Hyperion Records

Hymne, FP144
First line:
Sombre nuit, aveugles ténèbres
2-8 November 1948; dedicated to Doda Conrad
author of text
translated from the Breviary

'Poulenc: The Complete Songs' (CDA68021/4)
Poulenc: The Complete Songs
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'Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Vol. 2' (SIGCD263)
Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Vol. 2
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Hymne, FP144
The bass Doda Conrad (1905–1997) was the son of Marya Freund (1876–1966), the Polish soprano resident in France who had played an important part in early Poulenc performances, and he was the dedicatee of three of Poulenc’s songs. Conrad was a member of Nadia Boulanger’s ensemble (performing and recording Monteverdi, Rameau and Brahms) and an aspiring recitalist. He was able to approach Poulenc as an old family friend and ask him to compose a piece to be premiered in a New York recital in December 1948 (he had already premiered the Vilmorin Mazurka in November, also in New York).

The marking of this curious but eloquent song is Largo. It is an incantation, as might be sung by a French Sarastro. The vocal line is notated in the bass clef, and for the first ten bars the pianist’s hands also remain there, effecting an initially dark and murky texture. The high priest begins by invoking Olympus in classical manner but redeems himself with an address to Christ, ‘notre unique lumière’. The composer manages the alexandrines (which he admitted to finding difficult to handle) by alternating freely between 3/4 and 4/4. The harmonization of this imposing hymn underlines the majesty one associates with le grand siècle and its ceremonial musical flourishes. Throughout this song there is a dotted-rhythm motif that evokes the sound of muffled drum (both hands darting down to the bass clef).

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

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