The poems for this cycle were taken from Paul Éluard’s Le livre ouvert I
(1940). Very unusually for Poulenc he decided to set a complete Éluard poem exactly as printed, in seven numbered sections (its original title was Vue donne Vie
, ‘Sight gives life’), only later asking the poet for an alternative title. (It is strange that Poulenc adored Éluard’s poems—he would never have changed their poetic content—but he very seldom found the original titles suitable for his musical purposes.) Poulenc wrote the songs in Noizay and Brive between April and July 1950—a full decade after the poems were written in the first year of the Nazi occupation. Thirteen years had elapsed since the composition of Tel jour telle nuit
. The cycle is dedicated to Igor Stravinsky, whose music Poulenc had admired since his teens and who was now resident in America. Poulenc once said that he regarded himself as the spiritual son of Stravinsky, but he wrote to Milhaud that he was pleased to be able to dedicate something to ‘père Igor’ in a form for which Stravinsky did not possess the secret (i.e. the writing of songs).
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013