Les chemins de l'amour
, perhaps the Poulenc song most often heard in concert halls these days, has a lyric by Jean Anouilh (1910–1987) of a kind that the composer could have set again and again if he had wished—something instantaneously understandable and banal, all-purpose emotion for a soprano singing a song on stage. When writing incidental music for Jean Anouilh’s play Léocadia
, he wrote to Nora Auric (1 January 1941) that the composition of this work lifted his spirits from the ‘menace of the occupation which weighs on my house—what a sad epoch is ours, and when and how will it all finish up’. The song thus fits a sub-theme of this disc which is ‘France at war’. There could be no greater contrast than between Éluard and Anouilh, the first an idealist, politicized poet, the other a bourgeois playwright, a superb man of the theatre interested in winning audiences, unpolitical, although his famous Antigone can be read as a criticism of Marshal Pétain and Vichy France. Léocadia
(its English title was Time Remembered
) was one of Anouilh’s lighter plays written as a vehicle for the divinely talented singing actress Yvonne Printemps and her second husband, the classical actor Pierre Fresnay—this is no doubt what interested Poulenc (star-struck when it came to the likes of Printemps) about contributing to Léocadia
. He provided about twenty minutes of music, most of it orchestral overtures to five different ‘tableaux’, but in Les chemins de l’amour
he was effortlessly able to write a perfect pastiche of the kind of music, in this case a valse chantée, which had captivated him since his youth in shows and reviews by composers like Messager, Hahn, Christiné, Yvain. It is a genre piece with a memorable tune composed affectionately and with taste, but it is a pity that it is chosen by many young singers as an easy option—Poulenc-lite, in lieu of their taking the trouble to learn some of the genuine mélodies. Those sopranos who have not been schooled in mainstream Poulenc invariably turn a delicious French waltz into a Viennese, with a soggy tempo and style as cloying as whipped-cream. Printemps recorded this song in an orchestration since lost; a delicious feature of that recording was the molto più mosso of the postlude, all in the fashion of the time. Though not written in the piano score, the speed of that evanesecent ending is adopted here.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013