In 1931 Poulenc composed no fewer than thirteen songs, among them settings of Apollinaire, the first since 1919. In the Quatre poèmes
, one commentator has found ‘the veiled nostalgia, the tongue-in-cheek irony, the semi-popular tone that mark the best of Poulenc’s settings of this poet’. One would agree with the first and last of these attributes, but over irony one has to be cautious, since Poulenc specifically directs that ‘L’anguille’ should be sung without irony, and with ‘belief ’. As so often, he also asks that the words and notes should be allowed to speak for themselves, without nudging emphases. ‘L’anguille’ is a valse-musette, one of Poulenc’s many brushes with vulgarity, redeemed by its elegant harmonic diversions. In composing ‘Carte-postale’, dedicated to Madame Cole Porter, Poulenc had in mind a painting by Bonnard of Misia Sert, the social mover and shaker and friend of Diaghilev. The intimate, self-contained quality of the song stems in part from the economy of its material, the curling lines obliquely echoing each other. In contrast, the last two songs are patter songs—in the case of ‘Avant le cinéma’ up until the last line, when the poet’s faux-pompous pronouncement has to be ‘bien chanté’; and in the case of ‘1904’, up until the line ‘Je soupai d’un peu de foie gras’, where the bizarre modulations are suddenly brought under control, and the singer is adjured to sing ‘simplement’ in preparation for the final line, ‘très lent, amoroso’.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011