meyer. Viñes was the dedicatee and first performer of a number of works by
Debussy and Ravel; he also gave the first performances of Poulenc’s Trois mouvements
perpétuels (1919), his Pastorales (1918, reworked as Trois pièces in 1928) and his Suite
in C (1920). The last two of these were dedicated to him, as was the book Emmanuel
Chabrier, with Meyer as co-dedicatee, which Poulenc published in 1961.
The pianist Marcelle Meyer (1897–1958) was a pupil of Viñes, Marguerite Long and
Alfred Cortot. She was close to Les Six, often taking part in their concerts, but also to
Cocteau, Sauguet and Stravinsky (see Jacques-Emile Blanche’s 1922 painting, Le Groupe
des Six, in which she figures). Poulenc dedicated to her his Impromptus (1922) of which
she gave the first performance, his Feuillets d’album (1933) and, as mentioned above, his
book Emmanuel Chabrier.
2
At the end of 1898 Satie went to live in Arcueil-Cachan, a suburb to the south of
Paris, in a room on the second storey of a house called ‘the Four Chimneys’.
3
The pianist Georges Mathias (1826–1910) had studied with Chopin and at the
Conservatoire with the pianist and composer Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785–1849). He went
on to teach in the institution himself, and for a time after 1885 Satie was one of his pupils.
4
Satie was a cabaret pianist at the Auberge du Clou, 30, avenue Trudaine in the ninth
arrondissement, between 1891 and 1893. It was there he met Debussy.
5
‘Celle qui parle trop’, the first piece of Satie’s Chapitres tournés en tous sens, gives
the ‘poor husband’ (according to one of the comments on the score) the aria ‘Ne parle pas,
Rose, je t’en supplie’ from the 1856 opera Les Dragons de Villars by Louis-Aimé Maillart
(1817–1871). ‘Le Porteur de grosses pierres’, the second piece in the same volume (and
not in the Heures séculaires et instantanées), borrows the aria ‘C’est un rien, un souffle,
un rien …’ from the 1882 opéra-comique Rip by Robert Planquette (1848–1903).
6
Satie’s Préludes flasques (pour un chien) and the Véritables Préludes flasques (pour
un chien) of 1912 would appear, by their titles, to be hits against the so-called invertebrate
nature of the Préludes by Debussy, the first book of which had appeared in 1910. In the
same way, Les Trois valses distinguées du précieux dégoûté would seem to be a portrait
aimed at the Ravel of the Valses nobles et sentimentales of 1911.
7
[To be exact, Ravel sent Satie a score of Ma Mère l’Oye with the dedication
‘for Erik Satie, grandpapa of “The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast” and others.
Affectionate homage from a disciple’ (‘Pour Erik Satie grandpapa des “entretiens” et
d’autres. Hommage affectueux d’un disciple’). Orenstein, Lettres, 513. RN.]
8
D’Indy’s Le Poème des Montagnes (1881) is a ‘symphonic poem for piano’ evoking
the composer’s love for his wife, set in the landscape of the Vivarais.
9
Rather late in life – between 1905 and 1908 – Satie studied counterpoint at the
Schola Cantorum with Roussel.
10
In 1911 Satie’s music was rediscovered by the young generation, headed by Ravel,
who took a pride in including it and playing it in the concerts of the Société musicale
indépendante.
Article XI
‘How I Composed
Les Dialogues des Carmélites’,
L’Opéra de Paris, no. 14, Second Quarter,
1957, pp. 15–17

In writing to the General Administrator of the Réunion des Théâtres Lyriques


Nationaux Georges Hirsch, Poulenc’s chief aim was to prepare the Parisian public
for the French premiere of his Dialogues des Carmélites on 21 June 1957, nearly
six months after its world premiere in Italian at La Scala, Milan.

***

My dear Administrator,

You are making the most difficult possible request: for me to tell your readers
about the Dialogues des Carmélites.
In this sort of enterprise there are balancing risks of self-satisfaction and false
modesty. I think the only way for me to come through it is, quite simply, to tell the
story of this opera.
I have always adored singing and I owe my first great musical memories to
Don Giovanni, Pelléas, Boris and Rigoletto.
So it is quite natural that the names of Debussy, Mussorgsky and Verdi should
figure in the dedication of the Carmélites.1 If the name of Mozart is absent, that is
because, in all decency, one cannot dedicate anything to God the Father.
My parents took me to the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique when I was very
young.
I was brought up on the knees of the tenor Edmond Clément and, by the time I
was ten, Carmen, La Bohème and Manon held no secrets for me.2
Right from the time I began to compose, I dreamt of writing an opera.
Alas, there is always that terrible question of the libretto.
Add to that the fact that, on the literary front, I am an out-and-out snob.3 If, in
the world of song, Eluard, Max Jacob, Aragon, Louise de Vilmorin and Apollinaire
have inspired me, and if, thanks to the last of these, I was able to write Les Mamelles
de Tirésias, for which I have a particular weakness, it needed luck and foreign
intervention for me to discover the libretto I had been dreaming of for years.
56 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Around 1953 I was supposed to write a ballet for La Scala, Milan.


I had vague thoughts of a half-secular, half-sacred subject based on Saint
Margaret of Cortona but I was unable to flesh out my project (I have always
written the scenarios of my ballets).4
That was the situation when, during a tour with the cellist Pierre Fournier,
I stopped in Milan in March 1953.5
I confessed to Monsieur Valcarenghi, the director of the publishers Ricordi
who had commissioned the ballet from me, that I was not enthusiastic about the
project.
‘Ah!’ I added, during an excellent lunch, ‘why don’t you ask me to write an
opera?’
‘No problem there, I commission you on the spot,’ replied my host.
‘But the libretto?’
‘Since you’re looking for a mystical subject, why not make an opera out of
Bernanos’s Les Dialogues des Carmélites?’6
I was astounded by this suggestion.
What would people say about an opera without a love interest?
As I’ve always given the Italians credit for an innate sense of theatre, I put
aside this objection but asked for time to reflect … which I did, and how!
Of course I knew Bernanos’s play which I had read, reread and seen twice, but
I had no idea of its verbal rhythm, which for me is crucial.
I had decided to consider the matter later, when I got back to Paris, but then,
two days later, right in the middle of a bookseller’s window in Rome, I saw Les
Dialogues which seemed to be waiting for me.
I left my hotel early to wander about from church to church, as I like to when I
am in Rome. The weather was so good that I had nothing in mind except to enjoy
the delights of a spring morning but, despite myself, my thoughts kept returning to
this great enterprise that was to haunt me for three years.
I bought the book and decided to read it again.
So I sat down on the terrace of the café ‘Tre scalini’ on the Piazza Navone. It
was ten o’clock in the morning. At midday I was still there having drunk a coffee,
an ice cream, a glass of orange juice and a bottle of Fiuggi water to pay for my
long stay.
At half past midday I was drunk with enthusiasm, but there remained the acid
test: could I find the music for such a text?
I opened the book at random, forcing myself instantly to find music for the first
passage I would read.
Luck was not on my side. As you can see:
The Prioress: ‘Don’t imagine this armchair is a privilege of my status like
a duchess’s footstool! Alas, out of charity for my dear girls who look after it so
carefully, I should like to feel at my ease sitting in it, but it’s not easy to return
to old habits when you’ve abandoned them for so long, and I’m resigned to the
fact that what should be a pleasure will never be anything more for me than a
humiliating necessity.’
‘How I Composed Les Dialogues des Carmélites’ 57

Incredible as it may seem, I immediately found the melodic curve for this long
speech!7
The die was cast.
At two o’clock I telegraphed to M. Valcarenghi, true psychic that he was, that
I would write the Dialogues.
I spent a long time thinking how to reorganize the text and then, in June 1953,
I did it on the train between Paris and Brive.
The score was begun in August 1953 and completed at the end of June 1956.
Many people were surprised by my choice. Obviously there’s a wide
gulf between Mamelles and the Carmélites, but if they were astonished at my
collaboration with Bernanos, it merely shows they don’t know me that well.
His spiritual conception is exactly the same as mine and his violence responds
perfectly to a whole aspect of my nature, whether in matters of enjoyment or
asceticism.
I wrote as an epigraph on the first page of the orchestral score this fervent
saying of Saint Teresa: ‘May God keep me away from gloomy Saints.’8
This gives a clear idea of the atmosphere I intended to create throughout the
work.
Formidably human emotions – fear, pride – are at the root of this tragic true
story.
This was the source from which Bernanos took the wonderful idea of
establishing between the First Prioress and the heroine, Blanche, this transference
of grace, this communion of the saints which instantly lifts the story on to a higher
level.
The main technical difficulty was to retain the unity of tone, while avoiding
monotony. That is why my five major feminine roles are written for specific vocal
types. They are, if you like, an ensemble of the following: Amneris, Desdemona,
Kundry, Thaïs and Zerlina.
Apart from Blanche’s brother, a Mozartian tenor, the masculine roles are minor
ones, but with definite colourings.
The chorus take an active part only in the last scene (the execution of the
Carmelites).
As Bernanos did not write any words for the chorus, I have treated them in an
entirely instrumental manner.9
Above this loud roar floats the Carmelites’ Salve Regina as they mount the
scaffold.
The orchestration is absolutely standard, that of a Verdi opera. Hardly any
percussion, no special instruments.
This, my dear Administrator, is all I can find to tell you.
It is now for the public to intuit the rest.
Believe me, most cordially yours.
Francis Poulenc
58 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Notes
1
The dedication reads: ‘To the memory of my Mother, who revealed music to me,
of Claude Debussy, who gave me the taste for composing it, and of Claudio Monteverdi,
Giuseppe Verdi and Modest Mussorgsky who served me here as models.’
2
The tenor Edmond Clément (1867–1928) was a friend of Poulenc’s uncle Marcel
Royer, known as ‘Papoum’. He sang in the premieres of Saint-Saëns’s Phryné and Bruneau’s
L’Attaque du Moulin (both 1893), in the French premieres of Falstaff (1894) and Madame
Butterfly (1906) and was a highly regarded Don José in Carmen.
[Poulenc does not exaggerate his early interest in opera. In a 1911 diary (he was 12), on
holiday in Luchon, he wrote: ‘… we go to the open-air theatre where [Léon] Campagnola
was singing the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca. Jean Laure was Baron Scarpia and Arlette
Bergès Tosca. I enjoyed it, I must say, because they all performed very well. Campagnola
very much in the Italian style, which was marvellous. Also he has a splendid voice. Bergès
too has a very pretty voice and excellent diction. She was very good particularly in the last
two acts because her voice is a little shrill up top; in the first act she had a horrible costume,
orange and canary-yellow. Campagnola’s costume was not really appropriate, as it was
Werther’s. Jean Laure’s was very sinister, especially in the first act where he has his cloak.
I really enjoyed the first act – I liked everything, and particularly the part of the sacristan,
which is very funny …’ Francis Poulenc, A Bâtons Rompus, ed. Lucie Kayas, Actes Sud,
1999, pp. 25–26, entry of 15 August 1911. RN.]
3
Poulenc stated elsewhere: ‘I’m a terrible snob, I’m only inspired by writing of
quality’ (as reported by the journalist Robert Dunand in ‘Balade avec Francis Poulenc’,
Le Courrier, 9–10 May 1959, 5).
4
Perhaps on François Mauriac’s biography Sainte Marguerite de Cortone (1945).
Margaret of Cortona (1247–1297) was the mother of a child whose father never married
her. She took refuge with the Franciscans, did penance and devoted her life to charity and
prayer in the Third Order of Saint Francis, founding a female community and a hospital in
Cortona. She was canonised in 1728.
5
The cellist Pierre Fournier (1906–1986) gave concerts with Poulenc in Italy in 1948,
in England in the spring of 1949, and in Egypt, Greece and Italy, among other countries,
in 1953. The composer wrote his Cello Sonata for him and dedicated it to him; he also
arranged his Suite française d’après Claude Gervaise for cello and piano in 1956.
6
The writer Georges Bernanos (1888–1948), whom Poulenc never had the
opportunity of meeting, wrote dialogues during the winter of 1947–1948 for a film based
on the novel Die Letzte am Schafott (The Last on the Scaffold) by Gertrude von Le Fort.
But the dialogues were not felt to be suitable for the cinema. After Bernanos’s death in July
1948, the executor of his will, the writer Albert Béguin, divided them up into five scenes,
invented a title, distributed among the characters various lines that had not been assigned to
anyone, summarized various scenes that did not have any dialogue and published the whole
work as a play under the title Dialogues des Carmélites (Neuchâtel, La Baconnière; Paris,
Seuil, 1949). This version was produced at the Théâtre Hébertot in Paris on 24 May 1952 in
an adaptation by Béguin and Marcelle Tassencourt. It was turned into a film by Brückberger
and Agostini in 1960, under the title Le Dialogue des Carmélites.
7
This speech comes from the second scene of Act I.
8
The sentence comes from Las Fundaciones (Book of the Foundations) by Saint
Teresa of Avila (1515–1582), written between 1573 and her death, and published in 1610.
‘How I Composed Les Dialogues des Carmélites’ 59

9
The chorus representing the crowd appear in the fourth scene of Act II, singing
‘Ouvrez la porte’ and the revolutionary song ‘Ah! ça ira’, both absent from Bernanos’s text
itself but deduced by Poulenc from his performing instructions. In the prelude to the fourth
scene of Act III, the chorus merely sing the syllable ‘Oh’.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article XII
‘Opera in the Cinema Era’,
Opera, vol. 12/1, January 1961, p. 18
(as told to Elliott Stein)

This article appeared as one of a group entitled ‘Modern opera – a symposium’.


The other contributors were WH Auden, Britten, Dallapiccola, Ronald Duncan,
Howard Hartog and Rolf Liebermann.

***

Opera remains a perfectly valid and viable form in our time. I would go as far as
to say that, at present, it is logical for composers to be progressively less attracted
to the writing of ballet scores than to opera. There are no longer Maecenases or
ballet-founders of genius like Diaghilev, whereas the merited success in opera of a
composer of Henze’s stature (his works are surely destined to achieve a degree of
international recognition comparable to that received by those of Richard Strauss
in his lifetime) leads me to believe that we are in the midst of a period of very
important operatic activity. But – and I think this should be apparent to all those
creating operas today – we must find a practical means of adjusting ourselves to
the demands of a public which has been psychologically conditioned by the lively
dynamics of the cinema. Heavily static librettos – take most of Act II of Tristan
(this is not to belittle Wagner’s genius) – would not succeed today at the centre of
a new work. The cinema has modified our point of view, and the public has come
to expect a great variety of scene-changes. Debussy sensed this in Pelléas; and
Berg, in his operatic version of Wozzeck, made a successful innovation in keeping
the drama in many short, fragmentary scenes, with changes of set and atmosphere
corresponding to the varying ‘states of soul’ of the central character.
It was exactly this sort of problem that interested me in the dramatic structure
of Dialogues des Carmélites, originally adapted by Bernanos from a film script. I
counted on a firm overall unity of style containing several themes of psychological
continuity (Blanche’s relationship to her fear, for instance); but these themes to be
presented in different surroundings which of necessity influenced the relationship
of characters. The nuns behave differently according to where they are, whether
they are wearing their habits or are in ordinary dress – the rapports are different.
Yes, I certainly think that the old ‘typical’ opera in three acts, with three sets, each
lasting about three-quarters of an hour, is dead.
62 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

However, I do not believe that the serial composers have yet come to proper
terms with opera – perhaps because of their disdain for prosody. But the problem
here is a very complicated one. The collaboration between Strauss and von
Hoffmansthal produced such rich results. Teamwork on that level, between a
composer and a brilliant man of letters, should certainly be attempted more often.
Britten seems to me one of the rare contemporary composers always to have had
the benefit of librettos providing the right sort of action for his talent. My latest
work is a setting of the Office of Tenebrae, scheduled for first performance at the
new Lincoln Center in New York during Holy Week 1962.1 I was recently tempted
by the text of Montherlant’s Le Cardinal d’Espagne, a play I much admire, but for
operatic purposes I finally found it too literary.2 [This is the original English text
of the article.]

Notes
1
In the event, the Sept Répons des Ténèbres were not premiered until 11 April 1963,
three months after the composer’s death.
2
Montherlant’s three-act play Le Cardinal d’Espagne was published by Gallimard in
1960.
Part II
Critical Articles and Reviews
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article XIII
‘On Richard Strauss’s Elektra’,
Le Figaro, no. 244, 1 September 1934, p. 4

The Salzburg Festival was founded in 1920 by Max Reinhardt and Hugo von
Hoffmansthal, with support from Richard Strauss. Part of its 1934 programme,
from 29 July to 2 September, was devoted to a ‘Richard Strauss cycle’, consisting
of the operas Der Rosenkavalier, Die ägyptische Helena and Elektra.

***

I have always considered Elektra as the most authentic expression of the German
spirit of today: the glorification of passion [fureur].1
In Salzburg, between Don Giovanni and a concert of Mozart, this opera takes
on the role of a symbol.
As François Mauriac said, coming out of the Festspielhaus, ‘It’s Saul in the
presence of David.’ Certainly a single phrase of Mozart is enough to dissipate
this terrifying rapture, but we should cultivate a taste for these poisons, if only to
appreciate more fully, with a sense of coming home, the divine purity of Mozart or
the human sensibility of Debussy.
As I have no idea whatever of geography, I was amazed one morning suddenly
to find out that Bavaria is only a few kilometres away from Salzburg. It was also a
surprise to see, at the end of Elektra, a distinguished elderly gentleman appear on
stage who had come to confirm his freedom of the city and, no doubt, to defend his
author’s rights in a country that has no bitterness towards him.2
Perhaps it would have been more tactful not to appear with such a fresh
complexion and robust bearing after an official absence on health grounds. The
Salzburg public proved by its wild applause that it was prepared to greet the
disloyal foreigner with the same happy grace that emanates from its bell-towers.
No libretto could suit Richard Strauss’s violent temperament better than
Hofmannsthal’s. This composer came late to the theatre – Elektra dates from
his forty-fifth year – and has written his operas with a weight of life experience
behind him.
Greece and the climate of Attica have nothing to do with Hofmannsthal’s
sombre tragedy. All the action could as well take place in the entrance hall of a
Prussian railway station. In any case, local colour is of no importance since it is
always incidental. Everyone’s view of antiquity is governed by their character, and
there is no proof that Goethe’s Hellenism is particularly authentic.
66 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Elektra is a story of unnatural family conflict in which a mother sacrifices


her family to her passion for a lovesick booby. Mme Gertrude Rünger’s sublime
interpretation of the role of Clytemnestra firmly underlined the realistic, down-
to-earth side of the drama.3 Whereas this sacrilegious widow is generally played,
certainly as a harpy, but above all as a queen, Mme Rünger on the contrary brings
out the terrifyingly human side of this old woman, covered in precious stones, her
arms disappearing beneath bracelets, her fingers stiff with rings, and barely able to
keep her eyes open (as specified in the libretto).
In this interpretation, the character of Clytemnestra becomes the centre of the
action, and leaping round her are Electra in a fury, the gentler Chrysothemis, the
self-confident Orestes and Aegisthus the nonentity.
The music too proceeds by leaps, ever developing, as slippery as mercury,
corrosive and yellow as acid. Melodic ideas never crystallise but come to a halt,
move forwards or backwards under the impulse of a vicious rejoinder, a hope, a
promise, a false oath. It is the epitome of music conceived directly in orchestral
terms and this is what produces its power and unique beauty.
Just as the librettist goes to the trouble of specifiying that Clytemnestra is
dressed in red – at first sight, a detail of no importance – so a shriek from the
clarinet (standing out as alien from the musical context) sheds a peculiar light on
some phrase in the dialogue.
For the first two-thirds of the opera, apart from the brief appearance of two
male servants, the stage is inhabited solely by women, and this is responsible for
the rapidity in the escalation of the violence, for the shrill tone of the invective and
for this atmosphere of a harem in hysterics. The roles of Orestes and Aegisthus are
relegated to a lower level and the drama concludes with the stunning duet between
Electra and Chysothemis, a mixture of funereal celebration and madness.
How far we are from the human, I was going to say logical death, of Mélisande!
But why compare extremes of power?
Strauss, once again, proves that every great work is profoundly nationalist.
The clouds that loom over the courtyard of the palace of Mycenae take their
colour from the skies of Dresden, while those that cover the terrace of Arkel’s
palace have the transparency of the skies of Normandy.
Together with this superb masterpiece Elektra, the Strauss cycle was completed
by Der Rosenkavalier, Die Frau ohne Schatten being replaced at the last moment,
thank God, by Don Giovanni. Der Rosenkavalier is more of a brilliant success than
a true masterpiece. In Elektra and Salome Strauss is incomparable. In the hazy
world of eighteenth-century fantasy, Mozart is obviously better! Hofmannsthal’s
libretto is extraordinarily alive, but the music underlines to an extravagant extent
the text’s curly-wurly, whipped cream, precious aspect.
In his brilliant if sacrilegious orchestration of some of Couperin’s pieces,
Strauss proved long ago that for him the Rococo style has remained valid since
the seventeenth century.4 In Rosenkavalier, the Viennese style of 1860 clashes
with the chocolate box, Pompadour one. No question, the famous Act III trio is a
masterpiece, but what a deal of shallow pathos it takes to get there!
‘On Richard Strauss’s Elektra’ 67

While I was listening to those waltzes launching out ineffectually and crashing
every time on rocks in the orchestra, I found myself regretting that Strauss the
waltz king (the one of Die Fledermaus) was not on the programme, all the more
because Lotte Schöne was in the audience.5
It is to be hoped that the 1935 festival, putting aside favours to Hitler, will
leave Richard Strauss celebrations to Munich, and reserve for those who are the
true expression of Austrian genius – Mozart, Schubert, Johann Strauss – the royal
sceptre which they share so rightly in Salzburg.

Notes
1
In the original French, we should recognise in the phrase ‘l’éloge de la fureur’ a pun
alluding to political events in Germany, as touched on by Poulenc in the lines that follow.
Adolf Hitler, the ‘Führer’ of the Nazi party right from its beginnings in 1921, had become
chancellor (Reichskanzler) of the Reich on 30 January 1933, then ‘Reichspräsident’ (President
of the Reich) on 2 August 1934, before changing this to ‘Führer und Reichskanzler’.
2
The ‘distinguished elderly gentleman’ was certainly Richard Strauss, who had been
president since November 1933 of the Reichsmusikkammer (Chamber Music of the Reich).
In this role he moved swiftly to extend composers’ copyright from 30 to 50 years, with
support from Goebbels. He was relieved of his position in June 1935 when the Gestapo
intercepted one of his letters to his Jewish librettist Stefan Zweig.
3
The German mezzo-soprano and soprano Gertrud Rünger (1899–1965).
4
The reference is to Strauss’s Dance Suite on Keyboard Pieces by François Couperin
for chamber orchestra of 1923.
5
The soprano Lotte Schöne (1891–1977), Austrian by birth but a naturalised
Frenchwoman, was particularly successful in Mozartian roles, but also in operas by Verdi,
Richard Strauss and Puccini, and in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. She sang regularly
at the Salzburg Festival from 1922 to 1935.
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Article XIV
‘On Oberon’, Le Figaro,
no. 247, 4 September 1934, p. 5

My passion for Oberon dates from my earliest childhood.


When I was five, every now and then in the holidays my parents used to take
me to see a country neighbour, an old, white-haired lady whose drawing-room was
full of holiday souvenirs.
On a Moorish pedestal table, brought back from Granada, sat a musical box
carved out of oak in a shape that was half edelweiss, half fir cone, precious
souvenirs of a summer in the Black Forest. One turn of the handle and the finale of
Oberon took wing in a light tinkle, filling me with joy and taking me off to a fairy
land in which I saw appearing, as in a kaleidoscope, a succession of ever-changing
images.1 One day, with a clumsy gesture, I broke the spring and I had to wait
30 years – some punishment! – to recapture, one evening in Salzburg, that
innocent joy I had felt so long ago. Curled up in my seat, waiting for the miracle,
I imagined Heaven knows what stumbling block in the way of my enjoyment;
even to the extent of a Nazi bomb dropped on the Festspielhaus. But Salzburg
is the happiest and most peaceful city in Austria and miracles occur there daily
without mishap.
So I rediscovered my little tune, neater and fresher than ever. Blessings upon
Weber for enchanting elderly children like this, and all gratitude to Bruno Walter
whose Houdini-like baton drew out a horn, a flute and an oboe from the magical
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.2
All personal considerations aside, Oberon is an outright masterpiece – it is
astonishing that such a score should be totally unknown in France, apart from
the famous overture – and there are still critics who, in order to appear individual
and cultivated, condemn it severely, even when conducted by Bruno Walter at the
Opéra. But in France, in the past, we adored Weber. In every musical household
Der Freischütz and Oberon were on the piano. I need no further proof than
the scores of these operas that appear without fail in the ‘music lot’ at every
provincial sale. Our great grandmothers sang Agathe’s aria.3 Our mothers made
the pilgrimage to Bayreuth. Sadly, that was all it needed to discard an opera
which, make no mistake, has far fewer wrinkles than Parsifal.
The whole orchestral palette of Wagner and Liszt, all the enchantments
of Rimsky and Liadov derive directly from Oberon. But if Weber’s orchestral
technique has influenced composers of quality, his melodic style – and this
could be the source of his fall from grace – has unfortunately, in France, found
its echo in the most mediocre musical products: Adam’s Le Chalet or the 1830
70 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

romances whose wistful and slightly fatuous beginnings we sometimes treasure,


paradoxically, just for a day.4 ‘The Siren’s Song’ at the end of the first act has no
connection with Loïsa Puget’s languid songs, but obviously, with a healthy dose
of ignorance and a little bad faith, it is possible to find a link.5
It is to be hoped that a performance of Oberon at the Paris Opéra, by the
Viennese troupe, might dispel this misunderstanding once and for all.
I can easily imagine this exotic story set in Oriental decors inspired by
Delacroix. Like the pictures of that painter, Weber’s music does employ local
colour, for the first time in the nineteenth century, and that is what is most
romantic about it. Whereas exoticism is totally absent from Il Seraglio, despite
the wonderful ‘Turkish March’, a taste for the Asiatic picturesque flows through
the whole of Oberon. It is indeed one of the essential ingredients of fairyland.
No race expresses the woods and waters of fairyland better than the Germans.
The French are too cerebral, and always introduce an architectural plan into the
most immaterial scenes of nature, so that the Siren immediately becomes Susanna
in her bath.6 In Weber’s music we swim, we fly, without the burden of human
knowledge, without fear of ridicule, in a Christmas pantomime atmosphere that
delights all ages.
We should be grateful to a more than able composer for creating, with apparent
ease, this sanctuary within time and space, whereas so many works remind us
forcibly of our narrow human dimensions.
Certainly it’s not music for passionate couples who look for paroxysms of
ecstasy in Tristan, but surely we can listen to an opera without bothering about
love!
At Salzburg, a highly ingenious production underlines the unreal aspect of the
story and reduces the loving couples Huon and Reiza, and Sherasmin and Fatima,
to affectionate puppets.
The stage is separated from the auditorium by a gauze curtain. The chorus sing
in the wings while the dancers take their place on the stage.
There is much to criticize in the choreography by Mme Margarete Wallmann,
the Vienna Opera’s ballet mistress. The ensembles are weighed down by a fatal
emphasis on rhythm. How much more unreal these shadowy characters would be
dancing on point! It is the price for the Jooss style of German culture.7 The Vienna
Opera should make a stand against these puerile and pretentious gymnastics.
May the ghost of Fanny Elssler come to Mme Wallmann in a dream!8 The fairy
Puck owes us this final magic spell.
Apart from this error in staging, the performance of Oberon is, as always at
Salzburg, a marvel of perfection.
Bruno Walter is undoubtedly, with Toscanini, the greatest living conductor.
With him classical music never reeks of the museum. At the end of the first act, the
curtain fell on a veritable haze from the orchestra. He knows, like Nietzsche, that
‘beauty treads with the delicacy of a dove’.
‘On Oberon’ 71

Notes
1
The reference could be to the tune of the ensemble ‘Horch! Welch Wunderklingen!’,
to the march that follows or to the tune of the chorus ‘Heil sei dem Helden’, all of which are
in the Oberon Finale.
2
Robert Houdin (1803–1871) was the most famous illusionist of the nineteenth
century. [Known to English-speaking audiences as Houdini. RN.]
3
Agathe’s scena and aria ‘Wie nahte mir die Schlummer’, in Act II, Scene 2 of
Der Freischütz.
4
Adolph Adam’s opéra-comique Le Chalet was the composer’s first great success
and was performed all through the nineteenth century. [It reached its 1,500th performance
at the Opéra-Comique in 1922. RN.]
5
At the end of Act II of Oberon the two Nereids sing ‘O wie wogt es sich schön’.
6
An allusion to the epsisode recounted in the book of Daniel, Chapter 13.
7
The German dancer and chorepgrapher Kurt Jooss (1901–1979) followed the
lead of the dancer and dance theoretician Rudolph von Laben. Inspired by Delsartism,
Jooss promoted himself as an innovator in the language of choreography. [Jooss was
the choreographer for Stravinsky’s Perséphone (1934). Despite Poulenc’s criticism of
Margarete Wallmann, he was happy with her production of Dialogues des Carmélites for
the premiere at La Scala in 1957, and for the Covent Garden production in 1958. RN.]
8
The Austrian dancer Fanny Elssler (1810–1884) was a major figure in Romantic
ballet.
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Article XV
‘The Paris Opéra Ought to Put on Fidelio’,
Le Figaro, no. 272, 29 September 1934, p. 5

I shall never manage to understand why Fidelio is not in the Paris Opéra’s
repertoire.1
One certainly cannot accuse the French of being lukewarm towards Beethoven’s
music. The Ninth Symphony regularly fills the huge spaces of the Châtelet and
often, even on Sundays, the Missa solemnis plays to a full house at the Trocadéro.
Beethoven belongs to that race of giants everyone knows from childhood, together
with the Ogre in Tom Thumb, Napoleon and Louis XIV.
Everyone, from the student to the strawberry seller, sees, as soon as they
close their eyes, the famous death mask that hangs on so many walls – I know a
haberdasher in Tours who, wanting to prove the irrefutable beauty of her poodle,
said: ‘He’s got a face like Beethoven!’
In the face of such common feeling within the cult of the man and his work,
what risk is there in putting on an opera that will delight the faithful and which, for
other musicians less automatically appreciative – of whom I am one – will serve
as a key to a large part of Beethoven’s music?
Fidelio is, simply, a crucial high point in his output.
Begun in 1805, finished in 1806 but continually revised until 1814, Fidelio
overlaps with the greatest of his symphonies.
We find again, from the opening bars of the overture Leonora no. 1, the tone of
the Eroica, written in 1804, and in Leonora no. 3 there is a delicacy of construction
and of orchestral colour that reaches its climax in the Eighth Symphony.
But the most important thing in the present instance is that Fidelio is without
doubt one of its composer’s least literary works.
The drama, the transcendent beauty and, at the same time, the defect of
Beethoven’s music is its unceasing impulse to be more than music. An unparalleled
body of descriptive essays has played its part for a century now in burdening the
smallest musical extract by this god with literary intentions. Clear as it may be that
Beethoven is not a champion of art for art’s sake, the sticky, insipid pathos of a
Romain Rolland, to name but one, is very far from helpful.2
Is it because here Beethoven considers his libretto to be a sufficient interpreter
of his ideas? But I know of few passages, in the whole of his work, so free as the
admirable scene in the prison cell between Leonora and Rocco, and above all the
sublime duet between Florestan and Leonora that ends the third scene.
The orchestra itself has a transparency and brilliance that Beethoven does not
often give us.
74 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

An oboe solo in Florestan’s aria and a melancholy sigh on bassoon in Leonora’s


are bright colours, rare and to be treasured in a palette that is in general rich in
browns and oranges.
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.
The admirable performance given some years ago at the Paris Opéra by Schalk
will, I think, be remembered. Clement Krauss’s interpretation, although very
different, is, if not superior, at least as good. 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.
For me, these are thumbnail expressions of the true meaning of these two
œuvres.
Clement Krauss turns the celebrated Leonora no. 3 into a song of joy in which
light is victorious over darkness. 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.3 No other soprano today
‘enunciates’ a recitative with such perfection. 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.4
It is not the case that I am writing this article two hours after the performance
under the immediate spell of a unique evening. 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.5
It is seven in the evening. The countryside has that enveloping gentleness of
Saturdays in September.
A hunter is sitting opposite me, like Tartarin newly kitted out by Dufayel.6
A little girl next to me is reading a Sunday paper with brightly coloured
illustrations. 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.
‘The Paris Opéra Ought to Put on Fidelio’ 75

Notes
1
Fidelio had been given at the Paris Opéra on 15 February 1925 by the Hague Royal
Opera company, and then on 6 May 1928 by the Vienna Opera company, who were on
tour, with Lotte Lehmann, Elisabeth Schumann and Richard Tauber, conducted by Franz
Schalk. The Paris Opéra did not mount its own production of the work until 13 January
1937 [when Germaine Lubin sang the role of Leonora. RN].
2
The writer Romain Rolland (1866–1944), holder of the first Chair of Music History
at the Sorbonne, was the author of Beethoven (1903) and La Vie de Beethoven (1927),
as well as seven volumes devoted to the composer’s music, notably those in the series
Beethoven: les grandes époques créatrices (1928–1945), all important texts in the reception
of Beethoven in France during the twentieth century. [The critic Henry Prunières went so
far as to call the 1903 Beethoven ‘the breviary of a whole generation’. RN.]
3
The German soprano Lotte Lehmann (1888–1976), who later became a naturalised
American, began her career with the Vienna Opera and from 1922 achieved international
status. Leonora was one of her specialist roles, as were several in Richard Strauss’s operas,
notably that of the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos which she sang at the premiere.
4
The German soprano Lilli Lehmann (1848–1929) sang in a very large number of
operas, especially those by Mozart, Meyerbeer and particularly Wagner. She had known
Wagner well and premiered several roles in The Ring (Woglinde, Ortlinde and the Woodbird)
before becoming a Brünnhilde and an Isolde in worldwide demand.
5
The pedagogue, choral conductor and composer Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979)
owned a house at Gargenville. 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.
She advised him over the composition of his music for the play Margot, which became
the Suite française d’après Claude Gervaise (1935), and conducted the premiere of his
Litanies à la Vierge noire (1936). Poulenc dedicated to her ‘Tenebrae factae sunt’ (from
the Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence), and for her seventieth birthday wrote a
five-bar fragment entitled Vive Nadia for voice and piano, or chorus, on a brief text of his
own (‘Vive Nadia, dear Nadia Boulanger, dearest Nadia Boulanger. Alleluia’); in 1957 he
also had plans to write an Ave Maria in homage to her, but this project was never realised.
6
The allusion is to Alphonse Daudet’s 1872 novel Tartarin de Tarascon and to the
‘Palais de la nouveauté’, one of the first large department stores in Paris, on the rue de
Clignancourt in the eighteenth arrondissement. It was founded by Georges Dufayel in 1856
and closed its doors in 1930.
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Article XVI
‘The Heart of Maurice Ravel’,
La Nouvelle Revue Française,
no. 323, 1 Jan 1941, pp. 237–240

Our century is the century of the ‘slogan’. 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.
Certainly Ravel’s knowledge and technique are prodigious, but we should be
in no doubt that if a passionate heart did not guide an infallible hand, then this
music would not become greater as it does, year on year, and would not bear the
unquestioned seal of immortality.
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.1
The hall was packed, with not even standing room in front of the lower boxes
or on the stairways, and I had to take refuge on the stage; so it was behind the
handsome Pompeian columns, sitting on a harp case, that I heard this concert.
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.
You will not be surprised if I tell you that Ravel’s balancing of sounds comes
through this cross-examination with flying colours.
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.
When, after the sublime Adagio and Fugue, the orchestra launched into the
opening bars of the Rapsodie espagnole, with what delight I realized, the other
day, that Ravel was one of the greats, even beside the greatest, because I would in
truth sacrifice the whole of music for Mozart’s.
At the end of the Rapsodie, the audience gave a rapturous ovation to the work,
to the simply marvellous conductor, and to the orchestra. We are years away from
the time when Florent Schmitt asked for the Rapsodie to be encored, after it was
whistled at during a Concert Colonne, ‘so that the imbeciles can understand it’.
Now the ‘imbeciles’ – forgive me, the term is not mine – have understood,
78 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

and we may be sure that what they are applauding are not Ravel’s astonishing
instrumental innovations but the real substance of the music.
Nothing indeed is more ephemeral than orchestral novelty because it is,
inevitably, surpassed. No one now is amazed any more at the very high bassoon
that begins The Rite of Spring (a brilliant idea, nonetheless), and we have to admit
we cannot imagine without hilarity the fright of the gentle lady listeners who,
according to Stendhal, leapt to their feet and even fainted when they heard the solo
timpani in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony for the first time.
Instrumental innovation does not only gather moss with time. The followers
and plagiarists take it upon themselves to give it the coup de grâce.
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.
I must stress, in passing, that nobody plays this concerto like Jacques Février.2
Ravel’s music has no secrets for him – which after all is not surprising, since as a
boy he was brought up on the master’s knee and rocked in his cradle to the sounds
of Ma Mère l’Oye.
It is a mistake to think that one plays Ravel’s piano music like Debussy’s, and
I am grateful to Février for playing this concerto with very little pedal. 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.
It was on that piano that, years ago in Montfort-l’Amaury, he played me an
outline of his Concerto for the left hand.
This work is without question one of the high points of his art.
You can find there the Ravel of every period, of the Histoires naturelles,
L’Heure espagnole, Daphnis, right up to the Ravel of 1925 who was passionate
about jazz.
In this connection I want particularly to mention the central episode, ‘Tempo
de blues’, which has been widely criticised.3
God knows, for my part I have never believed in the beneficial influence of
jazz on European music.
I could count on fewer than the fingers of one hand the successes born of this
transatlantic fertilization.
Once I have mentioned Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat and the foxtrot from
L’Enfant et les sortilèges, I think that’s just about all.4 What gives the central
section of Ravel’s concerto its authenticity is that it is in no sense a pastiche, but
the precise reflection of the sensibility, I would even say the sensuality of Maurice
Ravel.
Which of us does not remember those years 1925–1928 during which Ravel
spent almost every evening at the ‘Grand Ecart’ in Montmartre?5
Sitting at a table in front of a harmless sherry cobbler, Ravel’s intoxication
came only from the music. Late into the night he would walk back to his hotel in
the rue d’Athènes, usually accompanied by his friend Léon-Paul Fargue.6
‘The Heart of Maurice Ravel’ 79

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, 100 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. The guitars of Spain
lit sparks in his heart as an adolescent; at the gates of death, the saxophone’s
melancholy enfolded his final smiles.
In January 1940, 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.7 (I imagined him sitting on a wall in the port, watching the sun
set on the Pyrenees in his beloved Spain. When the sea turned to emerald and the
mountain peaks to aubergine, I went into the church where the baby Maurice was
baptised. In this Basque church, fitted with wooden balconies and where the word
‘nave’ truly recaptures its maritime meaning, it was already quite dark. 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.

Notes
1
This concert, listed as ‘Festival Mozart–Ravel’, was given on 24 November 1940 and
was the ninth in the 1940–1941 season of the Société des concerts du Conservatoire, which
Munch had conducted since 1937. As well as the works mentioned later on by Poulenc, the
programme also included Mozart’s ‘Prague’ Symphony (no. 38) and Ravel’s Boléro.
2
In 1937 Ravel asked Février to be the first French pianist to play the Concerto in
France and in the United States.
3
Even though jazz plays a role in the work, there is no episode specifically with this
name.
4
In L’Enfant et les sortilèges, the duet between the Wedgwood Teapot and the
Chinese Cup is a foxtrot.
5
The ‘Grand Ecart’ was a nightclub at 7, rue Fromentin in the ninth arrondissement,
opened by Louis Moyses who already owned the nightclub ‘Le Boeuf sur le Toit’.
80 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

6
The writer Léon-Paul Fargue (1876–1947) was a friend of Ravel and, like him, had
been a member of the group Les Apaches in the early years of the century. Ravel set his
poem ‘Rêves’ in 1927. Fargue was also a friend of Satie, who set three of his poems (two of
the Ludions and La Statue de Bronze).
7
A coastal town in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques where Ravel used to stay. He had been
born in Ciboure, on the opposite bank of the river.
Part III
Contributions to Works by Others
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Article XVII
‘The Lesson of Claude Debussy’,
in Auguste Martin, Claude Debussy,
Chronologie de sa vie et de ses œuvres,
Catalogue of the Exhibition Organised from
2 to 17 May 1942, in the Foyer of the
Opéra-Comique, pp. XII–XIII

The exhibition took place alongside the publication by HMV (as a French branch
of Pathé-Marconi) of the first complete recording of Pelléas et Mélisande on
20 discs, with the singers Irène Joachim and Jacques Jansen in the title roles,
conducted by Désormière. The director of French HMV, Jean Bérard, was an open
collaborator, but his artistic defence of French music was variously interpreted,
given that at this period promoting Debussy could be a deeply ambiguous act,
either collaborationist or resistant depending on the circumstances.1

***

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.
The wrinkles in Pelléas, faint in 1912 but so cruel in the years following, have
now finally disappeared and this masterpiece presents us with a countenance of
glorious immortality.
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.
Now that acrobatic dancing has taken to the repetitive rhythms of a Stravinsky,
Claude de France’s pure breath on his reed no longer runs the risk of vulgarisation.
When you hear Pelléas again, what is most striking in this score is its profound
humanity, that intangible guarantee of survival.
How was it possible to accuse of decadence and artificiality a work that
celebrates love, jealousy and death?
84 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

It is Debussy’s own heart that will forever breathe beauty into Pelléas; that
heart as purely and subtly French as Racine’s.
French composer, that was Debussy’s finest claim to fame. It was under that
title that he published his final works.2
Unlike Chabrier who was French without thinking about it, Debussy was
French by intention.
His constant wish was to revive the tradition of Rameau and Couperin. The
only proof I need is the letter he wrote me in 1915; I was then 16.
Pretending to be a young Belgian critic passing through Paris, I asked him, as I
did Saint-Saëns, d’Indy, Ravel and Roussel, his opinion of César Franck; in order
to get his autograph, as you may have guessed.3
As you can see, his reply was a brief, eloquent plea on behalf of our
harpsichordists.4

Saturday 23 Oct 1915


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.
But the respect owing to César Franck compels us to state that he is one of the greatest
composers of Flanders.
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.

Notes
1
See Yannick Simon, ‘Claude de France, notre Wagner. Le culte de Debussy sous
l’Occupation’, Cahiers Debussy, 2006, no. 30, pp. 5–26, and especially pp. 7–10 on the
question of this exhibition.
2
Debussy indeed signed his last three sonatas (1915–1917) ‘Claude Debussy,
Musicien français’.
3
Poulenc omits to mention that he also wrote to the pianist Blanche Selva, Dukas,
Guy Ropartz, Satie, Stravinsky and Vierne (for the replies of five of the recipients see
Correspondance, pp. 50–52).
4
Writing as he was during the Occupation, Poulenc does not make it clear that
Debussy’s late espousal of artistic nationalism, which prompted him to sign himself ‘Claude
Debussy, Musicien français’ during the First World War, was essentially anti-German.
Article XVIII
‘Preface’ to Gabriel Laplane, Albéniz:
sa vie, son œuvre, [Geneva],
Editions du milieu du monde,
1956, pp. 11–12

This monograph was completed in August 1950. Gabriel Laplane (1901–1964)


was a specialist in Spanish culture; he taught French at the Institut Français and at
the University of Madrid from 1925 to 1958.

***

My dear friend,

I’m delighted to learn that your fine book on Albéniz is to appear shortly. You know
with what interest and pleasure I read your manuscript last year. I’m overjoyed
that other people will now experience the same pleasure and be brought close to
the great composer you talk about so expertly.
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. I don’t wish to suggest by this that
you’re ignorant of music from the technical angle, but you don’t belong, thank
God, to that race of writers on music whose pen turns into a scalpel.
Many years of living in Spain have allowed you to approach the Albéniz
problem from within, and this is how, despite brilliant appearances, one must
always study Spanish art. Just as one mustn’t confuse Spanish painting with
those tourist posters that encourage us to spend our holidays in Spain, so, despite
the folklore aspect, one mustn’t mix up the art of a Falla or an Albéniz with
zarzuelas intended for export.1 As opposed to Rimsky-Korsakov, who takes
Russian folklore and changes it into picturesque imagery, Falla and Albéniz by
their own efforts recreate popular music.2 Everyone knows that Falla’s celebrated
Chansons are only faintly reminiscent of the original model.3 For the same reason
the successions of ideas in Iberia are true Albéniz and not a crudely applied
liturgical structure as in Rimsky’s Russian Easter Festival Overture.
86 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Also, my dear Laplane, you give the virtuosos a lesson in good behaviour,
which is splendid.4 Have you noticed that every time a real Spanish pianist gives
a recital in Paris, there’s always someone to say it’s too cold, too restrained, that it
lacks life. It makes me think of the lady who came away from a bullfight saying:
‘What a strange idea, wearing black in the sun.’ But that’s Spain all over.
André Messager told me a story that fits absolutely with this. One evening
at Vincent d’Indy’s, Chabrier had played for Albéniz his España for two pianos.
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. After Chabrier finished playing his marvellous piece of ‘Spanishry’ at
full tilt and had left the piano, Albéniz was seen coming towards it in his turn and
then, even more calmly than usual, playing his music in an almost austere manner.
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.

With all my thanks,


Your faithful friend,
Francis Poulenc
Paris, 6 December 1952

Notes
1
Here Poulenc picks up a topic touched on by Laplane in his ‘Conclusion’ to
the book: ‘Once again, we put readers on their guard against a facile view, against the
Hispanism of the superficial amateur and the impatient tourist.’
2
Poulenc may well be alluding here to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Overture on Russian
Themes op. 28 (1866), the Fantasy on Russian Themes for violin and orchestra op. 36 (1887)
and, as he specifically writes later, the Russian Easter Festival Overture op. 36 (1888).
3
Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas (Seven Spanish Popular Songs, 1915).
4
Writing about Iberia, Laplane says: ‘A convincing performance calls for a kind of
ideal pianist, who combines the most extreme energy with the most incisive clarity, one
who, within a constantly rapid, often headlong speed and a continuity that must never falter
or admit of hesitation, is capable of preserving the shape and lightness of all these motifs
that run, cross each other, are layered over each other, of weighting and balancing each
against the others, and above all of avoiding confusion. It is rare to hear the central section
of “Triana” [the third piece of the second book] other than as an almost unintelligible
example of musical pathos, and Blanche Selva herself, in all honesty, thought she should
simplify it. Here we are probably going beyond the limits of the possible; should we content
ourselves with simply imagining how Iberia might be played?’
Article XIX
‘Notes on Ravel’, in
Enciclopedia della Musica,
vol. 3, Milan, Ricordi, 1964, pp. 540–541

This article originally appeared in Italian under the title ‘Appunti su Ravel’.

***

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.
I remember listening with him to the Paris premiere of Prokofiev’s Third
Piano Concerto, played by the composer.1 The first two movements filled Ravel
with real enthusiasm, but when we reached the elegiac tune in the finale, he leant
over to me and said simply: ‘What a shame he’s so keen on Rachmaninov.’
Ravel’s self-criticism bordered on mania. 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.2 I owe to Ravel one of the wittiest retorts I have ever heard.
We were coming out of a Concerts Colonne rehearsal where he had conducted,
for the last time, his Rapsodie Espagnole. While I was dilating over the smoothly
engineered orchestral effects, Ravel looked straight at me and said: ‘Yes, it’s not
bad, but the “Habanera” isn’t right.’ He cut short my protestations, saying: ‘Too
much orchestra for the small number of bars.’ What could I reply?
Ravel’s meticulousness led him into strange effects in his dress. While Debussy
in his photos is always dressed rather correctly and Stravinsky is extremely elegant,
Ravel’s clothes are absurd because of their extreme curiosity. 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. To the point of interrupting a friend who was congratulating him
after the premiere of Boléro by saying: ‘You haven’t noticed I’m starting a fashion
88 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

for midnight blue!’ Jean Cocteau told me a story which gives a marvellous picture
of Stravinsky and Ravel. After the dress rehearsal of Daphnis et Chloé in May
1912, the two composers were sitting in a café in the Place du Châtelet.3 It was the
time when men were wearing bright yellow gloves which they would roll back so
that the backing would normally display the dyer’s label. Ravel’s gloves were, on
the other hand, immaculate and Stravinsky, who noticed everything, said to him:

‘Ravel, your gloves aren’t new.’


‘No,’ said Ravel, blushing. ‘Why?’
‘You can’t see the dyer’s label.’

Ravel then turned back all the fingers of his gloves, which were covered in
inscriptions, and muttered, as if to apologise:

‘You know, we dandies are economical.’

I have often wondered whether Ravel would have liked serial music, and it is hard
to give an answer. Maybe not ‘liked’, but he would certainly have been interested
by it. Pierrot lunaire fascinated him and its instrumentation undoubtedly influenced
that of the Poèmes de Mallarmé. When Milhaud conducted Pierrot lunaire for the
first time in Paris in 1920, Ravel did not miss a single rehearsal.4 He preferred the
movement ‘Der kranke Mond’ for voice and solo flute. Perhaps it reminded him
of the Princess’s aria in L’Enfant et les sortilèges. 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 1922, with Koussevitzky conducting. RN.]
2
[Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration takes all its examples from the
composer’s own music as positive, not negative models. RN.]
3
[Although Daphnis et Chloé was certainly rehearsed in May 1912, there was in fact
no dress rehearsal before the premiere on 8 June, much to Ravel’s annoyance. See Richard
Buckle, Diaghilev, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1984, 229. RN.]
4
The work was given on 12 January 1922 in one of the ‘Concerts salades’ organised
by Jean Wiéner. Milhaud had already conducted the first part of Pierrot lunaire on
15 December 1921. [The reciter on both occasions was Marya Freund. RN.]
Part IV
Response to a Survey
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Article XX
‘Is there a “Messiaen Affair”?’,
Le Littéraire, no. 4, 13 April 1946, p. 4

The performance of the Trois petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine on 21 April


1945 gave rise to much discussion that turned Messiaen into a real focus for
polemics. Poulenc attended this premiere and thought it was ‘marvellous’ (letter
to Paul Collaer of 26 April, Correspondance, p. 587), comparing it to Byzantine
art and the paintings of Rouault (see Hill and Simeone, Messiaen, New Haven
and London, Yale, p. 148). [Poulenc’s Un soir de neige was premiered at the same
concert. RN.]

***

From Francis Poulenc, whose name in modern music is inseparable from ideas of
freshness, tenderness, poetry, clarity and a very French charm; from Poulenc, our
great melodist in the tradition of Chabrier, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel, the master
of Les Biches and of Les Mamelles de Tirésias which the Opéra-Comique will be
giving us at the end of the year, comes the following response:

Although I disapprove totally of Messiaen’s commentaries, as I do of the recipes


in his composition treatise (since the only useful recipes, in my view, are those
for cookery), I should not think for a moment of denying the predominant
position this composer currently occupies in contemporary music.1

His organ works are unrivalled and contain pages of unalloyed beauty. If there is
a ‘Messiaen Affair’, it is an aesthetic not a musical one, since it concerns a man
who is without question a born composer.2

Notes
1
The treatise is Technique de mon langage musical, 2 vols, Paris, Leduc, 1944.
2
This brief reply, concerning a composer about whom Poulenc was always
ambivalent, needs to be supplemented by the thoughts he freely expressed in Lausanne in
late October 1961, during a conference organised by Julien-François Zbinden:
‘I’m always conscience-stricken about Messiaen. Because I’d like to be able to love
his music totally, and what spoils the music for me is the verbiage. It’s the birds, the purple
92 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

rainbows … […] And the other day I listened again to the Turangalîla-Symphonie which
I had detested, firstly because there’s an instrument which makes me jump and climb
up the walls, namely the ondes Martenot. I detest it, I’m allergic to it […] You see, with
Messiaen it’s a very complex question. To begin with, there are two things, there’s the
composer first of all, and then there’s the teacher. On the latter front, Messiaen has been a
windfall for the French musical school. A windfall, because he’s the one who’s given all
the young musicians a true education, the sort young musicians need to have, by getting
them acquainted with everything, giving explanations – analyses – of musical works that
are absolutely ad-mi-rable!, absolutely admirable … So, for the teacher, 20 out of 20. I’d
like to give 20 out of 20 to the composer, [but] what gets in my way … The other day,
after listening again to Turangalîla that I’d detested previously, I said to myself, “all the
same, it’s full of magnificent music,” and I wrote to tell him so. As he knew that originally
I’d detested it, I wrote, “so then, I was wrong, it’s full of magnificent music.” And it’s
true. You know, we always have to take account of our origins. And I think what gave
[Messiaen] this taste for literature, maybe an extreme and motley one, is that Messiaen
is the son of a poet, a good one too, called Cécile Sauvage. And Cécile Sauvage was one
of the last of the Symbolists. When you get to know the poetry of that period, and the
poets like Saint-Pol-Roux or René Ghil (you know Le Pantoun des pantoun, which is to
poetry rather what Turangalîla is [to music], that’s to say with invented words …), it’s a
convincing explanation. […] I think that kind of literary whirlpool around Cécile Sauvage
was the origin of many things for Messiaen. And that gets in my way, you know. Likewise
the made-up language in Harawi – the made-up Hindu language. Either you write in Hindu
if you speak Hindu, or you write in French if you speak French … So I’m always in two
minds … […] What I find much more beautiful is his organ music. Things like Les Corps
glorieux, now that’s very beautiful. I don’t give a hoot about the titles, I ignore those, and I
think it’s very beautiful music.’ [Messiaen’s made-up language in Harawi contains words
that are not Hindu but Quechua, conforming to the Peruvian inspiration behind the cycle.
Not that this affects the force of Poulenc’s complaint … RN.]
Part V
Lectures
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Article XXI
‘My Teachers and My Friends’,
Conferencia, vol. 29/21,
15 October 1935, pp. 521–527

This talk was given by Poulenc on 15 March 1935, before being transcribed and
published in the periodical Conferencia, ‘Journal de l’Université des Annales’.

***

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When, last September, I accepted Mme Yvonne Sarcey’s kind invitation to speak
at the Université des Annales this winter, I was, I confess, the victim of a gust of
vanity. But for the last ten minutes, alas, I’ve been pondering the extent of my
audacity and I can assure you that in that green room where I’ve waited many
times to come on stage, I have never felt more intimidated.1
So I crave your utmost indulgence in a métier that is not mine, and doubly so
since, given that I’m a composer, my personality must serve immodestly as a focus
for this talk.
I think, as I shall have to accumulate so many ‘I’s and ‘me’s, the best thing
is to dive straight in. So here I go. I was born just a few steps away from here in
the place des Saussaies on 7 January 1899 and until I was 18 I never left the area
which remains for me my home village.
When I say the word ‘tree’, I think at once of the famous magnolia in the
Champs-Elysées, now dead, and if there’s mention of a palace, I inevitably conjure
up the installation of M. Fallières as President, a spectacle that sent my nurse, and
myself, I have to add, into transports.2
I feel it’s impossible for a human being, and more especially for an artist, not
to be influenced by his memories of childhood. That’s why, even if I’m in the most
beautiful city in the world, in Rome or Grenada, I have to come back to see the
lilacs flowering in Paris; otherwise it seems to me it’s a spring wasted.
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’m
not bothered about the rest. I die of boredom in the rue Jouffroy and I don’t see
96 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

myself living in the sixteenth arrondissement unless I suddenly turn into a rich
Argentinian!
‘What nonsense!’ you will say.
Probably, but it’s the surest way to explain to you how, in every area of life,
I have my limits: a failing, I agree, but one I haven’t managed to conquer with
age. 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.
Among the first I would name Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel and
Stravinsky; among the others, Wagner, Brahms and Fauré.
Being brought up in a family where music was more than a simple pastime,
I studied all these masters from childhood onwards.
Croiza got to know me when I was 12 and playing the piano at her house for
my sister’s [singing] lessons. In that beautiful voice of hers, which is music all by
itself, she could tell you that I would invariably whisk away [Fauré’s] La bonne
chanson in favour of [Debussy’s] Ariettes oubliées. I’d do the same today.
In fact Debussy has fascinated me from my childhood. When, as an unruly
pupil at the lycée Condorcet, I used to come back via the rue Caumartin and
the place de la Madeleine to my parents’ house on the faubourg Saint-Honoré, I
would rush to Durand’s window to see if there was any new music by Debussy.
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.3
Painting, together with music, is the art that touches me the most. Renoir and
Debussy, one after the other, embellished many a day when I came back from the
lycée feeling gloomy and introvertedly anxious.
It was also a few steps from where I lived (how can you expect me not to love
my quartier?) that an act of faith took place which I can’t resist telling you about.
I had often seen Debussy on Saturday mornings at the concerts Colonne, but I
had never spoken to him. So imagine what I felt when one day in June 1912, while
my mother was trying on a dress on the faubourg Saint-Honoré, I saw him come in
with his wife. 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.
‘I tell you, I saw him just a metre away,’ I told a friend that evening, ‘just a
metre!’
Taking advantage of a moment when Debussy had gone into his wife’s changing
room, I went, on tiptoe, to touch the lining of his hat. You smile, of course. But for
me, I cannot think of that without feeling melancholy because, alas, I never got to
know Debussy.
When, in 1917, Ricardo Viñes made an appointment to take me to see him,
Debussy, who was already terribly ill, sent a message cancelling it.
‘My Teachers and My Friends’ 97

When I was 16, my parents took me to Viñes, realizing that my pianistic gifts,
while all very well for a schoolboy, were becoming insufficient for a lad who was
devoted to music.
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.
Viñes was then living on the rue du Sergent Hoff, just near the avenue Niel.
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 1915. The noise of gramophones and nocturnal dancing
gave Viñes a reciprocal excuse for his hours of piano practice. One day when I was
waiting for the lift with one of these charming tenants, she said to me:
‘By the way, my pet, as you’re going up to see the pianist, ask him not to play
quite so many wrong notes.’
When I got there, I found out from a scandalized Viñes that he’d spent the last
week practising Ravel’s ‘Scarbo’.
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. One day Viñes introduced us.
Slightly humiliated over what she would have heard me playing, I said to her
conceitedly, ‘You know, I’m mainly a composer.’
And I played her two pieces of pretentious rubbish. From then on we were
friends. Whenever you hear works of mine played by Viñes or Marcelle Meyer, you
can be sure it will be perfection itself. I add to those two names that of Horowitz,
whose genius turns my poor leaden pieces into gold.4
It was also in Viñes’s apartment that I got to know Satie and Auric. I spent a lot
of time with the ‘bon maître’, as we called Satie. 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. How many happy hours I spent with him in
Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop! Louis Aragon was then an army doctor, and Léon-
Paul Fargue would turn up at our meetings, inevitably late.
In 1917 Jane Bathori, that tireless friend of new music, gave the first public
performance of any of my music at the Vieux-Colombier theatre. It was the
Rapsodie nègre for piano, string quartet, flute, clarinet and singer, admirably
played by the Jourdan-Morhange Quartet.5 You may find it hard to believe, but I
had to sing the vocal intermezzo as the baritone had refused at the last moment
to sing such rubbish. The words of this vocal intermezzo were by a made-up
black poet: Makoko Kangourou. It was the time of African wood carvings,
98 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Picasso’s African period. So it was only natural that a young composer should be
swayed by the ambience of the day.
A month later, in a studio on the rue Huyghens – under the leadership of Satie
– Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Germaine Tailleferre and I gave another
concert. Viñes gave the first performance of the Mouvements perpétuels.
As the evening was a success, we arranged another two weeks later. Henri
Collet, seeing our six names together for the third time, identified us in Comoedia
as the ‘six Frenchmen’ on the lines of the famous ‘five Russians’, a label that
confused people for many years. We were a group of friends, certainly, but in no
way following a common aesthetic. 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.
At the age when I had everything to learn as a composer, I became a ‘squaddy’.
And I mean ‘squaddy’, because I looked unbelievable with my police helmet over
one ear. Several portraits by Jacques-Emile Blanche paint me like this, looking
dazed, slightly naughty, slightly drunk.
It was not until 1921 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.6
Before I tell you about my meeting with Diaghilev – a major event in my life,
because as soon as you made contact with Diaghilev, something changed – I ask
your permission to play you the Mouvements perpétuels. They’re all too familiar, I
know, but as I’m talking about the past, it seems to me they’re in their place here,
like a slightly yellowed photo.
(Performance of Mouvements perpétuels, lengthy applause, then ‘L’Eloge des
gammes’ as an encore.)7
From 1918 onwards, Diaghilev, who was always on the lookout for young
composers, used to come to our sessions on the rue Huyghens. It’s thanks to him
that my first works were published in London.8 The day he came, escorted by
Stravinsky, to ask me to write a ballet for his troupe, I couldn’t believe my eyes.9
I was utterly intimidated, all the more so because I was meeting Stravinsky for
the first time. 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 1916 I owe
to Stravinsky. I wept at Les noces, cheered Mavra. Stravinsky very indulgently
encouraged me to seize my chance and, after 18 months of vaguely groping about,
and with Marie Laurencin’s agreement, I got down to writing Les Biches.10
Stravinsky’s output is so enormous, so diverse, that one is more influenced by
one or two of his works than by the totality of them. If the Octuor and L’histoire
du soldat were daily bread for Hindemith, it was in Pulcinella and above all
Mavra that I found the yeast for my music. Thanks to Diaghilev, Les Biches were
produced with such perfection that, since then, ballet has lost its attraction for me.
‘My Teachers and My Friends’ 99

I retain a cult for this man of genius and could not say to you often enough how
much I owe him.
It is in Diaghilev’s memory that I am going to play you the ‘Adagietto’ and
‘Rondeau’ from Les Biches.
(Does so; wild applause.)
And now I should like to talk to you about jazz. I thought this question was
no longer in fashion, but just recently, after a concert, a lady who was crazy about
music (I quote her own description), already suffering disappointment because
I wasn’t wearing a Lavallière cravat and long hair, asked me in forceful tones
whether I liked jazz.
Well, no! I do not like it, and especially not that anyone should speak to me
about its influence on contemporary music. It was born in New York out of a
potpourri of English popular songs, Debussyan ninths, Rimskyan orchestrations
and confused borrowings from Rachmaninov: I enjoy listening to records of this
ersatz mixture while I’m having my bath, but I find it frankly odious in the concert
hall, and when people talk about its integration into modern European music, I
have a vision of a sort of boomerang thrown from Europe that will come back and
hit us in the eye. Can anyone name for me a single work of quality inspired by it?
I don’t think I’m being harsh when I say that it’s not the blues of the Violin Sonata
or the foxtrot from L’Enfant et les sortilèges that are going to make a significant
addition to the glory of Ravel. As for Stravinsky, he didn’t need jazz to discover
syncopation and percussion. I’m certain that in a very few years from now people
will be saying of this so-called influence and the literature surrounding it:
‘It’s definitely not this adulterated food that’s going to serve as nourishing
folklore for young American composers.’
As I’m talking about folk music, and as I’m lucky enough to have Mme
Modrakowska with me on the platform, I’m going to let you hear some Polish
popular melodies that I’ve harmonised at her request.11 They were written at the
time of the 1831 uprising and encapsulate the aspirations of a people. Because of
their authentic roots, they would have had an influence on Chopin in his continual
nostalgia for the homeland he’d lost.
The first, ‘The crown of flowers’, is the story of a young girl whose fiancé goes
off to war; in despair, she throws her crown on the ground.
The second, ‘The departure’, is the cavalryman’s farewell to his family.
The third, ‘The Polish lad’, is a kind of quick march.
The fourth, ‘The last mazurka’, is a real set piece. During a ball the sound of
the cannon is heard. A young girl dances with her lover for the last time.
The fifth is again ‘The farewell’ of a soldier to his wife. Same theme for the
sixth. The seventh sings of the charms of the Vistula.
I draw your attention specially to the eighth and last song, ‘The lake’, because
its style is entirely different. 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.
100 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

In composing an accompaniment for these songs, I didn’t aim for local colour
or originality. 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 will also sing for you, to begin with, a Vocalise and, to
end, Air champêtre; so, between two more personal pieces, she will be enclosing
my homage to her country and to her marvellous talent.12
(Vocalise, Huit chansons polonaises, Air champêtre. 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.
After 1923 the so-called ‘Les Six’ went their own ways, and the present
personnel of La Sérénade including, as well as the names of Milhaud, Auric and
myself, those of Sauguet, Rieti and Markévitch – a wide range of talents – will
prove to you once again that we never intended to found a school or a dogma or
a clique.
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. As this genre doesn’t bring any images to mind, that’s why I give
them abstract titles: Improvisations, Novelettes, Intermezzi and so on. But … every
rule has its exceptions. With a view to the first performance of a major piano suite
I’m completing, I’ll say something about Les Soirées de Nazelles, a work that
goes further than any other in expressing a generalised spiritual and emotional
atmosphere, which may puzzle a number of critics.
The central part of the suite consists of eight portrait-variations that I improvised
during evenings in the country at Nazelles in Touraine, to entertain my friends; it
also contains a ‘Préambule’, and a ‘Finale’ which is a kind of self-portrait.13
The music is inspired by the banks of the Marne, where I was so happy as a
child: Joinville with its pleasure gardens, its fried potatoes, its trumpet-shaped
phonographs, its boats full of lovers; Champigny and its Ile d’Amour, where I
loved strolling about with Raymond Radiguet; and then Nogent, where I spent my
whole childhood. It was there, sprawled out in the suburban family garden, that
I read Fantômas, and maybe, without realising it, rubbed shoulders on the river
bank with the ‘Bonnot gang’, whose raided house at the foot of the Le Tremblay
viaduct stirred my imagination for years.14
When I was 25 I left Nogent – where I wrote some of Les Biches, among
other things – for the neighbourhood of Amboise, but this move is not particularly
significant.15 When people discover a Touraine colouring in my music, it makes
me smile. I’m fond of Touraine, certainly, but as a region especially conducive to
‘My Teachers and My Friends’ 101

work, where I can dream of paradise lost. On the other hand I do not disown the
suburban side of my music which has often been criticised.
I’m well aware it’s disheartening, but I have to be taken as I am, as I feel
myself incapable of compromise.
I need a certain musical vulgarity as a plant lives on compost.
For me, bad music is the gloomy, pedantic symphony and not the popular song
by Christiné or Jean Lenoir, in its right time and place.16
If I am abstract in my piano pieces, in my songs I am, on the contrary,
irrevocably visual. For a poem to attract me, it has to summon up an image. It
it has no precise subject, then I need at least an atmosphere. It’s the atmosphere,
what’s more, that I depend on when I choose subjects that are indelicate. 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.)
To conclude this overlong talk about myself, I’m going to play you a Sextet
for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn, written in 1933.17 It’s chamber
music with no external links: merely a homage to the wind instruments I have
loved since my earliest works. 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. Moyse, Lamorlette, Cahuzac, Dhérin and
Blot, who have been kind enough to offer me their support.18 They are too well
known to need any introduction. I should like, even so, to thank them publicly for
joining me today.
(Applause. Recalls. Shouts. The composer, the players and the brilliant speaker
share the huge success of this occasion.)

Notes
1
Poulenc was giving his lecture in the foyer of the Salle Gaveau, at 45, rue de la
Boétie, an important site in Parisian musical life where he gave concerts throughout his life.
He was born not far from there, as he intimates a few lines further on.
2
Armand Fallières (1841–1931) was President of the Republic from 1906 to 1913.
The Place des Saussaies, where the Poulenc home was situated, is very close to the Elysée
Palace at 55, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré.
3
The Galerie Bernheim-Jeune was at 25, Boulevard de la Madeleine from 1906
to 1925. Numerous painters exhibited there, including Cézanne, the Douanier Rousseau,
Modigliani, Dufy, Matisse, Utrillo and Vlaminck. The site was taken over by the department
store Aux Trois Quartiers-Madelios.
4
In 1932 Vladimir Horowitz had recorded the piano version of the ‘Pastourelle’
written by Poulenc for the composite collection L’Eventail de Jeanne, together with his
‘Toccata’, the second of the Trois pièces of 1928.
102 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

5
The Rapsodie nègre was premiered on 11 December 1917 at the Théâtre du Vieux-
Colombier. It was the first public performance of any of Poulenc’s music. The text of
the central ‘Intermède vocal’, ‘Honolulu’, had appeared in 1910 in a volume entitled
Les poésies de Makoko Kangourou (Paris, Dorbon aîné), supposedly an African poet.
Behind the name lurked the personalities of Marcel Prouille (real name, Marcel Ormoy)
and Charles Moulié, the secretary of Pierre Louÿs.
6
Poulenc’s cycle of twelve songs, Le Bestiaire, on poems by Apollinaire, were
composed between February and May 1919. They were given a private premiere shortly
afterwards, in their version for voice and piano, by Suzanne Peignot and the composer
in the salon of Madame Vignon, and a public one on 8 June 1919 in Léonce Rosenberg’s
gallery, by Jeanne Borel and Poulenc. The original version of the cycle for voice and
small ensemble was probably premiered on 11 March 1920 in the Galerie de la Boétie by
Alexandre Koubitzky. The cycle originally consisted of twelve songs, but on Auric’s advice
Poulenc kept only six of them.
Poulenc’s cycle of three songs, Cocardes, for baritone and small ensemble, on poems
by Cocteau, was composed between April and June 1919 and premiered on 21 February
1920 at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées, by Alexandre Koubitzky and small ensemble.
They were described as ‘Parisian ditties’ (chansons parisiennes) in an anonymous article
published by Les Six and Cocteau in the first number of the review Le Coq.
7
Poulenc’s tenth Improvisation for piano, written in September 1934, is subtitled
‘In praise of scales’. It is likely that it was composed specifically for this talk.
8
Poulenc’s first publisher was Chester, to whom he was recommended by Stravinsky.
9
It seems that it was Misia Sert who suggested to Diaghilev that he might
commission a ballet from Poulenc, which would explain why Les Biches are dedicated to
her (see Poulenc’s letter from around 1923 quoted by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale in
Misia, London, Macmillan, 1980, p. 228).
10
Poulenc composed Les Biches, a neo-classical score, in 1923. This followed a
period of experimentation and uncertainty between January 1921 and July 1922, during
which he had complicated his language artificially in his Impromptus and Promenades for
piano, and also in his Quatre poèmes de Max Jacob.
11
The Polish singer and writer Maria Modrakowska (1896–1965) came to France in
1931 to study with Nadia Boulanger and Claire Croiza. It was probably through them that
she met Poulenc. The composer harmonised eight Polish songs for her and accompanied
her in several recitals in 1935, notably during a tour of Tunisia and Algeria in February.
The Huit chansons polonaises were composed between January and April 1934. The
date of their first performance is not known. The earliest verified performance was that
given on 20 November 1934 by Modrakowska accompanied by Nadia Boulanger.
12
Poulenc’s Vocalise, written in February 1927, was probably first performed on
7 May 1927 by Jane Bathori and the composer, at an unkown location.
The ‘Air champêtre’ is the first of Poulenc’s four Airs chantés on poems by Jean Moréas,
composed in 1927–1928 and premiered on 3 March 1928 by Jane Bathori and the composer
at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier.
13
Les Soirées de Nazelles is a cycle of ten piano pieces written by Poulenc between
1930 and 1936 and premiered by him in London on 1 December 1936 in a concert broadcast
live by the BBC. In the cycle, Poulenc painted portraits of some of his friends in the village
of Nazelles, in Touraine, without revealing the identity of his models (the pieces are called,
for example, ‘Le Comble de la distinction’ (The height of distinction), ‘Le Cœur sur la
‘My Teachers and My Friends’ 103

main’ (Heart in hand), ‘Le Charme enjôleur’ (Cajoling charm), ‘Le Contentement de soi’
(Self-content) and ‘L’Alerte vieillesse’ (Sprightly old age). At the head of his score Poulenc
wrote: ‘The variations that form the centre of this work were improvised during long
evenings in the country in the course of which the composer played the game of “portraits”
with friends gathered round the piano. We hope today that, framed by a “Préambule” and a
“Final”, the pieces will be able to conjure up this game in the setting of a salon in Touraine,
with a window open on to the night.’
14
Fantômas was the hero of a series of novels published between 1911 and 1913 by
Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, then again between 1926 and 1963 by Allain on his
own. Several film adaptations were already in existence when Poulenc gave this talk.
The ‘Tragic Bandits’ or the ‘Bonnot Gang’ were a group with an anarchist ideology, led
by Jules Bonnot, who perpetrated several murders and shootings in 1911–1913.
15
Poulenc was 28 when he acquired his house in Noizay, ‘Le Grand Coteau’. In any
case he had been staying regularly in Touraine since 1922, at Nazelles, with his beloved
‘Tante’ Virginie Liénard (1845–1935).
16
Jean Lenoir (1891–1976) was a composer of light songs and film music, as well as
being a lyricist.
17
Poulenc’s Sextuor was composed in 1931–1932 and radically reworked in 1939.
18
These players made up the ‘Société des instruments à vent’.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article XXII
‘My Songs and Their Poets’,
Conferencia, no. 36, 15 December 1947,
pp. 507–513

Poulenc gave this talk on 20 March 1947 under the auspices of the Université des
Annales.

***

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I say anything more, I must apologise for coming and talking to you, for
a whole hour, just about my music, but that is the wish of our dear Mme Yvonne
Sarcey, and … if you only know what I’ve spared you! Just think: as Mme Sarcey
had heard me say that occasionally, for a few friends in private, I would sing my
comic opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias, she wanted me to give you a preliminary
performance right here.
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.1
We agreed therefore on the present topic: ‘My songs and their poets’, and I think
the presence of Pierre Bernac will do much to compensate for my missing top Cs.
I have always been a passionate poetry lover and that’s why songs figure so
largely in my output. At the age of ten I knew Mallarmé’s ‘Apparition’ by heart
and for several months I dreamt of becoming a great actor.2 The classical matinées
at the Comédie-Française had turned my head.
I have to confess that the occasion of being confirmed by Monsignor Amette
at the end of that same year had inclined me towards a cardinal’s purple.3 The
following winter, I had, if I may so put it, found my vocation and decided to
become a singer. 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. In my childish mezzo, I spent my time sightreading
songs by Schumann, Fauré, Duparc and Debussy.
During the winter of 1910 Paris, if you remember, took on an unaccustomed
appearance: you had to cross the Place de la Madeleine by boat.4 My mother,
tired of playing a Venetian lady in the eighth arrondissement, decided to move to
Fontainebleau. And it was there that a vital event took place for me.
106 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

I’d brought only a little music from Paris and my insatiable hunger for
sightreading was lacking in nourishment.
One day, quite by chance, I found Schubert’s Die Winterreise in a music
shop just opposite the castle and, instantly, something profound in my life was
changed.
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. Endlessly I played ‘Die Krähe’, ‘Der Lindenbaum’,
‘Der Leiermann’ and especially the wonderful ‘Die Nebensonnen’, which for me
remains the most beautiful song in the world.
Just imagine, I’d turned my piano round so that, around four o’clock in the
afternoon, I could sing it looking at the sun which, like a red Dutch cheese, was
floating behind branches covered with frost. 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.

(M. Piere Bernac sings Schubert’s ‘Die Nebensonnen’.)

Abruptly, in 1912, I began to dream only of the Ballets russes, and the revelation
of Stravinsky I’d just experienced relegated my enthusiasm for song to oblivion.
This eclipse lasted a long time, as it was only in April 1919 that I suddenly felt the
need to write my first vocal work.
The publishing house Editions de la Sirène had just brought out a second
impression of Apollinaire’s Le Bestiaire, with wood engravings by Dufy.5
At the time I was doing military service in the Aube, at Pont-sur-Seine. 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. Subsequently, on Georges
Auric’s advice, I kept only six of these: the ones you’re going to hear in a moment.
After this first volume, I wrote Cocardes on poems by Jean Cocteau; then, over
the following 12 years, just five Poèmes de Ronsard, four Airs chantés and the
Chansons gaillardes.6
It was only really after 1931 that I began to write regularly for the voice. More
than 80 songs date from between the winter of 1931 and the present one.
Once more it was Apollinaire who brought me back to song writing at this
time, since the first songs from this later period are Quatre poèmes de Guillaume
Apollinaire, which you’re also going to hear.7 No one will ever truly appreciate all
I owe to Apollinaire. 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 1912 I was fascinated by everything of his I read.
He was in truth the contemporary poet I needed because, I have to tell you, I
don’t feel musically at ease except with the poets I have known.
Sadly, I only met Apollinaire a dozen times or so, but that’s enough for me to
place him exactly.
‘My Songs and Their Poets’ 107

Through a number of those who were close to him when he was young, through
Marie Laurencin and through his wife, I’ve learnt so much about him, it’s as if I’d
known him.
A crucial fact: I heard the sound of his voice. I think that’s an essential point
for a composer who doesn’t want to betray a poet. The timbre of Apollinaire’s
voice, like that of his work as a whole, was both melancholy and cheerful. What
he said was sometimes tinged with irony, but never with the deadpan humour of
someone like Jules Renard. That’s why my Apollinaire settings have to be sung
without emphasising the oddity of certain words. Le Bestiaire is a serious work
and the first poem, ‘L’Anguille’, as sharp as a drawing by Toulouse Lautrec.
Apollinaire’s poetry has continued to inspire me for 25 years; which is why
I’m adding ‘Montparnasse’ to the group Bernac is going to sing, a song which
dates from January 1945 and which will show you a purely lyrical side to my
collaboration with Apollinaire.

Before talking about my first collaboration with Paul Eluard in 1934, 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.8
In 1926, having heard Bernac by chance at the house of some friends, I asked
him to give the first performance of my Chansons gaillardes. The result was
marvellous, but once the concert was over we lost touch with each other. In August
1934 Le Figaro asked me to review the music at the Salzburg Festival, and I also
promised an article to Vogue.
Four days before I left for Austria, an editor at Vogue told me, with considerable
beating about the bush, that the paper was wanting more of a fashion review, ‘shorts
and cocktails’ style, and that maybe in that case I was not the ideal correspondent.
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.
‘You’re going to have an unexpected windfall,’ she told me.
When I objected that the opposite was the case, she replied emphatically:
‘I’m certain of it. You’ll see.’
Arriving at the hotel in Salzburg, I found a letter from Bernac asking me to
accompany him in some Debussy songs, in a garden, at midnight, at the house
of an American lady.9 So it was! And that’s how, in cold moonlight, wearing
overcoats, under a Schubertian lime tree, on a piano rendered out-of-tune by the
humidity, we gave our first Bernac-Poulenc concert.
The second, more comfortable one took place the following winter (1935) in
the concert hall of the Ecole normale.
I decided to write some new songs for the occasion. Up until then my
interpreters had been mainly female: Marya Freund, Claire Croiza, Jane Bathori,
Maria Modrakowska and Suzanne Peignot.10 Bernac’s vocal style naturally
encouraged me to try and find a lyrical poet. I thought at once of Paul Eluard,
108 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

whom I’d always admired but whose poetry I regarded with apprehension, full as
it is of pitfalls.
I took the plunge and in less than a month I set five of his poems to music.11
From then on, Eluard became, with Apollinaire, my most frequent collaborator.
I owe to him the fact that I finally found the lyrical style I’d been dreaming of for
years.
Before Pierre Bernac sings Tel jour telle nuit, nine songs on poems by Eluard
composed in 1937, I’d like to say a few words about the interpretation of my vocal
music, since this cycle illustrates splendidly most of my musical fads.12
Above all, I ask my interpreters to sing, always sing, really sing, as if it was a
Lied by Schumann or a song by Gounod. I love singing for singing’s sake; that’s
why I detest what are called, using a generous euphemism, intelligent female
singers … who don’t usually have a voice. 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? It’s a bad
accompanist. 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.13 Right here, a
lady pianist was massacring my music in such a way that, if I’d had a revolver in
my pocket, I’d have fired it. Luckily I never carry one on me!
You’ll be imagining immediately that this lady was playing wrong notes
(that’s unimportant), that she was changing my tempi (that’s more serious,
but I let it go). 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. Just as I can’t imagine cooking without butter, I demand that pianists
must use the pedal madly, fantastically, to distraction. It’s the only way to get
the real sound of my music.
That does not mean you shouldn’t change it constantly. But it must always
be present. It’s within this halo of pedals [sic] that the pianist must bathe certain
dispositions of chords which are as characteristic of me as arpeggios are of Fauré,
bearing in mind that my accompaniments contain a pianistic melody that only a
perfect legato can bring out.
I trust I shall convince you by accompanying Tel jour telle nuit. As for Bernac,
he had his voice lesson earlier.

As a pendant to Tel jour telle nuit, in 1939 I wrote a cycle for female voice,
Fiançailles pour rire, on poems by Louise de Vilmorin, in the hope that Ninon
Vallin would give them their first performance.14 But alas! Ninon Vallin doesn’t
like my music! I wipe away a large tear and press on.15
‘My Songs and Their Poets’ 109

What is marvellous in Louise de Vilmorin’s poems, which I’ve often set to


music, is that they are typically feminine, and that at last a female singer can
pronounce words which, from her mouth, make sense. I know there’s a convention
that allows any amount of audacity, but there are some poems, are there not, that
sound strange sung by a woman?
Bernac, who’s a great admirer of Louise de Vilmorin, was jealous of these
songs, which are unsingable by him, and asked the poet for some masculine
poems. So Louise de Vilmorin wrote the Métamorphoses, which you’ll be hearing
in a moment.16

I should be sorry not to mention at this point Louis Aragon, a poet whose work
I’ve set only twice, because this collaboration has a special value for me. At the
end of the summer of 1943, a friend brought back for me from Switzerland Les
Yeux d’Elsa. Two of the poems resonated so precisely with my state of mind that
in a single week I wrote ‘C’ and ‘Fêtes galantes’. Bernac is going to sing you ‘C’.17
Perhaps you will be amused to know that, in this same hall in 1944, we gave its
first performance a few metres away from the Propaganda Staffel.18

To end this overlong talk about myself, I shall ask Bernac to sing my Chansons
villageoises on poems by Maurice Fombeure.
You will notice at once the difference between my popular songs [chansons]
and my art songs [mélodies]. The word ‘chanson’, as I see it, refers to a style
which, without being intrinsically folky, nevertheless suggests a completely free
treatment of the text.
I repeat words, I cut them, I imply them even, as at the end of ‘Gars qui vont à
la fête’.19 Maurice Chevalier’s repertoire taught me a lot in this respect.
These songs of mine were originally conceived for voice and orchestra, but
today you’ll hear the piano version I’ve made.20
I hope this will send you away on an optimistic note, despite the bitter violence
of ‘Le mendiant’, and that your memory of this overextended talk won’t be a
mournful one.
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. For example, when he performed his
Chansons villageoises in Marie-Blanche de Polignac’s salon before their official premiere:
‘He plays like a god, with a pearly touch of feminine subtlety, but sings atrociously, with a
cracked voice, barely in tune, but even so he puts so much musicality into everything that
the work is just as marvellously rendered by this vocal massacre, supported as it is by the
110 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

amazing aid of those miraculous fingers.’ (Michel Ciry, Le Temps des promesses, Journal,
1942–1949, Paris, Plon, 1979, p. 54, entry for 26 February 1943.)
2
Mallarmé’s poem ‘Apparition’ appeared in 1883 and was set to music by Debussy
the following year.
3
Léon-Adolphe Amette (1850–1920) was Archbishop of Paris from 1908.
4
The legendary spate of the Seine, rising more than 8.5 metres at the end of January
1910, partially flooded Paris so that the inhabitants had to travel around in boats.
5
Apollinaire’s volume Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée was first published
by Deplanche in 1911, with wood engravings by Dufy, and then by La Sirène in 1919.
Cocteau’s little pamphlet Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918) launched La Sirène’s ‘Collection des
tracts’ (followed by Apollinaire’s Le Flâneur des Deux Rives), which led logically to the
composers of Les Six entrusting their earliest works to this publisher.
6
Poulenc’s Poèmes de Ronsard were composed in December 1924 and January
1925, each song being dedicated to a singer the composer knew (Suzanne Peignot, Marya
Freund, Vera Janacopoulos, Claire Croiza and Jane Bathori). They were premiered on
19 March 1925 by Suzanne Peignot and Poulenc in the Salle des Agriculteurs in Paris. The
composer orchestrated them in 1934.
7
Poulenc’s Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire were composed in February–
March 1931 and premiered on 19 June 1931 by Roger Bourdin and the composer in the
Salle Pleyel in Paris.
8
Poulenc had been thinking of setting Eluard poems since 1932, but it was until 1935
that he did so for the first time.
9
This letter from Bernac, dated August, is published in Echo and Source, p. 99; see
also p. 351.
10
In 1917 the soprano Suzanne Peignot (1895–1993) got to know the group of
composers who were to become Les Six through her cousin, the painter and art critic
Emmanuel Faÿ, a friend of Poulenc who died in 1923. She premiered several of the
composer’s groups of songs and remained a friend until his death. She was the dedicatee
of the ‘Air champêtre’ (from the Airs chantés which, according to Poulenc, she sang better
than anyone), ‘Attributs’ (from the Poèmes de Ronsard), ‘La Petite servante’ (from the Cinq
poèmes de Max Jacob) and ‘Il vole’ (from Fiançailles pour rire).
11
Poulenc’s Cinq Poèmes de Paul Eluard were composed in March 1935, but were in
mind from 1932; see interview with Nino Franck, p. 129. They were premiered by Bernac
and the composer at the Ecole normale de musique in Paris on 3 April 1935. This date, after
they had met again at Salzburg in August 1934, marked the beginning of their collaboration
which lasted until 1959.
12
Poulenc composed the cycle of nine songs Tel jour telle nuit, on poems by Eluard,
in December 1936 and January 1937. It was premiered by Bernac and the composer on
3 February 1937 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris.
13
See Freud’s 1915 article, ‘Thoughts for the Times on War and Death’, www.
panarchy.org/freud/war.1915.html.
14
Poulenc composed the cycle of six songs Fiançailles pour rire, on poems by Louise
de Vilmorin, in September–October 1939. It was premiered by Geneviève Touraine and the
composer on 21 May 1942 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris.
15
Poulenc’s hope explains the dedication of his song ‘Mon cadavre est doux comme
un gant’ (the fourth song of Fiançailles pour rire) to Ninon Vallin. She did at least sing his
Airs chantés in 1933.
‘My Songs and Their Poets’ 111

16
Poulenc composed the cycle of three songs Métamorphoses, on poems by Louise
de Vilmorin, in 1943. It seems to have been written specially at Pierre Bernac’s request, and
was premiered by him and the composer on 8 December 1943 in the Salle Gaveau.
17
Poulenc composed Deux Poèmes de Louis Aragon in September–October 1943.
The poems appeared in the volume Les Yeux d’Elsa, published in Switzerland in 1942 and
smuggled into Vichy France. The songs were premiered by Bernac and the composer on 8
December 1943 in the Salle Gaveau.
18
[The Propaganda Staffel, a section of the Propaganda Abteilung, was situated at
52, avenue des Champs-Elysées, and during the Occupation all cultural activity in Paris
had to be sanctioned by this office. The Salle Gaveau is at 45, rue La Boétie. Both are in
the eighth arrondissement. Poulenc’s point is that ‘C’, of all his songs, is the one that most
powerfully, and indeed movingly, laments the indignity of the Occupation. RN.]
19
In ‘Les gars qui vont à la fête’, the second of the Chansons villageoises, Poulenc
follows the last two lines of Fombeure’s poem (‘Les gars qui vont à la fête/Ont mis la fleur
au chapeau’) with the words: ‘Les gars qui vont à la fêt/Chapeau’.
20
Both versions of the Chansons villageoises were published in 1943, the piano one
no more than a few months after the orchestral one.
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Part VI
Interviews
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Article XXIII
Interview with André Laphin:
A Hundred Years after His Death,
A Master is Saluted by One of Our Young
Composers. Schubert according to Poulenc.
L’Intransigeant, no. 17656,
21 February 1928, pp. 1–2

AL: Vienna will shortly be celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the death of
Schubert.
250,000 visitors are expected. 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 20,000 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?
M. Gil-Marchex said to me: ‘Poulenc writes military marches like Schubert’s.’1
What, Poulenc! The young composer of Les Biches for the Ballets russes,
could he be a Schubert lover?
I find M. Poulenc finishing off a concerto for harpsichord and orchestra,
Concert champêtre, which Wanda Landowska will play this spring …2

FP: Schubert! … It’s very simple, this is my criterion: I judge a musician by


the precedence he accords, or not, to Schubert over Schumann. Just as a writer
couldn’t be an artist if he didn’t love Montaigne, similarly I don’t recognize any
musician as a true artist if he doesn’t understand Mozart and Schubert. Mozart first
of all, because in fact Schubert does lack Mozart’s technique, he doesn’t have his
sense of form and his orchestral music is not so beautiful. Never mind! Schubert
is a great precursor. Ah! His harmonic discoveries! His modulations! I repeat:
Mozart and Schubert!

AL: Two Austrians!


116 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: Yes, I love Austrian music. Austria, as we all know, is, like France, halfway
between the North, Germany and the Mediterranean. Oh! to hear Schubert played
in Vienna! I’ve had this good fortune. Nowhere is Schubert played so wonderfully
as in Vienna.

AL: And Beethoven? Austria again.

FP: To be sure, I don’t turn up my nose at all Beethoven. I admire him, but there
is such a distance between us! While Schubert! Has anyone ever written anything
more beautiful than Schubert’s songs! I would never ever go on holiday without
first putting some Schubert into my music case, and especially Die schöne Müllerin
and Die Winterreise.

AL: Does Schubert influence you directly?

FP: That’s putting it too strongly. It’s difficult to imagine that at such a distance
in time there could still be composers who are still under Schubert’s influence. 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. The important thing is that, since
his death, Schubert’s star has not ceased to rise. His well-deserved fame is greater
than ever.
Let me finish by saying this: I find it painful and think it extremely regrettable
that a jury (including, I see, some musicians for whom I have considerable respect)
have thought it right to set up a competition to complete Schubert’s Unfinished
Symphony.3 Oh! 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! It’s as though someone
today dared to add arms to the Venus de Milo!

Notes
1
The pianist and composer Henri Gil-Marchex (1894–1970) had played Poulenc’s
Promenades in June 1924 – nearly a month after giving the first performance of Ravel’s
Tzigane with the violinist Jelly d’Aranyi.
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 1922 and 1932, 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. 51 (D.733), from
around 1822.
2
Poulenc wrote the Concert champêtre for harpsichord and orchestra between April
1927 and August 1928 and it was premiered on 3 May 1929 in the Salle Pleyel by its
dedicatee, Wanda Landowska, and the Orchestre symphonique de Paris, conducted by Pierre
Interview with André Laphin 117

Monteux. A private performance had previously been given at Landowska’s home at Saint-
Leu, Poulenc reducing the orchestral part on a piano. 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. [But Poulenc was ambivalent about this … RN.]
3
For the centenary of Schubert’s death in 1928, a competition for a completion of the
work was launched in June 1927 by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and the
record company Columbia. The candidates could also offer an entirely new work, which was
the choice of the majority. The jury was made up of Franco Alfano, Sir Thomas Beecham,
Alfred Bruneau, Walter Damrosch, Carl Nielsen, Maurice Ravel, Ottorino Respighi and
Karol Szymanowski. 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.
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Article XXIV
Interview with Lucien Chevaillier:
‘An Interview with … Francis Poulenc’,
Le Guide du Concert et des
Théâtres Lyriques, no. 30,
26 April 1929, pp. 855–857

Between October 1928 and June 1929, Le Guide du Concert published a series of
28 interviews with composers, including Roussel, Respighi, Mascagni, Koechlin,
d’Indy, Schmitt, Ibert, Poulenc and Honegger. The interview below took place
a few days before the first public performance of the Concert champêtre by
Wanda Landowska and the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, conducted by Pierre
Monteux in the Salle Pleyel.

***

[…] Francis Poulenc, the composer of those delightfully fresh and tuneful works
the Mouvements perpétuels and Le Bestiaire, reckons the Concert champêtre
marks a decisive date in his career in the sense that with this work he has fully
become his true self. And I leave his presence absolutely convinced.
[…] ‘I studied counterpoint,’ he tells me, ‘with Charles Koechlin who is a
wonderful teacher and whose voice I hear continually in my ear. I don’t think
counterpoint sits naturally with the French temperament, which is more sensitive
to colours and to harmonic subtleties as well as to a single, unattached line.
Every race has its own particular strengths. While I forced myself to undergo
this necessary discipline for a certain time, I didn’t try to go beyond my natural
aptitudes which are, above all, melodic. This doesn’t mean I have less admiration
for those who’ve followed other paths out of fidelity to their nature, and in
particular I’m forcibly struck by the contrapuntal vehemence of which Honegger
has produced such extraordinary examples.’
The ballet Les Biches, the Chansons gaillardes and the Trio for piano, oboe
and bassoon are the only works Poulenc mentions in this interview, before turning
– to my delight and to our great advantage – to the Concert champêtre.
[…] ‘I wrote the Concert champêtre between October 1927 and September
1928, or rather made a first version of it. You know what an amazing artist Wanda
120 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Landowska is. The way in which she’s revived the harpsichord, or renovated it
if you prefer, is simply miraculous. I worked with her on the first version of my
Concert. We went through it bar by bar, note by note. Even so, we didn’t change a
single bar or melodic line – our most intense work was on the piano writing [sic]
and the choice of orchestral instruments. 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.’
‘What was your aim in writing for the harpsichord?’
‘Most of all, I wanted to use the harpsichord in a manner that was both French,
modern, and did not sound like a pastiche. 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. I also wanted, while using a modern language,
to take inspiration from the pure French style of the seventeenth century, imbued
with majesty and ceremony, and absolutely distinct – and I insist on this – from the
“pastorals” of the subsequent era. You’ll understand better if I …’
And M. Poulenc moves to the piano. From here on it’s the instrument –
temporarily substituting for the harpsichord – that I’ll be talking to. And it’s a
delight … The composer, totally bound up in his work, proceeds to play and
explain it from one end to the other; in company with him, I walk straight into this
luxuriant arbour and, guided by the spirit that animates it – and which continues to
create it – I find myself strangely at ease: I can hear the harpsichord, I can hear the
orchestral instruments, as clearly as if I had them in front of me.
‘I made up my mind,’ explains Poulenc, ‘to use the whole of a large orchestra
against the frail harpsichord. If they operate in dialogue, neither obscures the
other. Whenever they play together, I take the necessary single timbres out of
the whole and each group in turn emphasises the harpsichord’s sonority without
overwhelming it: on the contrary, the result is a greater variety of colours.’
[…] Of the three movements, M. Poulenc seemed to me to have a preference
for his ‘Finale’, displaying that sort of Louis XIV grandeur that is so eminently
French. Here the composer has been able to avoid the rigidity of the Classical
mould while retaining its formal strength. Instead of the recapitulation
announcing itself simply by means of a repeat of the opening theme, it’s the main
key, returning after a long gap, that underpins the threefold structure, embodied
in a central theme that finally takes on an amazing breadth.
‘I reworked the final peroration four times,’ Poulenc says. ‘And do you know
what it ultimately ended in? A complete simplification, down to a unison.’
[…] ‘And after that?’
‘After that? Well! I’ve finished an Aubade for piano and eighteen instruments
– flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpet, timpani, violas, cello, double
bass … no violins! – which will see the light of day around June at the home of the
Vicomte de Noailles who commissioned it.
Interview with Lucien Chevaillier 121

[…] I’ve got a brief scenario: dawn. The action takes place between 4 and
5.20 in the morning. Four women in front of a backcloth in the style of Poussin …
A Diana who is lively, somewhat … neurotic … She leaves … The women go
back to sleep …’1
But I don’t want to give too much away. I depart, still under Poulenc’s spell …

Note
1
See the more detailed scenario given by Poulenc on his score, but also in his 1946
article ‘Poulenc on his ballets’, p. 39, in his Interviews with Claude Rostand, p. 215, and in
his Correspondance (letter to Charles de Noailles of March 1929), p. 301.
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Article XXV
Interview with José Bruyr:
‘Francis Poulenc’, L’Ecran des Musiciens I,
Paris, Des Cahiers de France,
1930, pp. 40–47

The first volume of L’Ecran des Musiciens consists of transcriptions of


conversations between the Belgian critic and musicologist José Bruyr (1889–
1980) with 14 French composers, including Auric, Honegger, Ibert, Milhaud,
Poulenc and Sauguet.

***

In the prisons of Nantes,


There was a prisoner …

What profound pathos there is in this old Huguenot song, as sung by Yvonne
George!1 And this pathos strikes me even before I cross the threshold of the
mezzanine studio where Francis Poulenc is waiting for me.2
Early morning in the Plaine Monceau. Toast. 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? In any case the other side of the disc gives us Yvonne George’s ironically
bantering voice. Now she’s singing Le petit bossu:

You won’t get it, little hunchback,


Little twisted hunchback.

‘It’s amusing, isn’t it,’ Francis Poulenc says to me, ‘to ponder on what an important
place the decisive ring of coins has in the folklore of the Latin peoples? 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.3 But can you
imagine him in a moujik’s sheepskin cloak?’
Then, picking up the needle which has reached an empty track:
124 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

‘All popular songs are beautiful, but a refrain from round the Loire is no less
beautiful – and for us more touching! – than a dirge from the banks of the Volga.’
The Loire, a popular song: those two simple words, together in the same
phrase, seem to encapsulate the innermost, secret essence of Francis Poulenc’s
music.
This Frenchman was born in Paris, in Paris near Pontoise.4 But what Parisian
does not have two homelands? Poulenc, like Ronsard and Rabelais, is also a man
of Touraine. His age? Twenty-nine.5 Many people are born old, he will die young.
The Rapsodie nègre, his earliest work, is not a work of youth, it’s as young a work
as the Concerto for harpsichord, his most recent work, one that, in its masterly
construction, has given entertainment music ‘a continuity of expression and an
architectural complexity that make it worthy to keep company with other music’
(André Schaeffner).
One thinks of Wilde’s aphorism: ‘The condition of perfection is idleness: the
aim of perfection is youth.’6 The Rapsodie nègre dates from 1917; his Cocardes
from 1919. 1917 was the year of Parade and The Soldier’s Tale. 1919 celebrated
Victory lyrically. But music, so as not to fall into this lyricism, veered off
towards the deadpan and the hair-ruffling caress. From a distance, though, those
Cocardes, like Auric’s Fox-Trot, with their circus poetry and seductive rhythms,
bear witness to a time already far from us and which, in our generation’s memory,
is beginning to take on the mantle of a legend. The Mouvements perpétuels and
Le Bestiaire come between the Rapsodie and the Cocardes. And whatever the
influence of Satie, Poulenc is already there complete. The style is the man.7 Not at
all: the man is the style. Ten years later, these first confessions have lost nothing
of their unselfconscious and slightly mocking grace. Does he force his talent
in his Promenades?8 Possibly: whether on a plane or a bicycle – or even in a
diligence – they take him too obviously on to Schoenbergian territory. To put
together two phrases from Nietzsche, all his ‘light-footed’ music ‘even when it
walks, gives the impression of dancing.’9 Only certain pages of the Promenades
seem at times slightly pedestrian …
But he recovers all his original grace in Les Biches! This grace brings the
energy of a popular song to the dances and goings-on! Then he bestows it liberally
in his Poèmes de Ronsard, which are as ceremonious as a classical ballet and as
sensual as the verses of the poet from Vendôme; and in his Chansons gaillardes,
where this grace combines with a strong Gallic verve, to say – or sing – the least.
Because true grace, that comes from heaven, is, for a composer, the gift of melody.
Here Francis Poulenc takes his place in the tradition that runs from Haydn to
Massenet. (And why not? He’s not been ashamed to declare: I love Chabrier,
Manon, Werther, our folklore, Mayol, Offenbach – Johann Sebastian. Add to these
Lully, Scarlatti and Pergolesi.)
Pergolesi: Poulenc’s Napoli is a kind of indirect homage to the great Neapolitan
whose work inspired Pulcinella.10 And ‘Pulcinella is, with Mavra, the Stravinsky
work that moves me most,’ Poulenc tells me. A simple coincidence: the final stretto
Interview with José Bruyr 125

of Les Biches seems to derive from Pulcinella and the opening bars of the Poèmes
de Ronsard are, almost note for note, those of Mavra.
‘… Which moves me the most. But everything by Stravinsky moves me …’
Sitting in his corner by the fireplace, Poulenc is at last settling down to deliver a
monologue about his music. A comfortable monologue, may I say, with nothing
hurried about it.
‘So this Baiser de la fée, what a marvel! I’m talking about the music. The
décor doesn’t matter … It would have been better … I don’t know, Derain, for
instance, as for La Boutique fantasque. 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. It’s more than prodigious: it’s a prodigy. I’m in no
way reluctant to talk about it, indeed I’ve asked to write about it. 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. Whatever people say, now or in
the future, he’s not stopped being Russian, especially in the Fête villageoise.11
At one and the same time we have the delightful “cuckoo in the Black Forest”
(the horn sounding like it does in Robin des bois) and a whole work that remains
preeminently Stravinsky!12 Because Stravinsky – and here’s a truism – is the great
master. Russia: Stravinsky, Prokofiev. Germany: Hindemith. Spain: De Falla.
Stravinsky the great lawmaker, and the great enchanter, has taught us all we know.
Hasn’t he himself transcribed his Firebird for a new, more economical ensemble?
I’d like to do the same, if it’s not presumptuous to compare the two works, with
my Biches.
My Concert champêtre, unforgettably played by Wanda Landowska, took
me 18 months of work. I’m now in the middle of an Aubade for piano and
18 instruments, in which the piano will have a kind of concertante role. Les Biches
in their new orchestration will become an orchestral suite.13 In the meantime, I’m
going to revise my whole output as they go through new impressions; correcting
the mistakes and little marks of inexperience which Arthur Hoérée quite rightly
pointed out to me in the Poèmes de Ronsard.14 I still hear a note as a B flat, but I
write it as an A sharp’ – (isn’t B flat Poulenc’s favourite key?) ‘Initially I wrote the
whole of my Suite in C major.15 Now I’m transposing the middle movement into a
distant key – into B flat, to be precise – but in the same register. It’s Jules Renard
who talks of a “white style”.16 Some years ago, the fashion was for writing white
music. Fashion! It’s one of today’s most miserable imperatives! It shifts more
often than women’s enthusiasms, which no sane person would rely on. For a work
of art in our day to last ten years is a kind of little eternity, isn’t it? Now I’ve just
been playing my Mouvements perpétuels again before recording them. 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.
In general,’ he went on, ‘I’m very fond of early works. Even if Beethoven is
a composer I don’t particularly value, I adore his youthful works, those ones that
126 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

are still under the influence of Mozart. Stravinsky too has recently played us his
op 1, his Symphony.17 Even if this very early work was influenced by Paul Dukas
(because the fabricator of Fireworks owed a lot to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), it’s
nonetheless already Stravinsky. “Who shall I imitate so as to be original” seems
to me as stupid as “how, so as to be original, should I avoid imitating anybody?”
I want to be free to use a chord by Wagner, Debussy, Schumann or even César
Franck if it expresses the emotional nuance I want to express. When I had written
“alla Gounod” the recitatives for La Colombe, Stravinsky said to me: “Nothing is
more Poulenc than those recitatives.”18 Even if the fruit surpasses the promise of
the flowers, it no longer has their scent: the scent of early Renoir, of early Picasso,
of early Ravel. From the first bar, Ravel is already Ravel. But early Honegger
– does anyone still look at his first sonatas? – is a long way from Rugby and
Antigone, which are true masterpieces.19
I don’t like talking about my contemporaries,’ continues Poulenc after a
moment, ‘and even less about my colleagues. 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. Who was it who wrote that with a few meagre words inserted
between “love” and “hate”, there would be less misery in the world, or at least
fewer misunderstandings? What I like is principally what least resembles what I
myself produce. Salade, then, too clearly shows me my faults. I won’t talk about
Auric, who’s my soulmate. Not only do we like and dislike the same things and the
same people, but we dislike or like them for the same reasons. I also like Sauguet,
who’s highly gifted and is on the way to possessing a fine technique. Why should
I tell you that I’m slightly less fond of Maxime Jacob, much less of Jaubert and
Delannoy, who no doubt feel the same way about me;20 and not at all of Jacques
Ibert whose Angélique – charming, obviously! – strikes me as a poor man’s Heure
espagnole?21
Finally, why ask me to talk about Satie? 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. Some unkind people thought they’d
do him down by comparing him with the Douanier Rousseau, but without following
up the analogy as far as the Archangel Michael. The attitude towards him today is
no less unfair than that of ten years ago. But his music, if I may so put it, is that of a
dog, dependent on scent, on smell; music that’s wholly instinctive and, more than
any other, prophetic of the freedoms that were to come. Satie’s melody effortlessly
regains the untutored poetry of one of those songs, those inimitable popular songs
we were talking about earlier and which …’
But already the fine needle had begun to glide along the silent opening tracks
of the ebonite disc.
Interview with José Bruyr 127

Notes
1
The Belgian Yvonne George (1896–1930) was one of the leading popular singers
in Paris in the 1920s, even though her career was supported more by the cultural elite
than by the public at large. She performed in cabarets and music halls, in a repertoire of
sailors’ ditties and old French songs (‘Les Cloches de Nantes’ and ‘Le Petit Bossu’ were
among her most famous ones), accompanied by pianists such as Georges van Parys or Jean
Wiéner. Cocteau used her to act and sing in his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet in 1924,
for the Comte de Beaumont’s ‘Soirées de Paris’, with traditional tunes arranged by Roger
Désormière. The following year, she was the first to record Satie’s ‘Je te Veux’.
2
Poulenc was then living at 83, rue de Monceau in the eighth arrondissement, in
a bachelor flat above some old stables, on the far side of the courtyard of a block of flats
where his sister Jeanne lived with her husband André Manceaux.
3
The allusion is to the comedies L’Avare ou L’Ecole des Mensonges (1668) by
Molière, and Volpone (1606) by Ben Jonson in which the eponymous hero, an Italian,
pretends to be dying in order to make his heirs more sympathetic to him, so that he can
profit from their sudden access of generosity.
4
The phrase comes from a poem by François Villon (1431–1463) which, in one
version, runs:
Je suis François, dont il me poise, I am François, which weighs on me,
Né de Paris emprès Pontoise, In Paris born, towards Pontoise,
Or d’une corde d’une toise Strung up on a well-measured rope
Saura mon col que mon cul poise. My neck will learn my arse’s weight.
5
In fact, at the time of Poulenc’s meeting with Bruyr in late 1929, he was nearly 31.
6
The aphorism comes from Wilde’s ‘Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the
Young’, published in December 1894 in the periodical The Chameleon.
7
This famous phrase was uttered by Buffon in his speech on being received into the
Académie Française on 25 August 1753.
8
Poulenc composed the ten pieces for piano, Promenades, in the summer of 1921.
They were premiered in the United States by their dedicatee Artur Rubinstein in 1922, in
Europe by Paul Collaer on 17 January 1923 in Brussels, and in France by Rubinstein on
7 May 1923 at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. Poulenc had played them to Schönberg
when he and Milhaud visited the composer in Mödling in February 1922.
9
Nietzsche calls Zarathustra the ‘light-footed dancer’ in Thus spake Zarathustra
(in the chapter ‘The song of the dance’). The second phrase is not from Nietzsche but from
Baudelaire, from the poem ‘Le Serpent qui danse’ in Les Fleurs du Mal: ‘Even when she
walks, you would think she was dancing.’
10
Poulenc composed his set of three piano pieces, Napoli, between 1922 and
September 1925. It had a partial premiere on 17 March 1924 at the Salle des Agriculteurs,
and a complete one in the same place on 2 May 1926. On both occasions the pianist was
Marcelle Meyer.
11
‘The village festival’ is the second piece in Stravinsky’s Le Baiser de la fée, based
on works by Tchaikovsky.
12
Robin des bois is the title of the French adaptation (1824) by Castil Blaze of
Der Freischütz. It could be that Poulenc is alluding simply to the legend.
128 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

13
Poulenc revised the orchestration of the ballet between May 1939 and January 1940.
In 1948, he chose five of the nine movements (nos 2, 4, 6, 7, and 9) to form an ‘orchestral
suite’ in the strict sense of the term. In January 1930, Poulenc had placed the manuscript of
the work in the coffin of his very close friend Raymonde Linossier, buried at Valence.
14
The Belgian composer, critic and musicologist Arthur Hoérée (1897–1986),
resident in Paris, had already conducted Poulenc’s music, notably Le Bestiaire in 1925.
15
Poulenc composed his piano Suite in C, in three movements, in March 1920. It was
premiered by its dedicatee, Ricardo Viñes, on 10 April that year in a concert of the Société
nationale de musique in the hall of the old Conservatoire. The central ‘Andante’ is indeed
in B flat major.
16
Jules Renard wrote of a ‘white style’ (Journal, 20 July 1890) and of a ‘vertical,
sparkling style without smudges’ (id., 11 November 1887) to describe the pure,
uncomplicated kind of writing he aspired to. In music, the ‘white style’ is generally
mentioned in connection with Satie, whose deliberate simplicity in some works can recall
Renard’s aim – as is the case with all music in C major, involving mostly the white keys of
the piano.
17
[Stravinsky had conducted the Orchestre symphonique de Paris in his Symphony,
op 1 (1905–1907) on 16 November 1928. RN.]
18
Poulenc is referring to Gounod’s opéra-comique La Colombe (1860), based on
La Fontaine’s tale Le Faucon. For the 1924 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. La Colombe, with Poulenc’s
recitatives, was premiered on 1 January 1924 at the Monte-Carlo Opera, that is a few days
before Les Biches on 6 January.
19
Honegger’s ‘Mouvement symphonique no 2’ Rugby was premiered on 19 October
1928 by the Orchestre symphonique de Paris.
Honegger’s opera Antigone, on a libretto by Cocteau based on Sophocles, was premiered
at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels on 28 December 1927.
20
Maxime Jacob (1906–1977) was a pupil of Yves Nat, Charles Koechlin and André
Gedalge. With Henri Sauguet, Roger Désormière and Henri Cliquet-Pleyel, he was one
of the members of the Ecole d’Arcueil, formed around Satie in 1923. A Jew by birth, he
converted to Roman Catholicism and took orders in 1929. He went on composing, albeit
not amassing a large œuvre. Poulenc seems to have had no great affection for him.
The composer Maurice Jaubert (1900–1940) devoted himself mainly to film music in
the 1930s.
The composer Marcel Delannoy (1898–1962) wrote the opéra-comique Le Poirier de
Misère (1927) and later on the operas Ginevra (1942) and Puck (1945). 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 joined Poulenc, Ravel, Roussel,
Ferroud, Ibert, Roland-Manuel, Milhaud, Auric and Schmitt in the joint ballet L’Eventail de
Jeanne (1927) in homage to Jeanne Dubost who held a salon. Delannoy was also close to
Honegger and wrote a biography of him in 1953, which Poulenc valued highly.
21
Ibert’s opéra-bouffe Angélique, on a libretto by Nino (actually Michel Veber, Ibert’s
brother-in-law), was premiered at the Théâtre Fémina in Paris on 28 January 1927.
Article XXVI
Interview with Nino Franck:
‘Poulenc in Montmartre’, Candide,
no. 424, 28 April 1932, p. 13

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.

***

When the composer of the Concert champêtre leaves Touraine for a few days,
it’s in Montmartre you have to seek him out: and Montmartre is still, in spots, the
countryside. Here’s a broad, silent street, with no cars between the solid houses,
climbing inexorably up to the Sacré-Cœur. In one of these houses is an immense,
elegant studio; I wait there, at nine o’clock in the morning, for the composer to be
woken. 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.
Then Poulenc appears, enveloped in a morning coat that gives him a somewhat
Balzacian air, his head heavy and long like Apollinaire’s, his gaze sleepy and
ironical, his voice ingratiating. You ask him a question, he questions you in return:
you insist, and he makes a devious reply with a sort of cheerful casualness …
‘Were you at the concert given by “La Sérénade”?1 They performed some songs
by me on poems of Apollinaire. I’ve composed a lot of songs lately … You know
I’m not one of those who fill their publishers’ drawers with new manuscripts.
I like to work rigorously and don’t put any faith in facility. Even so I can announce
a good deal of unpublished things: these Quatre poèmes, then some Poèmes
d’Eluard, somewhat surreal in style.2 Also Apollinaire’s Trois poèmes de Louise
Lalanne …3 Did you know that the first and last of these poems were written by
Marie Laurencin? 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. I find in the first (something I’ve tried to express in the Trois
poèmes de Louise Lalanne) that Parisian poetry, that “cheap literature” style, that
130 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

suburban joy in boating on the Marne, which move me more than anything – it’s
one of the basic elements of my life …
Let’s be clear: for me, song writing is not a form of relaxation, but serious
work to which I devote myself heart and soul. I aim for total loyalty to the poem,
the most precise way of expressing myself: to some extent, with songs I follow
a different path from that of my other works … So, out of these songs it’s the
Poèmes de Max Jacob which will come closest to orchestral music:4 there’ll be
four of them, taken from Le Laboratoire central, and which I’ve interspersed
with short interludes:5 I’ve tried to find for them a vocal style that’s rather
hallucinatory – on the lines of crime photos or cheap colour illustrations – and
very varied, mixing vulgar and elite harmonies and distorting words and sounds
… I set considerable store by these latest songs which will probably shock the
knight errants of so-called modern music; they’re written for a very refined
orchestra, an orchestra of timbres of every sort: for instance, the percussion
will have an important role and, please note, the castagnettes will be playing
something not in the least Spanish …
And now here are other works I’m slowly finishing: a Sextet (which you’ll
hear in October) for piano and winds, a Cantata, secular and with no respect for
the words, for baritone and small orchestra (oboe, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, piano,
violin, cello and percussion);6 and finally, in quite a different mood, a Concerto
for two pianos and orchestra, commissioned by the Princesse de Polignac, which
will be given a private performance later this year.’
I admit that when I heard the list of all these new works, I couldn’t conceal my
astonishment. Poulenc laughs, and looks out at the Sacré-Cœur with a mixture of
haughtiness and mockery:
‘I don’t work regularly. Sometimes I go for a month without producing anything
… But country air suits me far better than the Parisian variety. All my mornings
are given over to composition: I prepare my subject, I make sketches and outlines
and don’t stop crossing out until everything comes clear. Each work interests me
because of the aesthetic problem it poses … My preferences? I don’t think I have
any exemplars: one could mention Chopin (on whom Suarès has just written
some arrant nonsense), Schubert … but no: I love so many kinds of music!7 Even
in Manon, you come across a dozen bars or so that give pleasure. Among more
recent composers, I love Falla for his poetic flow, and Debussy, Ravel (whose
Concerto in marvellously entertaining) and the wonderful Stravinsky for the flow
of their harmonies …8 And Prokofiev who abounds in supreme talent; Hindemith
who’s in a state of constant self-renewal and steers clear of stereotypes; in France,
among the young, Markévitch who will go further than Hindemith, Nabokov,
Sauguet, an excellent song composer, and many more, including Ibert, Rieti …9
But none of the numerous sub-Hindemiths seems to me of the slightest interest.
I should add that Auric appears to me to have solved the problem of film music
(I’m intending to write some myself with Colette),10 and that, in my opinion,
criticism of Maximilien was unfair: it is a work containing very fine passages
that remind you of the Milhaud of the String Quartet …11
Interview with Nino Franck 131

What I like best in my own work? The Concerto [sic] Champêtre for
harpsichord. My piano music is the genre least characteristic of me. It’s in songs
that I’ve found my language. But I like all musical forms and don’t feel any hatred
towards the strings, as people have said …’

Notes
1
The concert society La Sérénade was founded at the end of 1931 by the violinist
(and marquise) Yvonne de Casa Fuerte, with financial backing from the Princesse
de Polignac and Marie-Laure de Noailles. Until it ceased its activities in June 1939,
La Sérénade presented a public reflection of the artistic enterprises of the Parisian
aristocracy and its salons. The executive committee consisted of Yvonne de Casa Fuerte,
Auric, Désormière, Markévitch, Milhaud, Nicolas Nabokov, Vittorio Rieti, Sauguet and
Poulenc. 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. Several of Poulenc’s scores were first
performed there: the Trois poèmes de Louise Lalanne (22 February 1932), Le Bal masqué
(13 June 1932, first public performance), Les Soirées de Nazelles (19 January 1937), the
Sept chansons (21 May 1937), the Trois poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin (28 November
1938), the Litanies à la Vierge noire (14 March 1939) and the Organ Concerto (21 June
1939, first public performance).
2
The Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire. In fact Poulenc did not begin the
Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard until March 1935.
3
Poulenc’s group of songs Trois poèmes de Louise Lalanne were composed in
February 1931 and premiered on 19 June 1931 by Suzanne Peignot and the composer
in the Salle Chopin-Pleyel in Paris. In 1909, 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 1931
(see Echo and Source, pp. 90–91) that she was the real author of two of these poems, ‘Hier’
and ‘Le présent’.
4
The following description applies in fact to Le Bal masqué.
5
Max Jacob’s collection of poetry Le Laboratoire central (1921) from which Poulenc
took his texts for Le Bal masqué.
6
Le Bal masqué.
7
In Les Nouvelles littéraires of 5 March 1932, the writer André Suarès had
condemned Chopin violently.
8
Ravel’s Concerto in G had been premiered on 14 January 1932 in the Salle Pleyel
in Paris, with Marguerite Long as soloist and the composer conducting the Lamoureux
Orchestra.
9
The Russian composer Nicolas Nabokov (1903–1978), a naturalised American,
was a cousin of the writer Vladimir Nabokov. Among his most important works were a
Symphonie lyrique (1930) and the ‘Ballet-Oratorio’ Ode, Méditation sur la majesté de
Dieu (1932).
10
This project never came to anything.
132 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

11
At the time Milhaud had written seven string quartets. Poulenc is perhaps referring
to the last of these, from 1925. Certainly not the fifth, from 1920, which he loathed – the
reason why his friend dedicated to him the sixth, from 1922.
Article XXVII
Interview with A.P.:
‘Francis Poulenc Talks to Us about
His New Ballet Les Animaux modèles’,
Le Figaro, no. 194, 14 August 1942, p. 4

Poulenc gave this interview in the maid’s room he had lived in since 1936, at
5, rue de Médicis in Paris. It was not until 10 years later that he moved to an
apartment in the same block, previously occupied by his uncle Marcel Royer,
known as ‘Papoum’, who had just died.

***

Francis Poulenc’s pied-à-terre in Paris – because he composes mainly in Touraine


– look down over the superb foliage of the Luxembourg gardens. 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.
We have come to hear his thoughts on Les Animaux modèles, performed on the
stage of the Paris Opéra last Saturday, 8 August.
‘Twenty years after Les Biches,’ Poulenc says, ‘I’m presenting a ballet which
has more substance and gravity, but which retains the same intention of serving
the dance.
By “dance” I mean, of course, specifically classical dance, because I’m an
implacable enemy of everything in the way of modern dance, or pseudo-modern
dance.
I owe this devotion for classical dance to the many years I spent close
to Diaghilev. Whoever the choreographer may be, a work that’s founded on a
classical technical base can always provide opportunities for the most extreme
novelty. I repeat, for me dance is not possible without a classical technical base.
Likewise, I can’t take any interest in a pianist unless he can play Czerny’s School
of Virtuosity.1 Apart from Isadora Duncan, because of her extraordinary genius,
I consider all other gestural dancing as amateurism.2
I’d been intending for some years to write a ballet based on La Fontaine’s
Fables. I have to tell you that La Fontaine’s poetry has been a passion of mine
from early childhood. 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.
134 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

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.
The adaptation of the six fables I chose (“The Bear and the Two Friends”,
“The Cricket and the Ant”, “The Lovesick Lion”, “The Man and his Two
Mistresses”, “Death and the Woodcutter” and “The Two Cocks”) may seem fairly
free. But it was to reveal their hidden meaning that I restored to the characters
their human appearance. For the staging, I also needed my characters to have
human form: I wanted to avoid falling into a “Chantecler”-style burlesque.3
I must repeat, my ballet is a serious one, and so it was vital that the impersonations
should not at any point engender a “Casino de Paris” atmosphere.
So it is that in my ballet the Cricket becomes an extravagant female dancer:
with her glory days behind her and short of money, she returns home to “sponge”
off a childhood friend, an old woman who sleeps on her sacks of gold.
The Lovesick Lion becomes a nasty young type to whom the girl’s father
can’t think of giving his marching orders without incurring a certain risk.
As La Fontaine puts it:

Le père aurait fort souhaité The father would have much preferred
Quelque gendre un peu moins terrible. A less aggressive son-in-law.
La donner lui semblait bien dur; To hand her over seemed so hard;
La refuser n’était pas sûr; Refusing her might not succeed;
Même un refus eût fait possible, Ev’n a refusal might well mean
Qu’on eût vu quelque bon matin, That, one fine morning, one would see
Un mariage clandestin; The two of them wed secretly;
[Car outre qu’en toute matière] [For even though] the girl was fit
La belle était pour les gens fiers, In ev’ry way for gentlefolk,
Fille se coiffe volontiers Too often maidens throw themselves
D’amoureux à longue crinière. At lovers deck’d with flowing locks.

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. The 16 hens, danced by 16 girl dancers from the
Opéra, will be wearing white tutus decorated with white feathers and three red
ostrich feathers on their heads. But this hair decoration is more to indicate their
femininity.
The costumes are in Louis XIV style. In “Death and the Woodcutter”, I wanted
to avoid any suggestion of a “Danse macabre”. 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. That’s why I’ve made the
theme of this fable the great adagio of my ballet, an adagio that is serene. Death is
represented in the form of an extremely beautiful woman, in the costume of a great
Interview with A.P. 135

lady of Court. She arrives masked, and unmasks herself for only a few seconds,
which explains the woodcutter’s interest. Death is happy to let the woodcutter go,
confident as she is of coming back for him one day.
Two deeply serious episodes frame and link the ballet’s six themes. The work
begins with the peasants departing for the fields at dawn on a fine summer’s
day. It finishes at noon on the same day under a blistering sun with peasants
returning, exhausted and hungry, and arranging themselves round a long table for
the “Benedicite”, as in a painting by Le Nain.
I’ve set this ballet, like Les Biches, in the height of summer because I don’t
like autumn; in full sunlight and the morning because I don’t like dusk; and in
Burgundy, that’s to say a province of France that I like best because, more than
any other, it’s an inland province, and I like the land and not the sea. If I’ve
transposed this ballet to the beginning of Louis XIV’s century, which is also that
of Pascal, it’s to give it the right kind of lighting – and also because no other
historical period has been more specifically French.’
We would have liked at this point to get Francis Poulenc to say something
about the actual music of his ballet, but he refuses:
‘The spirit of a work is the most important thing. Musical composition is too
mysterious to lend itself to analysis. My ballet has, if you like, the logical form of
a suite …
Most of all – and I must insist on this – it’s the very opposite of a divertimento.’

Notes
1
The collection of 60 piano studies Schule des Virtuosen, op. 365, is one of the
numerous pedagogical works by Carl Czerny (1791–1857).
2
The American dancer Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) developed her art by taking
inspiration from Greek Antiquity and contributed to the emergence of modern dance in the
1920s.
3
Edmond Rostand’s play Chantecler (1910) puts farmyard animals on stage, the
character of the title being a cock.
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Article XXVIII
Interview with Jeannie Chauveau:
‘The Work of Two Great French Artists,
Written in Secret during the Occupation,
is Going to be Revealed to the World by
the Chorale d’Anvers’,
Ce soir, no. 994, 25 November 1944, p. 1

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. 788), unintentionally no
doubt, but also, consciously or not, so as to present it as the product of personal
inspiration, whereas it had its origins in a commission from Henri Screpel.

***

During the time when the Germans were, after their own fashion, watching over
our country’s destiny, French writers and poets even so wrote some magnificent
poems dedicated to the love of France. We read them as they were distributed in
secret, and learnt them by heart: Louis Aragon’s Le Musée Grévin, Paul Eluard’s
Poésie et vérité 1942, and many others as well.1
As cries of outrage against the abject submission that some French people
accepted or as hymns of devotion and confidence in what life would be again
one day, these poems, recited clandestinely in every province, expressed the
intransigence, the patience, the unyielding resolve of the people of France.
It is one of these works, of both repudiation and faith, Paul Eluard’s Sur les
pentes inférieures, set to music in 1943 by Francis Poulenc, that is currently being
rehearsed and will shortly be performed by the 240-strong Chorale d’Anvers.2
‘It was following a Pléiade concert,’ Poulenc recalls, ‘including my Sept
chansons, five of which are settings of poems by Eluard and two by those of
Apollinaire, that M. Screpel, the director of the Compagnie des Discophiles, asked
138 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

me to set to music Paul Eluard’s poem “Liberté” which opens Poésie et vérité
1942, with a view to recording it:

Sur mes cahiers d’écolier On my school notepads


Sur mon pupitre et les arbres, On my desk and the trees,
Sur le sable et sur la neige, On the sand and on the snow,
J’écris ton nom … I write your name …3

That was in March 1943. 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.
Instantly, I had the idea of setting not only “Liberté”, but of writing a cantata
for which “Liberté” would merely provide the finale.
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 1943, I
left for Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne and there, in six weeks, I wrote this cantata for
unaccompanied double choir.
I forgot to say that in the meantime the Chorale d’Anvers had heard about
the project and had let me know that they would like to receive it and sing it in
Belgium immediately after the Liberation.’

An Undercover Publication

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.
As a result, this undercover edition was ready as soon as postage to Belgium
became possible, and so the Chorale d’Anvers received this cantata at least a week
ago. 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.
This cantata of liberty, now entitled Figure humaine, is not an occasional
work, but one of an emotional gravitas that will still endure in a year’s, in five
years’ time.
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:

“To Pablo Picasso,


in admiration of his work and life.”
Interview with Jeannie Chauveau 139

Notes
1
Louis Aragon’s volume of poetry Le Musée Grévin was published in 1943 under the
pseudonym François la Colère. [The Musée Grévin is a waxworks museum, on the lines of
Madame Tussaud’s in London. RN.]
Paul Eluard’s volume of poetry Poésie et Vérité 1942 was published in secret in 1943.
Its title makes ironic reference to Goethe’s Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit
(1811–1814: From my Life: Poetry and Truth). Poulenc set to music texts from the volume
in nos 6 and 8 of his cantata Figure humaine.
2
Eluard’s volume of poetry Sur les pentes inférieures was published in 1941. Poulenc
set to music texts from the volume in nos 1 to 5 and 7 of his cantata Figure humaine.
Poulenc’s intention was for the choral society De Vocht d’Anvers to premiere his
cantata Figure humaine, but the project was postponed several times and finally abandoned
in the second half of 1945 (see Echo and Source, 147, 159; Correspondance, 614).
3
Poulenc’s Sept chansons were given on 8 February 1943 at the first concert of
La Pléiade. Under the Occupation the works performed by this society were almost
exclusively French, but they covered a huge stretch of history, from the composers of
the Renaissance to the young generation, for example Michel Ciry and Léo Preger. 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. As André Schaeffner wrote in the programme
book on 29 June 1943, ‘The only aim of the concerts of La Pléiade, in the wake of defeat,
is to promote the special qualities of French music.’ The society was sometimes regarded
as an act of defiance against the German occupier, especially as the Vichy Government had
no influence on the organisation or on its choice of commissions. The concerts, for which
the audiences were drawn from the elite, took place in the Galerie d’art Charpentier in the
eighth arrondissement.
Henri Screpel had founded the record company Les Discophiles français, of which he
was also the sound engineer. In the 1950s and up until the middle of the 1960s, the firm
took advantage of the popularity of the new 33 format, bringing out recordings by Marcelle
Meyer, the Marcel Couraud Vocal Ensemble, the Hewitt Orchestra, the Vegh Quartet
(the first complete recording of Beethoven’s quartets) and the pianist Yves Nat. Poulenc
dedicated to Screpel his eight Chansons françaises pour choeur a cappella.
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Article XXIX
Interview with Claude Chamfray:
‘Francis Poulenc Tells Us About
Music in England’,
Arts, no. 25, 20 July 1945, p. 4

Poulenc gave this interview on his return from a month in Great Britain. His
cantata Figure humaine had been given its world first performance, in English,
by the BBC Chorus, conducted by Leslie Woodgate. With Pierre Bernac, who
had accompanied him on his first tour of Britain in 1938, the composer also gave
recitals, including ones in Birmingham on 14 March, in London on 22 March,
under the auspices of the ISCM, and at the Wigmore Hall on 27 March. Poulenc
and Bernac had also made recordings in the Abbey Road studios (notably of
Schumann’s Dichterliebe), as they were to do again in December 1945, June 1946,
March and December 1947 and May 1950.

***

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.
‘Music over there,’ Poulenc replied, ‘has undergone promising development
since the war. There are several extremely interesting English composers. There’s
Britten, the great hope of British music, a complete musician – pianist, composer
and conductor – who possesses a very wide culture and a deep knowledge of the
French language, since he was able to set Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations with a
perfect command of prosody.1 Then there’s Walton, a very important composer,
but whose output has unfortunately been restricted of late because he’s had to
write music for war films at the behest of the government.2 There’s also Berkeley,
a pupil of Nadia Boulanger, and for that reason better known in our country than
the other two I’ve just mentioned.3 Then there’s Tippett, whose music is close to
that of Albert Roussel …’4
‘And all these composers have received their instruction entirely in England,
haven’t they?’
142 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

‘They were educated on home ground and have proceeded to write music of a
specifically English colouring.’5
‘Does London have organizations that specialise in modern music?’
‘Boosey’s concerts promote contemporary chamber works.6 I should also
mention the French Concerts put on by T. 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.7
But most of all, England has two excellent orchestras: the London Philharmonic,
which has a number of different conductors each year (Paul Paray and Munch
conducted it several times last season),8 and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with
a splendid chorus, under their conductor A. Boult.9
The BBC – one can’t say it too often – is a model organization. Every time I
go there, I’m amazed. Everything is arranged to assure the maximum perfection in
the broadcasts and the maximum comfort for the artists.10 In every studio in which
I have played (I know of six currently), I’ve always found a first-class piano –
nothing tinpot – and one that’s in tune. What’s more, soloists have instruments for
their recitals which are reserved for them and never used for other purposes. The
engineers too are punctilious. The artists’ playing is respected … Not to mention
all those marks of attention that contribute to wrap the artist in an atmosphere of
relaxed well-being … like the flowers I’ve always seen decorate the room where
I was giving concerts.’
‘And the audience?’
‘All the concerts are well attended. Whatever may have been said about English
audiences, they’re very fond of music. They are musical and inquisitive. They find
every musical occasion interesting and sometimes display wild enthusiasm. The
organisers show unceasing energy. I mention, for instance, the Covent Garden
theatre where the new management is going to set up a permanent ballet company
next winter, based on the famous Sadler’s Ballets who were acclaimed in Paris a
few months ago.’11

Notes
1
Britten’s cycle of ten songs with string orchestra Les Illuminations, op. 18 (1938),
on poems from Rimbaud’s volume of the same name, are set in their original language.
2
William Walton (1902–1983), whose first film score dates from 1934, wrote music
for several patriotic films during the Second World War, notably for Henry V, produced in
1944 by Laurence Olivier, who also played the title role. [In 1942 he had also written music
for The First of the Few, from which he extracted the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue. RN.]
3
The English composer Lennox Berkeley (1903–1989) came to France to study
with Nadia Boulanger between 1926 and 1932, on Ravel’s advice. Berkeley had already
met Poulenc during the mid-1920s 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. Berkeley was a great admirer of Poulenc’s music and orchestrated his
Interview with Claude Chamfray 143

Flute Sonata in 1976. He also wrote the preface to the English version of Bernac’s book on
Poulenc’s songs (Francis Poulenc, The Man and his Songs, London, Gollancz, 1977), and
was president of ‘The Friends of Pierre Bernac’ from its founding in 1980 until his death.
4
[In 1945, Michael Tippett (1905–1998) was known chiefly for his Concerto for
double string orchestra (1938–1939) and his oratorio A Child of our Time (1939–1941). He
completed his Symphony no. 1 in August 1945. RN.]
5
[This question and answer suggest that Chamfray, like many interviewers, had a
list of prepared questions and was not actually listening carefully to Poulenc’s answers, at
least regarding Lennox Berkeley … And that Poulenc was too polite to point this out. RN.]
6
[Boosey & Hawkes continued to promote chamber music concerts at the Wigmore
Hall, as they had during the war. RN.]
7
The critic and concert promoter Felix Aprahamian (1914–2005) was the director of
the London Symphony Orchestra (1940–1946), and from 1942 organised the ‘Concerts of
French Music’ in London, with the help of Tony Mayer, French musical attaché to Great
Britain, until 1964. He invited numerous artists, including Peter Pears, Britten and Tippett
and, after the Liberation, French artists such as Bernac and Poulenc, Yvonne Lefébure,
Gérard Souzay, Ginette Neveu, Monique Haas, Pierre Fournier, Maurice Gendron, Olivier
Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux.
8
The conductor and composer Paul Paray (1886–1979) conducted the Concerts
Lamoureux, the Monte-Carlo National Opera Orchestra, then the Concerts Colonne from
1933 to the Second World War and again from 1944 to 1952. He then directed the Detroit
Symphony Orchestra until 1963.
9
The conductor Adrian Boult (1889–1983) directed a number of orchestras, founding
the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1930 and being its chief conductor until 1950, in which
time they made a large number of recordings together. He then became conductor of the
London Philharmonic Orchestra until 1957. He gave up conducting only in 1978.
10
An amusing anecdote from the clarinettist Gervase de Peyer about a BBC concert,
date unknown, confirms that Poulenc was at his ease in the environs of British radio: ‘Poulenc
was hired to play with Anthony Bernard and his orchestra … his Piano Concerto. 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. I thought, “This is an
opportunity I can’t miss. I’ll go around and make a little teasing remark after the concert.”
I went into the artists’ room. The two of them were there. We chatted a little bit. I said:
“Monsieur Poulenc, J’ai un [sic] question pour vous. Pourquoi portez-vous des pantoufles?
Ce n’est pas habituel?”
He said: “Monsieur, you know, I do not play so many concerts. I am usually at home,
and I have to practise at home because I do not play so much. I have to practise very hard,
and I’m in my own home, I’m always wearing slippers. So when I come to sit for the
concert, it is SO different without my slippers. So I decide: I will still play in my slippers”’
(quoted in John Robert Brown, ‘Gervase de Peyer in his 80th Year. Part Two’, The Clarinet,
vol. 33, no. 2, March 2006).
11
The Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and the Vic-Wells Ballet had been founded in
1931 by the dancer and choreographer Ninette de Valois. These two formed the Sadler’s
144 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Wells Ballet, which was invited in 1946 to become the resident company of the Royal
Opera House, Covent Garden, which had reopened after the war.
Article XXX
Interview with Fernando Lopes-Graça:
‘Francis Poulenc’ in
Visita aos Músicos Franceses,
Lisbon, Seara Nova, 1947, pp. 53–62

It was in 1946 or early 1947, during a tour of Portugal with Bernac, that Poulenc
met the composer and writer on music Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906–1994), who
was conducting a series of interviews with composers who were either French or
living in France. He had also been familiar with France between the wars. After
studying in Lisbon, he came to Paris in 1937 to study with Charles Koechlin
(composition and orchestration) and with the musicologist Paul-Marie Masson.

***

… Still in the middle of his toilette, Poulenc receives me with the familiarity and
ease of a true artist or student of the Quartier Latin, and the conversation proceeds
as follows.
‘Given the new tendencies in French music, what is your opinion about the
position of Les Six,’ I begin by asking.
Poulenc’s reaction is immediate and decisive:
‘For me, as to new tendencies after Les Six, the only one that matters is without
doubt the one represented by Messiaen; in the new French school he is without
doubt the most striking personality. I’m not saying that Jolivet, for example, is
not a very interesting composer, but Messiaen is the real head of a school.’
‘But,’ I insisted, ‘do you think the aesthetic of Les Six is still active?’
With a very French ease and elegance, Poulenc replies:
‘I think every period suffers more or less from the repercussions of the life
people lead. After the victory of 1918, life became happier. It’s enough to recall
what the artistic life of Montparnasse was like in the years after the Great War.
Already in 1915, 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. The sunny, Mediterranean nature of
a Milhaud, for example, or the Parisian nature of an Auric, or of myself, have their
reason; and it’s also clear that this ease of living did not fail to influence the Germanic
talent of someone like Honegger. Even though these musical temperaments were
146 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

completely different from one another, what they had in common was this good
humour, and this good humour was a reaction against the refinements born of a
musical laboratory in the years before 1914. This explains why a sombre work like
Pierrot lunaire, and all Schönberg’s music, has not become popular, and why a
period of worldwide despair has been necessary before 12-note music could enjoy
renewed interest.’
Poulenc is ahead of me, touching a sore point among the problems of present-
day French music about which I wanted his opinion: the question of 12-note
music. At the risk of breaking the train of his thought, I decide to broach it at once,
so I interrupted him to say:
‘It’s clear you’re not thrilled at the recent rise of 12-note music in France …’
‘That’s true, and you should understand why,’ replied the composer of the
Concert champêtre. ‘There’s no question but that the art of an Alban Berg, for
example, is admirable, but it’s an art of despair and Romanticism; and it’s perfectly
normal that after the dark years of the 1940s composers in every European country
should have turned to this kind of sombre music. Even so …’
Poulenc stops for a moment; but I think I know what he’s going to say, and I
push him to express it clearly, asking him abruptly:
‘But do you or do you not believe in the triumph of 12-note writing in France?’
The reply comes, firm and decisive:
‘No, I don’t believe in it at all. I don’t think there can ever be a fine, French,
12-note work. In the same way that Cubism as a system has produced nothing, so
12-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. In the same way, only three great composers, Schönberg,
Alban Berg and Webern, have found in 12-note writing their natural means of
expression. For these painters and composers, cubism and 12-tone writing were
entirely natural things, like breathing. For the others, it’s like breathing in an iron
lung.’
This 12-note detour has taken us away slightly from the main question. I come
back to it in hope of further enlightenment:
‘But the aesthetic of Les Six?’
‘There never was an aesthetic of Les Six,’ replies Poulenc briskly. ‘There were
merely ties of friendship, which are as strong today as when we were 20 years old.’
‘But do you have the same points of view as you once did? Isn’t it true, as far as
you yourself are concerned, that one can see a development in your music during
the years of the German Occupation? Hasn’t the same phenomenon been true of
your colleagues?’
Poulenc thinks for a moment and then says, entirely naturally:
‘None of us needed to wait for what I call the “dark years” in order to develop.
In fact, in Milhaud’s case for example, it’s an unquestionable fact that Christophe
Colomb and Le Festin de la sagesse are deeply serious works when compared
with Le Boeuf sur le toit or Salade.1 For my part, in 1935, the year of my first
collaborations with Eluard and of my first unaccompanied choral works, I was
Interview with Fernando Lopes-Graça 147

already a different composer from the one who wrote the Mouvements perpétuels
and Les Biches.’2
With this question out of the way, I go on to a different tack and ask Poulenc:
‘Do you think the French public has recently showed more interest in music
generally. And especially in modern music?’
‘Yes, there’s certainly more interest in music in France and especially in
modern music.’
‘What are the reasons behind that?’
‘Several, but it’s right to underline first of all the work of the “Jeunesses
musicales” which, in the provinces as in Paris, have created a young, enthusiastic
public, capable of appreciating beauty.’3
‘So do you think it’s desirable to have a democratisation of music?’ – the
question follows on naturally.
‘No,’ replies Poulenc, ‘I don’t believe in the democratisation of music and the
arts, because I think that, at least in France, a driver on the “Métro” will always
prefer a song by Tino Rossi to a symphony, even when it’s brought down to his
level.4 One shouldn’t be creating music or art that descends to the level of the
masses; what’s needed is simply to educate the masses so that they can aspire
towards music and art.’ […]
‘What’s your opinion on the question, currently much under discussion, of the
role of the composer in his environment?’
Certainly Poulenc has no hesitation in giving me his frank opinion on this
subject in the course of the following long and instructive tirade:
‘I consider that an artist must be completely independent of politics, because
frequently the right and left in art don’t coincide with the right and left in politics.
Someone like Cézanne, who represented a revolution in painting, was basically
conservative and Catholic, as was Degas; whereas an “academic” painter,
like Bonnat for example, was very forward-looking in his ideas. Debussy was
anti-Dreyfus, while Alfred Bruneau was entirely pro-Dreyfus. What I’m saying to
you is particularly the case in France, where we feel the need to be free in all our
attitudes. But I’m not denying either that someone like Prokofiev, for instance,
can be a great composer and at the same time politically forward-looking. The
same’s true of Ravel, who was well known as being inclined to the left. There
is not and can never be a general rule about this. As for me, I confess that I am
as incapable of writing a cantata for General de Gaulle as for M Thorez. When
I composed Figure humaine, it was an expression of my invincible patriotism
and most of all of my need for liberty. What makes Eluard’s text so great, so
universal, is that the words “German” and “French” don’t appear there anywhere.
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.’
Poulenc insists on several of these points, clarifying their details as if he was
afraid he’d not been explicit enough. One can see that he takes his ideas seriously
148 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

and that, even if he has no intention of persuading other people of his reasons, he
defends them with a central part of his personality – an attitude that, of course,
commands complete respect. And as our conversation has already been going on
for rather long, and as work calls (he’s giving a concert at Sâo Carlos this evening
with Bernac for which, being conscientious artists, they need to rehearse), I ask
him one last question:
‘Is it indiscreet to ask you what you’re working on at the moment?’
‘I never reveal my composing projects,’ he replies. ‘Even so, I can tell you
that I hope to start soon on a new operatic work on an unpublished libretto by
Apollinaire. Apollinaire was the first poet I set to music, since Le Bestiaire,
dating from 1918, is my first song cycle. The human voice is my passion, which
explains why I’ve written so many songs and choral works. I think the success of
Les Mamelles de Tirésias, recently staged, encourages me to go on writing for the
theatre.’

Notes
1
Milhaud’s opera Christophe Colomb, on a libretto by Claudel, was premiered at
the Berlin Staatsoper on 5 May 1930, conducted by Erich Kleiber. The dramatic oratorio
La Sagesse, for soloists, reciter, chorus and orchestra, also on a libretto by Claudel and with
choreography by Ida Rubinstein and costumes and décor by Audrey Parr, was composed in
1935 but not premiered until 18 November 1947 in Paris.
2
The Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard date from 1935, but the Mass in G for
unaccompanied choir from 1937.
3
The Jeunesses musicales de France (JMF) were founded in 1941 by René Nicoly,
then employed by the music publishers Durand. They were a national network of associations
designed to promote music through concerts and lectures.
4
The popular singer and actor Tino Rossi (1907–1983). [In 1946 his song ‘Petit Papa
Noël’ sold 30 million copies worldwide. RN.]
Article XXXI
Interview with Paul Guth:
‘From “Les Mamelles de Tirésias” to the
“Stabat Mater” There are Two Sides to
Francis Poulenc’, Le Figaro littéraire,
no. 317, 17 May 1952, p. 4

In his apartment on the rue de Médicis, looking out over the Luxembourg Gardens,
Francis Poulenc has nearly finished putting stamps on some letters. With his
distracted attitude and his arms hanging down by his sides, he looks like Watteau’s
Gilles.1 His large nose is bent to one side like an oar. 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.
‘I was born in Paris, on the Place des Saussaies, on 7 January 1899.’
A real Parisian, almost going back to the city’s Roman foundation.
‘My mother was very elegant, a typical Parisienne …’
Through his incomplete array of teeth, he adds:
‘Very chic!’
The name Poulenc – drugs, anti-fever pills: aspirin!
Twisting his hands together like a damp handkerchief, he retorts:
‘Dear me, no! My father ran a pharmaceutical business in the Marais, my
village. My grandparents were tapestry workers, cabinet makers … makers of
bronzes …’
There are two ingredients in his life: that of the Stabat Mater, on his father’s
side … that of Les Mamelles de Tirésias on his mother’s.
A childhood on the Place des Saussaies spent between bronzes and pinned-
up curtains. Then at 47, Faubourg-Saint-Honoré. 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.2
‘And then …’
In a pronounced nasal drawl, Poulenc remembers how his entire family used
to practise scales together.
‘I was brought up on the knees of the tenor Edmond Clément … When I was
eight, I went to see Réjane, Sarah Bernhardt and Jeanne Granier on stage.’3
Which explains Poulenc’s antipathy towards the cinema.
150 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

‘At the theatre, as long as there’s dust, a seat and a curtain that rises, I can
watch any old thing … I’m happy … Whereas at even the best film, I get bored.’
Raising his index finger, he tenderly sifts through his family’s musical tastes.
‘My mother, it was mainly Chopin … And then Mozart, Schubert, Scarlatti …
My father: Berlioz, César Franck, Massenet … And then Beethoven! Oh yes …
Beethoven, Beethoven!’
In a voice that drops from the nose down into the throat, and then back again,
together with a couple of elevations of the eyebrows, he describes the pleasures
of his youth.
‘I’m a visual person … the opposite of abstraction … I detest philosophy. I’ve
never read a dozen lines of Sartre. The three things I like best are: music, painting
and poetry. From the age of ten, I was always in the Bernheim gallery! I could tell
the difference between a Cézanne and a Renoir.’
One reason why he has composed so many songs is that he had breathed
in the breath of the poets: La Fontaine, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Francis
Jammes …
‘One of my favourite things in all the world are the funeral orations of
Bossuet.4 For a musical reason, for the balancing of texts. André Breton gives me
a similar pleasure.’
He dozed through his studies at the Lycée Condorcet. He digs deep into his
memories of those idle years. But even so comes up with one compliment.
‘The lycée never destroyed my love of the classics.’
Emerging from this torpor, in November 1917 he joined the army. On his
return he did not go to the Conservatoire. He had already had a piano teacher he
says was marvellous: Ricardo Viñes. Back in civilian life, Charles Koechlin taught
him composition.
He had been learning the piano for four years. At 18, in 1917, he was sent to
Paul Vidal, the music director of the Opéra-Comique.5
‘I showed him my earliest pieces, including a Rapsodie nègre. Vidal exclaimed,
eyes popping out of his head: “I don’t like being made a fool of. If you’re not
through that door in a flash, I’m going to kick you out with a boot up the …”’
Next day, Satie and Auric wrote to Poulenc inviting him to come and see them.6
‘My choral music owes everything to Charles Koechlin. He understood that
my nature was an essentially harmonic one. He insisted particularly on the four-
part harmonization of Bach chorales. That’s how I learnt to write for voices.’
The first Poulenc work to be performed, that Rapsodie nègre, was given at
the Vieux-Colombier theatre in 1917, thanks to Jane Bathori, that ‘maaar-vellous
clairvoyant of modern music’.
She had brought together for the first time the names who formed Les Six:
Tailleferre, Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud and Poulenc.
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. ‘If you had to take six
composers on to a desert island …’
Interview with Paul Guth 151

‘… I should take Mozart, first of all, who gives me everything I could ask for.
Chopin … Ah! Hold on! … I’ll think for a moment … Schubert? … Monteverdi?
… I don’t know … Let’s say Monteverdi, not Schubert! Debussy … Stravinsky …
Yes! Add Schubert! That makes my six composers!’
A feeling of regret makes his eyebrows rise. The easing of his conscience
brings them down again.
‘People have often confused the lack of attraction I have towards Fauré’s
music with a lack of respect. Just the opposite. The older I get, the more I admire
it and the less I like it.7
If, when we were 18, Auric and I were unfair on Ravel, it was to defend
ourselves from his influence. 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.’
Mentally, he shrinks his great height down to nothing.
‘At the age of 14, I experienced the shock of The Rite of Spring. I met
Stravinsky who persuaded the London publishers Chester to bring out my earliest
pieces: the Mouvements perpétuels and my sonatas for wind instruments. It was
Stravinsky who advised Diaghilev to commission the ballets Les Fâcheux and
Les Biches from Auric and myself.’
Two ways forward suggested themselves to him: Schönberg and Stravinsky.
‘My Latin taste in harmony led me to choose Stravinsky, and not Schönberg
who grew out of Wagnerian counterpoint.’
His passion for the voice has stayed with him in all its forms since 1930.
The three works of his that represent his aims most fully are: for secular music,
Les Mamelles de Tirésias; and for sacred music, Figure humaine, a cantata on
poems by Eluard, and the Stabat Mater.
The Poulenc of Les Mamelles and the Poulenc of the Stabat Mater come
together to emphasize the following crucial observations:
‘I place just as much value on Les Mamelles as on the Stabat Mater. If the
public and the critics listened more attentively, and if they concentrated less on the
subject matter, they’d realize that, technically, the choruses of Les Mamelles are
similar in composition to those of the Stabat Mater. If you translated Apollinaire’s
text into Latin, you could easily take it for sacred music.’
He gives a gaping laugh that stretches down to his tie. I had been waiting for
Gilles’s caustic laugh, making rattling noises in his nose and dragging his mouth
into a diagonal line. Then he points an index finger to underline his words.
‘Apollinaire found the Parisian echo in my nature. Paradoxical as it may
seem, Eluard touched my religious lyricism. Before composing my long cantata,
Figure humaine for unaccompanied double choir, I made a pilgrimage to
Rocamadour in order to pray for the work’s success. What overwhelmed me
about these poems was that they are, beyond time and present circumstance, a
hymn to liberty in all its forms.’
The cantata Figure humaine has not yet found its ideal performers. Poulenc is
delighted by the constant progress of choral societies in Europe. He hopes that one
152 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

day this development, which perhaps corresponds to the movement, in whatever


way, towards collective solutions, will allow Figure humaine to demonstrate its
true power.
We come now to the Stabat Mater, which has just opened the Paris festival
Twentieth-Century Musical Works.8
Francis Poulenc had decided to write music in memory of his friend Christian
Bérard.
‘A requiem would have seemed like a funeral service for Bérard, the grandson
of Borniol the undertaker.9 A Stabat Mater, a prayer of intercession, seemed to me
more suitable. I thought about it for a long time but wrote it very rapidly during
the summer of 1950, just after a piano concerto written in a rather cheeky style,
which had earned me a welter of brickbats.’
The Stabat Mater does not represent a making of amends, but Poulenc’s usual
progression, passing from the profane to the sacred. He chose the classical form of
a Pergolesi. He split up Jacopo de Todi’s severe poem into 12 sections:

Stabat Mater dolorosa The sorrowing Mother stood


Juxta Crucem lacrymosa Weeping at the foot of the Cross
Dum pendebat Filius Where her Son was hanging

‘The “Agnus Dei” of my Mass was a soprano solo in a disembodied style. The
soprano solos in my Stabat Mater are, on the contrary, in a style that’s very
human and expressive and which, if it hadn’t been possible to have Mme Moizan
as soloist, would have called for a warm, Italianate voice … There are various
ways of conceiving a choral work with orchestra. The one I’ve chosen is to insert
into the orchestra a chorus which, even when it sings with the orchestra, has the
harmonic texture of an unaccompanied chorus.’
For this Paris premiere, Poulenc has chosen the Chorale Saint-Guillaume,
conducted by Fritz Munch, with Mme Moizan as soloist.
‘The Chorale Saint-Guillaume, which is famous for its performances of the
Bach Passions, has brought real intensity to its singing of my work. It’s curious
though that a Protestant choral group has been able to assimilate the style of a long
prayer to the Virgin so successfully.’
Churches are not welcoming venues for orchestras. 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.
‘The Bossuet style of Saint-Roch fits my aesthetic. Corneille and Le Nôtre
are buried there.10 When I go into Saint-Roch, I also think of the “the end of
Ferragus” where the Thirteen listen to a funeral service in each of the chapels.11
I’m a Balzacian from way back. 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 Paris of the people and of
royalty, the death of a great theatre designer, the silver tears of the funeral service
Interview with Paul Guth 153

and those of the Virgin, which have flowed since the beginning of the world. The
music of splendour and sorrow.’

O quam tristis et afflicta O how sad and afflicted


Fuit illa benedicta Was that blessed
Mater Unigeniti Mother of the only Son of God

Notes
1
A character depicted in Antoine Watteau’s 1719 painting Gilles, also called Pierrot.
In a tribute to the Commedia dell’arte, he is wearing an untidy Pierrot costume, with his
arms dangling close to his body and a vague look in his eye.
2
Poulenc’s sister, Jeanne (1887–1974), married the lawyer André Manceaux (1883–
1967).
3
[The actress Réjane (1856–1920), born Gabrielle-Charlotte Réju, was, together with
her great rival Sarah Bernhardt, a model for the actress Berma in Proust’s A la recherche
du temps perdu. The soprano Jeanne Granier (1852–1939) was famous as both singer and
actress and was a friend of King Edward VII. RN.]
4
Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) wrote and delivered 11 funeral
orations between 1655 and 1687, some of which are still acknowledged as masterpieces.
5
The composer and conductor Paul Vidal (1863–1931) was a professor of
composition at the Conservatoire from 1909 and director of music at the Opéra-Comique
between 1914 and 1919.
6
Satie wrote to Poulenc: ‘Your approach to Vidal was that of an amateur pupil, not
that of an artist pupil. 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!’ (letter of 29 September 1917, Echo and
Source, 25).
7
In a letter of 11 June 1952 to the writer Gabriel Faure [sic] who had known his
near namesake, Poulenc referred back to this passage about Fauré in his interview with
Guth: ‘Until I was 30, I hated Fauré, and then I realized that he was a very great composer.
So I took myself in hand and began to admire him. This is a position I’ve maintained and
consolidated, but physically this music for me is intolerable. What can I do! As people have
quoted me saying a heap of ridiculous things about Fauré, that he was the worst French
composer ever, I was determined in my interview with Guth to take up a position that put
me beyond criticism. Don’t hold it against me, and admit there are kinds of music one
simply can’t stand. […] Why should the Fauré cult be obligatory, like military service?’
(Correspondance, 730).
8
The Stabat Mater was first performed in Paris on 30 April 1952 in the church
of Saint-Roch by the artists who had given the world premiere in Strasbourg on 13 June
1951. It was given as part of the international festival of the arts ‘L’œuvre du XXe siècle’,
organised by the composer Nicolas Nabokov, secretary general of the Congress for Cultural
Freedom. 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. More than
60 composers were played at this festival, which ran from 30 April to 1 June 1952: Berg’s
Wozzeck was given its first staging in France, as was Britten’s Billy Budd, conducted by
154 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

the composer; Rieti’s Don Perlimplin was also premiered, Pierre Schaeffer presented some
pieces of musique concrète, and Stravinsky conducted several of his works, including a
staged production of Oedipus Rex with Cocteau as reciter.
9
Poulenc often alluded jokingly to the Maison Henri de Borniol, a famous firm of
undertakers founded in 1820. Bérard’s mother was by birth a Borniol.
10
The playwright Pierre Corneille (1606–1684) and Louis XIV’s gardener, André Le
Nôtre (1613–1700), are indeed both buried there.
11
Balzac’s 1833 novel, Ferragus, chef des Dévorants, dedicated to Berlioz, is the
first part of his trilogy L’Histoire des Treize, which also includes La Duchesse de Langeais
(1833) and La Fille aux yeux d’or (1834).
Article XXXII
‘Poulenc: An Act of Faith’,
reported by Daniel Bernet, Arts,
no. 625, 26 June 1957, p. 7

This text was a response to Jacques Bourgeois’s review of Dialogues des


Carmélites (‘Dialogues des Carmélites at the Paris Opéra. Francis Poulenc has
destroyed the lyricism which was a triumph in Milan’), one of the few that did not
receive the work’s French premiere with enthusiasm.

***

‘Bernanos? No, I never met him,’ says Francis Poulenc. ‘We moved in different
circles, he in the “Action française”, I among the Surrealists, Eluard … I didn’t
always like his way of attacking his adversaries or breaking with his friends.
I used to read his books, of course. But I certainly didn’t think at that time of
writing an opera on one of his works. Some people were astonished by it. After
Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Dialogues des Carmélites … Why not? Faith and a
similar religious feeling led to our collaboration. Life intended me to write the
music of the Dialogues …
I arranged my libretto directly from Bernanos’s book. In that, Béguin was a
great help, a faithful supporter. His confidence encouraged me … There’s nothing
in the libretto that’s not from Bernanos’s pen. 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. But as you know, Bernanos died before
finishing it and the distribution of speeches is often the work of Béguin.
Have you read Père Bruno’s book, La Véritable Histoire des Carmélites de
Compiègne?1 Everything he writes there has helped me a lot for the final scene. 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. I’ve been blamed for this. But isn’t
that the case in Bernanos’s play? You know how audiences love convention; they
like their pictures presented in simple colours, otherwise they’re not happy. The
most popular move would have been to have processions of Sans-culottes and
La Carmagnole in every scene.2 You get glimpses of the soldiers’ pikes as they
156 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

hold back the crowd at the door of the Carmel and you hear a few revolutionary
songs. But the real subject is Blanche.
This young girl is sick, mad! And Jacquemont’s production makes it even
clearer that it’s not merely a question of fear with this poor creature, but of
madness.3 Close to her there’s Constance, who loves her through a kind of
intuition. 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. One forgets one’s in a theatre. And truth to tell, we are a long
way from the theatre. We’re living in an astonishing ambience. The Carmelites
of Compiègne have kindly allowed us to go and meditate in their enclosed
nunnery; the Carmelites in Paris are helping us with advice, keep up to date
with our progress and have delegated an extern to work with us. They’re hugely
delighted. You could say they’re fascinated. Are we not working for the glory of
their blessed ones? On the day of the Milan premiere, the nuns of Compiègne
observed a vow of silence for the whole day. They’re marvellous women. Their
religion does not admit of half-measures. That’s why we understand each other.’
On the first page of his score, M. Poulenc asks me to read this phrase which
he found in Saint Teresa’s Foundations and copied out: ‘May God keep me away
from gloomy saints’.

Notes
1
Le Sang du Carmel ou la Véritable passion des seize carmélites de Compiègne
(Paris, Plon, 1954), by Father Bruno de Jésus-Marie (1892–1962).
2
La Carmagnole is an anonymous revolutionary song from 1792. The tune, of
unknown origin, probably dates from somewhat earlier.
3
The actor and producer Maurice Jacquemont (1910–2004) was the director of the
Studio des Champs-Elysées from 1944 to 1972. He met Poulenc in the 1940s and was
responsible for the first French production of the opera.
Article XXXIII
Interview with Henri Hell:
‘Francis Poulenc at Work: The Music of
La Voix humaine Will be My Most Intense,
Most Carefully Worked Composition’,
Arts, no. 688, 17 September 1958, pp. 1 and 9

The writer, critic and musicologist Henri Hell (1916–1991) first came across
Poulenc’s music in the 1930s in Algeria, where he was living, when the composer
and Bernac came to give a recital in Oran (possibly in February 1935). His
biography of the composer, published by Plon in 1958 and in a revised edition by
Fayard in 1978, was for a long time the accepted reference work, despite its gaps
and hagiographic tone. He was one of Poulenc’s close friends and the fourteenth
Improvisation for piano is dedicated to him.

***

‘On a limestone hillside, surrounded by vines, Poulenc lives in a large, airy house
where he makes and drinks his wine. 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.’1 That is how Colette saw
him, as he appeared in his house at Noizay in Touraine. 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. It is there,
in this ‘large, airy house’ as Colette calls it, looking out on a broad, well-tended
landscape, that the composer is finishing the orchestration of his latest work:
La Voix humaine, based on the play by Jean Cocteau. Cocteau after Bernanos?
La Voix humaine after Les Dialogues des Carmélites?

FP: Yes, some people may be surprised by this choice, just as they were by the
Dialogues after my comic opera.2 But, musically, the two works have roots in
common. The same composer has written them both, with the same pen and the
158 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

same ink: I think that, despite the difference in inspiration, the musical language
is the same.

HH: Just as a number of polyphonic madrigals by Monteverdi, Lassus and their


contemporaries could pass today for sacred music, if we didn’t know their words.

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. But I soon realized my mistake …3 You see, I’m not suited
to poetry on classical lines. Each time I’ve tried it, for example in the Cinq poèmes
de Ronsard, it hasn’t been a success.

HH: How did you get the idea of La Voix humaine?

FP: It was my friend Hervé Dugardin, the director of the publishers Ricordi in
Paris, who was responsible. When he said to me: ‘Don’t you think this one-act
play by Cocteau would make an excellent libretto?’, naturally I was tempted.

HH: Even so, the idea wasn’t without its dangers, it seems. A long monologue,
without action, fairly rhapsodical in character … not to say rambling …

FP: You’re quite wrong! Like everything Cocteau writes, La Voix humaine is
wonderfully constructed. This scene of a break-up is handled with masterly skill.
It’s a succession of ‘sequences’, or more precisely ‘phases’. There’s the phase of
remembering, the phase of lying, the phase of the dog, the phase of the suicide,
and so on. Each of these phases – very precisely indicated as they are by Cocteau
in his preface – was very useful to me for the internal structure of my opera …
You know how I work. When I’m working on a text – whether it’s a poem by
Apollinaire or Eluard, the Dialogues of Bernanos or Cocteau’s La Voix – a line,
a patch of dialogue or a group of phrases suddenly, and haphazardly, assumes its
musical ‘voice’. And these phrases, this patch of dialogue or this line can come
just as easily from the middle as from the beginning or the end. That’s how I
discovered in succession the different phases of La Voix humaine, not necessarily
in the order in which they occur in the text. Which is not to say my opera isn’t a
very concentrated work. Far from it!

HH: I imagine the main difficulty you had to overcome was that of fragmentation.
The term ‘phase’ indicates fragmentation. And Cocteau’s text is entirely a
succession of short phases, chopped up and punctuated with pauses.

FP: That’s absolutely true. The main problem I had to solve was that of the unity
of a work entirely composed of what you might call little musical segments,
each one fairly brief. There are no arias, strictly speaking, no great arias, even
Interview with Henri Hell 159

if there are long cries of intense lyricism – a passionate and sensual lyricism,
and I think I’ve found the necessary unity in part thanks to this lyricism which
permeates the work from beginning to end. From the beginning certain lyrical
themes are touched on and introduced: they recur throughout the work and give it
its particular colouring …4 The thing is, in a work like this one, atmosphere is of
crucial importance. I hope I’ve succeeded, from the start, from the moment when
the telephone rings (the xylophone in the orchestra), in creating a strange mood,
a mood of tension and anguish.

HH: Could you tell me something about the orchestration of your opera?

FP: Naturally the mood I’ve been speaking of depends to a great extent on the
orchestration, which will – obviously – be very different from that of the Dialogues.
Whereas there the orchestration was as static as the wall of a convent, in La Voix
it will move around. This long monologue – it lasts 40 minutes – this concerto for
female voice and orchestra is a work that is tender and violent, loving and cruel,
sentimental and sensual. It’s the orchestration that has to express and underline all
that. If I may put it like this, it has to be both warm and icy … But of course the
orchestra mustn’t take attention away from the setting of the text. From this point
of view, I don’t think I’ve written anything more carefully worked, more intense.
And I don’t feel I can go any further in this direction.

HH: Did you write this ‘concerto for female voice and orchestra’, like the
Dialogues, for Denise Duval?

FP: Yes. She will be Cocteau’s heroine to the life. Denise Duval is a born actress
and her capabilities are extraordinarily varied. She’s racy and feisty in L’Heure
espagnole – in which she’s the best Concepcion since Fanny Heldy – she’s a
dumbfounding Blanche de la Force, and I have no doubt she will bring to life
Cocteau’s abandoned mistress in harrowing fashion.5 At the Piccola Scala in
Milan, where La Voix will be performed in Italian next March, after Paris (a month
after the French premiere at the Opéra-Comique), the role will be taken by Clara
Petrella.6 She’s a splendid singer who will play La Voix as Yvonne de Bray would
have done.7

HH: The production and the set …

FP: The production and the set will, naturally, be the work of Jean Cocteau. But
the set won’t be the same in Paris and in Milan. Cocteau has even a third set in
mind for productions in the provinces.

HH: I don’t need to ask you what Cocteau’s impression was when he heard
La Voix set to music.
160 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: Nothing could have given me more pleasure than what he said: ‘My dear
Francis, you have fixed, once and for all, the way in which my text should be
spoken.’8

Notes
1
These friendly words come near the beginning of what was nevertheless a rather
harsh review by Colette of Les Animaux modèles (Comoedia, 22 August 1942), to which
Poulenc replied in an open letter, published in the same review exactly a week later
(Correspondance, pp. 521–523).
2
Les Mamelles de Tirésias.
3
Cocteau’s 1923 volume of poetry Plain-Chant is written in a particularly classical
style, like that of Louis Labé, Ronsard or the Shakepeare of the Sonnets. It includes the
following quatrain, describing the writer’s role in the formation of Les Six (Durey, who had
already left the group, is not mentioned):

Auric, Milhaud, Poulenc, Tailleferre, Honegger,


J’ai mis votre bouquet dans l’eau du même vase,
Et vous ai chèrement tortillés par la base,
Tous libres de choisir votre chemin en l’air.

Auric, Milhaud, Poulenc, Tailleferre, Honegger,


I put your bouquet into the water of the same vase,
And gently shook you by the base,
Leaving you all free to choose your path through the air.
(Romans, poésies, œuvres diverses, Paris, Le Livre de poche, 1995, 302)

In all probability, Poulenc’s settings from Plain-Chant are the subject of the following
souvenir from Bernac: ‘At Christmas in 1936 I was at Noizay for a short stay in order to
make the most of this free time to prepare the programmes for our forthcoming tours, and
in particular the new songs that Poulenc had written and which we were going to perfom
at our annual recital in Paris. They were settings of Jean Cocteau. The evening I arrived
Poulenc went to the piano and let me hear them. Frankly I did not feel enthusiastic, and he
must have sensed this from my reaction. Suddenly, to my alarm, to my horror, Poulenc took
his manuscript and threw it on the big fire that was burning in the grate. He began to laugh
and said, ‘Don’t worry, you will have something much better for 3 February. It was to be Tel
jour telle nuit.’ Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc: The Man and His Songs, trans. Winifred
Radford (London, Kahn and Averill, 2/2001, p. 98).
4
Shortly after completing the composition of La Voix humaine, but before starting
on the orchestration, Poulenc also referred on the radio to the work’s very segmented
structure: ‘I wanted to write a very special kind of opera in which the singing, extremely
vocal, is an intermediary between song and recitative. It’s not in the least, as with
Schönberg, a regulated way of speaking on the notes, it’s really sung, and very much
so. But it’s a kind of declamation of a particular style, passing imperceptibly from
melody, almost, to quasi-parlando. It’s there, I think, that the work does something new’
Interview with Henri Hell 161

(remarks noted by Robert Sadoul in Tourrettes-sur-Loup on 12 August 1958 and broadcast


the same day in Actualités du midi by Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française). Poulenc
explained elsewhere that he had wanted to write a work that was a series of ‘sequences
with profound respirations’ (quoted by JF [sic], L’Aurore, 5 February 1959).
5
The career of the Belgian soprano Fanny Heldy (1888–1973) extended from 1910
to 1939. [In 1921 she sang Concepcion in the Paris Opéra premiere of L’Heure espagnole
to great acclaim. In 1938 she married the self-made millionaire and racehorse owner Marcel
Boussac. RN.]
6
La Voix humaine was finally premiered in Italy on 18 February 1959 at the Piccola
Scala in Milan by Denise Duval, in French. But it appears that the Italian soprano Clara
Petrella (1914–1987), who sang regularly at La Scala between 1947 and 1962, performed
Poulenc’s opera shortly afterwards in a televised version produced by Margarete Wallmann
(see Correspondance, p. 901).
7
The actress Yvonne de Bray (1887–1954) performed in Cocteau’s 1948 film Les
Parents Terribles and in Giraudoux’s 1953 play Pour Lucrèce.
8
After Poulenc had played him La Voix humaine the previous 11 August, Jean Cocteau
responded on the radio: ‘I came out absolutely overwhelmed, because it’s completely new,
it’s a new way of performing the piece, it’s as if Poulenc had notated the way of performing
it. It’s neither recitative nor song, it’s a tragedy in music. And I think it needs not just a
singer, but a very great actress to sing this opera, which is a very great tragedy thanks to
Poulenc. […] I’ve just heard this work passing through Poulenc’s hands, and it’s always
very moving to see a work travel and pass through other organisms than our own’ (remarks
noted by Robert Sadoul in Tourrettes-sur-Loup on 12 August 1958; see also Denise Duval’s
account, ‘Une œuvre que j’ai vue naître’, L’Avant-Scène Opéra, no. 52 [‘Dialogues des
carmélites, La Voix humaine’], May 1983, p. 134).
This page has been left blank intentionally
Article XXXIV
Interview with Martine Cadieu:
‘Duet with Francis Poulenc’,
Les Nouvelles littéraires,
no. 1757, 4 May 1961, p. 7

As the first sentence tells us, this interview took place in Poulenc’s home in the
rue de Médicis when the ‘Generals’ putsch’ in Algeria on 21 April caused alarm
and mobilisation in the capital, before the authorities reasserted control a few
days later. Martine Cadieu (1924–2008) was a music critic, novelist and later
the author of books on Mozart, Falla, Boulez and Dutilleux. She republished this
interview with Poulenc in a 1992 collection (A l’écoute des compositeurs, Paris,
Minerve).

***

It was on an overcast day – during the Algerian crisis – that I went to see Francis
Poulenc. I found him sitting in a corner of the ‘piano room’, very close to the
window, silent and surrounded by a heap of newspapers. Outside, in between two
showers, an insolent blue sky shone intermittently on the window panes, and the
trees in the Luxembourg Gardens, their leaves a provoking green, swayed in the
passing breeze.
On the piano, the score of Aubade, open. A heap of Chabrier discs. On the
mantelpiece a photo of Rosanna Carteri, in Dialogues des Carmélites.1
Francis Poulenc’s niceness is well known. He is not an intimidating maestro.
His cordiality has a freshness about it and behind all his stories, at the basis of
all his enthusiasms – from mysticism to poetry to the beauties of nature – there
remains an ever-present echo of childhood.
At once we start chatting confidentially, as if no time had passed since our last
meeting at the Piccola Scala in Milan, for the premiere of the work by the young
Jean-Pierre Rivière whose style Poulenc had approved.2
Poulenc’s character, pure, violent, sincere, has triumphed over every difficulty
with an ease and a verve that you find in his conversation. He seems happy, sure
of himself, of his direction and of his pleasures.
And as we are talking about Schönberg’s Moses und Aron, he reminds me that
he prefers Webern …
164 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: Webern has the gift; two bars by this composer will always have a magic effect
on me. Auric and I were 14 when we heard Schönberg for the first time. Then in
1920, we went with Milhaud to see him in Vienna.3 But it was Webern who taught
me limpidity … His works shine with the same brilliance as Mallarmé’s.

MC: Among those of Schönberg, you like Pierrot lunaire, I believe?

FP: Yes, almost exclusively. But you know, it amuses me when I’m reproached in
the press for not using new musical materials. I could have used them a long time
ago! If I haven’t done so, that’s because I considered they didn’t suit my nature,
my temperament – I’m not a calculator, a technician. I like music that’s human,
humour, laughter, or prayer … I oscillate between gravity and fantasy.

MC: And nowadays, with all these experiments in concrete and electronic music?4

FP: Well! I’m not changing: I don’t give a hoot about fashion. It would have been
laughable to blame Bonnard for not practising Cubism! So I remain faithful to the
true essence of my nature, I do what comes naturally to me, what suits me, what
pleases me and, believe me: at my age, the new-look doesn’t work! I’m saddened
when I see a composer of my generation adapting himself to snobbish tastes and
belatedly embracing techniques he should have learnt and rejected at the age of
13!

MC: If I follow your drift, you like the independents?

FP: Yes. I’d like to mention three of them whom I admire very much: Benjamin
Britten, for his richness of invention and his finesse; Dutilleux, for his honesty
and his rigour (Dutilleux is a distinct figure with his hair en brosse and his healthy
face, but also honest in his music, which is without concessions and a pleasure to
listen to …), and Sauguet, whose poetic gift I’ve always loved.5

MC: I’ve often met you at concerts …

FP: Yes, I like going to hear music as long as it brings me something. I’m bowled
over every time I hear an inspired new work. For instance the works of Boulez,
the great composer of the young generation, have transported me; Boulez is
intelligent, he knows why he writes that kind of music, and then he has the famous
gift I was talking about just now …

MC: The gift of grace, like Webern and Berg …

FP: I have to say too that music interests me to the extent that it’s very distant
from my own.6
Interview with Martine Cadieu 165

MC: Do you compose quickly? With ease?

FP: No. Slowly and with difficulty, even if people don’t realize it and if I give
the impression of just dancing around! The scores, though, that take the longest
to write aren’t the sacred motets, but much more often the brief moments of
humour …

MC: As you’ve mentioned motets, I’m delighted to learn that your Gloria, which
was recently premiered in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées with Rosanna
Carteri, has just been awarded the Grand Prix du disque in New York by the
American critics.7

FP: Yes, and I had the pleasure of hearing it from [Charles] Munch, who telephoned
me from over there …

MC: Who was singing the Gloria in New York?

FP: A black singer, Mme Addison. Stunning, I have to say. The success in New
York has been greater than in Paris, and as you’ve touched on the problem with
my Gloria, I’d like to take advantage of that to clear up a misunderstanding … It’s
strange that the critics who were most shocked by the secular gaiety of that cantata
were the ones who aren’t Catholics …

MC: In Milan, you talked to me about an Office des ténèbres.8

FP: Yes. I’d started work on it …

MC: So is that a dramatic, austere subject?

FP: Which doesn’t stand in the way of realism, or of a joy that is brilliant and
extravert. For me, there’s no better religious exemplar than Autun cathedral, in
which pertness combines with the love of God and earthiness with fervour.9

MC: All very French …

FP: I come from the Aveyron and if I had to explain my religious outlook to you,
I’d say it was the opposite of Claudel’s. My religion is that of Bernanos, of St John
of the Cross or of Saint Teresa of Avila. I like an austerity that smells of orange
blossom and jasmine; years ago, the Journal d’un curé de campagne bowled me
over.10 I love the sculptures in Autun, yes, and in Moissac.11 I see Heaven as being
filled with angels like Gozzoli’s …12

MC: The angels in the Riccardi palace in Florence, laughing among themselves
and sticking their tongues out …13
166 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: It’s their singing I hear, mixed with the light laughter of the nuns, the most
ravishing of female laughter …

MC: That of Constance, in the Dialogues des Carmélites.

FP: Yes, and there we’re at the opposite end of the scale from Messiaen, whose
wordy side I don’t like, even though I have the greatest admiration both for his
music and also for the soundness of his knowledge, judgment and teaching. It’s a
great boon for the students that he has a post at the Conservatoire.14

MC: The Stabat Mater you wrote in memory of Christian Bérard isn’t either
literary or gloomy …

FP: My friend Christian … That was a requiem without despair; you know I hate
the undertaker side of all that … I’m much too fond of life! But do you know
what’s just happened to me? I heard from Munch that the composition of my
Office des ténèbres wasn’t urgent, so I decided to have a holiday and went off to
Monte-Carlo. I adore Monte-Carlo and its old ladies covered with jewels, playing
roulette.
So I was in Monte-Carlo, where I go to see my Chinese doctor. I’d forgotten to
take a book (I’m a great reader), so I buy Le Théâtre de poche and find a monologue
by Jean Cocteau which is a marvel: La Dame de Monte-Carlo …15 And at once
I fall in love with this lady and can think of nothing but her. It’s a very dramatic
story: the lady of Monte-Carlo bets all her money and luck doesn’t go her way, so
she ends up by throwing herself into the Mediterranean! This wreck, this poor old
woman, you can’t imagine how I love her! The score lasts eight minutes and will
be sung by Denise Duval.16

MC: Is it for a large orchestra?

FP: No, with double woodwind – complete string band with two flutes, two oboes
and so on. There are [two] horns, no trombone, a dash of percussion, a few clicks
on castagnets to indicate madness, a bit of vibraphone to get the ‘Casino de Paris’
atmosphere, a tam-tam stroke for death!

MC: So each instrument has its …

FP: Precisely. There are also two or three bars of ‘bluesy’ cymbals.17

MC: I thought you detested the percussion … You use it very sparingly, whether
in Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Le Bal masqué or the Concerto champêtre [sic] …
Interview with Martine Cadieu 167

FP: It’s true I don’t like the percussion. It’s ‘window-dressing’, I can’t get on with
it! It makes me think of the way cheap restaurants pile on the spices to disguise
meat that’s gone off!

MC: When will we hear La Dame de Monte-Carlo?

FP: Soon, I hope. You’ll see, it’s lyrical and sensual. It took me two months to
write, but it was a happy time. I can only produce what I know.

MC: It’s because you know Emmanuel Chabrier so well that you’ve just written a
book about him. This is a new side to Francis Poulenc: the writer.

FP: I love writing, but this is my first book. I wanted it to win friends for Chabrier: I
love his truthfulness and his anti-snobbery – very like Colette’s. Here’s an anecdote:
he sat in the Wagner family’s box where he wept at a moving performance, and
then went to have tea with Mme Wagner. The tart he was offered was not to his
liking, so he opened a drawer behind him and dropped it in.

MC: Don’t you feel you’re in some way a brother to Chabrier?

FP: Yes, most certainly … I think respect kills love. An honest human reaction
– instead of being stiffly ensconced in the sublime – that’s the French character,
and I’m very French! I possess some extraordinary documents on Chabrier and
I’ve bought 75 letters of his, as well as the sale catalogue of his pictures (he had a
Manet, a Cézanne and other treasures), with the prices marked by Mme Chabrier.
I’m also revising all his music for a new edition.18 He’s a passion of mine …

The way in which Poulenc says – almost sings – ‘I adore’, ‘I love’, ‘a passion of
mine’, all that lively enthusiasm, these are things I shan’t easily forget …

Notes
1
Poulenc particularly admired the Italian soprano Rosanna Carteri (1930–) who sang
the role of Blanche in Dialogues des carmélites in Naples in March–April 1959, and who
sang the soprano solo in the Gloria at its French premiere on 14 February 1961.
2
Jean-Pierre Rivière’s one-act opera Pour un Don Quichotte was premiered at
the Piccola Scala in Milan on 12 March 1961, with Denise Duval and Gabriel Bacquier,
conducted by Nino Sanzogno. Poulenc called it a ‘masterpiece’ (Correspondance, 975).
3
As noted above (p. 37), that visit took place in January and February 1922 and not
in 1920.
4
‘Musique concrète’ is made up of sounds and noises recorded on magnetic tape.
It was invented in the 1940s by the Frenchman Pierre Schaeffer, who became the nucleus
in 1951 of the Groupe de recherche de musique concrète (GRMC, later GRM, Groupe de
168 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

recherches musicales). Its use of electronic processes led to the birth of electro-acoustic
music.
5
At the time of this interview the most anbitious works by Henri Dutilleux (1916–
2013) were his Piano Sonata (1948), his ballet Le Loup (1953) and his two symphonies
(1951, 1959); he was still working on his orchestral score Métaboles.
6
Poulenc made the following comments while on his tour of the United States at the
beginning of 1960, with Duval and Prêtre, undertaken in order to publicise La Voix humaine
and to give several recitals with the singer: ‘I want you to understand that my judgment of
the new music is very, very favorable … I like that which I am not able to do myself. That
which I detest most is music like my own.’ (Interview with Eric Salzman, unidentified,
undated periodical).
7
Poulenc’s Gloria, for soprano, chorus and orchestra was composed between May
1959 and June 1960 and commissioned (during the course of its composition) by Serge
Koussevitsky. The work, dedicated to him and to his wife Nathalie, was premiered on
20 January 1960 by Adele Addison, the Chrous Pro Musica and the Boston Symphony
Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch in Symphony Hall, Boston. The French premiere
was given on 14 February 1961 by Rosanna Carteri, the chorus of Radiodiffusion-Télévision
Française and the Orchestra national, conducted by Georges Prêtre. [The disc in question,
recorded by these French forces in the Salle Wagram the day after the French premiere, and
in the presence of the composer, is still widely available. RN.]
8
The Sept Répons des ténèbres, which Poulenc had just begun.
9
The tympanum of the twelfth-century Saint-Lazare cathedral in Autun presents a
fairly optimistic vision of the Last Judgment and allots only a small space to hell. It offers
a representation of the weighing of souls in which the devil cheats by leaning on the scales
as, more extraordinarily, does the Archangel Michael in favour of the humans.
10
Georges Bernanos’s novel Journal d’un Curé de Campagne (Paris, Plon, 1936).
11
The commune of Moissac, in the Tarn-et-Garonne, contains two religious buildings,
a monastery and a church.
12
In Florence, the Medici-Riccardi Palace includes a chapel called that ‘of the Magi’,
decorated with frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli (1421–1497), representing the journey of the
Magi; the angels are on the east and west side of the apse.
13
Here Martine Cadieu forestalls Poulenc with an anecdote he often told to explain
the inspiration behind his Gloria. During a talk, Poulenc commented as follows: ‘At its first
performance in Paris, the Gloria caused a considerable shock because there’s a second verse
[the “Laudamus Te” (Very lively and cheerful)] which is clearly treated in a very joyful,
almost secular manner. But I’m like Gozzoli. If you go to Florence, to the Riccardi Palace,
to admire Gozzoli’s sublime frescoes and angels – there’s a whole series of angels – and if
you look at the angels carefully, there’s one who’s sticking his tongue out at his neighbour.
I claim that angels aren’t always saints. And I have to tell you that the idea for this second
verse, for this kind of levity, was suggested to me by Benedictines I saw playing football
[…]. I thought it was a delightful notion that these men who were dedicated to prayer, who
don’t talk to each other, should be playing football with enthusiasm and cheerfulness […].
The angels stick out their tongues and the Benedictines play football … Why in the Gloria,
which is something cheerful, why produce something from a funeral parlour?!’ (unpublished
recording of a talk given at the Club des trois centres in Paris on 10 January 1962).
This anecdote of the angel sticking his tongue out is all the more amusing when we
realize it is an example of overinterpretation on Poulenc’s part, and one that is significant
Interview with Martine Cadieu 169

with regard to his personal conception of the sacred. The tongues of some of the angels on
Gozzoli’s frescoes are visible, but only because they are singing, which Poulenc is certainly
well aware of, as he explains to Martine Cadieu.
14
Olivier Messiaen’s Conservatoire class (a harmony class between 1941 and 1946,
then an analysis one – under different titles – from 1947, and finally a composition class
between 1966 and 1978) was one of the summits of music pedagogy, through which passed
a great number of students from all nationalities and several generations.
15
A collection of Cocteau’s short stage works, librettos and scenarios (including
Parade, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, Le Pauvre Matelot, La Dame de Monte-Carlo and Lis ton
Journal) was published in 1949 under the title Le Théâtre de Poche (Paris, Morihien).
Perhaps the version Poulenc picked up was the expanded new edition of 1960, entitled
Nouveau Théâtre de Poche (Monaco, Editions du Rocher).
16
Poulenc’s ‘monologue for soprano and orchestra’ La Dame de Monte-Carlo,
composed in March–April 1961, is based on a text of 1934 by Cocteau, written for the
singer and actress Marianne Oswald (who recorded it in 1935, with some parts of the text,
sometimes declaimed, sometimes sung, being set to music by Cocteau himself). Poulenc’s
work was premiered in November 1961 in Monte-Carlo, then in Paris by Denise Duval
(its dedicatee), with the Orchestre de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, conducted
by Georges Prêtre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on 5 December 1961.
17
Poulenc’s reference to the blues in his neologism ‘bluesées’ confirms the previous
allusion to the Casino de Paris, one of the first places in France where jazz appeared at the
end of the First World War.
18
Poulenc either abandoned the idea of producing a new edition of Chabrier’s works,
or else did not have the time to pursue it.
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Article XXXV
Interview: ‘A Denizen of Noizay and the
Honorary President of Local Musicmaking,
Francis Poulenc is Going to Play to
Restore his Village Church.
He is Going to Perform La Voix humaine
Tomorrow Evening in Amboise with Denise
Duval’, La Nouvelle République,
7 September 1961

You know how attached I am to this delightful spot. People here are so kind to me.
The other day, for instance, they sang me an aubade on this terrace … to welcome
me. That was wonderful and I was deeply touched by it.
The music of this municipality is close to my heart, since I’m its president and
its leader, the excellent M. André Rocheron, is in fact my gardener.1 He’s an artist
and a friend I greatly admire. So I had to do something for Noizay when it was a
matter of restoring the church … I had the idea of giving a concert whose receipts
would go entirely to the work of restoration. I mentioned the project to Denise
Duval, who was delighted to accept.
Ah! Denise Duval, what a marvellous woman. A great, very great lady. It’s an
inestimable honour she’s doing us in coming to sing for us, because I consider her
as one of the greatest singers of all time. Do you know that she’s just been chosen
to open the opera season on 20 October in Dallas, in the United States? On that
occasion she’ll be singing Thaïs.
Before her, only famous ‘prima donnas’ like Tebaldi and Callas have been
granted this distinction … Then she’ll be touring the world with La Voix humaine
and Vol de nuit.2 She’s a great star and also a woman of feeling. She’s a rare spirit
… I wanted to express this homage to her and I hope that her success, on Friday
evening, will match her immense talent.
You ask where the idea of La Voix humaine came from. It’s a rather surprising
story that started with a joke. In January 1957, I was in Milan where I was
directing the final rehearsals of Dialogue[s] des Carmélites. One evening we went
with some friends to La Scala. They were performing a grand opera by Verdi.
172 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

The great Callas and the no less great Mario del Monaco were in the cast.3 It was
an extraordinary evening with these two ‘sacred monsters’ engaged in a Homeric
duel that reached heights of vocal splendour rarely attained.
The last notes faded beneath thunderous applause. It was then that Callas had
one of those crises of pride that so often make her disagreeable. When the curtain
went up to allow the heroes of the evening to enjoy their share of the triumph,
Callas pushed the splendid Mario into the corner of the wings and advanced by
herself into the middle of the stage.
This access of fury did not go unnoticed and everyone had their own views
about it. At which point one of my dear friends, my publisher, who was sitting next
to me, said: ‘You should write an opera just for her … that way, she wouldn’t be
such a b … nuisance.’4
This quip struck a spark in me. The idea of La Voix humaine was born.
But I must point out that the work was composed not for Callas … but only for
Denise Duval, for her alone, and La Voix humaine is dedicated to her.

Notes
1
From 1928 until Poulenc’s death, André Rocheron (1895–1982) and his wife
Suzanne were employed at ‘Le Grand Coteau’ and lived with their daughter in an
outbuilding on Poulenc’s property, which they looked after, together with his vineyard and
his garden. The ‘welcoming aubade’ referred to by the composer had been given to him two
days earlier, as can be verified by his entry in the house’s visitors’ book: ‘Noizay Music,
directed by my gardener André Rocheron, played in this house on 5 September 1961.’
Marie-Laure Sibert noted: ‘In Noizay, Poulenc was the honorary president of the municipal
music organisation, of which his gardener André Rocheron was the head. Poulenc used to
give him counterpoint lessons and held him in great esteem’ (Les Rencontres d’Amboise,
Tours, Barcla, 1969, p. 362). Three months after Poulenc’s death, Suzanne Rocheron, who
was greatly distressed by it, committed suicide, being afraid that ‘Le Grand Coteau’ would
be sold. Her widower lived on there until his death.
2
Dallapiccola’s one-act opera Volo di notte (1940), based on the novel by Antoine de
Saint-Exupéry (1930).
3
The Italian tenor Mario del Monaco (1915–1982) was one of Callas’s regular
stage partners. [Alain Pâris’s Dictionnaire des Interprètes calls him a ‘ténor verdien au
tempérament vaillant’ (a stout-hearted Verdian tenor). He was certainly one of the loudest
tenors of the 20th century. RN.]
4
The publisher in question was Hervé Dugardin.
Article XXXVI
Interview with Denise Bourdet:
‘5 December Will See the Musical Birth of
La Dame de Monte-Carlo.
“For Me, Monte-Carlo is Venice.”’
Le Figaro littéraire, no. 815,
December 1961, p. 19

Since 1922 the journalist Denise Bourdet (1892–1967) had been the second wife
of the playwright Edouard Bourdet, with whom Poulenc had collaborated on his
play Margot in 1935. Through her social skills and the dinners she gave in her
apartment on the Quai d’Orsay or in her ‘Villa blanche’ in Toulon, she encouraged
the mingling of artists with high society. The present article, described as a
‘portrait–interview’, is illustrated by a photo showing Poulenc at the piano next
to Denise Duval (the heading reads: ‘Will Denise Duval succeed in getting from
her composer the score of La Folle de Chaillot of which she dreams?’).

***

I met Francis Poulenc in 1917 on an Atlantic beach where he made no use either
of the sand, the water or the sun. At the tennis club he spent the afternoons sitting
in the shade, not even glancing at the courts. He was 18, and we already knew
he loved nothing except music. On this pretext he used to go to the casino on
evenings when there was an opera there. But he got more fun out of the intervals.
He wasn’t old enough to be allowed in the gaming rooms, but he wandered round,
taking in the comings and goings of the women he called the tarts of Royan. And
he was very fond of a bachelor uncle for whom he had a high regard, as he had
mistresses in what was then the demi-monde.1
Lunching with Francis the other day, I recalled these distant memories, which
we enjoy revisiting. This time, doing so was particularly well justified, as I
wanted to interview him about Jean Cocteau’s monologue, La Dame de Monte-
Carlo, set for voice and orchestra by Francis Poulenc, which Denise Duval and
the French Radio Orchestra under Georges Prêtre will premiere on 5 December
at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. He began by saying:
174 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

‘You remember my charming Uncle Papoum? How many times when, as a


small boy, I went to see him so he could take me to the Opéra-Comique, did I
get the impression that, being so impatient, I’d turned up too early, when I saw in
his studio a parasol, a pair of gloves, sometimes even clothes dropped in a hurry!
One day I even met a lady with wonderful blue eyes, called Aimée Kelsieu. You
must admit it’s a delightful name. And in my house at Noizay you met my elderly
neighbour from Amboise whom I was so fond of, Marthe de Kerrieu – false
Breton nobility – who presided over the centenary of Maxim’s? … I’ve always
adored the atmosphere of the Léas and Mmes Peloux. I dreamt of turning Chéri
into an opera.2 I often talked with Colette about it, but sadly I had to say that the
dialogues in the play based on the novel were made up of phrases that were too
short to be set to music.
As for Monte-Carlo, since that’s what we’re talking about today, I used to
go there with my parents from when I was small. Not a year goes by without
my returning there. Monte-Carlo exercises the same charm on me as Venice
does on other people. It was there, when I was 23, that I orchestrated the ballet
Les Biches, commissioned by Diaghilev, for which Marie Laurencin designed
the décor. It was also at Monte-Carlo that it was performed for the first time,
together with Georges Auric’s Les Fâcheux, and that was the beginning of our
mutual friendship. When I wrote Les Mamelles de Tirésias, I replaced Zanzibar
with Monte-Carlo, based on the fact that Apollinaire had lived there until he
was 18.
Don’t be impatient, I’m getting to La Dame de Monte-Carlo. For a long time
I’d been wanting to compose a vocal piece with orchestra for Denise Duval
and find something to go with the main aria from Les Mamelles, “Envolez-
vous, oiseaux de ma faiblesse”, which she sings superbly.3 Last winter, I had an
appointment with a Chinese acupuncturist and, as I was sure I’d have to wait, I
went into a bookshop for a book and spotted Cocteau’s Théâtre de Poche which
I took away with me, knowing I’d find in it memories of my youth with Le Boeuf
sur le toit and Les Mariés de la tour Eiffel. Then I reread La Dame de Monte-
Carlo, a monologue Jean had written once for Marianne Oswald. It was exactly
what I wanted for Denise Duval: the hearbreaking story of an old, wretched,
abandoned tart who, instead of committing suicide, goes to try her luck at Monte-
Carlo and finally throws herself in the Mediterranean. I’d never have thought of
setting it to music if Denise Duval hadn’t existed. I knew it would please her
because she dreams of my writing an opera for her on La Folle de Chaillot.4
It’s strange how this ravishing young lady wants to play old women!’
‘That’s because she’s as good an actress as she is musician and because
she’s interested above all in character,’ I said, remembering her extraordinary
interpretation of La Voix humaine.
‘For years, Fate decreed that I should never work again with Cocteau, and
then I wrote La Voix humaine in 1959 and La Dame de Monte-Carlo in 1961.
I’d now like to collaborate with him on a larger work for the theatre. In La
Voix humaine, the prosody is so subtle, I was able to keep the rhythm of a
Interview with Denise Bourdet 175

telephone conversation in the music. La Dame de Monte-Carlo is a rhythmically


unchanging monologue lasting seven minutes. It’s a kaleidoscope of emotions,
a work of feeling, not in the least satirical. I believed in my subject. Once again
you can judge the wide range of my temperament from the fact that while writing
it last April (in Monte-Carlo, naturally), I broke off for a fortnight to compose
an Office des ténèbres which I’ve just finished for the New York Philharmonic
Orchestra.’
I did not need this declaration to be fully aware that, with Francis Poulenc,
inspiration springs from his heart.

Notes
1
Poulenc’s uncle and godfather Marcel Royer (1862–1945), whom he had called
‘Papoum’ from his childhood, had aroused his early interest in painting and the theatre. He
is the dedicatee of the song ‘C’ (from Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon).
2
In Colette’s 1920 novel Chéri, the young hero of the title, the son of Madame
Peloux, is the lover of Léa de Lonval, a woman from the demi-monde. It was turned into a
play by Colette and Léopold Marchand, which was put on at the Théâtre Daunou in 1925.
3
The aria at the beginning of Act I in which Thérèse discards her breasts and becomes
Tirésias.
4
Jean Giraudoux’s 1945 play La Folle de Chaillot (The Madwoman of Chaillot).
Poulenc was to have written the incidental music, but in the end it was Sauguet who did so.
This page has been left blank intentionally
1  Poulenc, aged 4
2  Poulenc, aged 12
3  Jean Cocteau introduces Auric, Milhaud and Poulenc to Satie
4  Schönberg and Poulenc
5  Poulenc and Wanda Landowska
6  Poulenc and Pierre Bernac
7  Poulenc and Yvonne Gouverné,
descending the steps of the chapel of Rocamadour
8  Christian Bérard, Comte Jean de Polignac, Poulenc,
Marie-Blanche de Polignac, Jacques Février
9  Picasso, Henri Sauguet and Poulenc
10  Poulenc and Denise Duval
11  Les Six and Cocteau in 1950
12  Poulenc as Maurice Chevalier
13  Poulenc tending his roses
This page has been left blank intentionally
Part VII
Interviews with Claude Rostand
This page has been left blank intentionally
Preface to Interviews

These recorded conversations that I had with Francis Poulenc for French Radio
between October 1953 and April 1954 taught me a great deal.
I have known Poulenc for nearly 20 years, and his music for a little longer,
since that far-off day when Marcel Ciampi1 gave a concert in the Salle Gaveau
entitled La Valse; and on the programme, among a number of the most famous
pieces in 3/4 time, was a tiny piece, no more than a page from an album: the
‘Valse’ from the Album des Six. At 14 or 15, I had absolutely no idea that these
few lines were meant to be (and had been accepted as) a page of a manifesto.
With my head full of Romain Rolland, Albert Schweitzer and Pourtalès, I found
this music to be really rather thin and frivolous and, in a word, ‘light music’.2
But that did not stop me from rushing next day to the well-known music shop
in the place de la Madeleine and buying the Album des Six.3 This simple little
waltz by Poulenc for me contained a secret voice. Behind the banality and facile
charm of this miniature, redolent of fairground or popular music, I sensed that
here was a presence. These few notes contained a mystery. A clear impression
forced itself on me that this unimportant little dance concealed something else,
something quite strange indeed, possessing a ‘charm’ that was rare and novel
and whose meaning and value I could not manage to grasp. My puzzlement,
if I may so call it, was in no way resolved when, shortly after, I found myself
playing on the piano (fairly badly) the three little Sonatas for wind instruments
and going to see a performance of Les Biches. There, the outward appearance
of this music seemed to me even more strongly to be hiding a subtle poetry that
I couldn’t define, and which I felt to be all the more subtle, rare and original
because its exterior, physical manifestation did not suggest it.
I was a long way then from thinking that later on fate would choose me as
the composer’s confessor. The 20 or so years that passed before the day when I
held these Interviews with Francis Poulenc proved to me that my first impression
was not the result of a mirage, and that behind other, apparently inoffensive little
pieces like the Mouvements perpétuels and the Trois Pièces for piano there was
an artist who had far more to offer than initially appeared. But this artist does
not always reveal himself to tourists who are in a hurry or to those who, whether
deliberately or not, are short-sighted.
The actual result of Poulenc’s statements, stories and confessions in these
Interviews, if not their intention, is to illuminate the background of the man and
the composer that is so crucial. And they do this on two fronts because, as we shall
see, there are two Poulencs, and each explains the other.
180 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

There is the slightly cynical Poulenc – whom some people take for a ‘petit
maître’. It has to be said that they employ this term with a complacent disdain
and a furious obstinacy that seriously undermine their position. And then there is
the Poulenc who is not always recognised as much as he should be, the solemn,
even austere Poulenc of the choral works and some of the song cycles. We shall
see in particular how and why one emerged from the other and how, while
being opposites, they explain and complete each other, and how and by what
means of evolution the centre of gravity of his output has imperceptibly shifted
from the first Poulenc to the second. We shall also find any number of reasons
not to underestimate the first in favour of the second. The two are perfectly
balanced. And we shall follow here the maturing and blossoming of an artist
who, while fairly constant in preserving means of expression that are familiar
and characteristic, never stays still and never becomes a prisoner of his habits
and routines, any more than of his successes.
On all these matters, Francis Poulenc explains himself very clearly and
precisely, simplifying my task almost to the point of redundancy. The reason
is that Poulenc is an anxious person, rarely happy with himself and, as a
result, always ready to turn to self-analysis in order to know and understand
himself better. If it was not always easy, in the case of a Darius Milhaud with
his olympian wisdom and Buddhic serenity, to extract confidences, here on the
other hand the need not to reassure himself but to see things clearly made my
task more straightforward. That, in my view, is what assigns a quite unusual
documentary value to the responses Poulenc has given me here. I would add that
he has made them with an objectivity, a lucidity, a simplicity, and often with a
severity towards himself that one does not meet with very often.
If these Interviews have, for me, been a chance to find out why I felt
instinctively drawn towards this music and this composer, I think that, for the
general public, they will constitute a very complete guide that can shine a light
on the true shape of an artist who knows nothing of tricks or systems or aesthetic
posturing, and whose unique motto could read: ‘Before all else, to thine own self
be true’ – a necessary and sufficient motto, but not the property of everyone …

Notes
1
Marcel Ciampi (1891–1980) was a pianist who had the longest tenure of any
professor at the Paris Conservatoire, where Yvonne Loriod was one of his pupils. Later he
became head of piano studies at the Yehudi Menuhin school, where he taught Kathryn Stott
and Melvyn Tan.
2
Romain Rolland (1866–1944), holder of the first chair in music history at the
Sorbonne, was the author of Beethoven and La Vie de Beethoven (1903), which were
followed by seven volumes on the composer’s works, including those in the series
Beethoven: Les Grandes époques Créatrices (1928–1945). All these texts were important
for the appreciation of Beethoven in France up to the second half of the twentieth century.
3
This shop was the headquarters of Editions Durand.
Interview 1
Paris and Nogent-sur-Marne:
A Childhood Spent between
Couperin and the Dance Hall

Claude Rostand: Dear Francis Poulenc …

Francis Poulenc: Claude, I’ll stop you there straight away! It’s 20 years now that
we’ve known each other and called each other by our first names. The fact that
today we’re sitting in front of a microphone doesn’t mean we should stand on
ceremony.

CR: Of course not, dear Francis. Yes, we’ve known each other for 20 years and
I really thought I knew you. But while working on the book I’m in the middle of
writing on you, and which I’ve been thinking about for several months and indeed
years, I’ve come to realise I don’t know you at all well – that on a deeper level I’m
ignorant of any number of things, and that a careful examination of your music
gives rise to a host of questions. Many sides of Poulenc the composer remain for
me obscure, unexplored, and knowing them would help illuminate and explain
how everything comes together: your origins, your education, your reactions and
so on, in short everything you don’t need to put into words when you’re exercising
your composer’s art, writing a song cycle or a piano concerto, but which it is
nonetheless vital to know in order to understand and explain this composer.

FP: You know what Debussy said: ‘Music can’t be explained, it’s felt!’ That said, ask
me any questions you like, given that there are always certain misunderstandings
it’s good to clear up and certain legends that need to be scotched …

CR: Absolutely! People don’t always understand, even those with the best intentions.
For example, there’s the Poulenc of the Mouvements perpétuels who, at the age of
18, was already making a triumphant tour of the world on the frail skiff those three
tiny pieces amounted to. And then there’s the Poulenc of the Motets, the Mass and
the Stabat Mater. Between the charming, cheeky Poulenc and the serious, austere
one there’s a remarkably wide gap. I feel it’s this gap we need to examine in order
to get things straight.
I think it would be good to start with the container and then proceed to the
thing contained: your surroundings, first of all! This house we’re in today, where
we’re having this first conversation: Noizay, in Touraine – this large, grey house
182 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

on the hillside, the terrace in the French style, the avenue of limes, in the distance
the Loire, the belts of poplars, the vines, a nice white wine in our glasses, and
behind it all the pale light of this early autumn day. Are these, as they seem to be,
your ideal, essential surroundings?

FP: They’re the surroundings I’ve chosen, certainly, but I’m glad the question
has been asked in our first conversation, because they are only the surroundings
I’ve chosen. There is absolutely nothing in me that belongs to Touraine, either
by blood or by culture. I chose Touraine in order to work here, in peace, in the
same way that Chabrier, the Auvergnat from Paris, used to spend long working
summers at La Membrolle, a few kilometres from Tours. ‘Poulenc, the man from
Touraine’ runs off the tongue, but it’s a total misnomer. If you say this typically
French house, with its warmth but also its austerity, matches me fairly closely,
or that the layout of the interior is influenced by my heredity as the grandson of
a tapestry-maker, then I’ll agree with you. If it can be deduced from it that I like
beige, red, salmon pink and maroon, fine! But there any connection between my
surroundings and myself stops. Once I leave the front door of Le Grand Coteau,
I’m a guest in Touraine, and you won’t find anywhere in my music a reflection of
this wonderful sky that reminds me of Umbria. I’m more definite, rougher, more
assertive and my roots lie elsewhere: in Aveyron on my father’s side, and on my
mother’s in my adored Paris.

CR: In short, you’re an example of Taine’s theory about the influence of heredity.

FP: Undoubtedly.

CR: Where were you born in fact?

FP: I was born in Paris on 7 January 1899, on the place des Saussaies, a few
metres from the Elysée Palace, when Félix Faure was president. Like Gilberte
Swann, I played in the Champs-Elysées, and that was where I spent all my early
childhood. On my mother’s side, I come from a family that was pure Parisian,
which is rare in Paris. In marrying my father, who came from Aveyron, my mother
went against a kind of family rule.

CR: And do you think this Parisian ancestry is very marked in your case, that it
plays a determining role?

FP: Yes, especially because it’s from there that I get almost the whole of my artistic
heredity. Certainly, in my father’s family they were sincerely fond of music, but
there was little in the way of painting or books.
My grandparents and great-grandparents on my mother’s side, all of them
cabinet-makers, tapestry-makers and workers in bronze, were on the contrary
dedicated to all the arts. The theatre was my mother’s brother’s great passion.
Interview 1 183

Hidden under a table with my clockwork railway, I used to listen avidly to


everything that was being said above me about the life of the Parisian boulevards.
I was fascinated by Le Théâtre illustré and I used to read in secret the articles
in L’Illustration théâtrale. At the age of eight, Réjane, Sarah Bernhardt, Lucien
Guitry and Eve Lavallière were as familiar to me as General Dourakine or Sophie
Fichini were to other children.1
My mother played the piano exquisitely. In those times the ladies of the
bourgeoisie didn’t have the almost professional technique they have nowadays,
but my mother, with her impeccable musicality and ravishing touch, cast a spell
over my childhood. Her favourite composers were Mozart, Chopin, Schubert and
Schumann.

CR: Impeccable indeed …

FP: But lacking any artistic snobbery, my mother allowed herself what she called
‘little whims’, including some pieces by Grieg and the famous Romance by
Rubinstein. You know the one … (Poulenc plays a few bars of the piece.)

It’s from her, I’m sure, that I get this taste for what I’ve called ‘adorable bad
music’. A few bars of Grieg’s Berceuse, very like Borodin, still delight me today.
(Poulenc plays the last eight bars of the piece.)
Talking of Grieg, I must tell you about someone who played an important
role in my childhood – a negative one, it has to be said, but extremely useful.
My mother had a friend I named ‘the bore’.

CR: Charming!

FP: This poor woman, severe in appearance, found comfort from her marital
problems in the arms of the Schola Cantorum.2 She thought that there, thanks to
184 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

the procedures advocated to engineers, doctors and naval officers for making jolly
music based on popular tunes, she would find peace and happiness …

CR: Of course, jolly music at the Schola!

FP: But wait! As a passionate apprentice of a cult that could only be excused by
the personality of Vincent d’Indy, she had espoused the pronouncements of the
rue Saint-Jacques with frantic enthusiasm: the Mozart sonatas, which my mother
loved, weren’t sonatas, nor were those of Schubert or Chopin, still less those
of Schumann, and as for Liszt!!! Aside from Beethoven and Franck, there was
no salvation. And long live cyclic form!!!!! The poor woman hated virtuosity,
technical brilliance: what she called ‘Conservatoire sham’. In order to reach ‘the
depths’ in her playing, she had studied with Blanche Selva. Heaven knows, Selva
was a fine pianist, but let’s not talk about a teaching method that literally crippled
a whole generation.3

CR: If we could come back to Grieg … I’m intrigued by your story …

FP: Patience, I’m getting there! One day I had the Grieg Concerto on my piano
– I still like the first movement. I was 14 at the time. The poor lady, brandishing
her lorgnette, exclaimed: ‘Oh, Jenny! You let your son play this!’ Then, glancing
at the rest of my music which included the Schönberg Six little pieces, The Rite
of Spring and The Nightingale, she cried out, literally horrified: ‘My dear, it
really is time to make him work seriously.’ ‘Not with your boring old f…s at
any rate’ said I, slamming the door noisily. That was in 1914. War came. After
her unfaithful husband was killed at the battle of the Marne, the severe widow
shut herself up, forever, somewhere in the Cévennes, and I never saw her again.

CR: Dear Francis, you’ve just explained, in a light-hearted, indirect manner,


the profane side of your personality. I believe your mother was not religiously
inclined; so your religious side comes from your paternal ancestors.

FR: Yes, my father, like most of the people of Aveyron, was profoundly religious.
He was, without being narrow, impressively religious. In 1935, after the first flush
of youth, I was searching within myself for a deeper means of expression and
it was, quite naturally, towards religious music that I turned, after a pilgrimage
to Notre-Dame de Rocamadour.4 My Litanies à la Vierge noire (Notre-Dame de
Rocamadour) were my first religious work.

CR: It’s also from your father that you get this taste for the old quarter of the
Marais where you took me for a walk one day?

FP: Yes, of course, because that’s where my father was born. That’s where he
had his business. That’s where, as a boy, I admired those marvellous houses from
Interview 1 185

the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Madeleine, you see, is my native
city and the Marais is my village. And then, a bit further out, going towards the
east of Paris, there’s also my countryside: the lovely Nogent-sur-Marne where I
spent all my childhood. What you sometimes refer to as my ‘naughty boy’ side
developed quite naturally at Nogent. My grandparents had a family house there.
One of our ancestors was a gardener there under the First Empire …

CR: Hence your love of flowers …

FP: I expect … My grandmother, who also loved them, was so firmly a city-
dweller that the eight kilometres separating Nogent from Paris were enough for
her to think she was in the country. It was at Nogent that I spent part of my
holidays, broken up by visits to the seaside or to watering places. In fact, I didn’t
get to know real countryside until I was 18, when I joined the army.
Getting back to Nogent, for me it was paradise, with its pleasure gardens, its
sellers of fried potatoes and its dance halls, known in 1913 as ‘dancings’ (on the
banks of the Marne this was pronounced ‘dancinges’). It was there I got to know
the tunes of Christiné and Scotto which, for me, have become my folklore.5 The
‘naughty boy’ side of my music, you see, isn’t artificial, as people sometimes
think, going back as it does to the happiest memories of childhood.

CR: It’s strange, sitting here in Touraine, to find you far more deeply moved by
memories of Nogent and Paris than by this beautiful sunset over the Loire valley!

FP: That’s how it is, my dear Claude: one only ever truly loves one’s native
village.

Notes
1
[Général Dourakine was a children’s novel published by the Comtesse de Ségur
in 1863. Sophie Fichini is a character in the same author’s Les petites filles modèles of
1858. RN.]
2
The Schola Cantorum was an institution of musical education, founded in 1894 by
Vincent d’Indy, Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant. It emphasised the study of ancient
music and encouraged the spirit of seriousness in composition rather than of originality.
Pupils included Albert Roussel, Déodat de Séverac, Paul Le Flem and Edgar Varèse. Since
its foundation it has remained in the rue Saint-Jacques in the fifth arrondissement.
3
[Blanche Selva (1884–1942) studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire, before
working with d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum. RN.]
4
Poulenc went to Rocamadour in 1936, not 1935. His interest in sacred music also
followed from the sudden death of the composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud.
5
[The composer and writer of light songs Henri Christiné (1867–1941) and Vincent
Scotto (1876–1952) were successful composers of light music. The leading man in
Christiné’s opera Phi-Phi (1918) played his role more than four thousand times. RN.]
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Interview 2
Musical Adventures with the ‘Moderns’:
Debussy, Stravinsky

CR: Last time, my dear Francis, we spoke about what the text books would
call your ‘origins’. We talked about a purely animal, human side of your
personality. But you’re also a musician. We should say something about your
earliest, important contacts with … what’s generally called ‘great music’, and
the first revelations you experienced. In our first interview you told me that
on the piano your mother used to play you Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, Rubinstein’s
Romance and so on. I can quite see that this kind of music could have awoken
in you the taste, the need, the necessity of music. But even so, I imagine there
was something else …

FP: Yes, certainly there was something else and, as I told you last time, my
mother, who called Grieg and Rubinstein her ‘little whims’, only really loved
Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann and Scarlatti. She wouldn’t play ‘delightful
bad music’ except at odd moments and it was by chance that she played me
Rubinstein’s famous Romance which she’d learnt as a young girl.
Here’s how it happened: one August afternoon at Villers-sur-Mer, when
bad weather stopped me going out, I was gloomy and melancholy, as I often
am. ‘He’s in one of his moods, the old sausage,’ said my nurse. How does one
cheer up a gloomy child? With a mother’s subtle instincts (mine knew very well
that, in this case, I needed something new and unexpected), she rummaged in
her memory and came up with Rubinstein’s Romance, which I’d never heard. I
found it so entrancing that I said, ‘Again!’ Today, without fail, this music evokes
for me a drawing-room with a pitch-pine floor and turkey-red cotton hangings
on a stormy day. It’s perhaps through this simple romance that I imbibed,
unconsciously, a whole spectrum of uncomplicated melody in Tchaikovsky’s
music, at a time when Stravinsky had not yet provided him with a passport of
respectability.1

CR: Did your father also like music? And what sort?

FP: My father never missed a rehearsal of the Concerts Colonne, a premiere at


the Opéra or Opéra-Comique, and preferred above all Beethoven and Berlioz,
then César Franck and … finally … Massenet. L’Enfance du Christ and Marie-
Magdeleine brought traces of tears to his eyes.
188 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

CR: One could call that eclecticism …

FP: Often, when he was shaving in the morning, I heard from the bathroom: Pou,
pou, pou, pou (pass with the shaving brush), Pou, pou, pou, pou (pass with the
razor).

CR: I think I know the piece! But tell me: something that surprises me is that the
name of Bach isn’t mentioned in connection with either of your parents.

FP: It’s very simple. My parents had no conception of the abstract. For my
father, everything had to take concrete form. If he heard the Eroica, he thought
of Napoleon at Eylau. Marie-Magdeleine for him was a Puvis de Chavannes.
My mother likewise was very visual. Instantly you can understand my ‘concrete’
heredity. It was only much later that I learnt to admire Bach when Wanda
Landowska brought him to life for me. If I’m asked: ‘Who is the greatest
composer?’ I reply, naturally: ‘Bach’. But I don’t often want to listen to him …

CR: Probably you’d rather listen to Massenet, like your father?

FP: My dear Claude, there’s no need to be ironical. Readers will already be


having difficulty orienting themselves amid my contradictory tastes. Yes, I like
certain passages of Massenet, but even so I don’t put Thaïs and the Matthew
Passion in the same basket, as some of your colleagues would clearly like to
have me do. I start from the principle that every French composer has a little of
Massenet in his heart, just as every Italian keeps a small bit of Verdi or Puccini
within him. The ‘series’ that opens Dallapiccola’s Il prigioniero is the twin of
the opening of Tosca. And then let’s not forget that it was Massenet who saved
Debussy from Wagner … I can never hear the middle section of the second
Chanson de Bilitis without thinking of the famous aria ‘Miroir, dis-moi que je
suis belle’ from Thaïs. Doesn’t the central episode of the First Arabesque remind
you of Manon? Listen …
Interview 2 189

CR: Did Debussy awaken in you, spontaneously and unconsciously, even


through the slightly old-fashioned, Massenet-influenced style of his early works,
something new and original, which opened windows on to a new soundworld,
bringing into question everything that your child’s sensibility had registered
up to that point, as it were directed through your parents? What I mean is,
how did the most precious and most individual elements of Debussy’s genius
trigger something within you (you who would, later, become for a time rather
anti-Debussyste as a member of Les Six)?

FP: It was through Debussy that I made contact with contemporary music. Allow
me one more childhood memory. I promise you, my dear Claude, that from here
on I’ll abandon the ‘Once upon a time’ format. I was exactly eight years old when
I heard some Debussy for the first time. It was the Danses, sacrée et profane,
played by a harpist friend and string orchestra. I was literally overwhelmed: ‘It’s
so pretty! It’s a bit out of tune,’ I said and, when I got back home, I tried to put
together on the piano those novel chords of the ninth that intoxicated me. After
that, I never stopped demanding to be given Debussy to play, even though sadly
it was too difficult for my limited pianistic gifts. And then: when I was ten, I
bought some secretly, entering into a conspiracy of silence with our cook who
used to entertain her lover, a deliveryman for la Belle Jardinière, on the evenings
my parents were out.

CR: Crafty!
190 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: Never mind! That’s how I got hold of ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ and ‘La Soirée
dans Grenade’. Despite a self-defensive anti-Debussy crisis in 1917, when I met
Satie, Debussy has always remained the composer I like best after Mozart. I can’t
do without his music. It’s my oxygen. In any case the reaction of Les Six was
directed against Debussyism and not against Debussy. At 20, one always has to
turn one’s back, for a time, on one’s idols so as not to get covered in ivy.

CR: And what’s the story about Debussy’s hat I‘ve heard mentioned?

FP: It’s the story of an act of devotion. I’d often seen Debussy at the Concerts
Colonne rehearsals, on Saturday mornings at the Châtelet, which he came to
with his daughter Chouchou. My dream was to meet him. Well, one day I saw
Debussy and his wife going into a shop that sold mourning clothes (these shops
existed before 1914). While Mme Debussy and my mother were trying things on
in adjoining rooms, I took advantage of a moment when Debussy was telephoning
to touch the lining of his hat, which he’d left on a chair. If I’d dared, I’d have
kissed it. Debussy returned a moment later. I was blushing with pleasure, shame
and timidity. I think he saw this, because he gave me a little smile when he saw me
gazing at him with such admiration.

CR: And were there other great musical revelations?

FP: Of course: The Rite of Spring. I was 14 at the time. I already knew The
Firebird and Petrushka (very wisely, my parents took me to the theatre and
concerts while I was still quite young), but I’d never been to the Ballets russes
whose illustrated programme books had opened the doors of a magic paradise
for me. When Pierre Monteux conducted a concert performance of The Rite of
Spring at the Casino de Paris in the winter of 1914, I went alone with a friend at
whose house I was supposed to be spending the day.2 I came home so shocked
and thunderstruck that, during the evening, I couldn’t conceal from my parents
how I’d spent the day. ‘It’s not a concert for someone of your age,’ said my father,
as if the memorable scandal of the premiere had been caused by some indecency
or other. My mother smiled, approving internally, and said nothing. ‘You really
have got some weird musical tastes, my poor boy!’ my father finally grumbled.
‘Ah well!!!’ His ‘Ah wells’ were a sign of resignation, and the incident was closed.

Notes
1
[Stravinsky edited a version of The Sleeping Beauty for Diaghilev in 1921 and used
extracts from Tchaikovsky’s music in his own ballet Le Baiser de la Fée (The Fairy’s Kiss),
premiered under Stravinsky’s direction by the Ballets Ida Rubinstein at the Paris Opéra on
27 November 1928. RN.]
2
[In fact, Monteux gave this concert performance on 5 April 1914. RN.]
Interview 3
Poulenc at the Piano: Advice and Favourites

CR: You’re a composer, and we’ve spoken about the origins of that. But you’re
also a pianist. These days you display a certain stylishness as a pianist – more than
stylishness, maybe! Composers often play or conduct their own works badly or
very badly: Ravel, Schmitt and so on. Prokofiev, Hindemith and Britten are the
only exceptions to the rule.
You’re a composer for the piano. Your pianistic output is not, I know, the music
of yours you like best. But you’re always at the piano, and probably always will
be. You’ve written a lot for the instrument. And yet you don’t often play your
piano works, apart from the concertos. So you have had a ‘piano problem’ right
from the start, from the famous Mouvements perpétuels.

FP: Yes, my dear Claude, I do have a ‘piano problem’, but I’m sorry we should be
coming to it already, before sorting out certain points of …

CR: … your general aesthetic?

FP: If you like … It does mean jumping rather rapidly from the anecdotal style
of our previous interviews to the more technical approach demanded by your
question, but after all there is perhaps a certain logic to this, since the piano is
obviously at the heart of my musical vocation.
At the age of five, it was my mother who placed my fingers on the keyboard,
and then enlisted the help of an excellent lady who impressed me more by her
strange straw hats and her plum-coloured, mouse-coloured dresses than by her
easy-going teaching. At the age of eight, thank God, I was given daily lessons by
an assistant to Mlle Boutet de Monvel, one of César Franck’s nieces, who was
excellent on the technical front.1 Every evening, after school, I’d spend an hour of
serious work under her tuition, and whenever I had five free minutes during the
day, I’d rush off to the piano and do some sightreading.
I have to say I was quite a good at getting through the notes (‘getting through’
is the only phrase to describe my lack of technique at the time). That’s how I was
able, in 1913 at the age of 14, to enjoy Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. At 15,
as I wanted to study seriously, a friend of my family who became one of yours,
Mme Sienkiewicz, introduced me to Ricardo Viñes, for whom I had a passionate
admiration. At that time, in 1916, he was one of the rare professional pianists to
play modern music, together with Marguerite Long, the incomparable interpreter
of Fauré and Ravel, and Blanche Selva, the champion of d’Indy, Séverac and
Albéniz. That meeting with Viñes was crucial for me. I owe him everything.2
192 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

CR: Which is why, whether in Noizay or Paris, we always see a photo of Viñes on
your piano. Would you like to tell us something about him?

FP: Dear Viñes! I could talk about him for hours, I loved him so much and was
so proud of the affection he lavished on me. Just think, the first time I returned
to Barcelona after the Second World War, I was asked to play the Mouvements
perpétuels as an encore in his memory. As I announced them, I burst into tears.
Viñes was a delightful man; a strange hidalgo with large moustaches, wearing
a brown sombrero in true Barcelona fashion, and delicate button boots with
which he would kick my ankle when I made a clumsy pedal change. Pedalling is
an essential ingredient of modern music, and nobody taught it better than Viñes.
His technique allowed him to play clearly amid a welter of pedal, which seems
like a paradox. And what control of staccato! The great pianist Marcelle Meyer,
who was his most brilliant pupil, said to me one day after she’d played [the Three
Pieces from] Petrushka: ‘Thanks to Viñes, that’s not as hard as you think.’3

CR: Do you remember, by any chance, what you played at your first lesson?

FP: I think so. First, Schumann’s Faschingschwank aus Wien which I’ve always
adored (I adore Schumann), then some Debussy Preludes, including ‘Minstrels’.

CR: Was it your studies with Viñes that inspired you to write piano music?

FP: Undoubtedly. At the time of my first lessons, I composed some preludes of


unbelievable complexity, which would amaze you today. They were sub-Debussy,
written on three or four staves. These preludes from 1916 have never been played.
Auric was the only person to see them.
Then I dedicated to Viñes three pastorales in 1918. They remained unpublished
for some time, but in 1928 Casella wrote to me: ‘What happened to your pastorales?
I liked them a lot,’ so I had the idea of going back to them. They were published
as Trois pièces pour piano. The first of them is almost identical with the original
version; I kept the opening four bars and the conclusion of the second and turned
it into a ‘Toccata’, well known now thanks to Horowitz; finally I replaced the last
one with a ‘Hymne’, in the style of my Concert champêtre.
In fact, my first published piano work was the Mouvements perpétuels,
premiered by Viñes in 1919 at one of the Lyre et Palette concerts which, possibly,
I shall be talking about later, as I imagine, my dear Claude, that you won’t be slow
in asking me about the group known as Les Six.

CR: You may be sure I shan’t forget! But first, I’d like you to give me an overall
view of the evolution of your piano music from the Mouvements perpétuels of
1918 to the Thème varié of 1952. You’ve told me so often that you have no high
regard for your piano music, despite its success with professional pianists, that I’d
like you now to give some explanation of this.
Interview 3 193

FP: No doubt you’ll find me paradoxical when I say that it’s because I’m too
familiar with writing for the piano that I’ve failed with many of my pieces.
Facility, dodges, knowing the ropes – these often, I’m sorry to say, take the place
of true musical interest. I think in all honesty that my piano music is neither as good
as pianists claim, nor as bad as some of your fellow critics have said. The truth lies
in between. What’s strange is that when the piano is accompanying singers, then
I innovate. My piano writing is also quite different with orchestra or in chamber
music. It’s only the solo piano that eludes me. There I’m the victim of pretence.

CR: Even so, you’ve created gradually, following your instinct, an individual style
whose demands mean that when a pianist plays one of your Improvisations as if it
were Bach, or some other piece like a Chopin Nocturne, you’re furious …

FP: Clearly, it’s with my piano music that I suffer the greatest disappointments
on the interpretative front, deriving from the fact that I have a very precise
conception of how the instrument should be deployed. The serious technical
errors that disfigure my piano music, to the point of making it unrecognisable, are
these: rubato, stingy pedalling, and over-articulation of certain repeated chordal or
arpeggiated patterns which should, on the contrary, be played very blurred.
Let me explain: I hate rubato (as far as my own music’s concerned, that is).
Once a tempo is set, it must on no account be changed until I indicate the fact.
Never extend or shorten a note value. That drives me mad. I prefer all the wrong
notes in the world.
As for the use of the pedals, it’s the great secret of my piano music (and often
its real drama!). The pedal can never be used enough, do you hear! Never enough!
Never enough! Sometimes when I hear certain pianists playing my music, I want
to shout at them: ‘Put some butter in the sauce! What’s this diet you’re on!’ As
I’ve said, Viñes had such a fine pedal technique that maybe he taught me to put too
much confidence in the pedal. In fast music, I’ve sometimes relied on the pedal to
produce, in a virtual sense, the harmony of a passage that it would be impossible to
notate, exactly, at that tempo. In saying this I think especially of the last variation
of my Thème varié. As for the repeated chords and arpeggios, they should for the
most part be damped down to allow the tune to come out. Do you find it attractive
if a pianist plays the beginning of my seventh Improvisation like this? (Poulenc
makes fun of a well-known pianist.)
The German school of piano playing is, of course, the one furthest from my
pianistic aesthetic, as it is from those of Debussy and Ravel (the wonderful
Gieseking being excepted, naturally). The Russian school, on the other hand, suits
me perfectly. Nobody plays me better than Horowitz and how well Rubinstein does!
To be honest, I must add to the technical influence of Viñes that of Alfredo Casella.
This marvellous musician played the piano in a way I found enchanting: with what
precision his long hands moved over the keys, what an ideal staccato he had, and
what ingenuity in dividing up passages between the two hands! Without him I would
probably never have written the opening of my Concerto for two pianos like this:
194 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

CR: To conclude, may one ask you which of your piano pieces find approval in
your eyes, and which are your bêtes noires?

FP: That’s very simple. I tolerate the Mouvements perpétuels, my old Suite in C
and the Trois Pièces (originally pastorales). I’m very fond of my two volumes
of Improvisations, an Intermezzo in A flat and certain Nocturnes. I condemn
beyond redemption Napoli and the Soirées de Nazelles. As for the rest, they
don’t interest me.

CR: That makes a tidy ending.

FP: May I say one more thing?

CR: Of course!

FP: If pianists trusted my metronome markings, which have been calibrated very
carefully, then many calamities would be avoided.

Notes
1
The pianist Cécile Boutet de Monvel (1864–1940) studied at the Paris Conservatoire
and was a relative of César Franck, though not in fact his niece. She was also the
granddaughter of the tenor Adolphe Nourrit.
2
Poulenc was a pupil of the Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes (1875–1943) between
1914 and 1917. Through Viñes, Poulenc met Satie, Auric, Landowska and Marcelle Meyer.
Viñes was the dedicatee of a number of piano works by Debussy and Ravel, of which
he gave the first performances, and then did the same for Poulenc’s Trois mouvements
perpétuels (1918), his Pastorales (1918, reworked as Three Pieces in 1928), and his Suite
in C (1920). The last two works are dedicated to him, as is the book Emmanuel Chabrier,
published by Poulenc in 1961, with Marcelle Meyer as co-dedicatee.
Interview 3 195

3
The French pianist Marcelle Meyer (1897–1958) studied with Viñes, Marguerite
Long and Alfred Cortot. She was close to Les Six and often took part in their concerts. She
was also friendly with Cocteau, Sauguet and Stravinsky (as we can see from Jacques-Emile
Blanche’s 1921 painting of Les Six in which she is included). Poulenc dedicated to her his
Impromptus (1922), of which she gave the first performance, his Feuillets d’album (1933),
and partnered her with Viñes as dedicatees of his book Emmanuel Chabrier.
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Interview 4
The Maître of Arcueil and Lifelong Friends

CR: You’ve spoken already of your inheritance and your experience, on both
the emotional and musical fronts. I’d like to ask you today to tell me in what
way and in what state of mind you made your entry into the history of music.
I know that with your usual modesty you’re going to reply, with a discreet
lowering of the eyes, that ‘history of music’ is a rather grand phrase. In any
case, I’m wrong to speak of modesty in your case. Essentially that doesn’t exist,
which is all to the good. What could be mistaken for modesty is in fact anxiety.
Which is better still. True anxiety is the supreme elegance of an authentic spirit,
of a true creator.
To return to my point: at one moment you made a rather visible entrance on to
the stage of the great drama called, whether you like it or not, the history of music.
I’d like to talk about the episode of the group known as Les Six. We’ve arrived!
How did you get to know your colleagues in the group?

FP: With an unusual show of logic, the first I met was the one who’s become
my spiritual brother: I mean Georges Auric. We’re exactly the same age. I’m
just over a month older than he is but, intellectually, I’ve always felt younger.
Auric’s precocity was such, in every sphere, that at the age of 14 his music was
played at the Société nationale de musique.1 At 15 he was discussing sociology
with Léon Bloy and theology with Jacques Maritain, and at 17 Apollinaire read
Les Mamelles de Tirésias out to him in order to ask his advice.
Viñes, with his pinpoint intelligence, understood at once that we were made
for each other, and I’d only been having piano lessons with him for a couple
of months when he introduced me to Auric. That was in 1916, if I remember
correctly.
Auric was then living in Montmartre, on the rue Lamarck, behind the Sacré-
Cœur. I recall with emotion the smallest details of his room. On a piano, rarely
in tune and with an uneven touch, was accumulating a mountain of music that
testified to total eclecticism, going from the sixteenth-century polyphonists to
the operettas of Messager, by way of Schönberg’s Pierrot lunaire and Bartók’s
Allegro barbaro. A little snake made of pearls, a souvenir of Egypt or Morocco,
was fixed to the candleholders on the right of the piano. There are some works,
like Parade, that I can’t hear without seeing this little snake jumping about.
As soon as I got to know Auric, I was fascinated by his culture and we were
never separated. He had sensed that, under my appearance as a bourgeois young
man, I was extremely open-minded and that our relationship could be mutually
beneficial.
198 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

We were often joined by someone, now dead alas, who was my closest
childhood friend: Raymonde Linossier, who is so well described by Léon-Paul
Fargue in his commemorative poem La violette noire. She was a friend of dear
Adrienne Monnier, the famous bookshop owner in the rue de l’Odéon, and
of Fargue, Joyce, Gide and Valéry Larbaud, and she was, with Auric, the real
intellectual inspiration of my adolescence. She was there for the premieres, three
days apart, of Auric’s Les Fâcheux and my Les Biches at Monte-Carlo in 1924.
Sadly, death took her prematurely in 1930 and since then I have never found a
source of such lucid and affectionate advice except in Auric. Everything in life
has worked to allow us to live in parallel, Auric and me.
We played together in the premiere of Stravinsky’s Les Noces. We were, both
of us, part of Diaghilev’s organisation, we both shared in Paul Eluard’s affection,
and so on! Nearly 40 years of friendship find us still as close as ever. It’s a blessing
beyond price and a rare one between two artists. I confess that when I’m present
at one of Auric’s successes, like that of Phèdre at the Opéra recently, I have tears
in my eyes and I’m paralysed by emotion and nerves.2

CR: What you say is very striking. At least, I’ve always been struck, when
listening to a conversation between Auric and you, by a kind of secret complicity
that exists between you, and into which it’s impossible to intrude. You seem to
speak a language that’s unknown, mysterious – which is probably the sign of a
fairly rare, reciprocal meeting of minds. But after Auric …

FP: The second member of Les Six I met was Arthur Honegger, in 1917 in
Jeanne Bathori’s flat. The excellent Viñes, once again, who doted on me (please
forgive this touch of immodesty), took me to see Jeanne Bathori whom I admired
enormously. What has she not done, this important, well-loved artist, for modern
music? She was an early interpreter of Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Roussel, Satie,
Milhaud and so many others, and she brought together in her studio on the
boulevard Péreire the young musicians who wanted to meet and get to know each
other.
André Caplet had recently returned from the front and from time to time
would conduct a curious choir in her flat which included, among the basses,
my two teachers Ricardo Viñes and Charles Koechlin and, doing I can’t
remember what, Honegger and myself.3 We were singing through Ravel’s three
unaccompanied songs which were still unpublished. The result wasn’t brilliant,
but there was plenty of goodwill. On the first few occasions, I found Honegger
intimidating despite the cheerful, welcoming smile he always wore, but I was
quick to get to know him and everything went splendidly after I saw him in
Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, put on by Bathori at the Théâtre Vieux-Colombier,
in which he’d been disguised as a drummer by his friend, the painter Ochsé.
He was always accompanied by a charming girl with a Pre-Raphaelite face.
This charming girl, modest but clever, has since become his wife. I’ve always
retained a soft spot for her.4
Interview 4 199

CR: Are you as close idealogically to Honegger as you are to Auric?

FP: If I’m not as intimate with Honegger as I am with Auric and Milhaud, it’s not
at all for aesthetic reasons, as I like nothing better than what’s my opposite; the
reason is the down-to-earth one of the telephone – Arthur never answers a call,
doesn’t open his door if you ring the bell, and hardly ever looks at his post. You
have to admit that makes intimacy difficult. When I meet him at a concert or at the
theatre, with his wife, I say to myself quite feelingly: ‘How sad it is we see each
other so rarely!’

CR: Sad indeed, because it’s easy to imagine to what extent this lack of contact
between two such different composers is a loss to them both. And after Honegger?

FP: At the same period I got to know Germaine Tailleferre and Louis Durey.
How delightful Germaine was in 1917, with her schoolgirl’s satchel full of all
her First Prizes from the Conservatoire! She was so nice and so talented. She
still is, but I rather regret that her excessive modesty has prevented her from
producing everything that a Marie Laurencin, for instance, was able to draw from
her feminine talent. Even so, her music is so charming and distinguished! I’m
always taken by it.
The loyal Louis Durey (who, for some reason or other, split off from us just
as Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel was setting the seal, temporarily, on our arbitrary
group), the silent Louis Durey is the very image of modesty and nobility.5
I dedicated to him my earliest songs, Le Bestiaire, which I had unwittingly
composed at the same time as his. I should be glad for people to regard this
heartfelt hommage as a sign of the affection and esteem in which I’ve always
held him.

CR: And Milhaud, our friend Darius, you’re going to speak of him?

FP: My dear Claude, be patient; I’ve been adopting a chronological order, and you
must remember that to begin with Milhaud was only notionally a member of our
group, since in 1917 he was still in Brazil with Paul Claudel.6 Bathori knew that
he would be one of us. So she attached him to our group by proxy. When Milhaud
came back from Brazil, I was literally thunderstruck, which can be as useful in
friendship as in love. He was so attractive, this well-set-up Mediterranean type
leaning on a slender stick made of rhinoceros horn, wearing a light grey suit with
strawberry- and lemon-coloured ties! And he was so funny, telling his stories of
the tropics, and it was so delightful to listen to him playing, with his wonderfully
casual touch, what he’d written on his travels: Saudades do Brazil or Le Boeuf
sur le Toit! I’d long been a Milhaud admirer, but in 1914, without knowing me,
he sent me a rather stuffy card in reply to my request for an autograph, and this
made me afraid he might be a pundit. But then I found him to be the most friendly
of colleagues.
200 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

CR: Have you kept Milhaud’s card?

FP: Sadly no, I lost it!7 From the time he returned from Brazil, Milhaud has been
a close friend. In 1920 we travelled to Italy. In 1921 we went to Vienna to pay our
respects to Schönberg.8 It was there, in the house of Mahler’s widow, we met Berg
and Webern.
Over the years I’ve come to admire Milhaud’s music more and more. It’s
a long time since I wrote Sauguet an unfair, stupid letter about La Création du
monde – a letter dear Darius was unwise enough to read one day when it was lying
on Sauguet’s table ! When I heard La Création again last winter, on the contrary,
I was struck with admiration for its beauty, without wrinkles or fashionable tricks.

CR: Now you’ve mentioned the six composers, say something about the group
called Les Six.

FP: Is it worth it? Everyone knows this old story. Six composers were brought
together several times, thanks to Jeanne Bathori at the Théâtre Vieux-Colombier
and Félix Delgrange at Lyre et Palette. Henri Collet, a critic for Comoedia, called
us the six Frenchmen, after the well-known five Russians. It was a slick name but,
as the young are always keen to have publicity, we accepted a title which, in reality,
didn’t mean a great deal. The diversity of our compositions, likes and dislikes
meant there could be no shared aesthetic. What could be more different than the
music of Honegger and Auric? Milhaud admired Magnard, I didn’t; neither of
us liked Florent Schmitt’s music which Honegger respected; Arthur, on the other
hand, deeply despised the music of Satie, which Auric, Milhaud and I adored.

CR: Quite a mixture! But tell me, what role did Cocteau play in all this?

FP: That of a manager of genius and of a good and faithful friend. He was, if you
like, our poetic chronicler rather than our theoretician.

CR: So Le Coq et l’Arlequin was not the group’s Gospel?

FP: To tell the truth, Le Coq et l’Arlequin was not so much a group manifesto as
a defence of Satie’s aesthetic in opposition to the great names from before 1914:
Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. Cocteau in 1917 had just put on Parade with Satie
and Picasso, and wanted our aesthetic to be his. Milhaud’s Les Choéphores and
[Honegger’s] Le Roi David were the opposite of the clear, raw art he was espousing.
You can see at a glance that the group called Les Six was not an aesthetic group,
simply a collection of friends.

CR: And what role did Satie play, for you in particular?
Interview 4 201

FP: Satie knew perfectly well that not everybody thought as he did and that not
everybody admired him equally (which for him was very important), and he never
assumed the position of group leader. Since Honegger, for one, was never going
to come over to his side, he was content to encourage us, bring us together, and
sometimes even to separate us as a kind of game, about which I may say more
later. Satie’s influence on me was considerable, as much spiritually as musically.
When I met him, in 1916, I’d admired and played his music for years. Parade
brought us together, and his music remains for me one of the greatest treasures in
the whole of music.
I got to know Satie through Viñes, of course. To begin with, he was suspicious
of me because he thought I was merely a daddy’s boy. Auric and Raymonde
Linossier persuaded him otherwise and, when he saw my enthusiasm for Parade,
he adopted me completely. The ‘good master’, as we used to call him, often used
to come and have a meal at our house.
I remember a strange lunch, on 8 April 1922, when Bartók and Satie met
there, for the first and last time. Several of their works, which they signed for
me that day, testify to the date. Like two birds who sing different songs, Bartók
and Satie watched each other, were on guard against each other and maintained a
heavy silence which Auric and I vainly attempted to break. It remains for me an
extraordinary and highly symbolic memory.

CR: It’s true, this kind of meeting is often very disappointing. But to come back to
Satie, do you consider he had a real influence on you?

FP: Satie’s influence on my music was profound and immediate. In 1917, I was
still at the stage of writing sub-Stravinsky, taken from The Nightingale. I was
rather proud, I admit, of a piano piece called Processional for the cremation of a
mandarin.

CR: Good heavens! You were really going for it! Not exactly a title to suit Les
Six! What was it like?

FP: The beginning, if I can remember, went something like this – very ‘Chinese
march’ from The Nightingale. (Poulenc plays a few bars.)

CR: It’s rich and terrifying! All Asia is there!

FP: Yes, all Asia, as found in the cheap stores! Shortly afterwards, I was writing
the Mouvements perpétuels and, slightly later still, the Suite in C which is so
clearly influenced by Satie.
You have to admit, the metamorphosis took place in the twinkling of an eye
under the guidance of a wizard who had a clear view of my true personality. Even
today, I often ask myself: ‘What would Satie have thought of this or that work of
mine?’
202 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Notes
1
[Poulenc exaggerates slightly. Auric’s Quatre poèmes chinois were performed at
the Société nationale de musique on 28 March 1914, when he was 15. RN.]
2
[Auric’s tragédie chorégraphique Phèdre was premiered at the Paris Opéra on
14 June 1950. The scenario, curtain design, décor and costumes were all by Jean Cocteau.
RN.]
3
[André Caplet (1878–1925) studied at the Paris Conservatoire. His compositions
often reflected his close friendship with Debussy, whose Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien he
conducted in 1911, having helped Debussy with the orchestration. He died of gas poisoning
after serving in the trenches of the First World War. RN.]
4
Andrée Vaurabourg (1894–1980) was a pianist who married Honegger in 1926.
At the end of the Second World War she taught counterpoint to Pierre Boulez.
5
[Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, with words by Cocteau and music by all of Les Six
except Durey, was premiered by the Ballets suédois at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
on 18 June 1921. Durey did not participate because he felt unable to go along with his
colleagues’ dismissal of Ravel as a has-been. RN.]
6
[Milhaud went to Brazil in 1916 as secretary to Paul Claudel, who had been
appointed French Ambassador. RN.]
7
This Milhaud letter has not been lost and was published in Francis Poulenc,
Correspondance 1910–1963, ed. Myriam Chimènes, Fayard, 1994, p. 49. [It is published
in Sidney Buckland’s English translation in her book, Francis Poulenc, ‘Echo and Source’,
Gollancz, 1991, p. 23. RN.]
8
This trip to Vienna took place at the beginning of 1922 and not in 1921 (see note 2
to the 1945 text ‘The composer and the sorcerer’, p. 37).
Interview 5
From Monte-Carlo to Paris under
the Occupation

CR: Last time, you spoke to us about what I could call your ‘fauve’ period, or to
be more precise, the beginnings of your ‘fauve’ period, the heroic era of Les Six
which was thought to be a deliberate plot, but which was really no more than a
series of what are called ‘chain reactions’, of the sort that occur in a timely and
useful manner throughout the history of music. But might the ‘fauve’ be a close
relation of the ‘dandy’… at that period, as in the time of Balzac when dandies were
known as ‘lions’?
After these ‘fauve’ beginnings, didn’t you in essence go through a ‘dandy’
period? And ‘dandy’ in a particular sense! With the ballet? That’s to say,
Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, with which he put on Les Biches, your first large-scale
work. With hindsight, how do you see your first collaboration with Diaghilev?

FP: I see this collaboration with the Ballets russes as an unlooked-for


opportunity, a great stroke of luck, the most vibrant of my youthful memories.
Dear, irreplaceable Diaghilev, you were the wonder of my 20-year-old self, not
only because you gave me your confidence and esteem, but because I owe to you
my most violent aesthetic shocks. To explain here what the Ballets russes were
would merely be to repeat what everyone already knows; but the magnificent
thing about Diaghilev – and something that needs to be repeated incessantly –
was that perpetual search for the new which, among other things, often led to him
being unfair. Auric could testify to our amazement when we heard him throwing
Daphnis or The Three-Cornered Hat on to the rubbish heap, while defending
works that he knew, deep down, to be inferior, but which were new. It was thanks
to these injustices that Diaghilev never repeated himself.
You ask, my dear Claude, whether I went through a ‘dandy’ period. I don’t
entirely understand what you mean by that, but I’ll try and guess. You’d like to
know if I assumed an attitude, if, like the ‘Incroyables’, I banished the letter ‘r’
from my musical language.1 Good God, no! Never, in the course of my life, have
I adopted a premeditated pose. No one’s more spontaneous than me. As a friend
over so many years, don’t you know that?

CR: Now, yes! But earlier on? There are very unaffected people who have had
their crisis of originality when they were young! Anyway, how did Diaghilev
come to commission Les Biches from you?
204 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: Diaghilev loved making aesthetically pleasing marriages. When Messager and
I introduced him to the music of Rieti, I can still see him, first of all ruminating,
then suddenly declaring with a smile: ‘It’s perfect, it’ll do for a ballet with Utrillo.’
After hearing various works of mine, he engaged me (artistically, that is) to Marie
Laurencin, while commissioning a ballet, Les Fâcheux, from Auric and Braque.

CR: To start with, did you have a clear idea how you were going to write your first
ballet? Every composer sees the dance in a different way. There’s the composer
who writes a ballet before all else, and manages to forget his usual style. Then, on
the other hand, there’s the composer who is not looking particularly to write ‘ballet
music’, and who intends primarily to remain himself, often with a total disdain for
the dance. I have the impression you’re placed somewhere in between the two,
both with Les Biches and with Les Animaux modèles.

FP: Perhaps. Anyway, I repeat, I’ve never taken up aesthetic positions, still less
any system, and since, in any case, I was at the start of my career, I didn’t have
anything to confirm or deny.2
Diaghilev had suggested I write for him an atmospheric ballet, a sort of modern
Les Sylphides, and I had the idea of these ‘fêtes galantes of 1923’ in which, as
in some of Watteau’s pictures, you can either see nothing or imagine the worst.
Twenty or so ravishing coquettes, three strong young men in rowing costumes,
together on a warm July day in an enormous salon containing nothing but a huge
sofa in Laurencin blue – I thought that would be enough to create the erotic
atmosphere I wanted: the atmosphere of my 20-year-old self.

CR: Even 30 years later, the erotic scent undoubtedly still remains. I was struck by
that a few months ago when I received Roger Désormière’s wonderful recording
of the ballet suite.3

FP: If the scent of Les Biches remains on that disc, with a sort of cynical freshness,
it’s because no one will ever conduct this work as perfectly as Désormière. He
understands all the sprightliness and joyful unconcern I put into it. In Les Biches
it’s not a question of love, but of pleasure. That’s why the ‘Adagietto’ must be
played without romantic pathos. In this ballet nobody falls in love for life, they
have sex! Let’s just leave it there.

CR: Ha ha! And how did it come about that there was this complete match with
Marie Laurencin, who did the décor and costumes? I ask the question because
Marie Laurencin almost never achieved such a precise touch in the matter of
eroticism. In this respect, she always remained very ‘Bibliothèque rose’ compared
with the real ‘Bibliothèque rose’ of Mme de Ségur.4 How did you persuade her to
think of those lads in sky-blue bathing costumes, that lady in the ‘Rag-Mazurka’
halfway between the Casino and the brothel, and so on?
Interview 5 205

FP: It’s true, there’s often a ‘Bibliothèque rose’ side to Marie Laurencin, but
in her early work, before 1925, there’s clearly an underlying eroticism. What
could be more suggestive than the little blue velvet jacket Mme Nemtchinova
wore in Les Biches in 1924? Falling flush with simple white tights, it gave her an
equivocal appearance, but of the highest class. The lady of the ‘Rag-mazurka’,
in a Chanel dress and covered with jewels, she was, to my way of thinking, the
hostess of that ‘house party’ whose chic and boodle were the most obvious come-
ons for those three gentlemen.

CR: But how was it possible to get over all these subtleties to the dancers? How
did Nijinska – she was the choreographer, I believe – feel all that?5

FP: This is where instinct, which I’ve always felt is our most perceptive detector,
plays its part. Mme Nijinska is a person of extraordinary purity. Diaghilev said to
me: ‘Don’t worry, she’ll suss it out without understanding it.’ Precisely that. As the
ballet didn’t have a storyline, we worked together on a choreographic structure:

Here, an ensemble;
Here, a pas de deux;
Here, a pas de trois, and so on.

Imperceptibly, the dance of the two ladies in grey, a simple feminine pas de deux,
became a dance that was secretly Proustian (Albertine and a female friend at
Balbec). It was Nijinska’s instinctive genius that made such audacity possible.

CR: And who found the title?

FP: I did, one July evening when I was coming back in an open cab from the
Bastille with Valentine Hugo. I was looking for an animal title, like Les Sylphides,
and suddenly I cried out: ‘Why not Les Biches?’, playing on the animal side of
some of Laurencin’s women, and on the double meaning of the word ‘biche’ in the
French language.6 For this reason, Biches can’t be translated into English, which
is why the ballet in London is called House party …

CR: Which, for us, would be decidedly ambiguous!


Didn’t you tell me that the ‘Adagietto’ in Les Biches was suggested to you by
a variation in The Sleeping Beauty?

FP: Yes, absolutely. Don’t forget that in 1923, Tchaikovsky, the magician of my
youth, had just been cleared for use by Stravinsky.7

CR: Play me a few bars of that variation from The Sleeping Beauty and then it’ll
be interesting to hear the ‘Adagietto’ from Les Biches, conducted by Désormière,
as you would like.
206 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

(Poulenc plays)

CR: When I think of Les Animaux modèles, the atmosphere is very different:
after the uneasy delights of Les Biches (which we find also in all your music up
until 1930–1935), in Les Animaux modèles there’s something entirely different,
even contrary, opposite. In this commentary on the fables of La Fontaine, there’s
nothing … ambiguous. The peasants smell of wholesome sweat, the bread smells
of wholesome bread. Everything’s natural, without mystery (apart from the
French can-can of the henhouse). How did you envisage the work, a work that
ultimately consisted in the formidable task of ‘illustrating’ La Fontaine? Did you
have a preliminary notion of how you might translate into music this conjunction
of ‘man-beast’ and ‘beast-man’ that lies at the heart of La Fontaine’s genius?
Were your thoughts essentially fixed on La Fontaine, or were his sketches no
more than pretexts?

FP: Of course, my dear Claude, with Les Animaux modèles we’re a long way from
Les Biches in every respect. There were 20 years between these two works and the
circumstances of the two premieres were totally different. Les Biches was staged
in 1924, in my adored Monte-Carlo, at a time when all was well. It was all ease,
insouciance, sunshine and good humour. Auric and I were like two twin brothers.
We hurled ourselves into our career like gluttons – we gorged ourselves, you might
say – whereas when I began to write Les Animaux modèles, it was in the darkest
Interview 5 207

days of the summer of 1940 when I was looking to find, at any cost, some reason
for hope in my country’s destiny.
Years earlier, Jacques Rouché had asked me to compose a ballet for the Opéra,
and I was thinking of basing a scenario on some of La Fontaine’s fables.8 In
August 1940 I set to work in Brive-la-Gaillarde, where I’d ended up after my
demobilisation. A friend [Marthe Bosredon], to whom I’ve dedicated several of
my songs and, together with Pierre Fournier, my Cello Sonata, lent me the use of
her piano, so that’s where I began my ballet. I chose fables that didn’t necessarily
demand dressing-up in animal costumes or ones that could be interpreted
symbolically, like ‘Le Lion amoureux’, whom I turned into a naughty boy, which
explains why the pas-de-deux is a java.

CR: Another memory of your youth in Nogent!

FP: The ballet was produced on 8 August 1942 – the German Occupation
completely reorganised the theatre calendar. You can imagine an audience
of German officers and secretaries in ‘dull grey’ watching a show that was so
typically French. I gave myself the treat, recognised only by some members of the
orchestra, of including the popular song ‘Non, non, vous n’aurez pas notre Alsace-
Lorraine’ into the fight between the two cocks.9 Each time the trumpet started out
on the tune, I couldn’t help smiling. Initially I called the ballet Les Animaux et
leurs hommes, after the title of a well-known collection of poems by Eluard. Even
though all the Surrealists detested La Fontaine (I’ve no idea why), dear Eluard was
kind enough to find me the simple but striking title of Animaux modèles; his first
suggestion, A la lueur de l’homme, was admirable but too literary. So that’s how
Les Animaux modèles came about.

CR: And where do you place the work musically? I ask because I have the
impression that it has a value beyond itself and that it was an important marker in
your development.

FP: Yes, I think it’s a kind of crossroads, combining two elements: the style of my
choral works from 1938 to 1940, a final whiff of eroticism which you’ve rightly
remarked on in the hens’ French can-can, and secondly a more complex harmonic
style I adopted, in different areas, from 1940 to 1950.

CR: All in all then, Les Animaux modèles are more of a transition than a key work.

FP: That’s right.

CR: And as a meticulous writer who likes to classify things, and bearing in mind
the symbolic sign of the cross with which the ballet ends, I shall put it down
as marking the start of a period when the serious Poulenc took over from the
naughty boy.
208 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: If you wish …

Notes
1
[In Paris, the death of Robespierre in 1794 was followed by an outbreak of levity
and consumerism, most notably among the ‘Incroyables’ and their female counterparts the
‘Merveilleuses’. Elaborate costumes mimicked the styles of ancient Greece and Rome, and
by some the letter ‘r’ was banned as standing for ‘révolution’ (hence ‘Inc’oyables’). RN.]
2
This statement isn’t entirely true. In fact, Les Biches mark the end of a period
of unease for Poulenc regarding his musical language (see note 10 to the 1935 talk ‘My
teachers and my friends’, p. 102).
3
The conductor Roger Désormière (1898–1963) had belonged as a composer to the
Ecole d’Arcueil, formed around Satie in 1923. He took a particular interest in contemporary
French music (Satie, Milhaud, Poulenc, Messiaen, Dutilleux, Boulez) and conducted the
Ballets suédois and the Ballets russes (1924–1929), the orchestras of the Opéra-Comique
and the Opéra (1937–1946), and then the Orchestre national de France (1947–1951). He
gave first performances of several Poulenc works: Le Bal masqué in 1932, the Organ
Concerto in 1939 and Les Animaux modèles in 1942. He was also the first to record the
suite from Les Biches, in 1951 with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. He had to abandon
his career in 1952 after a stroke left him unable to speak.
4
[Poulenc seems to be saying that the influence here, rather than that of the Comtesse
de Ségur (see Interview 1, note 1), was that of the later contents of the Bibiliothèque rose,
notably the novels of Enid Blyton. RN.]
5
The Russian dancer and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska (1891–1972) was a
member of Diaghilev’s Ballets russes from 1909, as was her brother Vaslav Nijinsky. She
was responsible for the choreography of Les Biches in which she danced the role of The
Hostess, alternating with Ninette de Valois.
6
[In French, ‘biche’ can mean either ‘doe’ or ‘darling’. RN.]
7
[This refers to Stravinsky’s collaboration with Diaghilev over a 1921 London
production of The Sleeping Beauty and possibly also to the subsequent dedication of his
opera Mavra (1922) to Pushkin, Glinka and Tchaikovsky. RN.]
8
Jacques Rouché (1862–1957) was the organiser of the 1889 Universal Exhibition.
From 1907 he ran the Théâtre des Arts and in 1914 was appointed director of the Paris
Opéra, where he remained until 1944. At the time of this article, Poulenc was in touch with
him over his ballet Les Animaux modèles, premiered at the Opéra on 8 August 1942; so
maybe his compliments were not disinterested.
9
In fact it’s in the movement of his Animaux modèles entitled ‘Le lion amoureux’
that Poulenc alludes, in the main tune of the movement, to the song ‘Vous n’aurez pas
l’Alsace et la Lorraine’, written in 1873 after the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the
German empire.
Interview 6
The Composer and His Poets:
The Meeting with Eluard

CR: So far, we’ve made an almost complete tour of your origins, your tastes and
your education, that’s to say everything you brought with you and everything you
used to make your entry at the start of your career as a composer. But there’s one
thing we haven’t mentioned: poetry – which seems to me to play a particularly
important role in your composing career.
Those people who, in principle, don’t regard you favourably – or who at least
are careful not to say or write anything in that vein – are, I think, in agreement
in recognising that you don’t do too badly as a song writer. Mind you, they’re
quick to give an utterly orthodox explanation for their wavering attitude, saying
that as you’ve no sense of form (as is the case with most of those contemporary
French composers who are so utterly French), you find yourself entirely at ease
and solidly supported when you build on the formal structure of a good poem
that’s well ‘composed’ and which, whether you like it or not, provides you with
an architecture – what M Leibowitz might call a ‘compositional concretisation’.1

FP: Some jargon! Why not ‘excremental concretisation’? That sounds better. But
talking of jargon, my dear Claude, may I digress at this point? One always thinks,
whether one wishes to or not, in one’s native tongue, but even if one writes correct
French, the idiom is nonetheless often unsuited to the idea it has to express. As a
result, we find ourselves reading, in the language of Racine, bizarre notions that
are entirely plausible in the language of Goethe. I’m not attaching blame here,
merely observing. Heaven knows, I admire Julien Green, who’s a masterly stylist;2
but that doesn’t stop me thinking of him as one of the great American novelists
and not as a compatriot of Gide, André Breton or Colette. Talking of form, do you
know, my dear Claude, the astonishing remark the great pianist Artur Schnabel
made to Pierre Fournier: ‘Ravel’s music, it’s really such a bugger’s muddle’. You
feel you’re in another world! But to come back to poetry.

CR: Yes, let’s come back to poetry, which you love and know so well.

FP: If some of your colleagues think poetry has served me as a prop, that’s a
significant diminution of its role and of the reverence I’ve always felt for it. Are
you aware that for a song to work, you have to construct it, and that for a cycle
to balance, you have to follow a very subtle plan as to the succession of keys,
tempi and nuances? Do you imagine La bonne chanson didn’t present Fauré with
210 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

a problem of form, triumphantly resolved by the final song which sums up the
whole cycle?
Do you think it’s by chance that the first and last songs of my cycle Tel jour,
telle nuit share the same key of C major and an identical tempo? Do you think I
acted casually in giving the cycle a coda for piano alone, allowing the audience,
as with Schumann’s Dichterliebe, to prolong their emotion through it? No, no,
believe me, a song or a song cycle is the opposite of an improvisation, at least
for me. Here form takes on the role of a corset just as strictly as in a sonata or a
symphony. You’ve seen me at work for 20 years now, and you know better than
anyone that I don’t improvise my songs; that a song like ‘Montparnasse’ lay on my
work desk for nearly two years.

CR: To take ‘Montparnasse’ as a particular example, what was the problem and
how did you set about solving it?

FP: First, I found the music for the line ‘un poète lyrique d’Allemagne’…

(Poulenc plays)

then … months later … ‘donnez-moi pour toujours une chambre à la semaine’.

(Poulenc plays)

That gave me the general colouring and the internal rhythm of the piece but, as
I never transpose a phrase that comes to me in a particular key, just to make things
easier, I then really had to start constructing my song so that everything followed
Interview 6 211

logically. I don’t think the result gives the impression of being patched together
but, on the contrary, of something constructed.

CR: Indeed, it’s undoubtedly one of your finest songs. And Apollinaire was also
one of your first poets, I think?

FP: Apollinaire was my first poet. Adrienne Monnier ran that famous bookshop
on the rue de l’Odéon, where Valéry, Fargue, Gide and Joyce used to meet, and
when I was mobilised at Pont-sur-Seine in January 1919 she sent me the second
impression of Le Bestiaire with Dufy’s woodcuts. As I’ve already said, I discovered
real countryside when I went to the front in July 1918. ‘La carpe’ found its visual
counterpart in a melancholy pond where, in melancholy fashion, my melancholy
captain used to fish, and one evening in February 1919 I set to music that ‘poisson
de la mélancolie’.
The original version of Le Bestiaire contained 12 songs. Auric, very wisely,
made me take out six of them, which led to the work’s success. What’s not generally
known is that the original version is for string quartet, flute, clarinet and bassoon.

CR: Le Bestiaire presents a rather subtle problem of interpretation, doesn’t it?

FP: Yes, Le Bestiaire mustn’t be sung with irony and complicit winks, as I’ve
heard done so many times, but solemnly, as Claire Croiza, Marya Freund and
Bernac have done superbly.3 It was through these little poems that I guessed at
Apollinaire’s melancholy before meeting him.
The same period saw the composition of Cocardes, on archetypally French
poems by Jean Cocteau, in the spirit of La Fresnaye’s watercolours. The
accompaniment on small orchestra (cornet, trombone, violin, bass drum, triangle)
was an exact match for the circus style Cocteau wanted. It’s the work of mine
closest to the spirit of Les Six.
Quite a bit later, I wrote the Cinq poèmes de Ronsard, for which Picasso
designed me a cover. No question, it’s the best thing about the work.

CR: I like your honesty! Why do you reject it?

FP: Here’s why: at that time I was studying counterpoint with Koechlin and I was
trying to fill out my style. What happened to me was the same (with due regard
to the difference in our abilities, naturally) as what happened to Debussy when he
composed his songs to poems by Baudelaire after the Ariettes oubliées: my earliest
songs were authentic, the following ones forced. Auric, once again, warned me
about it.
I think back, still, to the little station at Meudon one April night. We’d just
spent the evening with Louis Laloy, Debussy’s great friend and first biographer.
The air smelt of lilacs; I was feeling in fine form. Suddenly, just as the train was
coming into the station, Auric, as though someone had turned a key, suddenly
212 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

said to me: ‘I must tell you. Your Ronsard songs, apart from the beginning of the
first one and the end of the last, that’s not you. Believe me. You’re not made for
the classical poets. Stay with Apollinaire, set Max Jacob, Eluard and Reverdy.’ I
realised at once he was right and for several years gave up composing songs, as I
didn’t feel capable of tackling the contemporary poets I revered.

CR: So that’s why you began to find your voice by setting minor poetry, by Moréas,
for instance.4 I note that, for you, this is an almost unique exception. That’s rarely
the case with French composers, because César Franck, Gounod, Bizet, Fauré
and even Debussy have been entirely serious in setting dreadful poems by Sully-
Prudhomme, Armand Silvestre, Samain and Paul Bourget.

FP: It’s true, in 1927 I ‘committed’ four Airs chantés on poems by Moréas. I
don’t like this poet but, as a joke, to tease my friend and publisher François Hepp,
who adored him, I decided to set four of his sonnets, giving myself permission to
indulge in every possible sacrilege. But as I’m a born admirer of poetry, I didn’t in
the end do more than give the prosody a bit of a twist in the ‘Air champêtre’ with
‘sous-la-mou-sous-la-mousse-à-moitié’!
In 1926 I wrote my Chansons gaillardes, which are ditties, not songs. In
fact it was only in 1931 that I came back to Apollinaire – the Quatre poèmes
d’Apollinaire were the beginning of a long series of songs.

CR: As Pierre Bernac has asked our permission to sit in, smiling silently, on this
conversation, touching a subject he knows well, I should like to ask him to sing
two of these songs by a ‘rediscovered Poulenc’, as Auric put it at that time.

(Pierre Bernac sings ‘Carte postale’ and ‘Avant le cinéma’.)

CR: Thank you, Pierre Bernac. Those two songs, dear Francis, do suggest to
me another question. If we admit you have the good fortune to possess a flair or
particularly good taste, did you, in setting Max Jacob and Apollinaire, do so from
an exclusively poetical point of view? Or were you already closely concerned
with matters of a technical nature? I’m thinking of prosody. That’s my point – and
one we’ll return to – given that the poets you’ve set have always been ones with
prosody that’s difficult, and that you’ve always shown a particular concern with
prosody, something not shared by too many of your colleagues.

FP: As I’ve already told you, my dear Claude, I’ve never undertaken anything
out of aesthetic premeditation. The musical translation of a poem must be an act
of love, never a marriage of reason. I’ve set Apollinaire and Max Jacob to music
because I love their poetry. That’s all there is to it. I’ve never been able to do
without poetry; at the age of ten, I was ecstatically reciting Mallarmé’s ‘Apparition’
with the secret hope of one day becoming … a great tragic actor.
Interview 6 213

CR: What else? Mounet-Sully, of course!5 But … if I may repeat my question:


what’s the source of your commendable concern with prosody, which endows
your vocal music with special literary class?

FP: This concern comes from my respect for verse (whether regular or free).
When I’ve chosen a poem – and sometimes I don’t set it until months later – I
examine it from every angle. If it’s a question of Apollinaire or Eluard, I attach
the greatest importance to the look of the poem on the page, to the spaces and
the margins. I recite the poem to myself over and over. I listen to it, I watch out
for traps, sometimes I underline difficult passages of the text in red. I note the
breaths and try to discover the internal rhythm, taking it from a line which is not
necessarily the first one. Then I embark on the musical setting, bearing in mind
the differing densities of the piano accompaniment. When I’m brought up short
by a detail in the prosody, I don’t slave away at it. Sometimes I wait for days and
try to forget the word until I can see it as new. Will you allow me to quote a small
victory of prosody? Forgive my immodesty!.
In a vibrant poem by Eluard, ‘Rôdeuse au front de verre’, I had to set the line:
‘Ses yeux s’ajourent, comma, rient très fort.’ (Her eyes let in the light, comma,
laugh out loud.)

CR: It’s certainly not easy to set that plural of the verbe ajourer, which sounds
here rather like a subordinate phrase à jours.

FP: Instinct, thank God, basic instinct led me to this accent on the strong beat,
after a silence, which makes any ambiguity impossible.

(Poulenc speaks the line while playing the melody on the piano.)

CR: Perhaps, to conclude this conversation …

FP: This overlong conversation …


214 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

CR: … we could profit from the presence of our friend Bernac to let our listeners
hear this song? Now you’ve underlined the trap that had to be avoided, I’m sure
they’d find that interesting.

FP: As you wish.

(Pierre Bernac, accompanied by Poulenc, sings ‘Rôdeuse au front de verre’.)

Notes
1
[The Polish composer and conductor René Leibowitz (1913–1972) settled in Paris
in 1945 and propagated Schönberg’s music and the 12-note technique, especially among
certain Messiaen pupils including Pierre Boulez, Serge Nigg and Jean-Louis Martinet. RN.]
2
[Julien Green (1900–1998) was an American writer who wrote in French. He was
the first non-French national to be elected to the Académie Française. RN.]
3
The mezzo-soprano and teacher Claire Croiza (Connally) (1882–1946) premiered
works by Debussy, Honegger and Roussel. Poulenc recorded Le Bestiaire with her in April
1928, and songs by Duparc and Debussy over the following weeks. He dedicated to her the
song ‘Je n’ai plus que les os’ (from the Poèmes de Ronsard).
[Marya Freund (1876–1966) was a Polish soprano and teacher. She sang the role of the
Wood Dove in the first performance of Schönberg’s Gurrelieder in 1913, and was the reciter
in the first French performance of Pierrot Lunaire in 1922, conducted by Milhaud. RN.]
4
[Jean Moréas (Ioannis Papadiamantopoulos) (1856–1910) was a Greek poet and art
critic who played an important part in the Symbolist movement. RN.]
5
[Jean Mounet-Sully (1841–1916) was an actor and for many years a mainstay of the
Comédie-Française. His acting was known for its vigour. RN.]
Interview 7
The Keyboard Concertos

CR: A while ago you launched into an unsparing critical attack on some of
your pieces for solo piano. I have to say, I find this severity consoling … Such
perspicacity and humility are very brave and do you honour, all the more because
they’re not often found in artists. But I hope today you’re going to make good
your derelictions, as I intend to ask you about your piano concertos. It may be,
as you’ve said, that the medium of solo piano doesn’t always succeed with you,
pandering to a certain … innate keyboard facility, but I don’t think you have the
right to be so severe towards your works for piano and orchestra.

FP: Believe me, my dear Claude, it’s not out of modesty that I’ve written off some
of my piano pieces, but out of lucidity. I reckon lucidity’s an indispensable virtue
for an artist. It’s our most reliable way of making progress.

CR: What I’d like to concentrate on today are these three works: the Concert
champêtre, the Aubade and the Concerto for two pianos, keeping your recent
piano concerto for another interview, as it seems to me it needs to be seen in a
different context from its predecessors.
I think I’m right in saying that the Concert champêtre is both your first
concerto and also your first orchestral work. So I’ll ask you to talk about it from
both angles. I also think that, for you, this piece possesses not only its own value
and significance, but that independently of this it assumes particular importance
in your eyes because its composition led to your friendship with the great Wanda
Landowska. And I have the impression that this friendship has had a considerable
impact on your artistic life and musical culture, as it has on your career as a
composer …

FP: My meeting with Landowska was indeed a vital occurrence in my career.


My feelings for Wanda Landowska mix artistic respect with human affection.
I’m proud to be her friend and can never express all I owe to her. It was she who
provided me with the key to Bach’s harpsichord music. It was she who taught me
all I know about our French harpsichordists. The amazing thing about Landowska
is that she brings the music of the past to immediate life. And with her there’s no
pedantry, no musical overload. I’ll give you an example: I came to stay with her
in Connecticut in the winter of 1952 and after dinner I asked to hear her recent
recording of Bach’s 48. We listened religiously to four preludes and fugues, then
she said quietly to her secretary: ‘That’s enough now. Stop the disc. We’ll tell each
other naughty stories, because one can’t really listen to more than four preludes
216 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

and fugues. We’ll hear some more tomorrow.’ With her, I’ve never suffered from
a surfeit of music. For me, that’s a priceless blessing.
When I was staying in her house at Saint-Leu, I was struck by the number of
hours of practice she put in, while appearing to do nothing much. Again and again
she would say to her students, ‘You must always come to the keyboard refreshed
and rested.’

CR: So, to come back to the Concert champêtre, how did the work originate?
How did you meet Wanda Landowska? How did you get the idea of using the
harpsichord, an instrument that at the time (1927) was not as popular as it is now
and which, I believe, you, together with Falla, were the the first to rescue from
oblivion and provide with an important role?

FP: I think I mentioned earlier that I met Landowska at the house of the Princess
Edmond de Polignac. She was playing the harpsichord in Falla’s El retablo de
maese Pedro. That was in fact the first time the harpsichord was used as part of a
modern orchestra. Viñes was working the marionnettes in the little theatre with his
nephew Hernando, and took me along to the final rehearsals. I was fascinated by
the piece and by Wanda. ‘Write me a concerto!’ she said. I promised to try.

CR: Now you had in mind two versions of this concerto. Or to be more precise,
is it true it can be played equally well either on harpsichord or piano without any
great changes being made in the keyboard part?

FP: Stop there, my dear Claude, stop there! Don’t, I beg you, add to the crowd
of imbeciles who believe the piano can be substituted automatically for the
harpsichord. The piano version of the Concert champêtre is no more than a
makeshift, you understand, a makeshift. Any harpsichord piece played on the piano
is inevitably betrayed. There’s not a pianist in the world capable of producing
anything other than an approximation in playing a harpsichord piece on the piano,
as there’s as much distance between harpsichord and piano as there is between
piano and organ. I have to laugh at the knowing blockheads who come out of a
concert declaring: ‘His Scarlatti simply wasn’t up to scratch.’ As if Scarlatti always
played Steinways. Certainly, Scarlatti sonatas as played by Horowitz are miracles
of digital dexterity. Yes, Casadesus brings a wonderful style to his Rameau and
Giesking to his Bach, but what are they beside a Landowska, sovereign on her
instrument? Of course, I confine myself to the great names – best leave the rest in
obscurity …

CR: Yes, let’s do that, since you know there’s no solving our disagreement on
that subject … Let’s come back to the Concert champêtre. Are the antique turns
of phrase we find there intentional? If so, what was your intention? Or was it just
by chance that using the harpsichord led you to make allusions to the style of that
period?
Interview 7 217

FP: I think I can respond to all these questions indirectly by telling you the story
of the Concert champêtre. For a lad who, up until the age of 18 didn’t know
any countryside except the Bois de Vincennes and the little hills of Champigny,
champêtre meant ‘outer suburbs’. In 1928 Landowska was living in Saint-Leu-
la-Forêt, near Ermenonville, and it was in a very eighteenth-century countryside
atmosphere that I imagined my work. This concerto is champêtre in the sense
understood by Diderot and Rousseau – the countryside of Rousseau’s Rêveries
du promeneur solitaire, if you like. That explains the orderly character of certain
melodic outlines.
When Gabriel Marcel was active as a music critic, he thought he could
discern, in the finale, some scandalous and inexplicable ‘military fanfares’. He
was right. For me, the eternal city dweller, the trumpets of the fort of Vincennes,
heard from the neighbouring wood, are as poetic as the hunting horns in a vast
forest were for Weber. In any case, you can see this concerto has nothing to do
with Touraine, as one might be tempted to imagine. Once again, ‘Poulenc, the
man from Touraine’ is proved to be a misnomer. In order to convince you of the
exclusive sonority of the harpsichord in the Concert champêtre, I’m going to
play you a very precious disc, a present from Landowska. It’s a recording of the
Concert champêtre conducted by Stokowski, from a performance at Carnegie
Hall. Here’s the ‘Andante’.

(Performance of the ‘Andante’.)

CR: That performance can only increase our regret that Landowska has
completely abandoned France and hasn’t even been back once to play since the
war … But just as your first concerto was inspired by a rather particular desire, to
employ the resources of a relatively unfamiliar instrument, your second concerto
was written in response to a commission which lay somewhat beyond what one
normally thinks of as being a concerto, since it’s really a ballet. I’m referring to
Aubade, which you’ve called ‘Choreographic Concerto for piano and eighteen
instruments’. You composed Aubade in 1929 …

FP: Yes, and these were the circumstances. My friends, the Viscount and
Viscountess de Noailles, asked me in 1929 to write a ballet for a party to be given
in their house on the place des Etats-Unis. I had the idea of writing a choreographic
concerto that would display a female dancer and a pianist simultaneously. My
friends had put 18 instrumentalists at my disposal, which was sensational for
a private soirée, and the addition of a piano increased the textural possibilities.
That’s how this amphibious work came about.

CR: But I gather that later on, after the first performance of this concerto–ballet
which was given under your control, other performances were given whose spirit
was not at all close to what you’d intended. That’s to say, choreographers have made
serious errors in interpreting this ballet, whose scenario is somewhat mysterious,
218 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

like the one for Les Biches, and which, like Les Biches, contains a poetic–erotic
element. What was the issue here: were these errors over interpretation and over
the original meaning of the work?

FP: As I’ve done for each of my ballets, I wrote the scenario myself. It’s a ballet
about Diana’s chastity. At daybreak and surrounded by her companions, Diana
rebels against the divine law condemning her to eternal purity. Her companions
console her and reawaken her sense of her divinity by handing her her bow.
Forlornly, Diana seizes it, then leaps off into the forest in the hope of finding in
the hunt a distraction from the torments of love. That was the scenario for which
Nijinska produced a wonderful choreography.
Later, for the first public performance, danced by Nemtchinova, who danced in
the premiere of Les Biches, I was weak enough to accept a scenario by Balanchine
taken from the myth of Diana and Actaeon. This dull, academic scenario has
subsequently been revived, to save them effort, by various choreographers. It’s
senseless and the antithesis of my musical conception.
Aubade is a female ballet, about female loneliness. So I absolutely disapprove
of any storyline other than my own.

CR: If we now look at the work from the purely musical point of view as a concerto,
what were you aiming for exactly? The piano as soloist, or as concertante? Were
you trying to find particular combinations of instruments? Did you think ‘ballet’
or ‘concerto’?

FP: It was simply the scenario that gave me the form of the work:

Here, Diana at her toilet;


Here, Diana’s variation;
Here, Diana’s farewell;
Etc., etc.

As I said to you, my dear Claude, it’s an amphibious work in which the female
dancer and the pianist share the laurels equally.

CR: At all events, your instrumental preoccupations in your Concerto for two
pianos and orchestra seem much clearer than in the earlier concerto. For a start,
the single fact that it dates from 1932, an essentially pianistic period for you
(Improvisations, Nocturnes, and so on), supports this preoccupation. Beyond that,
there’s the choice of a genre that’s been fairly rarely exploited in the history of
music: Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, that’s pretty well all …

FP: It’s true, concertos for two pianos were rare at the time. Now, there are
plenty. This concerto was a commission from the Princess Edmond de Polignac
for the 1932 Venice Festival. The Princess wanted Jacques Février and me to
Interview 7 219

play in Venice, so she had the idea of a double concerto.1 I was delighted by
the commission and wrote the piece very rapidly, in two and a half months. I’d
been playing two pianos with my childhood friend Jacques Février for years, so
I can say, immodestly, that the first performance was impeccable. The Belgian
conductor Désiré Defauw conducted the orchestra of La Scala. It was an outright
success, because it’s a cheerful, straightforward piece.

CR: It’s often been stated that this concerto can, up to a point, be considered
as a kind of homage to Mozart, especially because of the central movement, the
‘Larghetto’. How true is that, and what meaning should we take from it?

FP: If you remember, my dear Claude, the years around 1930 were the time of
going back to something: going back to Bach for Hindemith, back to Tchaikovsky
for Stravinsky. In the ‘Larghetto’ of this concerto, I chose, for the opening theme,
to go back to Mozart because I have a veneration for the melodic line and because
I prefer Mozart to all other composers. If the movement begins alla Mozart, it
soon switches with the reply from the second piano to a style that was recognisably
mine at the period.

CR: And are you fond of this concerto?

FP: Yes! And especially the end of the first movement, inspired by the Balinese
music I heard at the last Paris Colonial Exhibition. But it’s strange, it’s a work I
never think about.

CR: It’s one of the most frequently performed of your works (especially in the
USA), and even the most frequently recorded. I’ve listened to several of these
performances and recordings, but I have to say that, apart from the Poulenc-
Février combination, I’ve rarely been satisfied. Is it the case that the work poses
particular problems of interpretation, tempo, phrasing, and so on?

FP: No, this work poses no particular aesthetic problem. But if you don’t respect
the metronome marks, if you play with rubato, if your pedalling’s clumsy, then it
falls apart. Whatever you do, don’t play it rhapsodically! It’s much more tightly
constructed than you might think. I’d like to play you the Larghetto recorded as it
should not be played.
I won’t mention the pianists’ names because they’ve done a lot to popularise
the work, and also this recording was made before the advice I gave them later.
They’re very good pianists, but unfortunately, like many players, they don’t pay
attention to metronome marks – to start with, they played the ‘Larghetto’ too
slowly, with four beats in the bar, instead of in duple time, which meant they
had to speed up suddenly in the central section, which completely destroys the
movement’s rhythmic pulse. In addition, there are frightful rubatos that prevent
220 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

the tune from flowing. In a word, for me this disc is intolerable on the nerves.
Listen to their tempo for the ‘Larghetto’ …

(The start of the movement is played)

And now, listen to my tempo and you’ll understand …

(Poulenc plays on the piano)

CR: That was at minim = 92, as you’ve taken the trouble to indicate at the head
of the movement …

Note
1
[The pianist Jacques Février (1900–1979), son of the composer Henry Février, was
a pupil of Edouard Risler and Marguerite Long at the Paris Conservatoire. He specialised
in playing French music, notably that of Debussy, Satie, Ravel (whose complete piano
works he recorded, and of whose Left Hand Concerto he was the composer’s favourite
interpreter) and Poulenc, whom he had met around 1917, with Denise Bourdet. He was
close to Les Six in the 1920s, gave the first performance of Poulenc’s Concerto for two
pianos with the composer and recorded it with him, and in 1952 gave the first performance
of his Thème varié. He taught at the Paris Conservatoire between 1952 and 1957. RN.]
Interview 8
Pierre Bernac, or the Unexpected Partner

CR: You’ve already talked about your songs, or to be more precise, about your
earliest groups of songs and your first contacts with Apollinaire. It would seem
that after these earliest groups one can distinguish a second, or rather it would
seem that subsequently you began to exploit a new vein, and in a rather different
manner from the earlier ones.
To begin with, even if you continue to set Apollinaire, we find new names
appearing: Louise de Vilmorin, and especially Paul Eluard.1 And then the prosody
becomes more refined, as a direct function and result of the difficulty of these
texts. Overall, the general spirit of these later songs is transformed, it becomes
more serious and moves totally away from the character of Les Six …

FP: Yes, this change certainly happened and it derived, directly, from what was,
for me, a crucial event: my meeting with Pierre Bernac.

CR: Which year did that happen in?

FP: In fact, some time before our second and definitive meeting in 1934. I met
Bernac in 1926.
It happened that Auric and I had several chamber works up our sleeves, so
we decided to give a concert of our music on 2 May 1926. We hired the old,
respectable salle des Agriculteurs, now a cinema, and to our great delight, and also
astonishment, we had to turn away more than 200 people. Dear André Messager
nearly didn’t get to occupy the seat we’d reserved for him.2
The works on the programme were: by Auric, extracts from Les Fâcheux and
a Sonatine played by Marcelle Meyer, first performances of Romances and Cinq
poèmes de Nerval sung by Suzanne Peignot, and two Suites pour petit orchestre
(Marlbrough and Bagatelles), conducted by Désormière.
By me: Cinq poèmes de Ronsard, sung by Suzanne Peignot, the incomparable
interpreter of all my earlier songs for female voice, and first performances of
Napoli by Marcelle Meyer, of my Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon, and of the
Chansons gaillardes. I’d been trying to find a singer for these last songs for quite
some time, when I was introduced to a young man who, like me, came from the
bourgeoisie. His father was a stockbroker. To tell the truth, and especially for a
group of songs like these, I wasn’t entirely happy with him, just as Satie had
previously been unhappy with ‘Poulenc the little daddy’s boy’.
But our first meeting reassured me. This lad, who’d been working in the private
theatre called La petite scène, was more than a talented amateur. I rehearsed him
222 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

in the Chansons gaillardes, which he sang superbly and with great success. Then
I completely lost sight of him.
I asked him several times to sing the Chansons gaillardes again, but he
replied, rather abruptly, that they were no longer in his range. Secretly I thought
he was a prude, and imagined he was refusing to sing these songs because of
their indecent texts. I’d thought no more about him when, in June 1934 – that’s
to say, eight years later – I turned up very late at an afternoon concert in the
house of Mme Mante-Rostand, Edmond Rostand’s sister, who was an excellent
musician and a good friend to composers. I was put in a little side room from
which I couldn’t see the performers. I heard Fauré and Debussy being sung
wonderfully. Not having a programme, I turned to my neighbour and asked her
who the baritone was. To my amazement, she replied ‘Pierre Bernac’.
By dint of serious study with André Caplet, Walter Straram and the German
singer Reinhold von Warlich, Bernac had in the meantime acquired an utterly
professional technique.3 I congratulated him warmly. He seemed pleased, but a
bit reticent. I’ve found out since that someone had passed on to him my catty
remarks about him. I added, as I left, ‘I should like to make music with you,
Debussy especially.’ ‘Maybe we’ll get the chance,’ he replied evasively and we
left it there, not even taking down each other’s address.
The following August, Le Figaro sent me to the Salzburg Festival as music
critic, and I also had to write an article for American Vogue. At the last minute, the
editors decided a series of photographs would be better than a technical article and
cancelled my commission.
In the train taking us to Salzburg, a friend decided to read my fortune in
the cards. ‘Aha!’ she said suddenly, ‘I see an unexpected piece of luck and an
important event in your life.’ ‘My dear,’ said I, ‘you’re reading the cards upside
down, as I’ve just lost a nice little cheque in dollars.’ When I got to my hotel, I
found the following note from Bernac:

My dear Poulenc,

I’ve been asked to sing some Debussy in three days’ time. Would you agree to
accompany me? Handsome fee. Let me know at once.

Very cordially.
BERNAC.

I accepted instantly, firstly so as not to turn my nice fortune teller into a liar, and
also with the secret intuition that this could lead to something.

CR: I get the impression in any case that you were already heading in that
direction. You’d already given some concerts of songs, hadn’t you, with Claire
Croiza and Maria Modrakowska?
Interview 8 223

FP: Yes, my dear Claude, in March 1934 I’d just been on a tour of North
Africa with Modrakowska.4 It was for her that I harmonised the Huit chansons
populaires polonaises, which she chose. Sadly, those were to be her last concerts:
this mysterious Pole, a supreme talent, gave up singing and the world in general
in the spring of 1934, and since then no one knows what became of her.

CR: Was it a love of song that took you on these tours?

FP: Not entirely. It was a job that interested me and I had to earn money beyond
my compositions because, as you know, composers’ royalties are thin on the
ground at the start of a career.

CR: Yes, but …

FP: But nothing! No, my dear Claude! I can see my need of money surprises you.
Of course the name Poulenc figures on the stock exchange, and more notably
than in the world of music. But my father, who retired from business well before
the First World War, died shortly afterwards and didn’t leave me as comfortably
off as everyone imagines. As I don’t like living in reduced circumstances, and
as in 1927 I bought the house in Touraine where we had our first conversation, I
absolutely had to make some money.
There were two possible solutions: film music or concerts. I went for the
second option, as I don’t like the cinema and, on the other hand, adore playing the
piano. So, in 1934, I was looking for a partner, preferably a singer, male or female,
rather than an instrumentalist. This note from Bernac struck me as a sign of fate.
The first concert by the Bernac–Poulenc combination – ah, that was a strange
occasion! An enormously wealthy American lady wanted to organise a soirée to
the glory of Debussy. Listen now to the well-filled programme.
It began with an orchestral concert at the Mozarteum under a young conductor,
as yet unknown, called Karajan. Then we moved to the Mirabell gardens where
Serge Lifar danced L’Après-midi d’un faune.5 Finally we returned to the lady’s
beautifully appointed palace where one could choose between a song recital in
the open air and a performance of the Preludes in a well heated library. Shivering
beneath a willow-tree bathed in moonlight, with the piano going more out of tune
every second, we came out of it fairly well and it was a marked success with the
professional musicians. The next day I said to Bernac: ‘If you like, we can do this
again next winter in Paris, in a room that’s nice and warm.’ ‘Agreed,’ he replied.
So began our collaboration. The fortune teller had been right.

CR: And when was your first Paris concert?

FP: 3 April 1935 in the concert hall of the Ecole Normale. The programme
contained works by Chabrier, Debussy, Ravel and myself, including a first
performance of the Cinq poèmes d’Eluard. Those were also the first songs I wrote
224 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

on dear Paul’s poems. As you see, everything came together: the start of our
collaboration and of my long association with Eluard.

CR: So it was an important date for you (and for us too). But before asking you
about your first Eluard settings, I’d like you to say something about the way you
worked with Bernac.

FP: Up until 1939, we used to spend a month each summer either in the Dordogne
or in the Morvan (two areas I adore), and rehearse our repertoire under the
affectionate eye of our friend Yvonne Gouverné who, as you know, conducts one
of the French Radio choirs. She was a close friend of André Caplet and from him
she’d learnt the true tradition and in particular the tempi of all Debussy’s vocal
music. We owe her a great deal.
Of course, during these summer stays, I also used to compose on my own
account. In this way I wrote a number of songs at Anost, near Autun, as well as my
Mass and my Organ Concerto. Later, from 1940 on, we worked separately and it
was enough to ensure everything was in place for Bernac to come and spend a few
days with me in Touraine at the end of the summer.
Obviously, this association was the reason why I’ve written so many songs.
No one will ever sing them better than Bernac, who knows the innermost secrets
of my music. It was also through accompanying him in Schubert, Schumann,
Fauré, Debussy and Ravel that I learnt my trade as a melodist.

CR: So then, meeting Bernac was crucial. And your meeting with Eluard? Tell me
now about Eluard. Of course we’ll be talking about Eluard in more detail later, but
it’s impossible to dissociate his name from your first concert. Why did you wait
until 1935 to set Eluard’s poems when obviously you’d admired them for a long
time?

FP: Yes, I’d admired Eluard from the day I met him in 1917, in Adrienne
Monnier’s bookshop on the rue de l’Odéon. (That’s where I also met André
Breton and Louis Aragon). I have to say, I was immediately attracted to Eluard.
First of all, because he was the only Surrealist who could tolerate music. And
also because all his poetry is musical vibration. But how to approach his poems
as a composer?
A little brochure, printed on pink paper, reached me as I was intending to
write new songs for my first recital with Bernac. I took the plunge, bravely, with
enouragement from Auric who’d been urging me for years to ‘set Eluard’.
These five poems, from which Bernac sang ‘Rôdeuse au front de verre’ in our
sixth broadcast, opened the door for me to the whole of Eluard’s poetry. At last
I had found a lyric poet, a poet of love, whether of human love or that of liberty.
Interview 8 225

Notes
1
[Louise de Vilmorin (1902–1969) was a French poet and novelist. She became the
mistress of Duff Cooper and then of André Malraux. RN.]
2
[André Messager (1853–1929) studied at the Ecole Niedermeyer. After posts as a
choirmaster, he achieved success with light operas, notably Véronique (1898), and in 1902
conducted the first performances of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. He was sympathetic
to Les Six and conducted Les Biches, Milhaud’s Salade and Auric’s Les Fâcheux at their
Monte-Carlo premieres in 1924. RN.]
3
[Walther Straram (Marrast) (1876–1933) was a French conductor who formed an
orchestra considered by many to be the best in France in the 1920s. He conducted the
premiere of Ravel’s Boléro at the Paris Opéra in 1928. RN.]
4
This tour in fact took place in 1935.
5
The Ukrainian dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar (1905–1986) joined
Diaghilev’s Ballets russes in 1923 and became premier danseur in 1925. He choreographed
Les Animaux modèles at a period when his active collaboration with the German occupiers
made him all-powerful at the Opéra. His collaboration led after the Liberation to him being
banished for two years from the Paris Opéra. During that time he founded and directed the
Nouveau Ballet de Monte-Carlo.
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Interview 9
Choral Music

CR: Over the course of our previous talks, I’ve arranged my questions
chronologically for the most part, so as to give us a base to work from and find
out how Poulenc the man and artist appeared at the start of his career and during
its early development. We’re now in possession of this basic information. If
you’re agreeable, I think it’d be good now to change tactics slightly, abandoning
chronology and instead studying works from different periods of your maturity
by genre.
Even so we can stay to some extent today with the chronological approach.
You’ve already talked to us about your meetings with Wanda Landowska, Pierre
Bernac and Paul Eluard, episodes that had a definite and immediate effect on your
work; after those the following episode does, I think, lead us to consider one genre
in particular: the appearance of secular choral writing that came about in 1936,
that’s to say shortly before your fortieth birthday …

FP: Yes, if you wish. To be absolutely accurate, we should mention a Chanson


à boire, written in 1922 for unaccompanied male chorus on an anonymous
seventeenth-century text.

CR: Yes. I didn’t mention it because it didn’t seem to me wholly characteristic


or to provide early evidence of what you would later produce in the way of vocal
polyphony. And then it’s an occasional piece, with the virtues and faults one
usually finds in that kind of work …

FP: Dear Claude, I give you absolute licence to condemn a piano suite like Napoli,
but you must allow me to put up a vigorous defence of this unassuming piece to
which, on the contrary, I attach considerable importance. Let me tell you the story.
In 1922 an American friend asked me to write a choral piece for the Harvard
Glee Club, a famous student choir, and I thought, quite reasonably, that a drinking
song would suit their lively style, so I chose a kind of very direct, Bacchic hymn
from an old seventeenth-century collection, which would later provide the texts for
my Chansons gaillardes. As soon as the song was finished, I sent it off to Harvard.
Boom! Meanwhile, the Prohibition Law had just been passed, making the
work impossible to sing. I then totally forgot about it until 28 years later, in 1950,
when I was passing through Holland. The president of the splendid male chorus
of The Hague invited me to listen to a rehearsal of my Prières de saint François
d’Assise and … of this Chanson à boire. I admit I was like a cat on hot bricks
because I’d never heard it. I was preparing to make dozens of corrections. To my
228 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

utter amazement (you know, after all, about my correction mania), not a single
note needed to be changed!
I wanted to tell you this story, if only to prove to you that in me the sense of
polyphonic music is apparently innate. That said, I didn’t seriously turn to vocal
polyphony – whether secular or sacred – until 1936. I stress ‘secular or sacred’
because it was in that year that I wrote the Sept chansons a cappella on texts by
Apollinaire and Eluard, the works you’re thinking of, and it was also the year of
my first sacred work, Les Litanies à la Vierge Noire de Rocamadour!

CR: Of course. But we’ll talk about your sacred music some other time, several
other times. Today I’d like you to talk about your secular choral music, and to
begin with how you came to choral music itself, a genre which was subsequently
to become one of your favourite areas of activity, and for which you’ve shown
gifts that even those who look down on you don’t think of disputing. Apart from
the somewhat exceptional and so far unrepeated instance of the Chanson à boire
we’ve just been talking about, were you in some way primed, accidentally or
deliberately, for writing vocal polyphony? Was it a chance reading of some words?
Was it a sudden decision? A secret instinct? A long-considered project? and so on.

FP: A work is often born through a combination of circumstances. That’s exactly


what happened with the Sept Chansons sur des poèmes d’Apollinaire et d’Eluard.
In March 1936, in the house of the Princess Edmond de Polignac, I listened to
several performances of Monteverdi Motets given by Nadia Boulanger’s vocal
ensemble.1 I possessed the complete edition of Monteverdi’s works and so, when I
got back home, I read through these marvels of polyphony again with enthusiasm.
Around the same time a remarkable amateur choir, les Chanteurs de Lyon under
their director the late Ernest Bourmauck, asked me, through their president, my friend
Professor André Latarjet, to write something for them. A volume of Eluard’s poems,
La Vie immédiate, had been published quite recently and I found it marvellous. One
poem, ‘Belle et ressemblante’, literally cast a spell on me.2 Listen to it:

Un visage à la fin du jour A face at the end of the day


Un berceau dans les feuilles A cradle in the leaves
Mortes du jour Withered in the sun
Un bouquet de pluie nue A bouquet of fresh rain
Tout soleil caché Every ray of sunshine hidden
Toute source des sources au fond de l’eau Every single spring deep in the water
Tout miroir des miroirs brisés Every single mirror broken
Un visage dans les balances du silence A face held steady in silence
Un caillou parmi d’autres cailloux A pebble amid other pebbles
Pour les frondes des dernières lueurs Thrown by the last glimmers of daylight
du jour
Un visage semblable à tous les visages A face resembling all forgotten faces
oubliés
Interview 9 229

Initially I’d thought of turning it into a song, but a piano accompaniment could
only weigh it down. I then had the idea of setting it for unaccompanied chorus and
that was the beginning of the Sept chansons.
As the Eluard poems are rather static, I added two by Apollinaire that are more
lively and rhythmical: ‘La Blanche neige’ and ‘Marie’.

CR: I’ve always thought these Sept chansons were of particular importance in
your output. Do you agree? Might it be finally, together with your cantata Figure
humaine, one of your most complex choral works both in its textures and in the
interpretation it demands?

FP: The Sept chansons are certainly far more subtle than the Motets de pénitence,
for example, but let’s not forget the Mass in G, which is so vertical and complex
harmonically, and which we’ll be discussing in due course.

CR: Yes, let’s stay with the secular and move on to Sécheresses, a work
contemporary with the Sept chansons, dating from 1937. With this work you
launched out along another, quite different path, since it’s a large cantata with
orchestra.

FP: It took me a long time to register how important Sécheresses was in my


output, despite enthusiastic responses from Auric, Yvonne Gouverné and
Désormière. When works are a failure, I’m quick to believe the judgment of the
public, even of the critics themselves. Well, the first performance of Sécheresses
was a gigantic flop. Everything seemed to conspire against this work. The Lyon
choir had already given the first performance that morning of my Mass in the
Dominican chapel on the faubourg Saint-Honoré, and they were exhausted.
What’s more, there’d been only one rehearsal on the Saturday morning with
the Colonne Orchestra and Paul Paray – he’d been held up in Sweden by a
malfunctioning plane and had arrived in Paris 48 hours late.3 Despite his expertise
and great goodwill, the performance was a disaster and the reception icy. I can
see myself, on the way out, saying to Auric: ‘Sécheresses will never be performed
again, it’s a dud. I’m going to destroy it,’ and Auric, clearsighted as ever, replying
ironically: ‘You can destroy your Poèmes de Ronsard or Les Soirées de Nazelles
and no harm done, but whatever you do, not this piece.’
Two or three performances, including an excellent one by Charles Munch
in 1941, only half convinced me, but then, while orchestrating the choruses in
Les Mamelles de Tirésias, I realised their textures came directly from Sécheresses.
In addition, when I was writing the Stabat Mater, I surprised myself by including
six bars that were echoes of some in Sécheresses.
Désormière was aways saying to me: ‘Well then … and Sécheresses?’
so in 1951 I decided to revise the score thoroughly. Désormière then gave an
unforgettable performance on French Radio. This final version is the one in the
nice little Durand pocket score you see on my piano. Gradually I’m enjoying the
230 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

pleasure of seeing this work make its way. Auric was right, Sécheresses is more
than a document, it is, intrinsically, one of my best works. It’s the story of the boy
who at 15 is troublesome, but later does you credit.

CR: It wasn’t in any sense a troublesome 15-year-old! It was you who were a bad
father at 38 …
But anyway, there’s another of your children that’s disappeared since the day
of its baptism at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, and that’s the great cantata
Figure humaine for double choir, on poems by Paul Eluard – and poems of a
pure and utterly authentic beauty (you’ll allow me the right to make this slight
distinction between them and the texts of Sécheresses). You were proud of that
child. And rightly so, in my view. I think it’s one of the major works in which you
are most at ease and in which we find, together with a supreme technical control
that takes account of detail and is subtle and complex, also an impression of total
spontaneity. It’s perhaps one of your works that emerged with the greatest sincerity
and naturalness and with no hint of conventional formulas, one of those whose
conception and realisation display a maximum of personality – pure Poulenc.
But it’s never been given again after the first performance. Might it suffer the
fate of almost every occasional work and not survive the occasion that gave rise to
it? I have to say it’s an occasional work in the best sense of that term …

FP: Yes, it’s an occasional work, but not a commission – a spontaneous work, as
you’ve rightly said, a work that sprang from the heart.4 I have a particular affection
for Figure humaine and I think, since this is a day to be immodest, that if it wasn’t
so hard to perform, this work would be sung all over the world.
The story behind it is this. During the Occupation, certain privileged people,
including myself, had the consolation of receiving by the morning post some
marvellous typed-out poems, at the bottom of which, under assumed names, we
guessed that of Paul Eluard. That was how I received most of the poems of Poésie
et Vérité 42. During the summer of 1943, I’d rented a two-roomed flat in Beaulieu-
sur-Dordogne. ‘With piano,’ said the agency, but what a piano!!!
I’d gone there to write a violin concerto for Ginette Neveu, but soon abandoned
the project.5 The idea of a secret work, a work one could write and publish
clandestinely and produce on the long-awaited day of the Liberation, came to me
after a votive pilgrimage to Rocamadour, quite near Beaulieu. I started on Figure
humaine full of enthusiasm and finished it by the end of the summer. My publisher
and friend Paul Rouart agreed to publish the cantata, in secret. Thanks to that,
when the Liberation came, we could send the music to London, and before the
end of the war, in January 1945, the BBC Chorus gave the first performance under
the direction of Leslie Woodgate. Thanks to the British Ambassador in Paris,
His Excellency Duff Cooper, I was able to have a seat on a British military aircraft
and listen to the final rehearsals. Very kindly, dear Benjamin Britten agreed to play
my Concerto for two pianos with me then at the Albert Hall.6 You can imagine how
happy I was, after four years of the Occupation, to see England again, a country
Interview 9 231

which, thanks to Stravinsky, provided me with my first publishers, Chester, and


with my most faithful European public up to 1940.

CR: Why did you write Figure humaine for unaccompanied double choir, which
makes performance so difficult?

FP: Orchestral support would have made the work much easier, of course. Believe
me, it’s not out of any taste for difficulty that I chose this genre, but because
I wanted this act of faith to be expressed without instrumental backing, simply
through the human voice. In any case I have confidence in the future. The art of
choral singing is making progress through the whole world at surprising speed.
When my Mass was first performed in Paris in 1938, a French conductor, and a
good musician too, declared the work to be unsingable. Now it’s sung everywhere
and last winter in the USA it was performed by 37 American choirs. Obviously, if
Figure humaine was written in Latin, that would help it to spread internationally.
Even so, as I say, I have confidence in the future.
When people get to know all my secular and sacred choral works better,
they’ll have a clearer picture of my personality and they’ll see I’m not exclusively
the light composer (even if, for me, that word is not in the least pejorative) of
Les Biches and the Mouvements perpétuels. That, at least, is my wish.

Notes
1
Nadia Boulanger’s vocal ensemble specialised rather in Monteverdi’s madrigals.
2
Paul Eluard, ‘Belle et ressemblante’, La Vie Immediate, Gallimard, Paris, 1967.
3
[The conductor and composer Paul Paray (1886–1979) conducted the Lamoureux
Concerts, the Monte-Carlo Orchestra and then the Colonne Concerts from 1933 to the
outbreak of the Second World War and again from 1944 to 1952. He then directed the
Detroit Symphony Orchestra until 1963. RN.]
4
This is untrue (see the 1945 interview with Jeannie Chauveau, p. 137).
5
[Ginette Neveu (1919–1949) was a French violin prodigy who, at the age of 15,
won the Wieniawski Competition, beating David Oistrakh into second place. She had just
given the first performance with Poulenc of his Violin Sonata on 21 June 1943. She died in
a plane crash in 1949. See Interview 11. RN.]
6
Poulenc is confusing his stay in England in January 1945, during which he gave
recitals with Bernac and was partnered by Britten in his Concerto for two pianos and
orchestra, with his stay the following March, during which Figure humaine was given its
first performance on the 25th.
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Interview 10
Faith Restored

CR: You said, in one of our earlier conversations, that the influence of your
father’s background – religious and from mountain country – didn’t show itself
while you were growing up. Then, in 1936, you composed your first religious
work, the first in a long series of important works. So was it the case that your
inheritance from your father began to make itself felt in you at this time, or
was the composition of this series of works due to external, entirely accidental
reasons? Commissions, maybe? And first of all, are you religious?

FP: I am religious, by deep instinct and by blood. Just as I’m incapable of feeling
any powerful political conviction (Clemenceau was probably the only politician
for whom, in 1917, I felt any passionate enthusiasm), so it seems to me quite
natural to believe and to engage in religious practices. I am a Catholic. It is my
greatest freedom. However, as I’ve already explained, my dear Claude, the casual
indifference of my mother’s family led me, quite naturally, to a long period when
I ignored religion. From 1920 to 1935 I was, I confess, very little concerned with
matters of faith.
In 1936, a crucial date in my life and in my career, I was working with Yvonne
Gouverné and Bernac at Uzerche, and I took advantage of this to ask Bernac
to drive me to Rocamadour, which I’d often heard my father talk about. This
pilgrimage site is in fact quite near Aveyron. A few days earlier I’d just heard of
the tragic death of my colleague Pierre-Octave Ferroud. The terrible decapitation
of this composer who was so full of energy dumbfounded me. As I meditated on
the fragility of our human frame, I was drawn once more to the life of the spirit.
Rocamadour had the effect of restoring me to the faith of my childhood. This
sanctuary, undoubtedly the oldest in France (Saint-Louis stopped there on his way
off to the Crusades), contained all the elements required to captivate me. Clinging
to a sheer rockface in full sunlight, Rocamadour is a place of extraordinary peace,
emphasised by the very small number of tourists. A courtyard decorated with
tubs of pink laurel leads to a rather modest chapel, half built into the rock and
sheltering a miraculous statue of the Virgin sculpted, as tradition has it, out of
black wood by Saint Amadour, the little Zacchaeus of the Gospels, who had to
climb a tree to get a glimpse of Christ.
The same evening of that visit to Rocamadour I began my Litanies à la Vierge
noire for female voices and organ. In that work I tried to get across the atmosphere
of ‘peasant devotion’ that had struck me so forcibly in that lofty chapel. That’s
why this invocation has to be sung in an almost raw fashion. From that day on,
I’ve often gone back to Rocamadour and requested the Black Virgin’s protection
234 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

for such different works as Figure humaine, the Stabat Mater, written in memory
of my dear Christian Bérard, and, quite recently, the opera I’ve just begun based on
George Bernanos’s Dialogues des Carmélites. So now, my dear Claude, you know
the real inspirational source of my religious music.

CR: Your Mass a cappella is contemporary with the Litanies, isn’t it?

FP: Yes, my Mass dates from the summer of 1937. I dedicated it to the memory of
my father, as it’s thanks to his heredity that I regained my faith.

CR: Are you aware of having developed, of having had a change of ‘manner’ in
the way you composed your sacred works? What I mean is this: if you take an
overall look at your sacred output, from the Litanies à la Vierge noire and the
Mass to the recent Stabat Mater, there’s one thing that strikes you at once, and
that’s the economy and sobriety which marks the earlier works, while the musical
substance of the later ones is richer and more ornate. And that’s true not only in
the purely material sense – since the earlier ones are written for unaccompanied
choir, whereas the Stabat Mater includes an orchestra and a soloist – but also
in the writing and the thought behind it. If it’s possible to make a comparison
– somewhat arbitrary, like all such approximations – I’d say your earlier works
remind us of Romanesque churches, while the Stabat Mater, for example, seems
rather to evoke the Classical, French Jesuit style, that’s to say still sober but at the
same time ornate. Is this how you see things?

FP: When you speak of economy in relation to the Mass, I think you mean it in the
spiritual sense of the word, because it is, on the other hand, the most harmonically
complex of my unaccompanied choral works. As to its spirit, you’re right. The
Mass is more sober, more Romanesque than the Stabat Mater which, in its tone
of a funeral oration, is closer to the Jesuit style of Saint-Eustache or Saint-Roch,
churches in which Bossuet, for one thing, used to deliver his sermons.

CR: Yes, maybe there’s the tone of a funeral oration in its style, but not so much
in its basic message. Whereas Bossuet’s eloquence turns more naturally towards
the fires of Hell than the delights of Heaven, your Stabat Mater, realistic though
it may be in certain passages, is nonetheless a hopeful work in which eveything
is directed towards the luminous blossoming of the last movement, similar in fact
to the ‘Agnus Dei’ of your Mass, which concludes that work in a similar mood of
hope. From the religious point of view, you are then more of an optimist. But in this
kind of evolution, is there something that corresponds with a profound expression
of your religious feelings, with a different way for you to pray in music, or is it
simply the evolution of a musical technique?

FP: No, my religious feelings haven’t changed. I simply follow the aesthetic
dictates arising from this or that subject. With the Quatre motets pour le temps de
Interview 10 235

Noël of 1951, I returned, quite logically, to the style of the Motets pour un temps
de pénitence, which date from 1938.

CR: I believe that, in your youth, you never made any detailed study of sacred
music, of the masterpieces of the Classical composer, of the Renaissance
polyphonists, of Bach or the French and Italians of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. But I do remember, in the years 1936–1937 to be precise, I often saw
on your piano, in the country, some of these scores: Bach chorales and works by
Monteverdi, Couperin and Frescobaldi. How did you take on board and assimilate
the teaching of these masters? Was it simply from the external, formal point of
view, that of composition and the material forces to be employed, or was it on the
other hand that you learnt a particular way of thinking in the presence of these
sacred pieces?

FP: It’s true, from 1936 on Victoria, Buxtehude and Frescobaldi invaded my
studio. I’ve already mentioned the influence over the years of Nadia Boulanger’s
culture, so full of life. It’s to her I owe my curiosity about this ancient music, as I
owe to Landowska my deeper appreciation of the harpsichord composers. As for
Bach chorales, they’d been on my piano since 1920 when I was having lessons
from Koechlin. This wonderful teacher, about whom I’ll have more to say shortly,
realised that, like all Latins, I was more of a harmonist than a contrapuntist and
decided that Bach four-part chorales would be an excellent halfway house for me
between counterpoint and harmony. That’s how I learnt to write choral music.

CR: To what tendency in religious music do you think you belong: pure mysticism,
symbolic mysticism, realism, and so on?

FP: It’s very hard to say. Everyone has their own way of praying through music.
Obviously Messiaen and I don’t genuflect in the same manner, but that’s not
important so long as we persuade the public to participate in our fervent belief.

CR: And in the composition of your sacred works, doesn’t it ever happen that
you borrow plainsong phrases and then fit them to your own harmonic language,
as a number of the current young French school of organists do: Gaston Litaize,
Maurice Duruflé, Jehan Alain, Jean Langlais, and so on?

FP: I’ve never borrowed liturgical phrases or modes. I take inspiration from them,
but at a distance. It’s what I’ve always done with certain pseudo-popular tunes in
my music.

CR: Which is what Ravel meant when he said, with reason: ‘The great thing about
Poulenc is that he invents his own folklore.’ But I mentioned just then this young
French school. Don’t you think it shows a fine revival of religious art in France
236 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

after the crisis of the dramaic, theatrical music of the Romantics and the faintly
Saint-Sulpician music of the Franckists?

FP: Yes, I welcome the works of Duruflé unreservedly. Litaize and Langlais are
also talented, and Jehan Alain, what gifts he had! I have a charming memory of our
only meeting, some years before the Second World War, at Besançon. His death,
like that of dear Maurice Jaubert, was a real loss for French music.

CR: And Messiaen’s organ music, what do you think of that?

FP: I admire it deeply, because Messiaen has put the best of himself into it.
La Nativité du Seigneur and Les Corps glorieux contain pages of genius. If I
bristle (chiefly from a literary point of view) when Messiaen invents a pseudo-
Hindu language and mixes it with an outdated Symbolism borrowed from René
Ghil or Saint-Pol Roux, I’m delighted on the contrary to acknowledge, in his
organ music, the very great composer he undoubtedly is.1

CR: As we’re talking about composers who are basically organists, this leads me
to think of your Concerto for organ and string orchestra. Is it an instrumental
work for the church, what used to be called a concerto da chiesa, or is it on the
other hand an instrumental work exclusively for concert use in which the organ is
employed simply for its sound resources without any allusion to its ecclesiastical
links?

FP: The Organ Concerto occupies an important place in my output, on the


margins of my sacred music. It’s not a concerto da chiesa strictly speaking,
but in confining my orchestra to strings and three timpani I’ve made it possible
to perform it in church. This concerto was commissioned, like the one for two
pianos, by the Princess Edmond de Polignac in 1937, and its careers have been
quite different in Europe and in America. It’s been played just twice in France, first
under Désormière in 1939, then with Charles Munch in 1943. But it’s incredibly
popular in America. Last year, it was played 27 times in the USA. The Columbia
recording of the concerto made in New York has been a best seller. I’m sorry it
doesn’t appear in the French catalogue, because if you want a precise idea of a
serious side to my music, this is where to find it, as in my sacred works.

CR: My dear Francis, it’s a cliché to say that no one is a prophet in his own
country. Sadly, one has to repeat it once again in your case, as in Milhaud’s too,
whose works, like yours, paradoxically find much larger audiences abroad, and in
the USA in particular, than they do in France.
And then, speaking about your serious side, you say it’s in works like the
Organ Concerto that this is to be found. Ah well! Maybe French conductors and
critics prefer not to see you in this light!
Interview 10 237

And as that’s very unfair, I suggest to our listeners that they should hear just
the end of this organ concerto.

(Final section of the Organ Concerto: American Columbia ML 4329,


[presumably 1951 recording with E Power Biggs, Roman Szule (timps) and
Columbia SO/Richard Burgin, Columbia Album MM 951; see Myriam Corr,
671]).

Note
1
[René Ghil (1862–1925) was a poet who in 1888 espoused ‘metaphysical
materialism’. He had an influence on both André Breton and Louis Aragon. Saint-Pol-Roux
(Paul-Pierre Roux 1861–1940) was a French Symbolist poet and playwright. He wrote the
libretto for Charpentier’s Louise and thereafter lived on the royalties. RN.]
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Interview 11
Chamber Works

CR: Chamber music is distributed strangely throughout your production. Firstly,


a group of youthful works, sonatas for different wind instruments and a trio, all
that dating from the start of the 1920s and very typical of your earliest style and
of the spirit of the times in their brevity, conciseness, sharpness and humour. Then
came a fairly long period without chamber music, apart from a sextet for piano
and wind, a kind of transitional work which, apparently, you rather lost faith in
for a time. And finally, in the 1940s, a sonata for piano and violin, a string quartet
and a sonata for piano and cello, all of these of a quite different character from
the earliest pieces, altogether more serious and lyrical. Given that distribution,
how, at different periods, have you considered and resolved the chamber music
problem? Do you think of it as confessional music, as music to entertain, as what
the Germans (Hindemith especially) have called Gebrauchsmusik, music to be
useful, like Satie’s furniture music, or rather as a chance to resolve problems of
technique, sonority and so on?

FP: As you rightly point out, with me chamber music is an intermittent


phenomenon. Sometimes a real desire urges me to write it, sometimes a virtuoso
offers me an opportunity. As far as my first three wind sonatas are concerned, I owe
them without question to my instinct alone. I’ve always adored wind instruments,
which I prefer to strings, and in an entirely natural way uninfluenced by fashion.
Of course, The Soldier’s Tale and Stravinsky’s pieces for solo clarinet
developed my taste for this, but I already had it as a child. In 1918 I wrote my
little Sonata for two clarinets; then in 1922 the one for clarinet and bassoon, and
also the one for horn, trumpet and trombone.

CR: It seems to me there’s been a slight tendency to consider your early wind
sonatas as little apprentice pieces. After all, they weren’t played again after their
first perfomances, and only a recent disc from the USA has brought them to our
attention again, and shown us – shown me, at least – that these pieces haven’t
really aged. Do you agree? Or don’t you have any great opinion of this music?

FP: Of course, they’re youthful works and the title ‘sonata’ may be surprising
given their small dimensions, but don’t let’s forget it was the time when Debussy
had just revived the tradition of the 18th-century French sonata, in reaction against
that of the post-Franckists. On listening again to these little sonatas, which are
beginning to be played quite widely, I find I like them more than I did: they’re
certainly far more authentic than my Sonata for piano and violin, for example.
240 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

They’re well written for the wind instruments and retain a certain freshness that’s
not unlike the early paintings of Dufy.

CR: Which is why, although I wasn’t thinking of that specifically, I referred to


your ‘fauve’ side … But before asking you about one of your undoubted successes,
your Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon, let’s say a little about that Sonata for violin
and piano you’ve just condemned. Why don’t you like it?

FP: There are some tasty details in the violin part, entirely due to Ginette Neveu
who was a great help over the instrumental writing, but otherwise the Sonata is
frankly no good.

CR: From the point of view of form?

FP: Yes, certainly, and I think especially of the finale, but far more because of its
tone of artificial pathos. To be honest, I don’t like the violin, as a solo instrument.
In the plural, quite the contrary, but how could I resist a suggestion from Ginette
Neveu! The years 1942–1943 saw the beginning of her tremendous career.
The war had deprived us of Menuhin, Heifetz and Francescatti, but we had the
unexpected good fortune to have their equal on our doorstep. Ginette asked me to
write her a sonata, and I accepted.
I’d always wanted to dedicate a work to the memory of Lorca (this is where
literature makes a tiresome interruption). I took my inspiration from one of his
famous lines: ‘The guitar makes dreams weep’ (it’s beautiful, even in translation),
and started by composing a kind of ‘Andante-cantilena’ that’s vaguely Spanish.
Then I had in mind, as a finale, a ‘Presto tragico’ whose lively, rhythmic élan
would be suddenly halted by a slow, tragic coda. A wild first movement would
establish the atmosphere. All that, despite Ginette Neveu’s technical innovations
and her genius as a player, didn’t amount to much.

CR: To be honest, her genius as a player made it impossible, at the time, to register
the nature of the faults you’ve identified.

FP: Since then, I’ve reworked the finale. It’s more convincing but, I repeat, the
whole thing remains artificial.

CR: Well then! Let’s forget this child … of war, and talk about your Trio for piano,
oboe and bassoon which, on the other hand, finds favour in your eyes, I believe.

FP: Yes, I’m rather fond of my Trio because it sounds well and its sections
balance each other. For those who think I don’t care about form, I’ve no objection
to unveiling my secrets here: the first movement follows the plan of a Haydn
Allegro, and the final Rondo the shape of the scherzo in Saint-Saëns’s Second
Interview 11 241

Piano Concerto. Ravel always recommended this method to me, which he often
followed himself.

CR: And what do you think of your Sextet for piano and wind instruments, over
which I’ve seen you pull a face in the past?

FP: Yes, in 1934 I was very rude about it to you, but after I’d reworked it
completely in 1939, now I’m more charitable: with its proportions readjusted and
a better balance, it sounds very well.

CR: Which explains its current success all over the world. They even play it in
France! And the National Wind Quintet has just made a delightful recording of it
with Jean Françaix.
My dear Francis, in mentioning this later version of the Sextet just now, you
unintentionally said something rather interesting, because there are many people
who, because of your relaxed manner, have no idea of your self-critical habits and
your reworkings. I’ve followed your work for a long time, so that doesn’t surprise
me, but I’d like you now to explain the situation.

FP: I’m the terror of publishers because there isn’t a single work of mine that hasn’t
undergone transformations, sometimes radical ones. With every new edition, there
are either simple details that I correct, or sometimes whole pages that have to be
re-engraved. I would add, despite what people think, that composing isn’t easy for
me. As you know.

CR: I do. Sometimes it’s reflected in your mood. I recognise a grumpy, sour-faced
Poulenc who unconsciously lets on that all is not going as it should …

FP: My sketches, my drafts indeed are covered with crossings-out, and once
my music’s published, that doesn’t, for me, mean it can’t be altered. I’m not one
of those composers who listen to their music at a concert nodding their head
complacently, like those mothers who, with adoring eyes, follow their daughters’
revels at their first balls. I, on the contrary, say to myself suddenly: ‘How ghastly!
My Andante has a wart on its nose, my Scherzo is hunchbacked, my Finale limps.’
Quite often it’s only years later that I see what has to be changed – like Bonnard,
who used to touch up some of his paintings 20 years later. Would you like me to
tell you a story about him?

CR: With pleasure.

FP: In the days when the Musée d’Art moderne was in the Palais du Luxembourg,
one morning, shortly after opening time, an attendant sees a man, brush in hand,
retouching a picture. The attendant seizes him by the scruff of the neck and
marches him off to the keeper of pictures before the dauber (as the attendant called
242 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

him) can say a single word. The keeper stands up, dumbfounded, and bowing to
Bonnard, says:

‘Maître, what’s going on?’


‘The fact is, when I visited your museum recently, I suddenly discovered what
was missing in my landscape, so I came to put it right.’
‘But you should have warned me! I would have let you use my office.’
‘I preferred surprise,’ replied Bonnard, ‘because maybe you wouldn’t have
given me permission and then, more importantly, I wanted to correct it from the
public’s viewpoint.’

That reply has always seemed to me to be good advice. In that way it was
thanks to the public, whom I couldn’t see because I was playing, that I discovered
the new version of my Sonata for piano and cello, after six performances in Italy
with Pierre Fournier. I think it’s now in its definitive form. An error in proportion
doesn’t inevitably require a massive cut but, quite often, some imperceptible
pruning at various points in the work.

CR: And now, what do you think of this sonata?

FP: I feel fairly charitable towards it. It was sketched out in 1940, while I was
beginning Les Animaux modèles, and there are close links between the two. I’d
abandoned my sketches, but then in 1948 my admiration and affection for Pierre
Fournier encouraged me to complete the work.

CR: Before we conclude this conversation, I’d like you to say a couple of words
about the String Quartet you destroyed in 1947.

FP: If you’re demanding this slice of humble pie, very well. It should lead people
to look more kindly, too kindly perhaps, on some of my other works. That quartet
is the embarrassment of my life (Joseph Calvet was good enough to read through
its three movements for me one morning in 1947).1 I still blush when I think about
it. Right from the opening bars, I was saying to myself: ‘Whatever else, that’d
be better on an oboe, that needs a horn, there it should be a clarinet.’ This surely
served to condemn the work out of hand? I had only one desire: to run away. How
relieved I was, on leaving Calvet’s flat, to throw my manuscript into a drain on
the Place Péreire! I went straight to a café and phoned Auric:

‘Well, I’ve thrown my quartet into a drain.’


‘You’re mad!’
‘There were just three nice tunes, but only if played by wind instruments.’
‘A good decision then, but try not to forget the three tunes.’
Interview 11 243

These themes now appear in my Sinfonietta and, remembering our phone


conversation, I dedicated the piece to Auric.

CR: And what, basically, was the obstacle you weren’t able to overcome with
this quartet: was it a question of form, or of texture? Was it the genre’s difficult
reputation, as felt even by composers such as Brahms and Fauré, that intimidated
you and paralysed your normal powers of invention? After all, you’ve a close
friend whose example shows that maybe there’s nothing to be intimidated by:
Darius Milhaud, who’s just finished his eighteenth string quartet.2

FP: Stupidly, I confused quartet writing with choral writing, whereas they’re
totally different. The fact is, nothing is further from the human breath than the
stroke of a bow. Milhaud understands quartet writing and I place his 18 quartets
among the best things in his output. They’re all successful, and there are some
(the majority) that are extremely beautiful. But in my case, please, don’t ever
mention this musical genre to me again – if I may so put it, it’s not one of the
strings to my bow.

CR: All right then, we’ll pass over this other inconvenient child, stillborn rather,
and profit by the presence in Paris of Pierre Fournier to ask him to play for us the
‘Cavatine’ of your Sonata for piano and cello.

(Pierre Fournier and Poulenc play the ‘Cavatine’ from the Sonata for piano
and cello.)

Notes
1
[Joseph Calvet (1897–1984) won his Paris Conservatoire first prize for violin in 1919.
Shortly after that he founded the Calvet Quartet which, by the 1930s, was widely recognised
as the best in France. Calvet himself was praised for his warm, vibrant tone. RN.]
2
[Milhaud’s Eighteenth String Quartet was published in 1951. RN.]
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Interview 12
The Monk and the Naughty Boy

CR: Here we are, my dear Francis, nearly halfway through the programme of
conversations I had in mind. You’ve given an account of yourself as it were
from the inside. Later, after putting to you the inevitable question, ‘How do you
work?’, I’ll be asking you to talk particularly about yourself in relation to external
things. That way we shall have a complete portrait of you.
For today, and before going on to anything else, I should like to emphasise
the focus, the synthesis of everything you’ve told us. So then! To begin with,
in the most general sense, it follows from everything you’ve said that you’re
essentially and exclusively a Latin, even to the point of not being ashamed of
certain Latin faults. On this front you are, on the contrary, fairly resistant in your
music to everything that belongs, however closely or distantly, to the Germanic
soul – even if there are some aspects of this for which you may feel admiration.
Here, what’s more, there’s a great personal difference between you and Milhaud
the Mediterranean, or Auric the gentle Cartesian, both of whom demonstrate, all
in all, a certain similarity of attitude.

FP: My dear Claude, authenticity demands that one has the defects of one’s
qualities. So I don’t disown my Latin faults, just as I don’t advise Hindemith
to disown his Germanic ones. These often form the strongest element in our
character. You know Picasso’s remark: ‘Cultivate what people blame you for,
that’s you.’1 Certainly nothing is further away from me than the German spirit,
but I can admire what I don’t like and even what I detest. That’s where I differ
from dear Milhaud.
So I shall never exclaim like him, ‘Down with Wagner!’, but I certainly hope
I’ll never in my lifetime have to listen again to Die Meistersinger.2

CR: The truth is, I’ve never seen you annoyed by Wagner, but sleeping peacefully
in a box one evening when Toscanini was conducting Tannhäuser …

FP: Indeed, I’m able to sleep very peacefully while listening to Wagner … Which
is not to say I don’t admire him totally!

CR: To pursue your Latin orientation further, you’re a man of instinct. As a result,
you have an almighty horror of anything to do with systems – which, again,
separates you from any influence of the Germanic kind. This horror of systems
– which for you are equivalent to ‘tricks’ – was something you first felt quite
naturally, but only later did you adopt it as a position, after various experiences.
246 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

So, whenever you’ve decided to go against your nature and your instinct, you’ve
come up with what you yourself have recognised as failures (the Quartet, the
Violin Sonata), even though you seemed to possess every qualification on the
technical front. But when you allowed yourself to be guided by instinct on
the other hand, you’ve been successful, even though it meant using means of
expression, genres and forms for which you weren’t particularly well suited: for
example, the Organ Concerto which, at first glance, didn’t seem to be in your
line, but which is one of your most definite successes.

FP: That’s right, instinct is my most infallible guide. Clearly, an organ concerto
by the composer of Les Biches seemed like a paradox. If I’d been asked to do it,
I’d certainly have failed. But I wanted to write it. That’s the whole difference. I’ve
turned down any number of commissions because they didn’t appeal: last year,
for instance, three ballets, including one for Roland Petit, someone I admire, and
another that carried an impressive fee, I can tell you. The only thing was, I didn’t
have any desire to write for choreography and Dutilleux, that fine composer whom
I admire sincerely, had a magnificent success with the Anouilh ballet, Le Loup,
with which I’d certainly have failed.

CR: Another aspect of your Latin personality is that you fight shy equally
of both abstract and programme music. You may admire Bach, but that hasn’t
stopped you referring to his music as ‘abstract’. And what’s more, by your own
admission, your attempt at a kind of descriptive music in Les Soirées de Nazelles
wasn’t satisfactory. On this point, it seems to me that deep down you’re part of
the great tradition of what I call perennial French Impressionism: not, of course,
Impressionism in the narrow sense in which it’s been applied to Debussy, but
Impressionism in the broader sense that in my view characterises the attitude
of all our French composers throughout history, whether it’s Janequin, Claude
le Jeune, Couperin, Ravel or Chabrier, or the most recent composers, whether
they’re using the 12-tone method or not. This traditional French attitude seems to
me very striking (just as in Italy composers remain lyrical, Dallapiccola’s serial
music singing in exactly the same way as Monteverdi’s Orfeo). I feel it’s within
that tradition that your instinct operates.

FP: What you’ve just said is profoundly true, and it’s because French composers,
in the pursuit of elegance, disguise their structural plans that Central Europe
blames us for our lack of form. When form (from beyond the Rhine) spills over
into French music, it drowns it: look at the sonatas of d’Indy or Dukas, sunk
without trace, while those apparently frail barks, the Debussy and Ravel piano
pieces, defy the tornados of fashion.

CR: Latin too is your way of being more versatile and fluid than the Germans:
you have two faces that are opposite and apparently quite contrary to each other:
the believer and the pagan, a characteristic more commonly found in the Spaniard
Interview 12 247

or the Italian than in the Frenchman. These two sources perfectly match the two
sources of your heredity: the paternal one from which you draw your sense of
seriousness and your taste for rigour; and the maternal one, from which you draw
your Parisian, indeed suburban side. From these come the two opposing aspects
of your music: on one side, your personal folklore, simultaneously aristocratic
and popular; on the other, the bare lines of some of your sacred works. And it’s
precisely these two extremes that I’d like us to explore together today.

FP: If I understand you correctly, you want me to make a synthesis of the


parodoxical elements in my work: the juxtaposition of the secular and the sacred.

CR: Exactly.

FP: After all, it was you, my dear Claude, who wrote, in talking about my recent
Piano Concerto, that I was part monk, part naughty boy. Although the slogan’s
rather overgeneralised, I’ll go along with it even so and try and show you’re right,
while introducing some nuances.

CR: No music critic could ask for more.

FP: It may seem odd certainly that the Stabat Mater followed straight on after
the so-called ‘Cloth-cap Concerto’ of 1949.3 You know me well enough, my dear
Claude, to be aware that it was not to please your colleagues, indignant as they
were about that poor concerto, that immediately afterwards I wrote an important
sacred work; the time for it had come, that was all.

CR: I do know that musical repentance is not in your character and, what’s more,
you pay no attention to the critics.

FP: Certainly I never listen to their advice, which doesn’t bother me as I go my


own way. Although this light-hearted concerto is only a minor work in my œuvre,
I’d still like to say a few words about it.

CR: I was about to ask you.

FP: In 1950, during my second American tour with Pierre Bernac, Charles Munch
had asked me to stop off at Boston to play a new concerto. As opposed to the
famous great concertos that need virtuoso performers, I decided to write a light
concerto as a sort of souvenir of Paris for the pianist/composer.
It never occurred to me the idea would be badly received, which is why, in the
‘rondeau à la française’, I combined the rhythm of the maxixe with a negro spiritual
(one that came from an old song sung by La Fayette’s sailors), intending it as a
friendly, entertaining handshake offered to a country that currently contains, by a
long way, my largest and most faithful public. From the final Boston rehearsals,
248 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

I realised the ploy hadn’t worked. Even if this concerto didn’t encounter in
America the hostility of the European premiere in Aix-en-Provence, it still didn’t
achieve the same success as my other concertos, especially as a month earlier
my Organ Concerto had had a ‘tremendous success’ and people were expecting
something in the same style.4 But I don’t regret the way I conceived it, with this
sort of musical slang in the Finale.

CR: That’s very apt – ‘musical slang’ is what it is.

FP: And I shall add, my dear Claude, that at the age of 50, it was the last
manifestation of a style that age, quite naturally, was forcing me to abandon. We’ll
see in due course what the work’s fate will be. Maybe from now on the duality
of my music will be less obvious, since my opera Dialogues des Carmélites is
obviously the logical successor to my Stabat Mater. But who knows if I won’t
write another opera on Hôtel du Nord, for which I’ll need a heroine on the lines of
an operatic Arletty …5

CR: I’m afraid you’re still incorrigible.

FP: So what, so long as I’m always perfectly sincere. But now, my dear Claude,
might we, in order to make all this navel-gazing easier to assimilate, proceed to
some examples. For me it would, I think, be the clearest way to justify myself and
it would be fun. First of all, I’m going to sing to you …

CR: What? You’re going to sing?

FP: And why not? As you know, I’m no shrinking violet! Yes, I’m going to sing
to you, and it’ll be the only time in my life I shall sing on the radio, a spoof café
concert song I wrote in 1919 to words by Jean Cocteau. At the time Cocteau,
Pierre Bertin and Les Six wanted to put on a show of music-hall Art (with a
capital A) at the Vieux-Colombier theatre.6 It was on that occasion I turned out
a Hispano–Italian ditty called ‘Toréador’, which lampoons the geography of the
café concert songs of the time, in which a Japanese girl would go to the bad in
Peking and Sappho would fire questions at the Sphinx.
Before singing you this song in which a toreador dies in Venice, in St Mark’s
Square, of a wound from a bull’s horn, both really and figuratively, I should
say that from the ages of 15 to 30 I was an assiduous fan of the music hall.
Believe me, at 16 I was fascinated by a friend who was a year older than me. He
was the boxing champion of his school and the lover of a shoe-stitcher from the
République area, who to me seemed as chic as a mannequin on the rue de la Paix.7
This young person, ravishing by the way, had a sister, a dealer in feathers,
who was as pretty as she was. The four of us used to haunt the café concerts and
the theatres in the area. I have a vivid memory of the enormous Jeanne Bloch in
Prostitution, Vierge flétrie, which I dreamt of turning into an opera …8
Interview 12 249

CR: It’s not too late to fulfil the dream!

FP: I’ll think about it. In any case, our favourite of all was Maurice Chevalier,
the Chevalier of the Petit Casino and Le Carillon. But I realise suddenly I’m
sounding like an old gent exclaiming: ‘Patti! my dear fellow, Patti!’ Chevalier,
thank God, is still here to delight us. He used to sing, among others, one song
that thrilled me. ‘Si fatigué’ was the title.9 I’ve got an old record of it which I’ll
play you in a moment. This song influenced me over some of the prosody in Les
Mamelles de Tirésias. When I composed ‘Toréador’, in 1919, I went at it with a
will and knowing what I was about.

CR: Go on then, sing ‘Toréador’ for us, as you’re dying to.

FP: Dear Claude, I wanted to frighten you! No, I’m not going to sing ‘Toréador’,
because I’m unable to and I don’t want to be ridiculous now. Instead, listen to
‘Si fatigué’ sung by Maurice Chevalier. Sadly, my lovely old record is also very,
very tired.

(‘Si fatigué’, sung by Maurice Chevalier.)

FP: Many years later, listening in the church of Saint-Etienne du Mont …

CR: … with the shoe-stitcher and the dealer in feathers …!

FP: I’m afraid not, you silly man, listening on my own to the first performance
of Milhaud’s marvellous Cantate de la Paix and Les Deux Cités by the Petits
Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois, I suddenly had a precise vision of my Motets pour
un temps de pénitence, and I wrote four motets for Holy Week that are as realistic
and tragic as a painting by Mantegna.10 In the same way as a Chevalier chanson
had inspired me to write ‘Toréador’, Milhaud had aroused in me the desire to
compose one of the choral works I value most.
Listen to the most dramatic of these four motets, the ‘Tenebrae factae sunt’.
I think these various musical examples explain me better than all the words in the
world.
Writing what I want to, when I want to, that’s my composer’s motto.

(Recording of ‘Tenebrae factae sunt’ by the Chorale Marcel Couraud.)

Notes
1
This aphorism, incorrectly cited here, was pronounced by Jean Cocteau.
2
[Milhaud caused a stir in 1921 with his slogan ‘A bas Wagner!’ His favourite
Wagner work was the Siegfried Idyll. RN.]
250 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

3
[This is very nearly true. In fact, the two works are separated by the song cycle
La fraîcheur et le feu, composed between April and July 1950. RN.]
4
[The phrase ‘tremendous success’ is in English in the original text. RN.]
5
[Hôtel du Nord is a 1938 film directed by Marcel Carné, concerning the comings
and goings of a hotel near the canal Saint-Martin. Arletty (Léonie Bathiat, 1898–1992) was
an actress, singer and model who starred in Hôtel du Nord and in Les Enfants du Paradis
(1945, also directed by Carné. RN.]
6
[Pierre Bertin (1891–1984) was an actor who collaborated with Satie and Les Six,
producing the first performance of Satie’s Musique d’ameublement in March 1920. He was
married for a time to the pianist Marcelle Meyer, also linked with Satie and Les Six. RN.]
7
[The République quarter, the eleventh arrondissement, remains notably less chic
than the rue de la Paix in the second, connecting the place de l’Opéra with the Place
Vendôme. RN.]
8
[Jeanne Bloch (1858–1916) was a star of Paris café concerts for more than 40 years
from 1872. Known as ‘La colossale chanteuse’, she was reckoned to measure 1.60 m in all
directions. RN.]
9
[‘Si fatigué’ was composed by Charles Borel-Clerc (1879–1959). RN.]
10
[Poulenc here conflates two occasions. The premiere of Cantate de la Paix was
given by Les Petits Chanteurs at the Sorbonne in June 1937; that of Les Deux Cités by the
same group at Saint-Etienne du Mont in Holy Week 1938. Poulenc’s Motets pour un temps
de pénitence were composed between July 1938 and January 1939. RN.]
Interview 13
Poulenc-Janus: Le Bal masqué and
Les Mamelles de Tirésias

CR: We’ve now made a general tour of yourself and your music. We’ve been able
to note a whole series of different aspects. All the same, if we look at it overall, it
seems quite possible, without reducing these aspects to a common denominator,
to make at least some kind of synthesis and to suggest that you embrace, as it
were, two poles of attraction – that’s to say two opposite poles – at each of which
we find a dominant trait of what I could call the essential Poulenc. And it would
appear that certain works more than others are more completely representative of
these two poles. Tell me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that, on one side, we
can place Le Bal masqué and Les Mamelles de Tirésias, and on the other side the
group formed by the Mass, the Motets, the Petites prières and the Stabat Mater.
You’ve talked about these works only in passing, and it’s about the first group,
then the second that I’d like to question you in our next two conversations. Today
then, Le Bal masqué and Mamelles. Do you think they incorporate one of the
principal aspects of the essential Poulenc? I fancy you’re going to be unusually
eloquent, as I think I’m right in believing these are two works that are particularly
dear to you …

FP: At last, a conversation I’ll enjoy. I shall indeed be able to say everything
that comes into my head, being as it were forgiven in advance, thanks to the
extravagant subjects of these two pieces.
You’re right, I’m particularly fond of both of them because they put me in a
good mood. I’m happy to say I don’t give a hoot what people think of them. The
important thing is that they were fun to compose and that I still enjoy them today.
Of course there’s a clear link between Le Bal masqué and Les Mamelles de
Tirésias. That comes from the fact that Le Bal masqué is the most Apollinairean
work by Max Jacob, and Les Mamelles de Tirésias has more than one connection
with dear Max’s Le Cornet à dés.1
In addition, they’re two comic works in which comedy sometimes rubs
shoulders with terror. In 1932 I had to compose a secular cantata for baritone and
chamber orchestra, and I immediately had the idea of taking as my text a number
of extraordinary poems by Max, recently published in the well-known collection
Laboratoire central. These poems were exactly what I was looking for: to provoke
laughter, but with one eye only, in an elite audience invited by the Viscount and
Viscountess de Noailles to a kind of stage show in the old theatre of Hyères in
252 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

the Midi.2 I’d already written Aubade for these patrons. The first time, I’d tried to
move them; this time, I fully intended to entertain them.
Besides, it wasn’t to be a society occasion, but a kind of relaxation for the
friends of the house at Hyères, where the Noailles owned a property: Bunuel,
Giacometti, Markévitch, Bérard, Auric, Nabokov, Sauguet and I, we each had
to produce our piece. It was for this occasion that Sauguet wrote one of his
unquestionable successes, La Voyante, a cantata for mezzo soprano and chamber
orchestra. Sauguet had alerted me to the fact that the atmosphere of his piece
would be poetic, so I opted for the buffo style.
We all know the pictures and inventive poems produced by the Viscountess
de Noailles under her unadorned first name, Marie-Laure. As she was a great
admirer of Max Jacob, my choice was made instantly. This was the genesis of Le
Bal masqué, a secular cantata for baritone, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, violin,
cello, percussion and piano. For the first time, the splendid Roger Désormière
conducted the orchestra and Gilbert Moryn sang the whole thing with marvellous
earthiness. For me, Le Bal masqué is a sort of Nogentais carnival with the portraits
of various odd characters I saw during my childhood on the banks of the Marne.
Max Jacob’s ‘Blind Lady’, for example, who gets drunk with her young brother-
in-law, I knew her. In 1910, her double used to live in a little Swiss chalet, in the
style of Dubout on the Ile de Beauté in Nogent.3 In a spangled silk dress, she spent
her days in her garden playing belote with her so-called husband who, beneath his
Panama hat, looked like Landru.4
The Finale of Le Bal masqué:

Mon gilet quadrillé My check waistcoat


A, dit-on, l’air étrusque, Has, they say, an Etruscan look,
Et mon chapeau marron And my chestnut-coloured hat
Va mal avec mes frusques. Doesn’t go with my togs.

has always made me think of Max Jacob when he was living on the rue Gabrielle
in that strange room in which a mirrored wardrobe without a back, placed in the
middle of the room, served as a door in an imaginary partition, so Max could say:
‘Here, this is my bedroom: over there, that’s my office.’ I’d have loved to play
extracts from Le Bal masqué to explain all this better, only I don’t have a record
to hand, so I prefer to talk at greater length about Les Mamelles de Tirésias and
play you some extracts, as I’m absolutely delighted to have the complete recording
made by the original performers under the superb direction of André Cluytens.
Even so, it should be known that Le Bal masqué is far more important in my output
than various endlessly repetitive pieces for piano, or even certain songs like the
Airs chantés.
So now, let’s talk about Les Mamelles de Tirésias.
Interview 13 253

CR: Yes indeed, let’s talk about Les Mamelles … By the way, I think I’ve brought
you on to home ground today … To begin with, where do you place Les Mamelles
de Tirésias in your output?

FP: Well, my dear Claude, allow me to say in all immodesty, but also all
simplicity, that I consider Les Mamelles as my most authentic work, together
with Figure humaine and the Stabat Mater. Who cares what people may think
of the libretto! It attracted me as sincerely in 1944 as Bernanos’s Dialogues des
Carmélites does today. I’ve often been asked: ‘How could you write music on
such a text?’ It’s like love: impossible to explain one’s choice. The one-legged
lady with the ravishing face who used to parade up and down the boulevard de la
Madeleine all those years ago was not short of admirers, so far as I know.

CR: Dear Francis, let’s not be sidetracked by these ladies. Let’s be serious and
return to our conversation on the musical front.

FP: However many fronts there are, I know only one: that of sincerity.

CR: Very well, but tell me, you’d known Les Mamelles for a long time. How was
it you didn’t turn it into an opéra comique earlier? When did the idea come to you?
Shortly before you started writing?

FP: I had the great pleasure of attending the premiere at the Théâtre René Maubel
in Montmartre on 24 June 1917 – a special year which, after Parade, gave us
this fantasy by the poet-soldier. What an audience of people now famous! There
were Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Derain, Modigliani, Dufy, Léger, Cocteau, Eluard,
Aragon, Breton, Satie, Auric, Diaghilev, Massine, and so on. Max Jacob was
singing in the chorus, Yes, Max was singing. Hmm!!! The incidental music –
unspeakable, dumbfounding – was by a Sunday composer: Madame Germaine
Albert-Birot. The producer was Marcel Herrand, who died recently, and the décor
and costumes, in the purest Cubist style, were by Serge Ferat. On that fine summer
Sunday, the spectacle in the rue Lepic took on the air of a provincial fete. To be
honest, although I was hugely entertained by it all, I’d never have thought this
farce would one day assume a crucial place in my work. In fact, there were very
few people who attached any importance to Les Mamelles. Inexplicably, Satie had
refused to write the incidental music. I’m wrong to say ‘inexplicably’ because,
when I think about it, I can see Satie was incapable of adapting to a sense of
humour different from his own.
It was only in 1944, when I was cut off in my house in Touraine by the
Normandy landings, that I reread Les Mamelles de Tirésias one evening.5
Whether or not it was the effect of a brief look back to a happy time, the fact is
that in a single second I decided to try my luck with Les Mamelles. One critic was
astonished that a work of this kind should have been born in the desperate days
of the Liberation. Having sung of my thirst for hope in Figure humaine in 1943,
254 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

I reckon I had the right to celebrate the joy of freedom recovered with a slightly
crazy piece written, also, for the return of my dear Milhaud from America …

CR: I’d like to ask you something about the aesthetic of the piece itself. How did
you approach it from the musical point of view? That’s to say: did you decide
in advance that you were going to use a mixed musical style or did that spring
automatically from the text as you went along? I think you agree that you employ
at least two styles here: first, what one might call the ‘noble’ style, as in the
‘Prologue’, for instance; and then the ‘buffo’ style, as in the ‘Polka’ for Lacouf
and Presto or in the crazy scene of the new-born babies?

FP: I merely had to follow Apollinaire’s text strictly to find the tone of the music.
Les Mamelles dates from 1903, that’s to say it still bears traces of the influence
of the Jarry of Ubu-Roi, but very faintly, because the taste for extravagance was
very different in the two poets.6 When Apollinaire revised Les Mamelles in 1916,
he added a special prologue in which the theatre director explains what the piece
will be about. This prologue is serious and melancholy. Naturally, the parts I set
to music reflect this same mood. In the same way, knowing as I did the secret
power Apollinaire invested in certain words, when there’s a mention of Paris or
of the Seine, you can hear the music respond emotionally. Given that a phrase can
produce a lyrical, melancholic change of atmosphere in the middle of the wildest
buffoonery, I don’t hesitate to alter the tone, knowing the sadness that lay behind
Apollinaire’s smile.

CR: Did you feel you’d treated the piece as Apollinaire would have wanted at the
time? Or, whether because of the special requirements of the operatic stage, or
for compositional reasons, or because of the difference in period, did you apply
changes of perspective and put the emphasis on certain things? In Apollinaire’s
world, where did the ‘moral’ (if I may use the word) and poetical side end, and the
farcical side begin?

FP: By great good fortune, Madame Apollinaire lives ten kilometres away
from my house in Touraine. My feelings for her are a mixture of friendship and
admiration, because few writers’ widows guard their husbands’ work with such
enthusiasm and modesty. As soon as I had the idea of setting Les Mamelles de
Tirésias to music, I asked her permission to make certain cuts and also to place
the action in an atmosphere that was, if I may so describe it, ‘decubified’, because
that of 1917 would, I think, have been more dated than the 1912 period chosen
by me.

CR: Why 1912, and why indicate in the score that the action takes place around
Monte-Carlo? Why this substitution of Monaco for the Zanzibar of the play?
Interview 13 255

FP: I chose 1912 because that was Apollinaire’s heroic period, of the first fights
for Cubism and of the publication of Alcools. I substituted Monte-Carlo for
Zanzibar to avoid the exotic, and because Monte-Carlo, which I adore, and where
Apollinaire spent the first 15 years of his life, is quite tropical enough for the
Parisian that I am.
The ravishing sets Erté designed for the Opéra-Comique with, in the Finale,
those lamps in the style of a 1914 restaurant car, were exactly what I was after. As
for the ladies’ clothes, they were exact copies of the dresses (what at the time were
called ‘toilettes’) that Erté had designed for Poiret’s 1912 collection.7

CR: That’s fun to know. But tell me, your lead singer, Denise Duval, who’s
remarkable in it and seems impossible to replace, did she play any sort of role
during the work’s composition? Did you think of her?

FP: How could I have thought of her since I didn’t know her at the time? I
tell you, Jacques Rouché received the score of Les Mamelles in the spring of
1945, but it wasn’t staged until June 1947 because I couldn’t find a singer for the
difficult role of Thérèse/Tirésias. I knew I’d be heavily criticised so I thought,
reasonably enough, that I’d put up a better defence with a pretty girl who had a
bit of go and zip about her. By February 1947 I still hadn’t found this rare bird.
Max de Rieu, to whom I’m indebted for a sensational production, had already
begun to rehearse the men’s roles, but where to unearth the star we dreamt of?
One fine day he said to me: ‘Go up to the little theatre, you’ll see a pretty girl
who’s come from the Folies Bergère. She could perhaps be what we’re looking
for.’ I didn’t need telling twice and took the lift up to the little theatre under the
roof where most of the Opéra-Comique rehearsals are held. Mlle Duval – I didn’t
even know her name –, dressed very casually in a grey flannel skirt and yellow
sweater, was rehearsing Tosca with Mme Matthieu Hirsch, whose husband was
then a financial director of the theatre.
Immediately I was struck by her luminous voice, her beauty, her chic, and
above all that healthy laugh which is so wonderful in Les Mamelles. I made up my
mind on the spot. Here was the singer we’d dreamt of. What’s more, coming from
the Folies Bergère where Georges Hirsch had had the flair to unearth her, she was
used to every sort of risqué staging. Born actress that she is, Denise Duval’s range
is wonderfully varied. Bristling and prancing in L’Heure espagnole, in which
she’s the best Concepcion since Fanny Heldy, she can become extremely moving
in Bondeville’s Madame Bovary.8 That’s why I’m getting her to sing the role of
Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites.

CR: A further question: why, in this piece of buffoonery that knows no limits,
haven’t you indulged in an equally extavagant orchestra, instead of contenting
yourself with the forces used in Carmen?
256 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: Because, for one thing, I always distrust bizarre orchestrations, and for
another, not having like Ravel in L’Heure espagnole or Ibert in Angélique that
sense of magic which brings nobility to the unorthodox, I preferred to restrict
myself to an orchestration that his its feet firmly on the ground.9

CR: As far as the chorus writing is concerned, you told me one day, rather
paradoxically, that it’s the same as that in the Stabat Mater. Is that true?

FP: Absolutely true. Take, for instance, the funereal scene in which Denise Duval
learns from the newpaper Le Petit Zanzibar that the two drunkards, Lacouf and
Presto, are dead; you could easily replace the words with a liturgical text without
causing any great scandal, I think. Just listen.

(Les Mamelles Columbia FCX 230)

CR: For me, that last extract is a perfect example of the work’s strange stylistic
heterogeneity. That’s what caused the foundations of the Opéra-Comique to shake
slightly at the premiere. It’s a theatre that isn’t used to this kind of opera buffa,
a genre very close to the French spirit, but one which is, in fact, rather rarely
pursued in France where operetta’s the dominant form. Tell me, have you never
been tempted by traditional operetta? Doesn’t that tickle your fancy?

FP: Yes, operetta tickles my fancy, but I don’t have the gift for writing it. Sadly,
this genre has been ruined and bastardised. Let’s not forget the fact that to succeed
in operetta you need a special gift, like that of the great Messager (yes, Messager
was a great composer) or, nearer our own times, of Reynaldo Hahn or Louis
Beydts.10 You don’t become an operetta composer by fiddling around. So the Act
II Finale of Mamelles, which includes a spoof operetta aria, is not an operetta
Finale. It’s too dry, too mocking, and not cheerful enough.

CR: So would you play it for us?

FP: With pleasure. Here’s an example of the miracle of recording. Thanks to one
that’s just come out, you’ll hear Denise Duval, Jean Giraudeau, Emile Rousseau,
Robert Jeantet, Marguerite Legouhy and the chorus and orchestra of the Opéra-
Comique under the direction of André Cluytens. Quite a treat, isn’t it?

CR: Here we are then!

(Finale of Act II of Les Mamelles)


Interview 13 257

Notes
1
[Le Cornet à dés (The Dice Box) is a collection of poems Jacob wrote between
1903 and 1910 and published in 1917. Full of puns, they have been described as embodying
‘organised chaos’. RN.]
2
Le Bal masqué was first performed in the villa at Hyères belonging to Marie-Laure
and Charles de Noailles, who sponsored the work and to whom it is dedicated.
3
[Albert Dubout (1905–1976) was a cartoonist and book illustrator, mostly in a
humorous vein. RN.]
4
[Henri Landru (1869–1922) was a serial muderer who killed at least eleven women.
He was guillotined at Versailles. RN.]
5
In fact, Poulenc began to make sketches for Les Mamelles de Tirésias in 1938, even
if he composed the work in 1944.
6
[Alfred Jarry (1876–1907) was a playwright whose Ubu-Roi, produced in 1896, is
regarded as a precursor of the Theatre of the Absurd and of Surrealism. RN.]
7
To be precise, Erté became a designer for the couturier Paul Poiret in 1913.
8
[Emmanuel Bondeville (1898–1987) was a composer and administrator. He was
director of the Opéra-Comique from 1949 to 1951, then of the Paris Opéra from 1952 to
1969. His lyric drama Madame Bovary, on Flaubert’s novel, was premiered at the Opéra-
Comique in June 1951. RN.]
9
[Jacques Ibert’s opera Angélique, to a libretto by Nino (in fact, Ibert’s brother-in-
law Michel Veber) was premiered at the Théâtre Fémina on 28 January 1927. The story tells
of a henpecked husband who puts his wife up for sale; but even the Devil, who eventually
takes her on, finds her too hot to handle. RN.]
10
[Louis Beydts (1895–1953) studied with Messager and from the 1930s was much
in demand as a composer of stage and film music. In 1941 he was musical director of the
famous recording of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, conducted by Désormière. RN.]
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Interview 14
A Countryman’s Prayers:
A Mass and Some Motets

CR: We talked last time about Le Bal masqué and Les Mamelles de Tirésias as
being the first of the two poles of the essential Poulenc, and today we come to
the second pole with a group of sacred works. You’ve already talked to me about
your church music, but confining yourself entirely to generalities. Now I know
that the majority of listeners consider your sacred music as a particularly essential
part of your œuvre, so it would therefore be in order for you to embark on certain
details. You also spoke at some length about the genesis of the Litanies, but you
passed at some speed over the Mass. Now it seems to me that’s an important
work, firstly because it’s your first liturgical one, and secondly because it’s your
first unaccompanied sacred work. How did it come about?

FP: It was in 1937 that I decided to write an unaccompanied mass. The Lyon
choir had just given the first performance of my Sept chansons on poems by
Eluard and Apollinaire, at the concerts of La Sérénade in Paris organised by the
marquise de Casa Fuerte, where so many works were premiered between the
wars.1 It had been such a pleasure working with that marvellous Lyon choir that
I immediately had the idea, as a change of scene, of writing an unaccompanied
choral work for them, which I’d never yet done.
As I think I’ve already mentioned, at that time I used to spend a month each
summer either in Corrèze or in the Morvan with Bernac, rehearsing our concerts
for the winter. In August 1937 we’d rented a three-room apartment from the owner
in the lovely little village of Anost, near Autun – I’ve always had a soft spot for
Anost as it’s where my nurse was born.
A Pleyel upright had arrived from Paris. So I alternated between composing
and rehearsing, and in that way I wrote my Mass in 1937, and in 1938 most of my
Organ Concerto, together with songs such as ‘Tu vois le feu du soir’ on a poem by
Eluard, ‘Dans le jardin d’Anna’, and so on. Autun, with its Romanesque church,
has always fascinated me and I adore the countryside round about, so like that of
Burgundy.
So now, dear Claude, before talking about the Mass and to put all this into
concrete form, I’d really like you to hear ‘Tu vois le feu du soir’. This can be, if
you like, the view from my windows in Anost, the setting in which I wrote my
Mass.
On 31 July 1938, the day I left Paris for the Morvan, while I was getting into
the car, my concierge handed me Eluard’s Chanson complète, which had just
260 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

been published. When I read the first poem in Anost, it fitted so perfectly with the
surrounding countryside that in a few days I wrote this song, which is by far one of
the ones I like best. Here’s the recording Bernac and I made in America.

(‘Tu vois le feu’ American Columbia ML 4484)

CR: It’s a beautiful song. And what a beautiful poem too! I feel that’s an example
of difficult music written easily: it flows naturally, with no sign of effort. But let’s
come back, if we may, to your Mass.

FP: So by the time I reached Anost in August 1937 I’d decided to write a mass
in memory of my father.2 As my ancestors are from Aveyron, that’s to say they
were mountain and Mediterranean people, the Romanesque style has naturally
been my favourite. So I tried to compose this act of faith, which is the essence
of the mass, in this rough, direct style. The roughness is particularly striking in
the opening ‘Kyrie’, but don’t forget that in the early Church those who had not
been baptised were also allowed to sing this hymn with the priests. This explains
the almost savage side of my Mass. In the ‘Sanctus’ I thought of the mingled
heads of angels in Gozzoli’s fresco in the Riccardi Palace in Florence. It’s a vocal
carillon. As for the final ‘Agnus Dei’, sung by a soprano in the high register, it’s
the symbol of the Christian soul, confidently looking forward to life in Heaven.

CR: From the technical point of view, this Mass is, I think, your most complex
unaccompanied sacred work.

FP: Yes, without a doubt. To begin with, a well known choral conductor declared
it unsingable. Now it’s sung by almost all choirs around the world. I’ve got a
recording by the Robert Shaw Chorale of New York (who have just recorded
Beethoven’s Ninth with Toscanini) of such an excellent performance that I can
play you an extract, if that would interest you.

CR: Of course.

FP: Here’s the ‘Agnus Dei’. Forgive my immodesty, but it’s without question one
of the pieces in which I’ve most completely realised my intentions.

(‘Agnus Dei’ HMV FALP 273)

CR: The Motets pour un temps de pénitence came shortly after the Mass, didn’t
they?

FP: Yes, they date from 1938. I’ve already told you how I had the idea of writing
them after hearing Milhaud’s cantata Les Deux Cités sung by the Petits Chanteurs
à la Croix de Bois during Holy Week in 1938.
Interview 14 261

CR: From the technical point of view, and that of polyphony in particular, did the
Motets de pénitence pose any special problems? From this point of view, did you
treat them differently from the Mass? Did you, more or less unconsciously, take as
your models any polyphonic masters of the past?

FP: Indeed, for the Motets de pénitence, as for the much more recent Christmas
motets, I thought continuously of Victoria, for whom I have unbounded
admiration. He is the St John of the Cross of music.
From the technical point of view, these two groups of motets are far less
complex than the Mass. Listen, for example, to the first of the Motets de Noël,
‘O magnum mysterium’, sung by the Marcel Couraud Vocal Ensemble. The four
parts practically never divide and, on the tonal front, in this motet I keep coming
back to the original key of B flat minor. Here’s ‘O magnum mysterium’:

(‘O magnum mysterium’)

CR: In contrast to these imposing motets, there’s a work of yours I’m sorry we
don’t hear more often: the Quatre petites prières de saint François d’Assise.
A little work, you may say perhaps, but one whose individual character seems to
me very touching. Is this too a liturgical work? How did you come to write it?
What texts are these by Saint Francis?

FP: Nothing gives me greater pleasure, my dear Claude, than when someone
likes these Petites prières. You mustn’t think I have a low opinion of some of
my minor works, far from it. What happened was that one day one of my great-
nephews, a young Franciscan monk, sent me these four prayers and asked me to
set them to music for his monastery choir. I accepted with enthusiasm because
I’ve always been profoundly moved by the Franciscan spirit. If I’d ever entered
holy orders – a vocation that, sadly, I’ve never had – it would have been as a
Franciscan. I have an exceptional devotion, for instance, to St Antony of Padua,
and have had from my earliest childhood. A large, much loved statue of the saint,
ugly and green with mould, adorned my bedroom until I was fourteen. Then my
nurse insisted on taking it away as a relic, when she retired to the Morvan.

CR: Has St Antony helped you find lots of things you’d lost?.

FP: I don’t use St Antony for that kind of purpose. I simply ask him to see that
I find myself, and I’m counting on him in the hour of my death for the great
journey.

CR: I believe you also have a cult for St Francis and that these prayers are not
merely an artistic undertaking.
262 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: Certainly, I venerate St Francis, but he intimidates me slightly. At all events,


in setting these marvellously touching short prayers to music, I wanted to perform
an act of humility. So in the fourth piece, for example, a solo tenor begins, like a
monk drawing his brethren to prayer.

CR: When do these Prières date from, and when were they sung for the first time?

FP: I composed these prayers at Noizay in September 1948. The first performance
was given the following winter by Yvonne Gouverné’s choir on Plaisir de la
musique, whose spiritual atmosphere was perfect for a work that would merely be
followed by applause in a concert hall. And no one was better qualified to introduce
them than Roland-Manuel, because he’s invested the best of his composer’s
gifts in his sacred music.3 I should like to thank him here for the affection and
kindness with which he has always treated my music. I shall never forget that on
the evening when my Piano Concerto bit the dust at Aix-en-Provence, he was
one of the only ones to defend me by pointing out the modest aim I’d set myself.

CR: Have the Petites prières been recorded?

FP: Yes, recently, and very well, by the Maestricht Chorale.

CR: Let’s hear them then.

FP: With pleasure, only this conversation is going to seem very long.

CR: I don’t think our listeners are going to complain because, as I’ve said, quite a
few of them have said how sorry they are that you’ve skated too rapidly over your
sacred music.

FP: Very well!

(Petites prières de saint François d’Assise: Dutch Philips 00617 R)

CR: I’d like you to conclude today’s conversation by speaking to us about the
sacred work in which you use larger forces than in all your previous works, your
Stabat Mater for soloist, choir and orchestra. First of all, did you have any religious
purpose in writing it?

FP: Yes. When Christian Bérard died, I decided to write a sacred work in his
memory.4 I had thought initially of a Requiem, but I felt that was too ceremonious.
Then I had the idea of an intercessional prayer, and the overwhelming text of the
Stabat Mater seemed to me the perfect vehicle for entrusting the soul of my dear
Bérard to Our Lady of Rocamadour.
Interview 14 263

CR: You’ve said that your Stabat Mater differs from your other sacred works,
which one could describe as belonging to a kind of Romanesque style, in
conforming to a classical, Louis XIV one, on the lines of a Bossuet funeral
oration. Is that why you adopted these vocal and orchestral forces? For example,
the absence of an organ?

FP: I happily accept your comparison with the style of a funeral oration because,
apart from the admiration I have for Bossuet, the work was intended to pay public
homage to a delightful friend and a great artist. I don’t think even so that I’ve
slipped into the ceremonious style, but it’s true the Stabat Mater is perhaps more
noble than my other sacred works. If I haven’t used the organ, that’s because I
think that, with wind instruments, organ stops are fairly much redundant.

CR: And as far as the choral writing is concerned, as someone who’s used to the
unaccompanied style, did you have to change your ideas owing to the presence of
the orchestra?

FP: Apart from the ‘Fac ut ardeat’ which is entirely unaccompanied, there are in
fact several passages in which the chorus sings as it were unaccompanied with the
instrumental sound around them.

CR: Was the soloist’s role determined by a sense of style, a desire to make it
ornamental, or your wish to give expressive value to certain portions of the text?

FP: The soloist’s role is not shaped either by style or by ornament. I felt it, that’s
all. I’d also like to point out that the chorus go on singing during the two soprano
arias. I felt that if I let the chorus fall silent, I should break the lyrical, mystical
momentum.

CR: Would you choose a passage for our listeners that exemplifies what you’ve
just been saying?

FP: Yes, with pleasure. So, here’s the verse ‘O quam tristis’, in which the notes of
the unaccompanied chorus are simply accentuated by the orchestra.

(‘O quam tristis’)

Notes
1
[La Sérénade, founded by the violinist Yvonne Giraud (who married to become
the Marquise de Casa Fuerte, 1895–1984), put on 22 concerts between 1931 and 1939,
containing works mainly by members of its committee, which included Milhaud, Poulenc
and Sauguet. The spirit of the programmes was essentially neo-classical. RN.]
264 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

2
[Poulenc’s father had died in 1917. RN.]
3
[‘Plaisirs de la Musique’ was a series of programmes on French Radio, presented
by the composer and critic Roland-Manuel (Roland Alexis Manuel Levy, 1891–1966), who
had been a friend and pupil of Ravel. RN.]
4
[Christian Bérard (1902–1949) was an artist and theatrical designer, perhaps best
known for his work on Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et la Bête. He designed the décor of
the premiere of Le Bal masqué in 1932. He lived with Diaghilev’s secretary Boris Kochno.
On his death, Poulenc wrote the Stabat Mater, which he dedicated to his memory. RN.]
Interview 15
The Composer’s Studio:
The Eye and the Ear

CR: As you must have been suspecting, it was inevitable that one day I’d have
to get to the point of asking you the fundamental question: how do you work? So
today I’d like you to take me into the secrets of the laboratory. And I’d like you
to be utterly indiscreet, even if it means offending against … let’s call it your
modesty. Firstly, to start at the beginning, do you prefer working to commission
– like Milhaud, for example, whom I asked about this and who pointed out the
considerable number of works he’d been led to compose by commissions – or are
commissions on the contrary the exception with you, and spontaneity the general
rule?

FP: Truth to tell, my dear Claude, the topic of this conversation, which I was
dreading but which I knew to be unavoidable, causes me deep embarrassment.
It’s very difficult in fact to draw conclusions from a collection of individual cases.
Still, your first question has the merit of being precise and will help me approach
the phenomenon – for me, at least, an ever-changing one – of artistic creativity.
Unlike Milhaud, I haven’t worked very often on commission: exactly four
times (I don’t really call long-term suggestions ‘commissions’); and what’s more,
for these commissions financial sponsors have left me entirely free over choice of
subject, form, length of work, and so on. So when I wrote Aubade for the Viscount
and Viscountess de Noailles, they simply asked me for an entertainment for a
party. For that same evening Auric composed some naughty music to accompany
a magic lantern show of designs by Jean Hugo.1
I was the one who suggested to the Princess Edmond de Polignac that I
should write an Organ Concerto for her. You can see how much freedom these
commissions allow! The Princess de Polignac even allowed me to delay delivery
of the Organ Concerto by a year, knowing how slowly I work, sometimes …

CR: … and when those who accuse you of facility find that out, it’s something that
always amazes them!

FP: It’s true, facility isn’t my strong point, and I greatly envy Milhaud and
Hindemith for being able to write a symphony in a hotel bedroom! The fact is that
as I can’t do without a piano, I’m subject to fewer surprises.
266 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

CR: But do you really use the piano a lot when you’re composing? Is it
indispensable for you?

FP: Sadly, yes! I say ‘sadly’, because that causes considerable complications
for a composer when he’s travelling. First of all, you have to find a piano, then
not find ears that can hear you. It’s one of the reasons I work particularly well at
home, in Touraine. What’s more, I need to be alone and concentrating. Whereas
I can orchestrate in Paris (I orchestrated Les Animaux modèles and the Stabat
Mater there), I cannot on the other hand compose there seriously. Paris takes me
out of myself and in a sense that’s one of its blessings; there are so many days
when I don’t like myself! It’s also the only place in the world where I can endure
great sorrow, anguish or melancholy. I only have to go for a walk in the areas I
love – the Marais, les Halles, the faubourg Saint-Antoine, the Ile Saint-Louis –
and life immediately seems less serious. On the other hand, there are areas of
Paris I detest, like the Plaine Monceau and especially Neuilly where, by and
large, I never go except to visit the sick. To sum up, my Paris begins at the Etoile
and spreads east as far as Vincennes. ‘Le Bois’, for me, is the Bois de Vincennes,
the innocent surroundings of my childhood.

CR: And how is it that this west–east itinerary doesn’t make a short detour
through the Luxembourg Gardens, above which is perched the little Paris
apartment where we are today and from which we can see as far as the Meudon
hills? Don’t you like this area?

FP: Oh yes, I love my corner of Paris because it’s lively and intelligent. All
the young people that come out of the colleges to wander about in the gardens,
watching them is delightful!

CR: Delightful it is, but no wandering about for us just now. Would you like to
come back to serious matters and even some you find rather tedious to talk about?
Before that digression, we were talking about your work at the piano …

FP: I can see that, with you, my attempts to avoid certain questions won’t
succeed …
So, yes, I need the piano: sometimes for the inspiration of its sound, sometimes
as an instrument of control. Since you are a serious critic, ‘monsieur Rostand’,
I shall explain.

CR: That’s what we should all like, revered ‘maître Poulenc’!

FP: There’s one part of my music I find while I’m walking about, in any old
place. For instance, I found one of the best tunes in Les Mamelles de Tirésias at
the barber’s … But after that, I need to hear what I’ve imagined. That’s where
Interview 15 267

the piano comes in. There are also things I find directly at the piano, on which the
fingers act as those clairvoyants Stravinsky talks about.
When I’m orchestrating, I follow Ravel’s advice about the disposition of
certain chords. A stretch of a tenth, for example, played by a single hand, calls for
a wide spread on two similar instruments. But if, however, you think of the tenth
played by two hands, then you have to use two different instruments in the same
register. I’ve always imagined that was how Ravel made his wonderful orchestral
versions of his piano pieces, whether it was Ma mère l’Oye, Le Tombeau de
Couperin or the sensational ‘Alborada del gracioso’.
At the age of 20 I was, I confess, very ashamed of using the piano when I
saw Milhaud writing a quartet in a Naples café. But the story about Stravinsky
and Rimsky relieved my anxiety for good. Stravinsky expressed regret that he
used the piano so much (would he have written Les Noces without a piano?).
Rimsky replied: ‘Some great composers like Wagner don’t use a piano, others like
Mussorgsky do. You’re one of the latter, that’s all there is to it!’

CR: And do you have precise ways of composing, little habits, fixed hours of
working?

FP: I don’t have a precise way of composing, as I feel each work requires a
different method of approach. But I do have well defined hours of working. I’m
not an evening person but a morning person. I could quite happily sit down at my
table or my piano at five o’clock in the morning …

CR: Which would be splendid for the neighbours!

FP: That’s why my solitude at Noizay has its uses. All I need when I wake up is
my indispensable cup of tea, and a breath of fresh air for a quarter of an hour to
get the brain working properly. In the evening, on the other hand, I can feel myself
slipping into senility … Obviously, working at night is very convenient in Paris
for those who just need a table. How many times have I envied dear Honegger
who used to leave us after a concert, saying: ‘Excuse me, I’m going back to work.’
I think that what for me favours working in the morning is that, being terribly
visual, once I’ve gone out, a host of images impose themselves on my thoughts,
and suddenly the memory just of a métro entrance can make me miscarry a
modulation. What I like about the morning, you see, is that I’m new, or at least I
feel new. In the country, I get up at 6am. I think my best ideas have come to me
between 11am and 12.30. In life as well, I like everything that’s starting up; that’s
why I hate autumn and why, except in Paris, I don’t like being alive between 3
and 7pm. When evening comes, everything’s better because a new morning’s on
the way. Likewise, December consoles me for the horrors of November, because
if I bite hard on a lilac bud, it already smells of spring.
268 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Really, for a profoundly religious person, old age should not be a tragedy
since it is in fact the antechamber of the Beyond. But now, my dear Claude, I’m
philosophising, which isn’t at all like me …

CR: True, it’s not your sort of thing, but what you’ve just said is not irrelevant. I
think that with any creative artist no confession is irrelevant. And this is probably
the best way for him to explain and justify his art, far better than with a lot of
technical jargon. Even so, may I emphasise what you’ve been saying about how
difficult you find your work. Not in order to … humiliate you, but on the contrary
to obliterate this legend of facility which dogs you …

FP: This legend is perfectly excusable since I do everything I can to conceal my


efforts. Looking at the manuscripts of that admirable writer Colette has comforted
me every time I see them. I remember a page of La Naissance du jour in which
only a single, miraculously deft phrase had survived a veritable massacre.2 You
know my sketches …

CR: Yes, those scribbles, that kind of musical shorthand with which you go from
one page to another with no apparent logic …

FP: Well, I pick up the thread again even months later, which proves that a secret
order governs this apparent disorder.

CR: I’d like to think so!

FP: Like Auric, I always start with the right-hand page and move on to the
left-hand one, and often from bottom to top. As I’ve already said, each work
requires a different method of approach. Currently, for my opera Dialogues des
Carmélites, I’ve started a notebook of attempts at prosody. As prosody is for me
the great secret of this enterprise, I want it to be so accurate, so convincing that
it can’t be interchangeable. I’m trying to find the tone of voice in which a fine
actor, Fresnay for example, would give the most perfect reading of Bernanos’s
admirable text.3 I have the same phrase in three different prosodies, which are all
correct grammatically; but ultimately only one is right.

CR: But with your love of poetry, isn’t it really the beauty of Bernanos’s language
that engenders the musical pulse?

FP: Exactly that.


In Les Mamelles de Tirésias, for instance, I paid more attention to the overall
tone than to individual words in particular. For Dialogues des Carmélites to be
something other than a long newspaper report, it’s vital that the precise tone of
every line expresses the spirituality that Bernanos was able to bring to Mme von
Lefort’s novel.4 The weird thing is that it’s not the religious dialogues that are
Interview 15 269

giving me the most trouble, but on the contrary a narrative scene like the one with
the People’s Commissars, which on the surface looks easier.

CR: An interesting thing about you is that you seem to write difficult music easily,
and vice versa …

FP: It’s true, I wrote the Stabat Mater in three months and it took me six months
to compose the wretched ‘Cloth-cap’ Concerto.

CR: You said just now that you’re a visual person, and you also surprised me
recently by saying that the Andante of your new Sonata for two pianos, this time
without orchestra, was very much influenced by Matisse.

FP: Yes, and that wasn’t the first time Matisse has served me as a model. I
couldn’t describe the impact on me of the exhibition a few years ago of his
drawings for Mallarmé’s poems. They showed the same subject, notably a swan,
in three or four versions that always went from the thickest and most complex
(in charcoal or heavy pencil) to the most ideally simple, pure strokes of the
pen.5 I’ve always tried, especially in my song accompaniments, to bear this
lesson in mind. If only you knew how complex the first sketch of songs like ‘Le
Pont’ (not ‘Les Ponts de C’, ‘Le Pont’ by Apollinaire), ‘Fagnes de Wallonie’ and
particularly La Fraîcheur et le Feu were to start with!
Why, sadly, did I not observe Matisse’s lesson over my piano pieces! But in my
recent Sonata for two pianos the Andante is, on the contrary, very spare. It’s piano
writing without tricks, real piano writing in which each instrument converses in
perfect agreement with its partner, without interrupting. If you’d like, I’ll let you
hear this Andante which my friends Gold and Fizdale, the dedicatees of the work,
were kind enough to record this autumn while they were on their way through
Paris.6

(Andante of the Sonata for two pianos)

CR: Gold and Fizdale are both marvellous musicians and, as you’ve allowed us
to hear them, I hasten to add that they deserve every praise since not only are they
among the rare pianists who perform the splendid (but forgotten and neglected)
two-piano repertoire, but they also inspire new works in the genre.
But to return to what you were saying, we have to admit that a composer who
recognises the influence of a painter on his music is a fairly unusual one. It’s true
you love painting almost as much as poetry …

FP: Yes, I love the painting of every period, every country, every school.
I have only one kind of memory, visual memory which for my enjoyment
prolongs the vision of a work of art or a country scene. I sit down in an armchair,
I doze, and suddenly there I am in a particular street of Toledo; I call to mind a
270 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

simple bunch of white iris in Assisi, or else the long hand on the hip of Donatello’s
David in the Bargello. This game can go on indefinitely. What’s more, I think
I could reconstitute from memory a patch of velvet in Watteau’s L’Enseigne de
Gersaint.

CR: Has thinking of certain paintings ever inspired you to write music?

FP: Yes. Just the once. My friend the Countess Jean de Polignac, that marvellous
musician to whom I’ve dedicated a number of my songs, often under her first
name of Marie-Blanche, told me that her mother, Mme Jeanne Lanvin, had given
her a wonderful Renoir for Christmas; so I decided to give her one after my own
fashion. And that was the impulse behind my little song ‘La Grenouillère’ on a
poem by Apollinaire, a kind of musical evocation of a Renoir landscape.

CR: And who are your favourite painters, given that today, if I’m right, you’ll be
happier talking about pictures than about symphonies?

FP: There are too many of them! I can’t answer that!

CR: But isn’t there for you a kind of Mozart of painting whom you prefer to all
the others?

FP: No, I don’t have a Mozart of painting, because there’s only one Mozart,
the Mozart of music. As there is only one God … But painting has any number
of saints whom I revere, whom I venerate: Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini, Raphael,
Zurbaran, Goya, Chardin, Watteau, David, Corot, Degas, Cézanne, and so on.

CR: As you’re not allowing me to be much of a music critic today, I’ll continue
in my role as artistic interviewer and ask you which are the six twentieth-century
painters you prefer? I hasten to add that I’m not unaware of the artificial nature
of such a limited choice, on the lines of picking favourites for a desert island …

FP: Even so, I can give you six names straight off: Matisse, Picasso, Braque,
Bonnard, Dufy and Paul Klee.

CR: I’m not really surprised by your choice. But are there, as there are in music,
great artists whom you admire, but whom you don’t like?

FP: Certainly: El Greco, Van Gogh, and Gauguin!

CR: The three Gs, then, like the three Bs the violinists talk about! Your choice
of Paul Klee together with Bonnard is testimony to your eclecticism, but your
admiration for Dufy strikes me as entirely logical, because some of your pieces in
Interview 15 271

a concise, cheerful vein have often reminded me of Dufy’s elliptical, suggestive


watercolours.

FP: That’s a great compliment you’ve just paid me, my dear Claude. Thank you!
In 1936 one of your colleagues agreed with you, but in a less flattering manner.

CR: What did he say?

FP: In so many words: ‘One can’t deny M. Poulenc’s music a certain charm. He
will remain, like Dufy, an embodiment of the futility of our age.’

CR: Delightful …

FP: No need to tell you how flattered I was, even then, by the comparison, but
after this year’s imposing Dufy exhibitions I blush at such a compliment. Anyway,
if you want to get an impression of those banks of the Marne you’ve often heard
me talk about, you only have to look at the paintings and watercolours Dufy made
of them. When I see them, my heart races. It is, in a wonderfully condensed and
organised form, my whole childhood paradise.

CR: As I’m abandoning the idea today of getting you to speak only about music,
tell me, in your view, what’s the most Dufyesque of your works?

FP: Undoubtedly a waltz-musette for two pianos called L’Embarquement pour


Cythère, Cythère being, of course, those banks of the Marne you can reach by
métro from Paris.
I’ll let you hear it. Too bad if some shocked listener briskly turns the knob on
his radio … I hope others will enjoy themselves without any negative thoughts …

(Poulenc and Jacques Février play L’Embarquement pour Cythère on two


pianos.)

Notes
1
[Jean Hugo (1894–1984), a great grandson of Victor Hugo, was a painter and
theatre designer who painted the decors for Les Mariés de la tour Eiffel in 1921. RN.]
2
[Colette (1873–1954) wrote La Naissance du jour in 1928. One of its themes is the
difficulty of growing old. RN.]
3
[Pierre Fresnay (1897–1975) was an actor with whom Poulenc recorded L’Histoire
de Babar, le petit éléphant. RN.]
4
See note 6 to ‘How I composed Les Dialogues des Carmélites’, p. 58. Gertrude von
Le Fort was born in 1876 and died in 1971.
272 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

5
[Six stages in Matisse’s drawing can be found in Francis Poulenc, Music, Art and
Literature, ed. Sidney Buckland and Myriam Chimènes, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1999, Figures
8.1–8.6. RN.]
6
[Arthur Gold (1917–1990) and Robert Fizdale (1920–1995) formed a two-piano
partnership and travelled widely in Europe after the Second World War. For obvious
reasons, Fizdale abandoned his birth name of Fish. RN.]
Interview 16
Musical Likes and Dislikes

CR: You spoke last time about the pictures and painters you like or admire, or to
whom you feel especially attached, and indeed those who’ve had an influence on
you.

FP: Yes, like Matisse.

CR: But maybe today would be a good opportunity to have a similar conversation
on the musical front and find out, not which composers have, in your view, had
an influence on you, but those who touch you most nearly, who are closest to
you, to your sensibility and to your heart. Of course, these may not necessarily
be composers who have influenced you; but, that said, it may be true from time
to time and you can tell me when that’s the case.
There’s one name that comes naturally to mind, that of Stravinsky – of
course, I’m only going to suggest names from among contemporary or recent
composers, otherwise we’d need a whole day for your tour round the history of
music. Am I wrong to mention Stravinsky first?

FP: No! As I’ve said to you, and I now say it again, it was unquestionably
Debussy who awoke me to music, but it was Stravinsky who then served as my
guide, as a father-figure. In fact, there’s not much Debussyism in my music,
whereas you constantly feel the presence of the great Igor.1 From Stravinsky’s
Protean output, each of us has drawn the leaven of his personality from works
of the most diverse kind. If Honegger and Milhaud are indebted to The Rite
of Spring, if Messiaen can call to witness Le Rossignol, it’s from Pulcinella,
Mavra, Apollon and Le Baiser de la fée that I’ve gathered my honey.

CR: Indeed, it seems perfectly natural, given your melodic temperament, that you
should choose pieces of a peculiarly singing quality, some of whose very tunes are
taken from Pergolesi and Tchaikovsky.

FP: Of course. Also there’s the rhythmic echo of Les Noces which you can find,
very Frenchified, it’s true, in the sung dances of Les Biches. But it’s obvious that
there’s much more of Le Baiser de la fée and Apollon in Aubade, for instance,
and of Pulcinella in Les Biches and the Concert champêtre. I shan’t ever play
down these influences, not wishing to be labelled ‘father unknown’. As far as
harmony goes, I also owe a lot to Ravel, especially in Les Animaux modèles.
I’m also enormously indebted to Satie, but rather more aesthetically than
274 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

musically. Chabrier is my grandfather, and Mussorgsky remains my teacher in


the field of melody.

CR: I asked you the other day the names of the six twentieth-century painters you
prefer. May I ask you today the same question about composers?

FP: Six! Not many! Let’s see … Let me think for a moment so as not to be too
unfair.
First there’s Debussy, of course, then Stravinsky, and Satie, then the admirable
Falla … Ravel and Bartók … But I’m sad to leave out my dear Prokofiev! That’s
why these casual games are so unfair …

CR: The basic message of your choice is that, all questions of genius aside,
you’ve gone for composers who, in their time, marked themselves out by their
inventiveness, by the novelty, originality, daring indeed, of their contributions
to music. But in that case, how is it the list doesn’t include at least one of the
three great representatives of the Viennese 12-tone school who, as ‘inventors’ of
our time, are among the most original and daring: Schönberg, Berg and Webern?
Note that I’m not asking you here to talk about the 12-tone system – I’m leaving
that for a later occasion – but isn’t it strange that, whereas your choice reveals
a desire to mention only those composers whose music contributed in part to a
renewal of the means of expression, you ignore the Viennese school?

FP: I’m not ignoring the Viennese school, far from it! But as it’s a question of
an imaginary list of my companions in solitude, I can’t do without any of the
six I’ve already mentioned. But God knows, I admire Berg! I’m a passionate
devotee of Wozzeck in which the technique – and what an amazing technique!
– never obscures the humanity, quite the contrary! I admire certain works of
Schönberg like Pierrot lunaire and Webern delights me as being the Mallarmé of
music … only, this is how it is: I feel less at ease with them than with the others.
I approach them in a more formal fashion. Too much respect prevents intimacy!

CR: And Bartók doesn’t have this effect on you?

FP: Not at all. You ask that, my dear Claude, because you’re thinking of the
music of central Europe as an entity. But for me Bartók is much closer to the
Latin spirit than to that of the Viennese. And then Bartók has an incomparable
sense of form. You have to go back to Beethoven to find so much fantasy within
strict structures.

CR: But then you must appreciate the sense of form in Hindemith?

FP: To tell the truth, that’s not what I admire most about Hindemith, as that form
is often too academic. What I prefer with him is a lyricism that’s both dense
Interview 16 275

and agile at the same time, like mercury, such as you find in his ballet The Four
Temperaments, or on the other hand the wonderful tranquillity of Nobilissima
visione.

CR: Let’s change the subject slightly, if we may. I’ve noticed composers are much
more eloquent about what they don’t like than about what they do like and admire.
I can see that love and admiration are very difficult to express and explain, even
though just now you made rather a good job of justifying your musical loves
and enthusiasms. That’s why I think we’d get a better idea of you if you’d be
good enough to talk about your musical dislikes – that’s to say, going through the
complete scale of nuances from red-hot fury and physical repulsion to a certain
indifferent admiration which, ultimately, counts as a negative response. I’m afraid
that, for any number of reasons, I must confine my questions to composers who
are dead and bypass the living ones, even though I’m sure you’d have things to
say about some of them … (Indeed, if you feel so inclined, go to it!). But I think
with various great names of the past we’ll have enough to be going on with. Some
months ago, I asked Darius Milhaud the same question and the result was rather
disappointing because while he attacked Wagner, as usual, and trampled on him
mercilessly, he didn’t savage anybody else …

FP: I see, my dear Claude, that you’re counting on me to cause a scandal by


voicing opinions that to some people will seem paradoxical and to others simply
monstrous … I’ll go along with the game even so, if only to validate my attitude
towards certain composers about whom my opinions have been distorted to the
point of rendering them ridiculous.

CR: I can see where you’re heading. But before talking about modern composers,
let’s stay with the classical ones.

FP: You’re hoping for a re-run of Milhaud’s ‘A bas Wagner’!2 Well, you won’t get
it! Wagner often weighs me down and certainly bores me, but I admire him.

CR: Isn’t it the case, as with many French composers, that there’s a kind of
emotional incompatibility between yourself and German music – especially when
it’s Romantic?

FP: Not at all, since I adore Richard Strauss, for example.

CR: And Brahms?

FP: He has Schumann’s faults without his genius. Of course, he too is a genius, but
a genius who leaves me wholly indifferent. It’s too heavy, and too long …
276 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

CR: But by those criteria you must find even some of the Classical masters
unbearable. I imagine that Beethoven, especially with his Quartets …

FP: No! I find the Beethoven Quartets in particular are a necessity. I couldn’t do
without them. For me they’re a source of incessant discoveries.

CR: Good! So, if that’s the case with the Beethoven Quartets, you must feel
the same about Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. I believe any way you love
Bach. You spoke to me once about the beauty of his chorales. I imagine the
monumental Brandenburgs, with their extraordinary instrumental beauty, must
affect you in the same way …

FP: And there you’re wrong! The Brandenburgs in particular merely inspire me
with what, at the start of our talk, you called ‘indifferent veneration’ …

CR: That’s going to give a few listeners a start! But let’s come back to more recent
composers. There’s one – a very great one – who doesn’t always get a very good
press these days: Berlioz …

FP: As I think I told you, my father adored him. So, I like him, rather out of family
loyalty … Like an old friend of my parents …

CR: And so I come to a crucial question and one of those composers about
whom, I fancy, you’d like to give a straightforward explanation. Why don’t you
like the music of Fauré?

FP: What can I say? Am I to blame? There are people who loathe champagne,
or caviar, or truffles! Well, in my case I’m allergic to Fauré, and have been all
my life. The Violin Sonata and the Quartets were the bête noire of concerts in
my childhood.3 Those were times when I would gladly have been cut off from
music. Obviously, with age, I’ve realised that Fauré’s a very great composer, but
his Requiem could cause me to lose my faith and it’s a real torment for me to listen
to it. Truly, it’s one of the only things in music that I hate.

CR: But the songs?

FP: They’re certainly very beautiful and the Fauré music I prefer, together with
Pénélope – paradoxically, I often play the sublime end to the first act, you know …

(Poulenc plays the final bars of the first act of Pénélope.)

CR: Yes, there’s a nobility of expression there that’s very typically French. But
in that case, and contrary to what I supposed, you must like a work like Dukas’s
Interview 16 277

Ariane in which we find this same kind of feeling and style that are so characteristic
of Franch opera?

FP: Since we’re being truthful here, I’ll go for it …

CR: I can see that at last you’re going to take the bait!

FP: Well then, no, I don’t like Ariane et Barbe Bleue! For me, it’s the archetype
of the meaningless masterpiece, if masterpiece it is … after the miracle of Pelléas.
I’m a far greater admirer of Louise, an outright success! That said, I like
L’Apprenti sorcier and I retain a soft spot for La Péri, that very 1912 flower
maiden.

CR: It’s lucky then you’re not obliged, very reasonably, to play any works by
Dukas. On the other hand, though, there is a composer you’ve found yourself
playing quite often in your recitals with Bernac, and that’s Roussel … Roussel
who, at first sight, doesn’t seem likely to provoke any deep or meaningful
resonance in you …

FP: This is a good point for me to explain clearly and make people understand how
much deference and admiration I feel for music whose sound I don’t find attractive.
Heaven knows, I had warm feelings for the man! So great was my respect for
Roussel that, the day after his death, I destroyed a diary I’d been keeping since
1925 for the sole reason that in it I’d written rather unfair comments about several
of his works. Look, it’s all a matter of physical sensation. Roussel’s harmonic
sense and his orchestral colouring are absolutely the opposite of mine. There’s
nothing I can do about it. Anyway, what does my opinion matter when Roussel is
hailed today all over the world, and rightly, as one of the masters of French music,
a master who’s had an influence on a whole generation of composers of every
country …

CR: After which, to return to our musical bêtes noires, you don’t see anybody or
anything else you truly detest?

FP: Yes … a good number of my works!

CR: Don’t overdo the modesty! Because, as I’ve already said, you’re not really
modest. You’re anxious! Which is preferable!

Notes
1
[In France, a distinction was made between ‘le grand Igor’ (Stravinsky) and ‘le petit
Igor’ (Markévitch). Poulenc used to call Markévitch ‘Igor II’. RN.]
278 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

2
[See Interview 12, note 2. RN.]
3
[The works referred to are the First Violin Sonata of 1875–1876 and the two
Piano Quartets of 1876–1879 and 1885–1886. RN.]
Interview 17
What Future for Music?

CR: Conversations of the sort we’re having always include a ritual question, or
rather a double question, on the present state and the future of music. And I fully
intend to ask it. The question is this: ‘In your view, what is the present state of
music and where is it heading?’ But I’d also like to complicate the game with a bit
more detail, the reason being that some months ago I had a conversation with one
of your older colleagues, the doyen of the contemporary French school, Florent
Schmitt. We were talking about ‘progress’ in music. I was enquiring about the
evolution of music in general and of twentieth-century music in particular, and
he gave me one of his characteristic answers, halfway between the serious and
the witty, saying that music had made no progress (worthy of the name) since
1900 … But the precise reason I asked him this question was my opinion that the
half-century we’ve just been living through has been one of the richest, from the
‘progress’ point of view, in the whole history of music.
And I understand the word ‘progress’ here both in the quantitative (or
dynamic) sense and in the qualitative one (what is necessary and useful judged
by the results, the realisations). I feel that after the great and splendid German
Romantic torment that loomed over the whole nineteenth century, it’s really
extraordinary to have witnessed the succession, at the tempo you’re aware of,
of such powerful and important reactions as those of Debussy, Stravinsky and
Schönberg (to cite only the main players). And I’m not even speaking of the
different phenomena that resulted, in whole or in part: Bartók, Prokofiev, Falla,
Les Six, Messiaen and the young 12-tone composers. So, before asking you to
say something about the present and the future, I’d like to know what you think of
the immediate past, of this last half-century which is the spring from which you
drink, as do many others; whether you think there’s been ‘progress’ and whether
this progress has, in your view, been positive and necessary, as much in the field
of technique and musical language as in that of what I could call the moral and
social functions of music.

FP: My dear Claude, is there such a thing as progress in art? I don’t think so.
We can talk of evolution, if you like, but let’s reserve the word ‘progress’ for the
material side of the question. That our wind instruments are more agile than in
Beethoven’s time, that our chromatic timpani are better in tune than Wagner’s, that
much is obvious. But I don’t think Ravel or Strauss are better orchestrators than
Mozart or Weber. The situation’s different, that’s all!
There are great periods in painting, in architecture, in music. Often a current
flows from one country to another. Since the middle of the nineteenth century,
280 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

France has had no cause to complain from the musical point of view and there
can be no doubt that, thanks to Gounod, Bizet, Chabrier, Debussy, Satie, Fauré,
Ravel and Roussel, we don’t figure as poor relations in the history of music. We’ve
been lucky enough to have one great innovator, Debussy, while Russia had hers,
Stravinsky, and central Europe had Schönberg. Each of them opened up paths
that others have followed. For instance, a composer as powerfully original as
Bartók has sometimes veered in the direction of Debussy (I think especially of the
celesta entry in the first movement of Music for strings, percussion and celesta
and of the middle of the Andante in the Sonata for two pianos and percussion),
and sometimes flirted with the Viennese 12-tone system. Honegger, a Frenchman
by adoption, has succeeded marvellously in combining the power of a Richard
Strauss with the mysticism of Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien. The play
of influences has always been overtly international: that of the Italians on Bach
and Mozart, of Liszt on the Russian Five, of Mussorgsky on Debussy, of Debussy
on Falla, and so on.
What’s strange in our own time is seeing how, in music as in painting, the
most opposite tendencies are active side by side. It’s refreshing to think that Paul
Klee and Bonnard were painting at the same period, and that today a Sauguet and
a Boulez are expressing themselves concurrently in idioms that are at opposite
ends of the spectrum.
As I’ve mentioned Sauguet (I’ll have more to say about Boulez later), I must
say here how much I love his music which fits entirely logically between that
of Les Six and what we may call the Messiaen generation. What I love about
Sauguet is the authenticity of his character, so that after three bars you know it’s
Sauguet. Without using any tricks or personal clichés, but simply through his
poetic sensibility, Sauguet establishes a certain atmosphere of our times, very
close to our dear Christian Bérard. What I admire about Sauguet is that, while
remaining true to himself, he develops, as we can see from his recent Violin
Concerto, first performed in Aix-en-Provence this summer, and which I love
tremendously. How right Auric was when, years ago, around 1920 I think, he said
to me over the phone: ‘You’re going to get a visit from a charming young man
from Bordeaux who talks in the past historic.1 You know, I feel here’s someone
with things to say!’
I should be sorry not to mention here another composer of the same generation,
Jean Françaix, who’s very talented. His Le Diable boiteux is a ravishing
masterpiece of light-heartedness and poetic insight.2
The extreme diversity of our time is the reason I enjoy it: at the other extreme
from Sauguet and Françaix, I can welcome Marcel Mihalovici as the best composer
of the foreign school in Paris.3 Every year, Mihalovici gives further proof of his
individuality and of his talent, expressed through a masterly technique.
I’ve deliberately chosen composers very different from one another to show
that Satie’s energy lives on in Sauguet, that Stravinsky’s lesson in The Rake’s
Progress has been perfectly understood by Françaix, and that Bartók has produced
a strong composer in the person of Mihalovici.
Interview 17 281

CR: Don’t you think our present compositional activity will turn out plenty of
rubbish?

FP: Of course there’ll be rubbish, as in every other period. The undistinguished


imitators of Schönberg, Stravinsky and Roussel will languish in oblivion, just
as today we’ve already forgotten the sub-Debussyans. The only way to last,
you know, is to be true to yourself, whether you’re a Cubist or not, abstract or
concrete, a 12-toner or a practitioner of tonic solfa. The worst thing is to want to
be fashionable if the fashion doesn’t suit you. The sub-Paul Klees have already
aged more than Marquet, for example!4 What was so wonderful about Falla and
Prokofiev was that they never bothered about topicality. Falla was far too much
of an ascetic to lend himself to such fancies; and Prokofiev was too completely
indifferent to any music but his own to listen to other people’s.

CR: And now, let’s talk about the future. I’m not asking you to play the prophet.
But as far as the future’s concerned, I think we have before us some fairly
weighty matters to try and understand. As I see it, we’re looking at a number
of manifestations, or reactions which, coming as they do from young composers
– in general, ones of under 40 or 45 – seem to indicate that music is looking
for a direction, turning away from the road so far travelled. I’m not talking of
those talented, characterful, original composers who continue along the line of a
particular tradition – someone like Henri Dutilleux, for example. I mean those who
seem to want to give the wheel a violent twist. To keep the names, or categories,
within limits, we could perhaps reduce these movements to three main ones: first
of all, Messiaen, who is to a certain degree already the leader of a school, notably
with Jean-Louis Martinet.5 Then the 12-tone composers, at the head of whom we
find someone of supreme importance, in my view, with Pierre Boulez, who is
incidentally going much further than his colleagues in Germany and Italy. And
finally the composers of musique concrète.

FP: I have entire confidence in our musical future. In offering a class to Messiaen,
Delvincourt exercised that clarity of vision and independence I’ve always
admired in him.6 Messiaen’s teaching in an official capacity has given the young
a taste for risk. But we mustn’t forget the excellent class taken by Milhaud, with
the admirable assistance of Jean Rivier, in which a total eclecticism allows all
the students to express themselves freely. There’s also, among my juniors, a true
composer I admire enormously: André Jolivet, from whom the young can acquire
the taste for adventure.
As we can see, a young composer of 20 has a choice between very different
styles!

CR: And the 12-tone system?


282 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

FP: It’s entirely logical that the 12-tone system should fascinate some of the
rising generation. The shock of a war or a revolution inevitably produces a new
aesthetic orientation. In 1940, it was necessary to discover something new. And
the only thing pretty well unknown in France was the Viennese 12-tone system.
Certainly Marya Freund had performed Schönberg’s Pierrot lunaire some 20
years ago at the Concerts Wiener, conducted by Milhaud. But it was an isolated
occasion.7
If we’re to appreciate fully the general situation of music in 1940, we mustn’t
forget that the blaze of sunshine emanating from Stravinsky had blinded the
whole world since 1910, and had left the Viennese school as well as Bartók in the
shade. A music lover who knew the tiniest clarinet piece by Stravinsky would be
ignorant of Wozzeck, all Webern’s music and most of Schönberg’s.
Of course, our generation didn’t wait till 1940 to make contact with the
Viennese. Personally, I bought Schönberg’s Six little pieces when I was 14, in
1913, and was bowled over by their conciseness and chromaticism. If I hadn’t
already been overwhelmed by The Rite of Spring, maybe I’d have found the leaven
to produce a kind of music absolutely opposite to what I’ve written; but, literally
enchanted as I was by Stravinsky’s raw, clearly enunciated keys, I couldn’t get a
hold on these kaleidoscopic harmonies.
The visit I made with Milhaud to Vienna in 1921 was a sign of our respect.8
In 1920, we’d written in a little avant-garde pamphlet, Le Coq: ‘Arnold Schönberg,
the composers of Les Six salute you.’ As I think I’ve already mentioned, it was in
Vienna in 1921, in the house of Gustav Mahler’s widow, that Milhaud and I met
Berg and Webern.
For the young generation of 1940, the 12-tone system was an unknown
planet. It’s quite natural that they wanted to explore it. Even if I think serial
composition is closer to the German temperament than to ours, I openly approve
the researches of a composer as fine and intelligent as Pierre Boulez, one also
as naturally gifted as Martinet. I like the fact that their music evolves in parallel
with the other arts, Boulez in Le Soleil des eaux revealing his links with René
Char, just as Auric and I felt very close to Paul Eluard. The important thing is
not to embrace 12-tone writing out of fear of missing the last train, because
then cliché and academicism, even in this revolutionary form, will stalk you and
won’t fail to catch their prey.

CR: All the latest young composers seem to be looking for a new universe of
sound not just on the spiritual, formal or moral front. There are also those who are
looking above all for a renewal of the sound material, and a radical renewal: those
experimenting with musique concrète, under the guidance of Pierre Schaeffer. Do
you think it’s necessary, or merely helpful, to want to replace the sound of the
classical orchestra, which is now thought to be at the limit of its resources, with
other sounds produced by more or less scientific means? Do you think this new
sound universe can combine with ours, or at least provide a plausible continuation
if it supplants it? Do you think that can lead to the birth of new musical aesthetics
Interview 17 283

and ethics? Don’t you feel it’s vital to ask and resolve these questions, now that
composers such as Messiaen, Boulez and Martinet, and so on (composers whose
value and importance you certainly recognise) have experimented with musique
concrète?

FP: I don’t deny the possibilities of musique concrète and, for my part, I’d be
more tempted to try this than the 12-tone system, as it contains a directly sensuous
element which would appeal to my temperament.

CR: In the past you heard the Italian noisemakers, didn’t you, the Futurists?9

FP: Yes, once, a very long time ago, in a concert put on by that naïve character
Canudo, a sort of small-time Italian Apollinaire, but that had nothing to do with
Pierre Schaeffer’s experiments.10 Today’s scientific techniques make possible a
whole series of precise, controllable operations, whereas the Italian noisemakers
reminded you rather of the uproar of the ‘Bal des Quat’Z’Arts’.11 But might we let
our listeners hear a tiny bit of musique concrète: for example, Pierre Schaeffer’s
Bidule which you tell me is The Art of Fugue of 1953 …

(Performance of Bidule in C)

FP: After all, why not make abstract music alongside musique concrète, just as
a painter does etchings or engravings as well as paintings? Maybe I’ll have a go
one day.

CR: One last word, my dear Francis. Do you believe in committed art, what’s
called today progressivist music?

FP: If someone wants to write a Requiem in memory of Stalin, why not! That’s
what I did when I composed the Stabat Mater of my own free will in memory of
Christian Bérard. But if someone forces this task on you, then phooey!

Notes
1
[To say ‘je marchai’ instead of ‘j’ai marché’ was considered old-fashioned and
untrendy. RN.]
2
[Françaix’s comic chamber opera Le Diable boiteux (The Devil with a Limp),
commissioned by the Princess Edmond de Polignac, with parts for the tenor Hugues
Cuenod and the bass Doda Conrad, was conducted by Nadia Boulanger in 1937. RN.]
3
[Marcel Mihalovici (1898–1985) was a Romanian composer who came to Paris in
1919 to study with d’Indy. His music often combined Romanian modes and rhythms with
12-tone writing. He was married to the pianist Monique Haas. RN.]
284 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

4
[Albert Marquet (1875–1947) was a painter and a friend of Matisse and Derain. He
specialised in pictures of Paris scenes, and also worked in North Africa. RN.]
5
[Jean-Louis Martinet (1912–2010) was one of Messiaen’s first pupils when he
returned to Paris from prisoner-of-war camp in 1941. After initially embracing serialism,
Martinet later found the music it produced to be ‘anguished’. In the 1970s he taught in
Montreal. RN.]
6
[Claude Delvincourt (1888–1954) entered Widor’s composition class in 1908 and
in 1913 shared the Premier Grand Prix with Lili Boulanger. In 1941 he became director
of the Paris Conservatoire and one of his first acts was to appoint Messiaen to a harmony
class. RN.]
7
[Marya Freund gave the first Paris performance of Pierrot lunaire on 16 January
1922. On 15 December 1927 Schönberg did direct a concert of his own works there,
organised by the Société musicale indépendante. RN.]
8
This journey to Vienna took place at the beginning of 1922 and not in 1921.
9
[The Futurists were directed by the composer and painter Luigi Russolo (1885–
1947). They gave their first Paris concerts in 1921, using noises gleaned from real life
(factories, crowds, the métro). They were particularly influential on Varèse. RN.]
10
[Ricciotto Canudo (1879–1923) was primarily a theoretician of film. In 1908
Ravel considered writing an opera on Saint Francis of Assisi to a text by Canudo, and
Ravel’s keyboard work Frontispice was first published in 1919 as a preface to one of his
poems. RN.]
11
[Le Bal des Quat’Z’Arts was a student ball, held in Montmartre from 1892 to
1966. A certain Mona was responsible in 1893 for the first public striptease act, provoking
complaints of ‘inadmissible indecency’. RN.]
Interview 18
Conclusions and Perspectives:
At Work on the Dialogues

CR: So here we are starting our last conversation. I think we now have a very
complete idea of you. You’ve told us practically everything about yourself and
about the long and consistently developing career you’ve enjoyed with, I would
say, considerable logic and sincerity. But it’s not for me to pronounce on all that.
I’d like to ask you one final question and I’d be glad if you’d reply with as little
modesty as possible. I’ve encouraged you to go back over your past in some detail.
How, in all honesty, do you react to that? What opinion do you have of yourself?
I don’t want to use grandiose words, but how do you think you’ve fulfilled so far
the composing mission you set yourself in your youth?

FP: To tell you the truth, my dear Claude, this series of conversations you’ve
forced on me has made me terribly melancholy, because it’s brought back to me
certain failures which, by and large, I’m doing my best to forget. So you see, I
pine for a work without faults. That’s why, even if I would prefer to have written
L’Après-midi d’un faune and Pelléas rather than Daphnis et Chloé and L’Heure
espagnole, I still continue to envy Ravel’s faultless œuvre. With the exception
of the Violin Sonata (and the jury is still out on that), Ravel’s output is simply a
string of extraordinary successes. The reason is mainly that Ravel never attempted
anything that didn’t suit him perfectly. That’s what I should like to do from here
on. So you needn’t worry, I shan’t run the risk of destroying a second Quartet and
there’ll never be a fourth Violin Sonata.

CR: A fourth Violin Sonata! What do you mean?

FP: The fact is, you only know the one premiered by Ginette Neveu. You were too
young then, but in 1919, at the time of my little wind instrument sonatas, I wrote a
first Sonata for Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, who premiered it at one of the concerts
of Les Six in the rue Huyghens in Montparnasse.1 If I remember correctly, it was
no worse than the one you know, far from it; even so, I destroyed the manuscript.
Probably in those days I had more taste.
Talking of which, I’d like to pay tribute here to Hélène Jourdan-Morhange.
Today, we all know her as an astute critic, but in those days she was the only
violinist prepared to take risks. It was to her that Ravel and Schmitt dedicated
their sonatas. It was she who, with Maurice Maréchal, gave the first performance
of Ravel’s Duo for violin and cello.2 And it was she who, with her female quartet,
286 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

was my earliest interpreter when she took part in the first performance of my
Rapsodie nègre in 1917. Together with the late Meerovitch, Bathori, Marcelle
Meyer, Andrée Vaurabourg, Suzanne Peignot, Félix Delgrange and Pierre Bertin,
she was a loyal and courageous interpreter of Les Six in their early days.3

CR: And your second Sonata?

FP: My second Sonata dates from 1924. I intended it for Jelly d’Aranyi, the
dedicatee of Tzigane. It went the way of my Quartet. I wrang its neck before
letting it out in public.

CR: So no more violin sonatas. Very well, but there is a medium, close to sacred
music, which I feel you could explore with profit: oratorio.

FP: My dear Claude, oratorio is not at all my thing. I feel, what’s more, that it’s
essentially a Protestant form of sacred music. Catholic composers prefer to set
liturgical chant rather than Biblical stories. Honegger, who has revived oratorio in
the twentieth century, has not for his part, so far as I know, any intention of writing
a mass. So, as far as I’m concerned, no oratorio. It’s quite hard enough writing
what you think suits you.

CR: Yes, of course, one is never entirely happy with what one’s done. That said, you
can even so agree that, looking back, one sees clearly that your output is structured
as a balanced, well proportioned, harmonious whole. This ought to protect you
from the brief access of melancholy you allowed us to glimpse just now. It seems
to me your whole output displays a continuity and a progression from Le Bestiaire
and the Mouvements perpétuels to Mamelles and Figure humaine, and from Les
Biches to the Stabat Mater. You can see nonetheless there’s a progression here
in the fullest sense of the term. And if you’re happy today to be, for the general
public, the composer of the Mamelles and the Stabat Mater, you’re not unhappy to
have been that of the Mouvements perpétuels?

FP: I don’t blush at being the composer of the Mouvements perpétuels or


Le Bestiaire, quite the contrary, because these two works are very precisely
representative of the Poulenc of 1920 so wonderfully drawn by Jean Cocteau.
But I’m unhappy with myself, over works like the Poèmes de Ronsard, Soirées
de Nazelles, and so on, for letting myself get lost along paths that weren’t mine.
That’s all.

CR: So, when it comes to your composing life on a theoretical level, the melancholy
you’ve just mentioned can’t be justified except through somewhat excessive
scrupulosity. As for your composing life on the practical level, I’d say that over the
way you’re played and interpreted you have every reason to be satisfied. If I take,
Interview 18 287

for instance, the list of interpreters for your piano works: Horowitz, Rubinstein,
Iturbi, Marcelle Meyer, Arrau, Braïlowsky, and so on.4

FP: The best interpreters are often, alas, those who play my lesser works. That a
Rubinstein makes Napoli worth listening to, that Marcelle Meyer, who plays my
music as I would like to, transforms my Intermezzo in A flat, and that Horowitz,
one evening in the Salle Pleyel, gave me the illusion that I was on a par with
Debussy, that’s all very fine; but I would like their equals among conductors to
pay more attention to my suites from Les Biches and Les Animaux modèles, to
my Sinfonietta, Sécheresses and the Stabat Mater. But I owe Désormière and
Munch moments of great joy for which I shall always be grateful. Then I find
compensation (a break here from melancholy) in my choral music. Couraud in
France, Félix de Nobel in Holland, Robert Shaw in America, and so many others,
have given me numerous opportunities to enjoy what is perhaps the best of me.5
As to my orchestral music, I have confidence in the future. As you see, my dear
Claude, I’m abandoning modesty.

CR: And with good reason. But tell me, haven’t some great players, through their
interpretations, had a certain influence on the composer?

FP: Yes, of course: Wanda Landowska, for example, who influenced me profoundly
in putting together the Concert champêtre, and Bernac and Jacques Février who,
with Auric, have always been my only advisors. I’ve already mentioned how much
I owe to Bernac over vocal matters. At the moment I’m submitting my opera on
the Dialogues des Carmélites to him, scene by scene, so he can look over the
prosody and the vocal ranges. As for Jacques Février, I’ve almost always followed
his advice because, in my view, he’s one of the best judges of music in all its
forms (from Passion music to operetta). In 1932 he gave the first performance,
with me, of my Concerto for two pianos in Venice and, just recently, of my Thème
varié for piano. As he’s never made the mistake of composing, unlike some of
his colleagues, his advice is always completely impartial and I’ve relied on it any
number of times.

CR: There too, you see, you have much to be happy about. So we can bring our
conversations to an end in a mood of optimism – and one that I hope won’t be
spoilt by your answer to the question I want to ask you last of all. How is work
going on the important task you’ve just begun, your opera on the Dialogues des
Carmélites?

FP: My dear Claude, although it’s always dangerous to talk about a work before
it’s finished, the fact that I’ve written eight scenes out of 15 since the summer
gives me the right to talk to you about it. This will allow us to look forward into the
future and, I’m glad to say, put an end to the slightly doleful tone that’s marked this
final conversation so far. My dear Aunt Liénard – whom you knew, with whom
288 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

I spent a large part of my youth both in Touraine and at Cannes, and who, at 89,
was more interested in Stravinsky than in Wagner whom, as a girl, she’d heard
conducting Lohengrin in Brussels – my dear Aunt Liénard always used to say
to me: ‘Whatever age you are, never ever look backwards but always in front of
you.’6

CR: So I’ve made you disobey her 17 times!

FP: Yes, and it’s with the greatest pleasure that I’m going to talk to you a little
this evening about my dear Carmelites. You know that, for years, I wanted to
write an opera, because I firmly believe in a regeneration of the medium. Among
the younger generation, for instance: Dallapiccola, Britten, Menotti, they’re all
attracted by opera. But there’s the everlasting question of a libretto. If The Magic
Flute is an imperishable masterpiece despite a muddled story, the librettos of Don
Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and The Seraglio are marvellous. Nearer to
our own time, Carmen, Pelléas and Wozzeck would not now be what they are if
their librettos were mediocre. Spoilt as I’ve been in the world of song by great
poets like Apollinaire and Eluard, that’s made me as demanding over the quality
of the text as over the plot.
So I’d been looking for a libretto since Les Mamelles when heaven (perhaps
through the intercession of St Francis, because I was in fact on my way back
from Assisi) left in my path the subject of my dreams. How I hadn’t realised this
straight away after seeing the Dialogues des Carmélites twice, and reading it, I
still can’t bring myself to understand. But the fact is that when the director of the
Ricordi publishing house said to me in Milan: ‘You ought to write for us, for La
Scala, an opera on Bernanos’s play’, I didn’t know how to respond. Two days
later, back in Rome where I’d been able to find a copy of the play, I telegraphed
to him: ‘Agreed, with enthusiasm.’ I can see myself again in a café on the Piazza
Navone, one bright morning in March 1953, devouring Bernanos’s drama and
saying to myself over every scene: ‘But, obviously, it’s made for me, it’s made
for me!’

CR: And may one ask what form of opera you’ve adopted for this work?

FP: I think it’s best explained by the dedication, which is: ‘To the memory of my
mother who revealed music to me, of Debussy who gave me the taste for writing
it, of Monteverdi, Verdi and Mussorgsky who have served here as masters.’

CR: It’s quite clear then that if you’ve chosen Monteverdi, Verdi and Mussorgsky
as models, there can be no question of an opera with separate arias like Stravinsky’s
The Rake’s Progress.

FP: Indeed, because Bernanos’s subject and style wouldn’t remotely lend
themselves to that. What’s more, it needs Stravinsky’s prodigious genius to absorb
Interview 18 289

so many reminiscences of Bellini, Weber, Mozart and Rossini. In the Dialogues


it’s only Monteverdi’s and Mussorgsky’s spirit that guide me, and not their music,
of course! I’ve always thought, for example, that the soprano aria in Il Ballo delle
ingrate, recorded years ago by Nadia Boulanger in her admirable Monteverdi
album, is the very model of an unbelievably intense operatic aria in which it’s
absolutely vital to understand the words. I really can’t imagine smothering
Bernanos’s words, so packed with meaning, under an orchestral avalanche. That’s
why I think constantly of Monteverdi, who’s not prevented by the economy of his
instrumental ensemble from reaching the heights of lyricism. Listen to this famous
aria from Il Ballo delle ingrate, sung by the Countess Jean de Polignac and Doda
Conrad, conducted by Nadia Boulanger.

(Il Ballo delle ingrate, HMV disc)

CR: What a pity that, after that, you can’t play us an extract from your Dialogues!

FP: Apart from the fact that I don’t want to tear pieces out of the work, I would add
that you can’t appreciate it played on the piano because, even if the orchestration’s
transparent, it gives the story its intensity through the choice of timbres and
registers. The orchestra, which is large with triple woodwind, plays mostly in
instrumental groups.

CR: What can you tell us about the work’s overall style?

FP: I reworked Bernanos’s text myself, with immense respect and without
reference to the play as performed in Paris. As we know, the Dialogues was
originally a film script. There’ll be two long acts, the first with eight scenes,
the second with seven. Two very short scenes will take place in front of a
special curtain emblazoned with the arms of the Carmel of Compiègne. The
first act contains the scenes before the Revolution; the second, the scenes of the
Revolution itself.
Even if it’s an opera about fear, it’s also, and more especially in my view, an
opera about grace and the transfer of grace. That’s why my Carmelites will mount
the scaffold with an extraordinary calmness and confidence. Confidence and calm
are the basis, are they not, of all mystical experience?

CR: Surely the finale of your Stabat Mater already testifies to this spiritual
conception?

FP: Most certainly!

CR: Very well then, since you can’t play us extracts from Dialogues des
Carmélites, I think, my dear Francis, there’s no better way to end our
conversations than to hear the finale of your Stabat Mater, given that this work,
290 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

by your own admission, prefigures your future opera. In this way our listeners
will have proof that the erotic composer of Les Biches has, with time, been able
to attain true greatness, the greatness that is born of wisdom and humility.

FP: You mean to say that as the devil’s got older, he’s turned into a hermit. I accept
your comparison, and here is the conclusion of the Stabat Mater performed by the
Robert Shaw Chorale and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.7

(Finale of Stabat Mater)

Notes
1
[The violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange (1892–1961) was present at the birth of
Les Six and gave first performances of works by Ravel and Schmitt, but had to abandon
her career owing to arthritis in her hands. She then became a critic and journalist. Poulenc
dedicated to her his song ‘Le Portrait’. RN.]
2
[This work was premiered on 6 April 1922. RN.]
3
[Juliette Meerovitch (1895–1920) was a pianist who studied with Alfred Cortot and
won a first prize at the Paris Conservatoire in 1911. Rohozinski in his book Cinquante ans
de musique française wrote: ‘All the musicians who had the chance to hear her invested the
greatest hopes in her.’ Her early death was widely lamented. RN.]
Suzanne Peignot (1895–1993) sang in the first private perfomance of Le Bestiaire in
1919 and remained one of his favourite singers to the end of his life. RN.]
4
[José Iturbi (1895–1980) was a Spanish pianist who also studied the harpsichord
with Landowska. He began touring in 1912 and made his American debut in 1929.
Alexander Brailowsky (1896–1976) was a Russian pianist who studied with Busoni and
Francis Planté. He came to live in Paris in 1919. RN.]
5
[Felix de Nobel (1907–1981) was a Dutch pianist and conductor who directed the
Netherlands Chamber Choir. RN.]
6
[Virginie (tante) Liénard (1845–1935) owned a house at Nazelles in Touraine where
Poulenc lived from 1922 until he bought Le Grand Coteau in nearby Noizay in 1927. She
was not a relative. RN.]
7
[This disc does not seem ever to have existed. See Poulenc’s letter to Bernac,
1 September 1953; Chimènes, p. 761 n. 4, Buckland, p. 388 n. 3. RN.]
Index

References to notes consist of the page number followed by the letter ‘n’ followed by the
number of the note, e.g. 139n3 refers to note no. 3 on page 139. References to illustrations
(all musical notations) are in bold. References to plates consist of the letters Pl followed by
the plate number, e.g. Pl11.

12-tone music (Viennese school/serialism) Poulenc on 106–7, 129–30, 151, 211,


6, 37n3, 214n1, 246 212–13
Poulenc on works
Berg and Schönberg 35–6, 274 Bestiaire, Le (Poulenc and
overall assessment 281–2 Apollinaire) 98, 106, 107, 148,
serialism and Bartók 280 211
serialism and French music 146 ‘Fagnes de Wallonie’ (Poulenc and
serialism and opera 62 Apollinaire) 269
serialism and Ravel 88 ‘Grenouillère, La’ (Poulenc and
serialism and Stravinsky 7, 88 Apollinaire) 270
serialism vs musique concrète 283 Mamelles de Tirésias, Les (Poulenc
and Apollinaire) 55, 151, 174,
Abbey Road studios 141 253–5
accompanists 108 ‘Montparnasse’ (Poulenc and
see also piano playing Apollinaire) 107, 210–211, 211
Adam, Adolph, Le Chalet 69 ‘Pont, Le’ (Poulenc and
Addison, Adele 165, 168n7 Apollinaire) 269
Alain, Jehan 235, 236 Quatre poèmes de Guillaume
Albéniz, Isaac 85–6, 191 Apollinaire (Poulenc and
Iberia 85, 86, 86n4 Apollinaire) 106, 129, 212
Albert-Birot, Germaine 253 Sept chansons (Poulenc, Eluard
Alfano, Franco 117n3 and Apollinaire) 131n1, 137,
American Ballet 41n9 228–9, 259
Amette, Léon-Adolphe, Archbishop of Trois poèmes de Louise Lalanne
Paris 105 (Poulenc, Laurencin and
Anouilh, Jean 246 Apollinaire) 129, 131n1
Ansermet, Ernest 25, 41n7 Aprahamian, Felix 142
Antheil, George 7 Aragon, Louis 3, 35, 137, 253
A.P. 133–5 Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon
Apaches, Les 80n6 (Poulenc and Aragon) 109, 175n1
Apollinaire, Guillaume 3, 221 Poulenc on 55, 97, 109, 224
and Auric 197 Aranyi, Jelly d’ 116n1, 286
and Laurencin 41n4, 107, 129 Argus (press cuttings agency) 2
292 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Arletty 248 Fox-Trot ‘Adieu New-York!’ 18,


Arrau, Claudio 287 124
Arts (periodical) 141–2, 155–6, 157–60 Phèdre 198
Arts phoniques (review) 3 Quatre poèmes chinois 202n1
Ashton, Frederick 39 Romances 221
atonal music 6 Suites pour petit orchestre 221
see also 12-tone music (Viennese Autun cathedral 165, 259
school/serialism)
Atterberg, Kurt 117n3 Bach, Johann Christian 27, 28
Audel, Stéphane, Moi et mes amis (Poulenc Bach, Johann Sebastian
and Audel) xiii, 19n5 concertos for two pianos 218
Auden, WH 61 Poulenc on 124, 150, 188, 215–16,
Auric, Georges 235, 280
and Apollinaire 197 Poulenc on Brandenburg Concertos
conversations with Bruyr 123 276
and Diaghilev 203 Wohltemperierte Klavier, Das/
and Eluard 198, 282 The Well-Tempered Clavier
and La Sérénade (concert society) 100, (Landowska recording) 43–4
131n1 Bacquier, Gabriel 167n2
and Les Six Pl11, 5, 17–18, 98, 201 Bal des Quat’Z’Arts 283
and Poulenc Balanchine, George 40, 218
advice to Poulenc re. Cinq poèmes Balinese music 219
de Ronsard 211–12 Ballet (periodical) 39–40
advice to Poulenc re. Eluard 224 ballets 39–40, 56, 61, 133, 135, 218
advice to Poulenc re. Le Bestiaire, Ballets Ida Rubinstein 148n1, 190n1
102n6, 106, 211 Ballets russes
advice to Poulenc re. Sécheresses dancers 41n3, 41n5, 41n9, 208n5,
229–30 225n5
advice to Poulenc re. String Désormière conducting 208n3
Quartet 242–3 Les Noces (Stravinsky) premiere 26n1
concert with Poulenc (1926) 221 Poulenc on 106, 190, 203
friendship with Poulenc 97, 126, see also ballets; Diaghilev, Sergei
174, 287 Ballets suédois 202n5, 208n3
Les Lettres Françaises 5 Balzac, Honoré de 152
letter to Poulenc (with Satie) 150 Barber, Samuel 47
Poulenc on Auric 130, 197–8, 206, Mélodies passagères 49n7
252, 253, 268 Piano Sonata (op. 26) 47, 49n7
Poulenc’s 1916 preludes 192 Barraud, Henry 31
and Ravel 5, 151 Bartók, Béla 201, 274, 280, 282
and Satie Pl3, 5, 51, 150, 200 Allegro barbaro 197
on Sauguet 280 Music for strings, percussion and
and Schönberg 164 celesta 280
works Sonata for two pianos 280
Cinq poèmes de Gérard de Nerval Bathori, Jane (or Jeanne) 102n12, 110n6
221 Poulenc on 97, 107, 150, 198, 199,
Eventail de Jeanne, L’ (composite 200, 286
ballet) 128n20 Baudelaire, Charles 127n9, 211
Fâcheux, Les 174, 198, 204, 221 Bayreuth Festival 69
Index 293

BBC Chorus 141, 142, 230 ‘Tu vois le feu du soir’ (Poulenc)
BBC Symphony Orchestra 142, 143n9 260
Beecham, Thomas 117n3 and Poulenc
Beethoven, Ludwig van encounter and partnership 3, 9,
Poulenc on 25, 116, 125–6, 150, 274, 107–8
276 foreign tours 141, 145, 157
Poulenc on Fidelio 73–4 photograph Pl6
and Poulenc’s father 187 Poulenc on Bernac 107–8, 165,
Robert Shaw Chorale’s recording of 211, 221–4
the Ninth 260 on Poulenc’s Plain-Chant songs
Rolland’s studies 75n2, 180n2 160n3
Vegh Quartet recordings 139n3 Rocamadour with Poulenc 233
Béguin, Albert 58n6, 155 summers with Poulenc 224, 259
Bellini, Giovanni 270 working on Dialogues des
Bellini, Vincenzo 289 Carmélites 287
Bérard, Christian Pl8, 27, 152, 166, 234, Bernanos, Georges 3
252, 262, 280, 283 Dialogues des Carmélites (Poulenc and
Bérard, Jean 83 Bernanos) 56–7, 61, 155–6, 157,
Berg, Alban 7, 27, 35–6, 146, 200, 274, 253, 268, 288–9
282 religious outlook 165
Lyric Suite 36 Bernard, Anthony 48n1
Violin Concerto 36 Bernet, Daniel 10, 155–6
Wozzeck 36, 61, 88, 153n8, 274, 282, Bernhardt, Sarah 149, 183
288 Bernheim gallery 96, 150
Bergès, Arlette 58n2 Bernouard, François 17
Berio, Luciano 7 Bertin, Pierre 248, 286
Berkeley, Lennox 141 Bex, Maurice 21
Berlioz, Hector 84, 150, 154n11, 187, 276 Beydts, Louis 256
Bernac, Pierre Bibliothèque rose 204–5
and Aprahamian 143n7 Bizet, Georges 22, 84, 212, 280
and Berkeley 142n3 Carmen 55, 255, 288
performances Blanche, Jacques-Emile 46, 54n1, 98,
Bal masqué, Le (Poulenc) 27 195n3
Bestiaire, Le (Poulenc) 211 Bloch, Jeanne 248
Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard Blot, R. 101
(Poulenc) 110n11 Blyton, Enid 208n4
Histoires naturelles (Ravel) 151 Bœuf sur le Toit, Le (nightclub) 79n5
Mélodies passagères (Barber) 49n7 Bondeville, Emmanuel 255
Métamorphoses, ‘C’, Chansons Bonnard, Pierre 46, 164, 241–2, 270, 280
villageoises (Poulenc) 109 Bonnat, Léon 46, 147
‘Montparnasse’ (Poulenc) 107 Bonnot Gang 100
‘Nebensonnen, Die’ (Schubert) 106 Boosey & Hawkes (publishers) 142
Poulenc’s songs (Rostand Bordes, Charles 185n2
interview) 212, 214 Borel, Jeanne 102n6
songs with Poulenc’s talk (20 Borniol (undertakers) 152
March 1947) 105–9 Borodin, Alexander 183
Tel jour, telle nuit (Poulenc) 108 Bosredon, Marthe 207
294 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne, funeral orations Bruyr, José 123–6


150, 152, 234, 263 Buffon, comte de 127n7
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Poulenc’s Buñuel, Luis 252
visit 46 Buxtehude, Dieterich 27, 235
Boston Symphony Orchestra 168n7
Boulanger, Lili 284n6 Cadieu, Martine 1, 7, 10, 163–7
Boulanger, Nadia 74, 102n11, 141, 228, Cahiers d’art (review) 36
235, 283n2, 289 Cahuzac, Louis 101
Boulez, Pierre 281 Callas, Maria 171, 172
12-tone music 37n3, 214n1 Calvet, Joseph 242
Cadieu’s writings on 163 Calvet Quartet 6, 243n1
Poulenc on 6, 7, 164, 280, 282 Campagnola, Léon 58n2
Poulenc on Le soleil des eaux 6, 282 Candide (periodical) 129–31
reception of Stravinsky’s Four Canudo, Ricciotto 283
Norwegian Moods 31 Caplet, André xvii, 198, 222, 224
taught by Messiaen 31, 37n3, 214n1 Carmagnole, La (song) 155
taught by Vaurabourg 202n4 Carnegie Hall 47, 217
tribute to Satie 51 Carolus-Duran 46
Boult, Adrian 142 Carteri, Rosanna 163, 165, 168n7
Bour, Ernest 27 Casa Fuerte, Yvonne de (née Giraud)
Bourdet, Denise 9, 10, 173–5, 220n1 131n1, 259
Bourdet, Edouard 173 Casa Verdi 48
Bourdin, Roger 110n7 Casadesus, Robert 216
Bourgeois, Jacques 155 Casella, Alfredo 192, 193
Bourget, Paul 212 Casino de Paris 79, 83, 134, 166, 169n17,
Bourmauck, Ernest 228 190
Boussac, Marcel 161n5 Castil-Blaze, Robin des bois 127n12
Boutet de Monvel, Cécile 191 Ce Soir (periodical) 137–8
Brahms, Johannes 96, 243, 275 Cendrars, Blaise 17
Braïlowsky, Alexander 287 Cézanne, Paul 101n3, 147, 150, 167, 270
Braque, Georges 36, 51, 53, 146, 204, 253, Chabrier, Emmanuel
270 Emmanuel Chabrier (book by Poulenc)
Bray, Yvonne de 159 xiii, 54n1, 167, 194n2, 195n3
Breton, André 150, 209, 224, 237n1, 253 and French Impressionist tradition 246
Entretiens avec André Parinaud 10 Poulenc on 84, 124, 182, 274, 280
Brianchon, Maurice 40 Poulenc on Chabrier and Mme
British music life 141–2 Wagner’s tart 167
Britten, Benjamin Poulenc on España 28, 86
and Aprahamian 143n7 Poulenc on Le Roi malgré lui 52
Billy Budd 153n8 chamber music 239–43
Illuminations, Les (op. 18) 141 Chamfray, Claude 141–2, 143n5
‘Modern opera – a symposium’ 61 Champaigne, Philippe 39
performing his own works 191 Chanel, Coco 205
performing Poulenc’s Concerto for two Chanteurs de Lyon (Lyon Choir) 228, 229,
pianos (with Poulenc) 230 259
Poulenc on 62, 141, 164, 288 Char, René 282
Bruneau, Alfred 117n3, 147 Chardin, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon 270
Bruno de Jésus-Marie, Père 155 La Nappe Blanche 48
Index 295

Chauveau, Jeannie 10, 137–8 Ravel and Stravinsky gloves anecdote


Chesters (publishers) 5–6, 102n8, 151, 231 88
Chevaillier, Lucien 10, 119–21 and Satie Pl3, 51
Chevalier, Maurice on Satie and Debussy 5
Poulenc as Pl12 works
Poulenc on 6, 109 Antigone (Honegger) libretto
Poulenc on ‘Si fatigué’ song 249 128n19
Chicago Art Institute, Poulenc’s visit 48 Belle et la Bête, La 264n4
Chimènes, Myriam, Correspondance Bœuf sur le toit, Le (Milhaud and
(Francis Poulenc) 12, 13n3 Cocteau) 146, 199
Chopin, Frédéric 51, 53, 96, 99, 130, 150, Cocardes (Poulenc and Cocteau)
151, 183, 187 102n6, 106, 158, 211
choral music 227–31, 287 Dame de Monte-Carlo, La
Chorale d’Anvers 137, 138 (Poulenc and Cocteau) 166,
Chorale Saint-Guillaume 152 173, 174, 175
Chorus Pro Musica 168n7 Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, Les (Les
Christiné, Henri 101, 185 Six and Cocteau) 174, 199,
CIA, and Congress for Cultural Freedom 271n1
153n8 Oedipus Rex (Stravinsky and
Ciampi, Marcel 179 Cocteau) 26n1, 153n8
cinema 61, 149–50, 223 Parade (Satie and Cocteau) 5, 17,
Ciry, Michel 139n3 200
civisme esthétique (community aesthetic) Parents Terribles, Les 161n7
4–5, 13n11 Phèdre (Auric and Cocteau) 202n2
Claudel, Paul 3, 165, 199 Plain-Chant 160n3
Christophe Colomb (Milhaud and Romeo and Juliet adaptation (with
Claudel) 148n1 Désormière) 127n1
Clemenceau, Georges 4, 233 Théâtre de Poche 166, 174
Clément, Edmond 55, 149 ‘Toréador’ (Poulenc and Cocteau)
Cliquet-Pleyel, Henri 128n20 248–9
Cloches de Nantes, Les (song) 127n1 Voix humaine, La (Poulenc and
Cluytens, André 252, 256 Cocteau) 157, 158–60, 171–2,
Cocteau, Jean 3, 253 174–5
on critics 18n3 Colette 3
and Les Six on Poulenc 157
group photograph Pl11 Poulenc on 130, 167, 174, 209, 268
Le Coq 17, 18 Collaer, Paul 91, 127n8
Le Coq et l’Arlequin 5, 17, 18n4, Collet, Henri 17, 18n1, 98, 200
19n8, 110n5, 200 Colonne Orchestra 229
letter to Henri Collet 18n4 see also Concerts Colonne
Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, Les (Les Comédie des Champs-Elysées 102n6
Six and Cocteau) 174, 199, see also Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
271n1 Comédie-Française 33n2, 105, 214n5
Plain-Chant (poem about Les Six) community aesthetic (civisme esthétique)
160n3 4–5, 13n11
and Marcelle Meyer 54n1 Comœdia (periodical) 4, 18n1, 18n4, 98
on originality 29n4, 249n1 Compagnie des Discophiles 137, 139n3
296 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Concerts Colonne 77, 87, 96, 143n8, 187, Dallapiccola, Luigi 7, 61, 246, 288
190, 231n3 Prigioniero, Il 188
Concerts Lamoureux (or Lamoureux Vol de nuit/Volo di notte 171
Orchestra) 131n8, 143n8, 231n3 Damrosch, Walter 117n3
Concerts of French Music (London) 142 Daudet, Alphonse, Tartarin de Tarascon
‘concerts salade’ 88n4 75n6
see also Wiéner, Jean Daudet, Lucien 3, 17
Conferencia (periodical) 95–101, 105–9 David, Jacques-Louis 270
Congress for Cultural Freedom 153n8 Debussy, Claude
Conrad, Doda 283n2, 289 artistic nationalism 84, 84n4
Conservatoire de Paris on Caplet xvii
classes led by Catalogue of 1942 Debussy exhibition
Ciampi 180n1 4, 83–4
Fauré 23n2 clothes 87
Février 220n1 Cocteau on 5
Long 220n1 Debussyism/anti-Debussyism 5, 7, 17,
Mathias 51 31–2, 190, 273
Messiaen 166, 281 French Impressionism 246
Milhaud 281 influence on Bartók and Honegger 280
Risler 220n1 Massenet’s influence on 188
Vidal 153n5 ‘music can’t be explained’ quote 181
Widor 284n6 and poetry 212
Festival Mozart-Ravel (1940) 77 and politics 147
management 284n6 Poulenc and Debussy’s hat 2, 96, 190
and Poulenc 150 Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites
and Satie 51 dedication to 55, 288
Contrepoints (periodical) 5 Poulenc’s liking for 45–6, 65, 96, 105,
Cooper, Duff 225n1, 230 126, 130, 151, 189–90, 274, 280
Coq et l’Arlequin, Le (Jean Cocteau) 5, 17, vs Ravel 78
18n4, 19n8, 110n5, 200 reviving French sonata 239–40
Coq, Le 5, 17–18, 102n6, 282 vs Satie 51, 52, 53
Coq Parisien, Le 17, 18 and Verlaine 129
Corneille, Pierre 152 vocal music and Gouverné 224
Corot, Jean-Baptiste-Camille 270 works
Cortot, Alfred 54n1, 195n3, 290n3 ‘Apparition’ 110n2
counterpoint 119, 235 Ariettes oubliées 96
Couperin, François 66, 84, 181, 235, 246 Chansons de Bilitis 47, 188
Couraud, Marcel 139n3, 249, 261, 287 Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire 211
Covent Garden 71n7, 142, 144n11 Danses, sacrée et profane 189
Croix-de-feu 4 First Arabesque 188, 189
Croiza, Claire 96, 102n11, 107, 110n6, Hommage à Rameau 53
149, 211, 222 Jeux 46
Cubism 27–8, 146, 164, 255 Martyre de Saint Sébastien, Le
Cuénod, Hugues 283n2 202n3
Czerny, Carl 133 Mer, La 46
Pelléas et Mélisande 36, 37n1, 55,
Dadaism 17 61, 83–4, 257n10, 288
Dalí, Salvador 27 Pour le piano 52
Index 297

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune Diderot, Denis 217


46, 223 d’Indy, see Indy, Vincent d’
Préludes 223 Dolinoff, Alexis 41n7
Decour, Jacques 35 Domaine musical (concert society) 6
Defauw, Désiré 219 Donatello 270
Degas, Edgar 46, 147, 270 Douanier Rousseau, Le (pseud. of Henri
Delacroix, Eugène 70 Rousseau) 101n3, 126
Delannoy, Marcel 126 Drieu La Rochelle, Pierre 4
Delgrange, Félix 200, 286 Dubost, Jeanne 128n20
Delsartism 71n7 Dubout, Albert 252
Delvincourt, Claude 281 Dufayel, Georges 74
Derain, André 53, 125, 253, 284n4 Dufy, Raoul 101n3, 106, 211, 240, 253,
Déroulède, Paul 36 270–271
Désormière, Roger Dugardin, Hervé 158, 172
Ecole d’Arcueil 128n20, 208n3 Dukas, Paul 84n3, 126, 246, 276–7
performances Apprenti sorcier, L’ 277
Bal masqué, Le (Poulenc) 252 Ariane et Barbe-Bleue 277
Ballets russes 208n3 Péri, La 277
Concerto for organ, string Duncan, Isadora 133
orchestra and timpani Duncan, Ronald 61
(Poulenc) 236 Duparc, Henri 105, 214n3
Danses concertantes (Stravinsky) Durand (shop) 96, 179
31 see also Editions Durand
Romeo and Juliet (Cocteau) 127n1 Durey, Louis Pl11, 17, 18, 98, 199
Sécheresses (Poulenc) 229 Duruflé, Maurice 235, 236
Suites pour petit orchestre (Auric) Dutilleux, Henri 143n7, 163, 164, 246, 281
221 Duval, Denise 161n8, 167n2, 168n6,
Poulenc’s tribute to 287 169n16, 173
recordings photograph with Poulenc Pl10
Biches, Les (Poulenc) 204, 205 Poulenc on 159, 166, 171, 172, 174,
Pelléas et Mélisande (Debussy) 83, 255–6
257n10
Sérénade, La (concert society) 131n1 Ecole d’Arcueil 128n20, 208n3
Detroit Symphony Orchestra 143n6, 231n3 Ecran des Musiciens, L’ (book) 123–6
Dhérin, Gustave 101 Editions de la Sirène 106
Diaghilev, Sergei Editions Durand 148n3, 180n3, 229
Poulenc on 61, 98–9, 133, 198, 203–4, see also Durand (shop)
205, 253 El Greco 48, 270
productions electronic music 7
Biches, Les (Poulenc) 39, 151, 174 Elssler, Fanny 70
Colombe, La (Gounod/Poulenc) Eluard, Paul 3, 221, 253
128n18 Animaux modèles, Les title 40, 207
Mavra (Stravinsky) 22n1 and Auric 198, 224, 282
Sleeping Beauty, The and Poulenc 55, 107, 108, 146, 198,
(Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky) 212, 282
190n1, 208n7 works
Ravel’s La Valse story 2, 19n7 ‘Belle et ressemblante’ (La Vie
see also Ballets russes immédiate) text 228
298 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard Rostand’s writings on 11


(Poulenc and Eluard) 110n11, Vuillermoz taught by 23n2
129, 148n2, 223–4 works
Figure humaine (Poulenc and Bonne chanson, La 96, 209–10
Eluard) 147, 151, 230 Pénélope 276
Fraîcheur et le Feu, La (Poulenc Quartets 276
and Eluard) 269 Requiem 276
‘Liberté’ (Figure humaine, Poulenc Violin Sonata I 276
and Eluard) 138, 147 Faÿ, Emmanuel 110n10
Poésie et Vérité 1942 137, 138, Ferat, Serge 253
221 Ferroud, Pierre-Octave 128n20, 185n4, 233
‘Rôdeuse au front de verre’ Feuilles libres (periodical) 21–2
(Poulenc and Eluard) 213, 213, Février, Henry 220n1
224 Février, Jacques Pl8, 78, 218–19, 270, 287
Sept chansons (Poulenc, Eluard Figaro, Le (newspaper) 3, 31–2, 65–7,
and Apollinaire) 131n1, 137, 69–70, 73–4, 107, 133–5, 222
228–9, 259 Figaro littéraire, Le 43–4, 149–53, 173–5
Sur les pentes inférieures (Poulenc Fizdale, Robert 49n7, 269
and Eluard) 137 Fombeure, Maurice, Chansons villageoises
Tel jour, telle nuit (Poulenc and (Poulenc and Fombeure) 109,
Eluard) 108 109n1
‘Tu vois le feu du soir’ (Poulenc Fournier, Pierre 56, 143n7, 207, 209, 242,
and Eluard) 259–60 243
Enciclopedia della Musica 7, 87–8 Françaix, Jean 241, 280
English music 141–2 Le Diable boiteux 280
Erté 255 Francescatti, Zino 240
Eventail de Jeanne, L’ (multi-authored Francis, Saint 46
ballet) 101n4, 128n20 Franck, César 26, 84, 126, 150, 187, 191,
Expressionism 36 212
Franck, Nino 129–31
Falla, Manuel de 125, 130, 163, 274, 280, French Music Concerts (London) 142
281 French Radio Choir 31
Retablo de maese Pedro, El 43, 216 French Radio Orchestra/Chorus, see
Siete Canciones Populares Españolas Orchestre de la Radiodiffusion-
85 Télévision Française
Fallières, Armand 95 Frères Jacques, Les 6
Fanfare (review) 3 Frescobaldi, Girolamo 235
Fantômas 100 Fresnay, Pierre 268
Fargue, Léon-Paul 3, 53, 78, 97, 211 Fresnaye, Roger de 17, 211
La Violette noire 198 Freud, Sigmund 108
Fascism 4, 13n7 Freund, Marya 37n2, 88n4, 107, 110n6,
Faulkner, William 48 211, 282
Faure, Félix 182 furniture music 239
Fauré, Gabriel Futurists (Italian noisemakers) 283
and Long 191
and poetry 212 Galerie Bernheim-Jeune 96, 150
Poulenc on 96, 105, 108, 151, 276, 280 Galerie de la Boétie 102n6
and the quartet genre 243 Gallimard, Gaston 3, 139n3
Index 299

García Lorca, Federico 240 Guth, Paul 10, 149–53


Gauguin, Paul 48, 270
Gaulle, Charles de 4, 147 Haas, Monique 31, 143n7, 283n3
Gavoty, Bernard 9–10 Hague Royal Opera 75n1
Je suis compositeur (Honegger/ Hahn, Reynaldo 256
Gavoty) 10 Harding, James (translator), My Friends
Gazette de Lausanne, La 10 and Myself/Moi et mes amis
Gebrauchsmusik 239 (Poulenc and Audel) xiii
Gedalge, André 128n20 Harewood, Marion 37n2
Gendron, Maurice 143n7 harpsichord music
George, Yvonne 123 Concert champêtre (Poulenc) 119–20,
Ghil, René 92, 236 215–17
Giacometti, Alberto 252 Landowska’s Das Wohltemperierte
Gide, André 3, 29n3, 198, 209, 211 Klavier recording 43–4
Gieseking, Walter 193, 216 Hartog, Howard 61
Gil-Marchex, Henri 115 Harvard Glee Club 227
Giraud, Yvonne, see Casa Fuerte, Yvonne Hauptmann, Gerhard, Iphigenie in Delphi
de (née Giraud) 33n2
Giraudeau, Jean 256 Haydn, Joseph 27, 124, 240
Giraudoux, Jean 3, 161n7, 175n4 Surprise Symphony 78
Glinka, Mikhail 22, 208n7 Heifetz, Jaschai 240
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 36, 65, Heldy, Fanny 159, 255
139n1, 209 Hell, Henri 10, 11, 45, 157–60
Gogh, Vincent van 48, 270 Henze, Hans Werner 7, 61
Gold, Arthur 49n7, 269 Hepp, François 212
Golschmann, Vladimir 41n7 Herrand, Marcel 253
Gounod, Charles 22, 108, 212, 280 Hewitt Orchestra 139n3
Colombe, La 126 Hindemith, Paul
Faust 18 Gebrauchsmusik 239
Roméo et Juliette 18 performing his own works 191
Gouverné, Yvonne Pl7, 224, 229, 233, 262 Poulenc on 28, 98, 125, 130, 210, 245,
Goya, Francisco 270 274–5
Gozzoli, Benozzo 165, 168n13, 260 Poulenc on Hindemith’s followers 7,
Grand Ecart (nightclub) 78 47, 130
Granier, Jeanne 149 Poulenc on Hindemith’s working
Greco, El 48, 270 habits 265
Green, Julien 209 works
Grieg, Edvard Four Temperaments, The 275
Berceuse 183 Nobilissima visione 275
Lyric Pieces 187 Hirsch, Georges 55, 255
Piano Concerto 184 Hitler, Adolf 4, 67, 67n1
Gris, Juan 146 HMV (French branch of Pathé-Marconi)
Groupe des Six, see Les Six 83
Guide du Concert et des Théâtres Lyriques, Hoérée, Arthur 125
Le 119–21 Hoffmansthal, Hugo von 37n2, 62, 65, 66
Guilmant, Alexandre 185n2 Honegger, Arthur
Guitry, Lucien 183 and Collet 18n4
300 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

conversations with Bruyr 123 Quatre poèmes de Max Jacob


and Delannoy 128n20 (Poulenc and Jacob) 102n10,
and Les Six Pl11, 17, 18, 98, 150 130
Poulenc on 119, 126, 145, 198–9, 200, Jacob, Maxime 126
273, 280 Jacopo de Todi 152
Poulenc on Honegger’s working habits Jacquemont, Maurice 156
267 Jammes, Francis 150
works Janacopoulos, Vera 110n6
Antigone 126 Janequin, Clément 246
Je suis compositeur Jankélévitch, Vladimir 36
(autobiography) 10 Jansen, Jacques 83
oratorios 286 Jarry, Alfred, Ubu roi 36, 254
Roi David, Le 200 Jaubert, Maurice 126, 236
Rugby 126 jazz 78–9, 99
Horowitz, Vladimir 47, 49n7, 97, 192, 193, Jeanmaire, Zizi 41n10
216, 287 Jeantet, Robert 256
Hôtel du Nord (film) 248 Jeunesses musicales de France (JMF) 9,
Hugo, Jean 265 147
Hugo, Valentine 205 Joachim, Irène 83
John of the Cross, Saint 165, 261
Ibert, Jacques 119, 123, 126, 128n20, 130, Jolivet, André 31, 33n2, 145, 281
256 Jolly, Cynthia (translator), Emmanuel
Illustration théâtrale, L’ (periodical) 183 Chabrier (Francis Poulenc) xiii
Impressionism 5, 17, 246 Jonson, Ben, Volpone 123
Inc’oyables, Les 203 Jooss, Kurt 70, 71n7
Indy, Vincent d’ 84, 86, 119, 184, 185n2, Jourdan-Morhange, Hélène 5, 97, 285–6
185n3, 191, 246, 283n3 Joy, Geneviève 31
Poème des montagnes, Le 52 Joyce, James 198, 211
Information Musicale, L’ (newspaper) 4 Julliard (publishers) 2, 11
Intransigeant, L’ (periodical) 115–16
ISCM 141 Kalkbrenner, Friedrich 51
Italian noisemakers (Futurists) 283 Kangourou, Makoko (pseud.) 97, 102n5
Iturbi, José 287 Karajan, Herbert von 223
Kayas, Lucie, A bâtons rompus, écrits
Jacob, Max 3 radiophoniques (Poulenc and
and Les Six 17 Kayas) 13n2, 58n2
Poulenc on 55, 129, 212 Kelsieu, Aimée 174
singing in Apollinaire’s Mamelles de Kerrieu, Marthe de 174
Tirésias chorus 253 Klee, Paul 36, 270, 280
works Kleiber, Eric 148n1
Art poétique 28 Kochno, Boris 22n1, 264n4
Bal masqué, Le (Poulenc and Koechlin, Charles 98, 119, 128n20, 145,
Jacob) 27, 28–9, 131n4–6, 150, 198, 211, 235
251–2 Kokoschka, Oskar 36
Cornet à dés, Le 251 Koubitzky, Alexandre 102n6
Laboratoire central, Le 130, 251 Koussevitzky, Serge 88n1, 168n7
Index 301

Krauss, Clement 74 Léger, Fernand 253


Legouhy, Marguerite 256
La Fontaine, Jean de, Les Fables 39–40, Lehmann, Lilli 74
133–5, 150, 206–7 Lehmann, Lotte 74, 75n1
La Fresnaye, Roger de 17, 211 Leibowitz, René 6, 31, 36, 209
La Scala, Milan 55, 56, 71n7, 161n6, Lenoir, Jean 101
171–2, 219, 288 Les Six
Labé, Louise 160n3 Album des Six (‘La Valse’) 179
Laben, Rudolph von 71n7 anti-Debussyism 5, 17, 190
Lalanne, Louise (Apollinaire’s pseudonym) and Auric 5, 17–18, 98, 201
131n3 and Bathori 150
see also Apollinaire, Guillaume Cocteau’s Le Coq et l’Arlequin 5, 17,
Lalique, Suzanne 156 18n4, 19n8, 110n5, 200
Laloy, Louis 211 Cocteau’s poem about Les Six (Plain-
Lambert, Constant 51 Chant) 160n3
Lamorlette, Roland 101 Coq, Le 5, 17–18, 102n6, 282
Lamoureux Orchestra (or Concerts Coq Parisien, Le 17, 18
Lamoureux) 131n8, 143n8, 231n3 and Février 220n1
Landormy, Paul 5 interpreters for 286
Landowska, Wanda and La Sirène (publisher) 110n5
Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier and Laurencin 17, 41n4
recording 43–4 Mariés de la Tour Eiffel, Les (Les Six
Concert champêtre 115, 119–20, 125, and Cocteau) 174, 199, 271n1
287 and Meyer 54n1, 195n3
photograph with Poulenc Pl5 musical-hall show 248
Poulenc on 188, 215–17, 235 and Peignot 110n10
Landru, Henri 252 photograph with Cocteau Pl11
Langlais, Jean 235, 236 Poulenc on 98, 100, 145–6, 197–201,
Lanvin, Jeanne 270 211
Laphin, André 10, 115–16 and Ravel 5, 31, 200
Laplane, Gabriel 85–6 and Satie’s music 200–201
Larbaud, Valéry 198 and Schönberg 282
Lassus, Orlande de 158 Lettres Françaises, Les (review) 5, 35
Latarjet, André 228 Liadov (or Lyadov), Anatoly 69
Laure, Jean 58n2 Liebermann, Rolf 61
Laurencin, Marie Liénard, Virginie 103n15, 287–8
and Apollinaire 41n4, 107, 129, 131n3 Lifar, Serge 40, 223
‘feminine talent’ 199 Linossier, Raymonde 41n11, 128n13, 198,
Les Biches 39, 98, 174, 204–5 201
and Les Six 17, 41n4 Liszt, Franz 27, 69, 280
Lavallière, Eve 183 Litaize, Gaston 235, 236
Le Bœuf sur le Toit (nightclub) 79n5 Littéraire, Le (periodical) 91
Le Flem, Paul 185n2 ‘L’Oeuvre du XXe siècle’ festival 153n8
Le Fort, Gertrude von 58n6, 271n4 Loire, The (song) 124
Le Jeune, Claude 246 London Chamber Orchestra 48n1
Le Nain brothers 39, 135 London Philharmonic Orchestra 142,
Le Nôtre, André 152 143n9
Lefébure, Yvonne 143n7 London Symphony Orchestra 48n1, 143n7
302 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Long, Marguerite 54n1, 131n8, 191, Marie-Magdeleine 187, 188


195n3, 220n1 Thais 188
Lopes-Graça, Fernando 4, 6, 10, 145–8 Massine, Leonid 39, 253
Lorca, Federico García 240 La Boutique fantasque 125
Loriod, Yvonne 180n1 Masson, Paul-Marie 145
Louiguy 49n10 Mathias, Georges 51
Louis XIV 73, 120, 134, 135, 154n9, 263 Matisse, Henri 36, 101n3, 253, 269, 270,
Louÿs, Pierre 102n5 273, 284n4
Lubin, Germaine 75n1 Mauriac, François 3, 58n4, 65
Lully, Jean-Baptiste 124 Mayer, Tony 142
Lyadov (or Liadov), Anatoly 69 Mayol, Félix 18, 124
Lycée Condorcet 96, 150 Medici-Riccardi Palace 165, 168n13, 260
Lyon Choir (Chanteurs de Lyon) 228, 229, Meerovitch, Juliette 286
259 Mendelssohn, Felix 218
Lyre et Palette 192, 200 Menotti, Gian Carlo 288
The Consul 48
Machart, Renaud 11 Menuhin, Yehudi 180n1, 240
Maderna, Bruno 7 Merrick, Frank 117n3
Magnard, Albéric 200 Messager, André 86, 197, 204, 221, 256
Mahler, Gustav 35 Messiaen, Olivier
Mahler-Werfel, Alma 37n2, 200 and Aprahamian 143n7
Maison Henri de Borniol (undertakers) Messiaen’s pupils 31, 37n3, 169n14,
154n9 214n1
Mallarmé, Stéphane 36, 88, 105, 150, 164, Paris Conservatoire class 166, 281
212, 269 Poulenc on 7, 32, 91–2, 145, 166, 281
Malraux, André 225n1 Messiaen and Rouault 36
Manceaux, André 127n2, 153n2 Messiaen’s religious music 235,
Manet, Edouard 46, 167 236
Mante-Rostand, Mme 222 Stravinsky’s influence on Messiaen
Mantegna, Andrea 249 273
Marcel, Gabriel 217 works
Maréchal, Maurice 285 Corps glorieux, Les 92, 236
Margaret of Cortona, Saint 56 Nativité du Seigneur, La 236
Marges (review) 131n3 Trois petites Liturgies de la
Markévitch, Igor 7, 28, 100, 130, 131n1, Présence Divine 91
252 Turangalîla-Symphonie 92
Marnold, Jean 17 Meyer, Marcelle
Marquet, Albert 281 Compagnie des Discophiles recordings
Marrast, Walther (pseud. Straram, Walther) 139n3
222 La Valse (Ravel) story 19n7
Martin, Auguste 83 and Les Six 54n1, 195n3, 286
Martinet, Jean-Louis 37n3, 214n1, 281, Poulenc’s music 51, 54n1, 127n10,
282 195n3, 221
Mascagni, Pietro 119 Poulenc on 97, 192, 287
Massenet, Jules 46, 124, 150, 187, 188, relationship with Bertin 250n6
189 Meylan, Pierre 3, 9
Enfance du Christ, L’ 187 Michael, Archangel 126, 168n9
Manon 18, 55, 124, 130, 188 Migot, Georges 29n1
Index 303

Mihalovici, Marcel 280 Montaigne, Michel de 115


Milhaud, Darius Monte-Carlo 166, 174, 206, 255
conducting Pierrot lunaire (Schönberg) Monte-Carlo National Opera Orchestra
88, 214n3, 282 143n8
conversations with Bruyr 123 Monte-Carlo Opera 128n18
Entretiens avec Claude Rostand 10, Monteux, Pierre 116n2, 119, 190
11, 180 Monteverdi, Claudio 58n1, 151, 158, 228,
exile in the United States 5, 254 235, 246, 288–9
greater popularity abroad 236 Montherlant, Henry de 62
influence on Poulenc 6 Montmartre 78, 95, 129, 197, 253, 284n11
introduced to Satie Pl3 Morand, Paul 3, 17, 19n5
and La Sérénade (concert society) 100, Moréas, Jean, Airs chantés (Poulenc and
131n1, 263n1 Moréas) 102n12, 212
and Les Six Pl11, 5, 17–18, 98 Moryn, Gilbert 252
meeting with Henri Collet 18n4 Moulié, Charles 102n5
meeting with Viennese composers 35, Mounet-Sully, Jean 213
127n8, 164, 200, 282 Moyse, Marcel 101
Paris Conservatoire class 281 Moyses, Louis 79n5
Poulenc on 5, 130, 145, 146, 199–200, Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
267, 273 Cadieu’s writings on 163
tribute to Satie 51 Festival Mozart-Ravel (1940) 77
views on Wagner 245, 275 Poulenc on
working to commission 265 Mozart 25, 27, 55, 74, 77, 96, 115,
works 151, 190, 280
Bœuf sur le toit, Le 146, 199 Mozart and Beethoven 125–6
Cantate de la Paix 249 Mozart and Stravinsky 288–9
Choéphores, Les 200 Mozart’s and his concerto for two
Christophe Colomb 146 pianos 218, 219
Création du monde, La 200 Mozart’s operas 65, 66, 67, 288
Deux Cités, Les 249, 260 and Poulenc’s mother 150, 183, 187
Eighteen String Quartets 243 works
Eventail de Jeanne, L’ (composite Don Giovanni 55, 65, 66, 288
ballet) 128n20 Magic Flute, The 288
Festin de la sagesse, Le 146 Marriage of Figaro, The 288
Maximilien 130 Seraglio, Il 70, 288
Salade 126, 146 Munch, Charles 77, 142, 165, 168n7, 229,
Train Bleu, Le 41n2 236, 247, 287
Modigliani, Amedeo 101n3, 253 Munch, Fritz 152
Modrakowska, Maria 99–100, 102n11, Music of Francis Poulenc, A Catalogue
108, 222–3 (Carl B. Schmidt) 12
Mois, Le (periodical) 25–6 musique concrète 153n8, 167n4, 282–3
Moissac (monastery and church) 165 Mussorgsky, Modest 47, 55, 267, 274, 280,
Moizan, Mme 152 288–9
Molière, L’Avare (The Miser) 123
Monaco, Mario del 172 Nabokov, Nicolas 130, 131n1, 153n8, 252
Monnier, Adrienne 3, 97, 106, 198, 211, Napoleon 73, 188
224 Nat, Yves 128n20, 139n3
Monnot, Marguerite 49n10 Nemtchinova, Vera 39, 41n7, 205, 218
304 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Neveu, Ginette 143n7, 230, 240, 285 Orchestre Symphonique de Paris 41n7,
New York City Ballet 41n9 116n2, 119, 128n17, 128n19
New York Philharmonic Orchestra 175, Ormoy, Marcel (pseud. Prouille) 102n5
290 Oswald, Marianne 169n16, 174
Nichols, Roger xiii Oudry, Jean-Baptiste 39
Nicoly, René 148n3
Nielsen, Carl 117n3 paintings and painters 46, 48, 96, 150,
Nietzsche, Friedrich 70, 124 269–70, 280
Nigg, Serge 37n3, 214n1 Paray, Paul 142, 229
Nijinska, Bronislava 39, 40, 40n1, 205, 218 Paris
Nijinsky, Vaslav 41n3, 47 Montmartre 78, 95, 129, 197, 253,
Noailles, Charles de 29n7, 40, 217, 251–2, 284n11
265 Poulenc on 95–6, 145, 152, 182–3,
Noailles, Marie-Laure de 29n7, 40, 131n1, 184–5, 266
217, 251–2, 265 Paris Conservatoire, see Conservatoire de
Nobel, Félix de 287 Paris
Nogent-sur-Marne 181, 185, 252 Paris Inter (radio station) 11
Noizay (Touraine) 9, 103n15, 157, 160, Paris Opéra
172n1, 174, 181–2, 262, 267, Lifar’s banishment 225n5
290n6 management 208n8, 257n8
Noizay church restoration 171 orchestra 208n3
see also Touraine and the Poulencs 55, 187
Nourrit, Adolphe 194n1 productions
Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo 39, 225n5 Auric (Phèdre) 202n2
Nouveaux Jeunes 5, 19n8 Beethoven (Fidelio) 73, 74
Nouvelle République, La (newspaper) Poulenc (Dialogues des
171–2 Carmélites) 155
Nouvelle Revue Française, La 3, 4, 77–9 Poulenc (Les Animaux modèles)
Nouvelles littéraires, Les 163–7 133, 134, 208n8
Ravel (Boléro) 225n3
Ochsé, Louise 198 Ravel (L’Heure espagnole) 161n5
Offenbach, Jacques 124 Stravinsky (Le Baiser de la Fée)
ondes Martenot 92 190n1
Opéra, see Paris Opéra Stravinsky (Mavra) 22n1
Opéra-Comique 71n4, 83, 150, 187, 208n3, Stravinsky (Perséphone) 29n3
257n8 Weber (Oberon) 70
and the Poulencs 55, 174, 187 Parr, Audrey 148n1
Poulenc’s works 41n8, 91, 159, 255, Parys, Georges van 127n1
256 Pascal, Blaise 135
Opéra de Paris, L’ (periodical) 55–7 Pathé-Marconi 83
Opera (periodical) 61–2 Paulhan, Jean 35
operas 55, 58n2, 61–2, 288 Pears, Peter 143n7
operettas 256 Peignot, Suzanne 102n6, 108, 110n6,
oratorios 286 131n3, 221, 286
see also sacred music percussion 166–7
Orchestre de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista 124, 152, 273
Française 168n7, 169n16, 173 Petit bossu, Le (song) 123, 127n1
Orchestre de Radio-Genève 27 Petit, Roland 246
Index 305

Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois 249, his sister Jeanne 127n2, 153n2
250n10, 260 his uncle Papoum (Marcel Royer)
Petrassi, Goffredo 7 58n2, 133, 173, 174
Petrella, Clara 159 homosexuality 41n11
Peyer, Gervase de 143n10 Légion d’honneur 3
Philharmonia 48n1 letters to composers as a young
Piaf, Edith 49n10 man 84
piano concertos 215–20 money making 223
piano music 192–4 Monte-Carlo 166, 174, 206, 255
piano playing 108, 133, 191–2, 193 Nogent-sur-Marne 181, 185, 252
Picasso, Pablo 22, 28, 53, 97–8, 126, 146, Noizay church restoration 171
253, 270 Paris 95–6, 145, 152, 182–3,
Cinq poèmes de Ronsard (Poulenc) 184–5, 266
cover 211 Rocamadour (pilgrimage site) Pl7,
Figure humaine (Poulenc) dedication 151, 184, 230, 233–4
138 talks and storytelling 8–10
Parade (Satie, Cocteau and Picasso) Touraine 100–101, 103n15, 124,
200 129, 133, 157, 181–2, 185, 217
photograph with Sauguet and Poulenc touring abroad 141, 145, 157
Pl9 working to commission 265
quotes on originality 28, 245 writing and broadcasting 1–3
Piccola Scala (Milan) 159, 163 personality
Pléiade, La (musical society) 3, 137, 139n3 bedroom slippers and piano
poetry, see song writing and poetry playing 143n10
Poiret, Paul 255 on being a snob 58n3
Polignac, Jean de, Count Pl8 eclectic tastes 6–7
Polignac, Marie-Blanche, Countess Jean de literary culture 3
Pl8, 4, 109n1, 270, 289 moods 187, 266
Polignac, Princess Edmond de 43, 130, morning person 267
131n1, 228, 265, 283n2 music hall/café concerts fan 248–9
polytonal music 6 religious faith 147, 151, 155–6,
Porter, Cole 48 165–6, 184, 233–4, 261–2, 268
Poulenc, Francis revising his music 125, 241
biographical details singing abilities 105, 109n1
autobiographical sketches 95–101, theatre lover 183
105–6, 149–50, 182–5, 187–8 visual person 101, 150, 188, 267,
German Occupation years 4–5, 269
33n2, 111n18, 137–8, 146–7, ‘What is love?’ anecdote 47
206–7, 230, 253–4 women of the demi-monde,
his ‘aunt’ Virginie Liénard 103n15, penchant for 173, 174
287–8 working methods 130, 165, 265–9
his father 149, 150, 182, 184, writing style 8
187–8, 190, 223, 233, 234, 260 photographs and drawing
his gardener (André Rocheron) 171 aged 4 Pl1
his mother 2, 58n1, 105, 149, 150, aged 12 Pl2
182–3, 187, 188, 190, 288 with Bérard, Février and the
his mother’s friend (‘the bore’) Polignacs Pl8
183–4 with Bernac Pl6
306 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

with Duval Pl10 Biches, Les 5, 102n9, 147, 151,


with Gouverné Pl7 174, 179, 198; Poulenc on
introduced to Satie (drawing) Pl3 39–40, 98–9, 101, 124–5,
with Landowska Pl5 203–6, 206, 218, 231, 273, 287
Les Six and Cocteau Pl11 Capriccio for two pianos 49n7
as Maurice Chevalier Pl12 Chanson à boire 227–8
with Picasso and Sauguet Pl9 Chansons françaises pour chœur a
with Schönberg Pl4 cappella 139n3
tending his roses Pl13 Chansons gaillardes 106, 107, 124,
views on 212, 221–2, 227
death 134–5 Chansons villageoises 109, 109n1
his being ‘part monk, part naughty Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard
boy’ 247 110n11, 129, 148n2, 223–4
his musical development 146–7 Cinq poèmes de Ronsard 106,
his musical successes and failures 110n10, 124, 125, 158, 211,
285, 286–7 221, 286
instinct vs systems 245–6 Cocardes 19n6, 98, 106, 124, 158,
modesty in America 47 211
music, democratisation of 147 Colombe, La (Gounod) recitatives
music, future of 281–3 126
music of the last half-century Concert champêtre 43, 115,
279–80 119–20, 125, 131, 215–17, 273,
musical likes and dislikes 96, 126, 287
130, 150–151, 164, 188, 273–7 Concerto for harpsichord 124
musical vulgarity and garden Concerto for organ, string
compost 101 orchestra and timpani 131n1,
philosophy (and Sartre) 150 224, 236–7, 248, 259, 265
politics 4–5, 147 Concerto for piano (‘Cloth-cap
refinement vs popular accent 18 Concerto’) 45, 48n1, 143n10,
works 247–8, 262, 269
Air champêtre 100, 110n10 Concerto for two pianos and
Airs chantés 102n12, 106, 110n10, orchestra 130, 193, 194,
111n15, 212, 252 218–20, 230, 287
Amphitryon incidental music 6 Dame de Monte-Carlo, La 166–7,
Animaux modèles, Les 39–40, 173–5
41n9, 160n1, 204, 225n5, 266; Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon 109,
Poulenc on 133–5, 206–7, 242, 175n1
273, 287 Dialogues des Carmélites 55–7,
Aubade 39, 40, 41n8, 48n1, 120– 61, 71n7, 234; Poulenc on
121, 125, 217, 218, 252, 265 155–6, 157, 159, 166, 248,
Bal masqué, Le 27, 28–9, 41n8, 253, 255, 268, 287–9
131n1, 131n4–6, 251–2, 264n4 Embarquement pour Cythère, L’
Bestiaire, Le 98, 106, 107, 124, 270
148, 199, 211, 214n3, 286, Eventail de Jeanne, L’ (composite
290n3 ballet) 101n4, 128n20
Index 307

Fâcheux, Les 151 Quatre motets pour un temps de


‘Fagnes de Wallonie’ 269 pénitence 75n5, 229, 234–5,
Feuillets d’album 54n1, 195n3 249, 260–261
Fiançailles pour rire 108–9, Quatre petites prières de saint
110n10, 111n15 François d’Assise 227, 261–2
Figure humaine 4–5, 137–8, 141, Quatre poèmes de Guillaume
147, 151–2, 229, 230–231, Apollinaire 106, 129, 212
234, 253, 254 Quatre poèmes de Max Jacob
Flute Sonata 142n3 102n10, 130
Fraîcheur et le Feu, La 269 Rapsodie nègre 97–8, 124, 150,
Gloria 165, 168n13 286
‘Grenouillère, La’ 270 ‘Rôdeuse au front de verre’ 213,
Histoire de Babar, L’, le petit 213, 224
éléphant 271n3 Sécheresses 229–30, 287
Huit chansons polonaises 99–100, Sept chansons 131n1, 137, 228–9,
102n11 259
Impromptus 54n1, 102n10, 195n3 Sept Répons des ténèbres/Office
Improvisation (7th) 193 des ténèbres 62, 165, 175
Improvisation (10th - ‘In praise of Sextet for piano and wind
scales’) 102n7 instruments 101, 130, 239, 241
Improvisation (14th) 157 Sinfonietta 287
Improvisations 194 Soirées de Nazelles, Les 100,
Intermezzo in A flat 194, 287 131n1, 194, 246, 286
Litanies à la Vierge noire 75n5, Sonata for cello and piano 207,
131n1, 184, 228, 233, 234 242, 243
Mamelles de Tirésias, Les 55, 57, Sonata for two pianos 49n7, 269
105, 148, 149, 174, 252–6, Sonata for violin and piano 239–40
266; Poulenc on 151, 229, 249, Stabat Mater 149, 181, 266, 269,
251, 268 283, 287; Poulenc on 151–2,
Mass in G 148n2, 181, 224, 229, 166, 229, 234, 247, 248, 253,
231, 234, 259–60 256, 262–3, 289–90
Métamorphoses 109 String Quartet (destroyed in 1947)
‘Montparnasse’ 107, 210–211, 210 2, 242–3
Music of Francis Poulenc, A Suite française d’après Claude
Catalogue (Carl B. Schmidt) Gervaise 58n5, 75n5
12 Suite in C 54n1, 125, 194, 194n2,
Napoli 124, 194, 221, 227, 287 201
Nocturnes 194 Sur les pentes inférieures 137
‘Pastourelle’ (L’Eventail de Tel jour, telle nuit 108, 210
Jeanne) 101n4 Thème varié 192, 193, 220n1, 287
‘Pont, Le’ 269 ‘Toréador’ 248–9
‘Portrait, Le’ 290n1 Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon
Processional for the cremation of a 221, 240–241
mandarin 201 Trois mouvements perpétuels 54n1,
Promenades 102n10, 116n1, 124 98, 124, 151, 179, 181, 191,
Quatre motets pour le temps de 192, 194n2, 194; Poulenc on
Noël 234–5, 261 125, 147, 194, 201, 231, 286
308 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Trois pièces pour piano (originally Rabelais, François 124


Pastorales) 54n1, 101n4, 179, Rachmaninov, Sergei 87, 99
192, 194 Racine, Jean 28, 84, 209
Trois poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin Radford, Winifred (translator), Journal de
131n1 mes mélodies/Diary of my Songs
Trois poèmes de Louise Lalanne (Francis Poulenc) 12n1
129, 131n1 Radiguet, Raymond 3, 17, 100
‘Tu vois le feu du soir’ 259–60 Rameau, Jean-Philippe 84, 216
Un soir de neige 91 Raphael 26, 77, 270
‘Valse’ 179 Ravel, Maurice
Vive Nadia 75n5 and Auric 5, 151
Vocalise 100 and Berkeley 142n3
Voix humaine, La 157–60, 171–2, and Durey 202n5
174–5 Festival Mozart-Ravel (1940) 77
writings and interviews on imitation and unconscious infidelity
A bâtons rompus, écrits 29n4
radiophoniques (with Kayas) and Les Six 5, 31, 200
1, 58n2 and Long 191
Correspondance 1, 12 and Marnold 18n2
Emmanuel Chabrier xiii, 54n1, performing his own works 191
167, 194n2, 195n3 on Poulenc 235
J’écris ce qui me chante xiii Poulenc on
Journal de mes mélodies 1 his letter to Ravel 84
Moi et mes amis (with Audel) xiii, his liking for Ravel 96
19n5 Ravel and Renard 129
press cuttings folders 2, 12 Ravel and serial music 88
Poupet, Georges 3 Ravel creating his own syntax 27
Pour la Victoire (periodical) 4 Ravel vs Satie 51, 53
Pourtalès, Guy de 179 Ravel’s advice about chords 267
Preger, Léo 139n3 Ravel’s clothes and gloves
Présence (periodical) 27–9 (anecdote) 87–8
Prêtre, Georges 168n5, 168n7, 169n16, 173 Ravel’s faultless œuvre 285
progressivist music 283 Ravel’s importance in French
Prokofiev, Sergei 47, 125, 130, 147, 191, music 280
274, 281 Ravel’s influence on him 273–4
Third Piano Concerto 87 Ravel’s orchestration of his piano
Propaganda Staffel 33n2, 109 music 267
Prostitution, Vierge flétrie 248 Ravel’s piano music 193, 246
Prouille, Marcel (pseud. of Ormoy, Marcel) Ravel’s politics 147
102n5 Ravel’s sonata method 240–241
Proust, Marcel 153n3, 205 ‘scent’ of Ravel 126
Gilberte Swann character 182 Poulenc’s anti-Ravelism 5, 7, 31, 151
Prunières, Henry 75n2 Poulenc’s Enciclopedia della Musica
Puccini, Giacomo 46, 48, 188 article 87–8
Tosca 58n2 Poulenc’s Nouvelle Revue Française
Pushkin, Aleksandr 22n1, 208n7 article 77–9
Puvis de Chavannes, Pierre 188 and Renard 129
Index 309

and Roland-Manuel 23n3, 264n3 Rieti, Vittorio 100, 130, 131n1, 204
and Satie 52, 54n10 Don Perlimplin 153n8
Schnabel on 209 Rieu, Max de 255
Schubert Unfinished Symphony Rimbaud, Arthur 150
competition 117n3 Les Illuminations (Britten and
and Viñes 194n2 Rimbaud) 141
works Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai 69, 87, 267
‘Alborada del gracioso’ 267 Russian Easter Festival Overture 85
Boléro 225n3 Risler, Edouard 220n1
Concerto for the Left Hand 78–9, Rivier, Jean 281
220n1 Rivière, Jean-Pierre 163
Concerto in G 130 Robin des bois 125, 127n12
Duo for violin and cello 285 Rocamadour (pilgrimage site) Pl7, 151,
Enfant et les sortilèges, L’ 78, 88, 184, 230, 233–4
99 Rocheron, André (Poulenc’s gardener) 171
Eventail de Jeanne, L’ (composite Roland-Manuel, Alexis 21, 128n20, 262
ballet) 128n20 Rolland, Romain 73, 179
Frontispice 284n10 Romanticism 7, 17, 70, 71n8, 146, 236,
Heure espagnole, L’ 161n5, 255–6 275, 279
Histoires naturelles 151 Ronsard, Pierre de 124, 160n3
Ma mère l’Oye 54n7, 78, 267 Ropartz, Guy 84n3
Rapsodie espagnole 77, 87 Rosenberg, Léonce 102n6
‘Rêves’ 80n6 Rosenthal, Manuel 31, 32n1
‘Scarbo’ 97 Rossi, Tino 147
Sonata II for violin and piano 285 Rossini, Gioachino 22, 289
Tombeau de Couperin, Le 267 Rostand, Claude
Trois chansons 198 Entretiens avec Claude Rostand
Trois poèmes de Stéphane (Milhaud and Rostand) 10, 11, 180
Mallarmé 36, 88 Entretiens avec Claude Rostand
Tzigane 116n1 (Poulenc and Rostand) xiii, 2, 7,
Valse, La 2, 19n7 10–12, 179–80
Valses nobles et sentimentales 54n6 writings on Fauré 11
Violin Sonata 285 Rostand, Edmond 135n3, 222
Reinhardt, Max 65 Rouart et Lerolle (publishers) 138
Réjane 149, 183 Rouault, Georges 36, 91
religion 147, 151, 155–6, 165–6, 184, Rouché, Jacques 207, 255
233–4, 261–2, 268 Rousseau, Emile 256
see also sacred music Rousseau, Henri (pseud. Le Douanier
Renard, Jules 107, 125, 129 Rousseau) 101n3, 126
Renaud-Barrault Company 6 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 217
Renoir, Pierre-Auguste 96, 126, 150, 270 Roussel, Albert 23n3, 54n9, 84, 119, 141,
Respighi, Ottorino 117n3, 119 185n2, 277, 280
Reverdy, Pierre 212 Psalm 80 25
Revue hebdomadaire 21 works, Eventail de Jeanne, L’
Revue musicale, La, Satie number 51–3 (composite ballet) 128n20
Riccardi Palace (Florence) 165, 168n13, Royal Opera House, see Covent Garden
260 Royer, Marcel (Poulenc’s uncle Papoum)
Ricordi (publishers) 56, 158, 288 58n2, 133, 173, 174
310 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

Rubinstein, Anton, Romance 183, 187 ‘white style’ 128n16


Rubinstein, Arthur 127n8, 193, 287 works
Rubinstein, Ida 148n1, 190n1 Aperçus désagréables 52
Rufer, Josef 37n2 Avant-dernières pensées (‘Idylle’)
Rünger, Gertrud 66 53
Russian music 18, 22 Chapitres tournés en tous sens
Russolo, Luigi 7, 284n9 54n5
Embryons desséchés 53
sacred music 234–5, 259–63, 286 En habit de cheval 52
see also religion Fargue’s poems 80n6
Sadler’s Wells Ballet 142 Gnossiennes 52
Sadoul, Robert 160n1, 160n4, 161n8 Gymnopédies 52
Saint-Pol-Roux 92, 236 Heures séculaires et instantanées
Saint-Roch, church of (Paris) 152, 153n8, 52, 54n5
234 Morceaux en forme de poire 52
Saint-Saëns, Camille 84 Musique d’ameublement 250n6
Second Piano Concerto 240–241 Parade 5, 17, 21, 124, 197, 200
Salle des Agriculteurs 110n6, 127n10, 221 Pièces froides 52
Salle Gaveau 9, 101n1, 110n12, 110n14, Sarabandes 52
111n16, 111n17, 111n18, 151, 179 ‘Tyrolienne turque’ 53
Salle Pleyel 110n7, 116n2, 119, 131n8, 287 Valses du précieux dégoûté 52
Salles, Georges 129 Véritables Préludes flasques (pour
Salzburg Festival 3, 4, 65, 107, 222 un chien) 52
Samain, Albert 212 Sauguet, Henri
Sancan, Pierre 31 Auric on 280
Sanzogno, Nino 167n2 conversations with Bruyr 123
Sarcey, Yvonne 95, 105 and Ecole d’Arcueil 128n20
Sartre, Jean-Paul 150 and La Sérénade (concert society) 100,
Satie, Erik 131n1, 263n1
and Auric Pl3, 5, 51, 150, 200 and Marcelle Meyer 54n1
and Cocteau Pl3, 5, 51 photograph with Poulenc and Picasso
on composers 22 Pl9
vs Debussy 51, 52, 53 Poulenc on 126, 130, 164, 280
Ecole d’Arcueil 128n20, 208n3 Poulenc’s letter re. Milhaud 200
furniture music 239 tribute to Satie 51
influence on Poulenc 97, 190 works
and Les Six 5, 17, 98, 200–201 Folle de Chaillot, La 175n4
letter to Poulenc (with Auric) 150 Voyante, La 252
meeting with Bartók 201 Sauvage, Cécile 92
Poulenc on 5, 21, 51–3, 87, 126, 253, Scarlatti, Domenico 44, 124, 150, 187, 216
273–4, 280 Schaeffer, Pierre 167n4, 282–3
Poulenc playing Satie 46 Bidule in C 283
on Poulenc ‘the little daddy’s boy’ 201, musique concrète 153n8
221 Schaeffner, André 13n11, 124, 139n3
Poulenc’s letter to 84n3 Schalk, Franz 74, 75n1
and Schönberg 52 Schmidt, Carl B. 12
studying counterpoint with Roussel Schmitt, Florent 5, 77, 119, 128n20, 191,
54n9 200, 279, 285
Index 311

Schnabel, Artur 209 Shakespeare, William 160n3


Schola Cantorum 23n3, 54n9, 183–4, Shaw, Robert 260, 287, 290
185n3 Si fatigué (song) 249
Schönberg, Arnold Sienkiewicz, Geneviève 1, 191
and Auric 164 Silvestre, Armand 212
influence on Poulenc 6 singing and singers 108
and Les Six 18, 282 see also song writing and poetry
meeting with Milhaud and Poulenc Sirène, Editions de la 106
127n8, 200 Six, Les, see Les Six
photograph with Poulenc Pl4 Société des instruments à vent 103n18
Poulenc on 7, 27, 35–6, 146, 151, Société nationale de musique 128n15, 197
160n4, 164, 280 song writing and poetry 46, 105–9,
and Satie 52 129–30, 131, 209–14, 269
works songs (popular) 123–4
Gurrelieder 214n3 Souza, John Philip, The Stars and Stripes
Moses und Aron 163 Forever 47
Pierrot lunaire 36, 88, 146, 164, Souzay, Gérard 143n7
197, 214n3, 274, 282 Stein, Elliott 61
Six little pieces 282 Stein, Erwin 37n2
Schöne, Lotte 67 Stokowski, Leopold 217
School of American Ballet 41n9 Straram, Walther (pseud. of Marrast) 222
Schubert, Franz Strauss, Johann, Die Fledermaus 67
Poulenc on 27, 28, 67, 96, 106, Strauss, Richard
115–16, 130, 150, 151 adored by Poulenc 275
and Poulenc’s mother 183, 187 Chamber Music of the Reich president
Satie’s Embryons desséchés quotation 4, 67n2
53 collaboration with Hoffmansthal 62
works comparison with Henze 7, 61
Schöne Müllerin, Die 116 influence on Honegger 280
Unfinished Symphony 116 Rostand’s writings on 11
Winterreise, Die 106, 116 works
Schumann, Elisabeth 75n1 Elektra (and other Strauss operas)
Schumann, Robert 105, 108, 115, 126, 183, 65–7
187, 192, 275 Frau ohne Schatten, Die 66
Dichterliebe 141, 210 Rosenkavalier, Der 66–7
Faschingschwank aus Wien 192 Salome 66
Schweitzer, Albert 43, 179 Stravinsky, Igor
Scotto, Vincent 6, 185 clothes and gloves anecdote 87–8
Screpel, Henri 137, 139n3 collaboration with Balanchine 41n9
Ségur, Comtesse de 185n1, 204 collaboration with Meyer 54n1
Selva, Blanche 84n3, 86n4, 184, 191 first meeting with Poulenc 98
sensuality 46, 48 influence on Poulenc’s music 5–6, 116,
Sérénade, La (concert society) 100, 129, 273
131n1, 259 influence on Poulenc’s musical career
serialism, see 12-tone music (Viennese 102n8, 106, 151, 231
school/serialism) on Poulenc’s La Colombe recitatives
Sert, Misia 102n9 126
Séverac, Déodat de 185n2, 191 Poulenc on
312 Francis Poulenc: Articles and Interviews

his liking for Stravinsky 96 Suarès, André 130


‘Long Live Stravinsky!’ 31–2 Sully-Prudhomme, René François Armand
Stravinsky and clairvoyants 267 212
Stravinsky and jazz 99 Surrealists 7, 155, 207, 224, 257n6
Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov Symbolists 92, 214n4, 236, 237n1
story 267 Szymanowski, Karol 117n3
Stravinsky and serialism 7, 88
Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky 187, Table Ronde, La (literary review) 3, 45–8
205 Tailleferre, Germaine Pl11, 17, 18, 98, 150,
Stravinsky and the musical Left 4 199
Stravinsky creating his own syntax Tan, Melvyn 180n1
27, 28 Tartarin de Tarascon (Alphonse Daudet)
Stravinsky overshadowing the 75n6
Viennese school 282 Tauber, Richard 75n1
Stravinsky the great innovator 280 Tchaikovsky, Pyotr 22, 187, 273
Stravinsky vs Schönberg 151 The Sleeping Beauty 197n1, 205,
Stravinsky’s early works 126 208n7
Stravinsky’s flow of harmonies 130 Tebaldi, Renata 171
Poulenc’s letter to 84n3 Teresa of Avila, Saint 57, 156, 165
works Théâtre des Champs-Elysées 31, 32n1,
Apollon 273 41n7, 165, 169n16, 173, 202n5,
Baiser de la fée, Le 125, 190n1, 230
273 see also Comédie des Champs-Elysées
Capriccio 25 Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier 97, 102n12,
Danses concertantes 31, 32 150, 198, 200, 248
Firebird, The 25, 125, 190 Théâtre illustré, Le (periodical) 183
Fireworks 126 Theatre of the Absurd 257n6
Four Norwegian Moods/Quatre Théâtre René Maubel 253
impressions norvégiennes 31, Thorez, Maurice 4, 147
32 Tintoretto 270
Histoire du soldat, L’/The Soldier’s Tippett, Michael 141, 143n7
Tale 78, 98, 124, 239 Titian 270
Mavra 4, 6, 21–2, 98, 124–5, 273 Tom Thumb 73
Nightingale, The 201 Toscanini, Arturo 44, 46, 70, 245 260
Noces, Les 25, 31, 98, 198, 267, Toulouse Lautrec, Henri de 107
273 Touraine 100–101, 103n15, 124, 129, 133,
Octuor 98 157, 181–2, 185, 217
Oedipus Rex 25, 153n8 see also Noizay (Touraine)
Perséphone 28 Touraine, Geneviève 110n14
Petrushka 190, 192 twelve-tone music, see 12-tone music
Pulcinella 98, 124–5, 273 (Viennese school/serialism)
Rake’s Progress, The 280, 288–9
Rite of Spring, The 4, 21, 22, 31, Université des Annales 95, 105
45, 78, 151, 190, 273, 282 Utrillo, Maurice 101n3, 204
Rossignol, Le 36, 273
Sonata for two pianos 51 Valcarenghi (Ricordi publishers) 56, 57
Symphony of Psalms 25–6 Valéry, Paul 3, 211
Symphony (op. 1) 126 Vallin, Ninon 108–9
Index 313

Valois, Ninette de 41, 143n11, 208n5 working the marionnettes 216


Van Gogh exhibition 48 Vlaminck, Maurice de 101n3
see also Gogh, Vincent van Vogue (magazine) 3, 107, 222
Varèse, Edgar 7, 185n2, 284n9 Volontés (review) 32n1
Vaurabourg, Andrée 202n4, 286 Vous n’aurez pas l’Alsace et la Lorraine
Vegh Quartet 139n3 (song) 207
Verdi, Giuseppe 22, 48, 55, 57, 171, 188, Vuillermoz, Emile 21
288
Verlaine, Paul 129, 150 Wagner, Mme 167
Victoire, La (periodical) 5 Wagner, Richard
Victoria, Tomás Luis de 235, 261 collaboration with Lilli Lehmann 75n4
Vidal, Paul 2, 150, 153n6 Milhaud’s views on 245, 275
Vie en Rose, La (song) 48 Poulenc on 27, 61, 69, 70, 96, 126,
Vienna Opera 70, 75n1, 75n3 245, 275
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra 69 Wallmann, Margarete 70, 71n7
Viennese composers Walter, Bruno 69, 70
Poulenc’s meeting with 35, 127n8, Walton, William 141
164, 200, 282 Warlich, Reinhold von 222
see also 12-tone music (Viennese Watteau, Antoine 39, 149, 204, 270
school/serialism) Weber, Carl Maria von 217, 289
Vierne, Louis 84n3 Freischütz, Der 69, 71n3, 127n12
Vieux-Colombier (theatre) 97, 102n12, Oberon 69–70
150, 198, 200, 248 Webern, Anton
Vignon, Madame 102n6 meeting with Poulenc and Milhaud
Villon, François 127n4 37n2, 200, 282
Vilmorin, Louise de 3, 55, 109, 221 Poulenc on 7, 146, 163–4, 274
Fiançailles pour rire (Poulenc and Poulenc on Ravel and Webern 88
Vilmorin) 108–9, 110n10 ‘white style’ 125
Métamorphoses (Poulenc and Widor, Charles-Marie 284n6
Vilmorin) 109 Wiéner, Jean 88n4, 127n1, 282
Trois poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin Wigmore Hall 141, 143n6
(Poulenc and Vilmorin) 131n1 Wilde, Oscar 124
Viñes, Ricardo Woodgate, Leslie 141, 230
introducing Poulenc to Satie 201
performances Yehudi Menuhin school 180n1
Mouvements perpétuels (Poulenc) see also Menuhin, Yehudi
98
Suite in C (Poulenc) 128n15 Zbinden, Julien-François 91n2
Poulenc on 51, 53, 96–7, 150, 191–2, Zervos, Christian 36
193, 197, 198 Zurbarán, Francisco 46, 270
and Ravel 194n2

Minat Terkait