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Once considered as little more than the froth in the wake of the First World War, a witty boy-hedonist who, in the giddy Twenties, tweaked the noses of moribund establishmentarians, Poulenc has in fact proved unexpectedly durable - more so than any of his colleagues among Les Six, including those who developed more grandiose ambitions. Here is a survey of Poulenc's music, based on careful selection of his works, and written by an authoritative guide. Having placed Poulenc in the context of French life and society after the First World War and considered him in relation to his masters and mentors, especially Satie and Chabrier, Mellers turns to Poulenc's Diaghilev ballet, Les Biches, to important sequels to it, such as Concert champetre and Aubade, and to works of transition, such as the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The next section discusses the `social' music of Poulenc's middle years - especially the music for piano (for Poulenc a domestic instrument), writtenduring the Thirties, and the centrality of song in his work; some account is offered of his relationship with his main poets, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Eluard, and Louise de Vilmorin. Mellers mext considers the impact on Poulenc of the Second World War, especially as manifest in the great choral work Quatre Motets de Penitence and the Organ Concerto. Separate chapters deal with the three main operatic pieces and Poulenc's relationship to Bernanos and Jean Cocteau; with the late devotional works, especially the Stabat Mater, the Gloriam and the Sept Repons des Tenebres; and with the chamber works of the last few years. The chapters are illustrated througout with music examples. Adopting a broadly chronological approach, Mellers traces Poulenc's development as a composer from enfant terrible to a mature composer both for secular Society and for the liturgy of the Catholic Church; in so doing he points to the reasons for the durability and pertinacity of his appeal. Mellers further assesses Poulenc's place in the French tradition, and, in a Postlude, pays tribute to the warm regard with which Poulenc was held by so many of his fellow musicians.
This collection of essays provides vivid new insights into Poulenc's world, his particular rapport with painters, writers and fellow musicians, and with the social élite who promoted his music through their salons. Contributions from international Poulenc scholars include the influence of various artists on his music, the nature of his affinity for Eluard's poetry, his response to texts by Cocteau and Bernanos, and his constant search for suitable libretti. New light is thrown on two friendships, the first with his childhood friend Raymonde Linossier who introduced him to the world of books, the second to his teacher Charles Koechlin who greatly influenced his choral style. A detailed study is also provided of Poulenc's four choral works with orchestra. Finally, the reader is allowed a rare view of Poulenc at the microphone, not as interviewee but as radio presenter, in his 1947-1949 series of programmes 'A bâtons rompus'.
In 1935 the French baritone Pierre Bernac formed a duo with the composer Francis Poulenc that became a legend throughout the world. Unprecedented in the history of music, it was the first duo in which the singer and pianist were perceived as equals. It lasted for 25 years and was a determining influence on Poulenc's vocal output: more than two thirds of his songs were written especially for Bernac to sing. Bernac's general book on the French repertoire, The Interpretation of French Song, has long been the standard and indispensable work on its subject. In Francis Poulenc - The Man and his Songs, first published in 1977, he gives us the fruit of his long association with Poulenc, paying moving tribute to the composer both as a man and a musician, and providing detailed analyses of every piano-accompanied song that Poulenc wrote. Each of the 137 poems is annotated for pronunciation, with a line-for-line translation into English by Winifred Radford, who also translated the text of the book. The discussion of each song is preceded by a brief biographical note on the poet and a description of Poulenc's own attitude towards both poet and poem. Bernac aimed in this book to pass on his personal understanding of the songs of Francis Poulenc as well as a little of their mutual experience in interpreting and performing them. He has thereby left a unique record whose importance cannot be overestimated.
’He plays the piano well,’ wrote the society hostess Mme de Saint-Marceaux in her diary on 18 March 1927. ’His compositions are not devoid of talent but he’s not a genius, and I’m afraid he thinks he is.’ Intelligent though the lady was, she got this one spectacularly wrong. Poulenc has in fact outpaced his colleagues in Les Six by many a mile, as singers and instrumentalists all over the world will attest, and while he would never have accepted the title of ’genius’, preferring ’artisan’, a genius is increasingly what he appears to have been. Part of the answer lay in always being his own man, and this independence of spirit shows through in his writings and interviews just as brightly as in his music, whether it’s boasting that he’d be happy never to hear The Mastersingers ever again, pointing out that what critics condemn as the ’formlessness’ of French music is one of its delights, voicing his outrage at attempts to ’finish’ the Unfinished Symphony, writing ’in praise of banality’ - or remembering the affair of Debussy’s hat. And in every case, his intelligence, humour and generosity of spirit help explain why he was so widely and deeply loved. This volume comprises selected articles from Francis Poulenc: J’écris ce qui me chante (Fayard, 2011) edited by Nicholas Southon. Many of these articles and interviews have not been available in English before and Roger Nichols's translation, capturing the very essence of Poulenc’s lively writing style, makes more widely accessible this significant contribution to Poulenc scholarship.
Lavishly illustrated, the volume includes a complete discography, and an exhaustive summary of Poulenc's concert tours, as well as a list of portraits and drawings."--Jacket.

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