This is the last poem of Robert Desnos, the poet who ended his life tragically in the concentration camp of Terezín, and is said to have been written on a cigarette paper shortly before his death and smuggled to his wife Youki—to whom Poulenc dedicates the song. The pathos of this story, whether true or not, threatens to overbalance music which is utterly sincere, delicately melancholic rather than tragic, not perhaps equal to the story and the circumstances of the poet’s demise. The setting has the advantage, even if it is not the greatest Poulenc, of the restraint and dignity typical of Desnos. The gentle sequences of the composer’s late style, contemporary with the Sonata for flute and piano, are attractive and touching, but when a Swiss critic said that it was the best thing that the composer had ever done, Poulenc’s response was ‘poor him, poor me’. It is left to the pianist and the four-bar postlude to leave ‘a truly tragic impression’ (Bernac), a dark intimation of violence or catastrophe.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013