This cycle was written in the south of France in March 1935. The first was written in Hyères, the home of the Noailles; the song is accordingly dedicated to the composer’s hostess, Marie-Laure Vicomtesse de Noailles; the second to the artist Valentine Hugo; the fourth to Bernac; and the last (composed in Cannes) to Nora Auric, wife of the composer Georges Auric who had always advised Poulenc to set Éluard’s poetry. They were given their first performance in Paris in the following month, the debut of the composer’s new duo with Bernac. Poulenc wrote: ‘Feeling my way in this work. Trying to give the piano the maximum with the minimum of means.’ In JdmM Poulenc compares this process to a series of drafts for an illustration by Matisse (an illustration for a Mallarmé poem) where the artist had slowly pared down the number of lines in the drawing of a swan to a single stroke of the pen. The source of the poems is À toute épreuve
, which is more pamphlet than book, printed on a single sheet of paper (in different versions, pink or light green) that has been folded in half, and then in half again, and then yet again, to make sixteen small pages that are only readable when they are folded out again into a single sheet—a truly Surrealist production. Two sides were reserved for the front title and back-page list of works, and twenty-nine poems were printed on the remaining fourteen ‘pages’. Poulenc selected five of these poems. The text for his very last Éluard song, Une chanson de porcelaine
, is also from this collection.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013