I am religious by deepest instinct and by heredity. I feel myself incapable of ardent political conviction, but it seems quite natural to me to believe and practise religion. I am a Catholic. It is my greatest freedom. Nevertheless the gentle indifference of the maternal side of my family had, quite naturally, led to a long fit of forgetfulness of religion. From 1920 to 1935 I was admittedly very little concerned regarding the faith.
In 1936, a date of primal importance in my life and my career, taking advantage of a period of work with Yvonne Gouverné and Bernac at Uzerche, I asked the latter to drive me in his car to Rocamadour, of which I had often heard my father speak.
I had just learned, a day or two before, of the tragic death of my colleague Pierre-Octave Ferroud. The atrocious extinction of this musician so full of vigour had left me stupefied. Pondering on the fragility of our human frame, the life of the spirit attracted me anew.
Rocamadour led me back to the faith of my childhood. This sanctuary, certainly the most ancient in France, had everything to subjugate me. Clinging in full sunlight to a vertiginous craggy rock, Rocamadour is a place of extraordinary peace, accentuated by the very limited number of tourists.
With a courtyard in front, pink with oleanders in tubs, a very simple chapel, half hollowed into the rock, shelters a miraculous figure of the Virgin, carved, according to tradition, in black wood by Saint Amadour, the little Zacchaeus of the gospel who had to climb a tree to see the Christ.
The evening of the same visit to Rocamadour, I began my Litanies à la Vierge Noire, for women’s voices and organ. In this work I have tried to express the feeling of ‘peasant devotion’ which had so strongly impressed me in that lovely place. (from Francis Poulenc: Entretiens avec Claude Rostand, Julliard, Paris, 1954)
from notes by William McVicker © 1994