Éluard's own heading for this closing poem of Poésie et vérité 1942
was La main le cœur le lion l’oiseau
. The marking is Très allant and the accompaniment is in non-stop semiquavers, hectic on paper perhaps, but sharing with a number of the other masterpieces inspired by the same poet a kind of genial calm, an unfolding of music that is ardent at the same time as being above the fray—a gnomic pronouncement. Poulenc, in a letter to Bernac, admitted that the tempo was modelled on Fauré’s Le don silencieux
, one of that composer’s most inscrutably beautiful songs. Poulenc has carefully worked out a chain of harmonic progressions that mirrors the word-journey (‘main’ back to ‘main’) traced in the poem’s first seven lines. This is one of the most graceful and sinuous of the Éluard songs, nine bars in three flats, in the minor key, the remainder basking in the sunlight of naturals. The closing section (to the words ‘Les yeux purs la tête inerte’) is swathed in graceful arpeggio arabesques, the piano imitating the melody of the vocal line after a gap of two bars; this leads to one of the most satisfying codas of any of the Poulenc songs where gentle cascades of pianism lead to an immensely satisfying, and sumptuously extended, C major cadence.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013