The title Banalités
, given by Poulenc to his 1940 cycle of five Apollinaire poems, was taken from a collection of that name Apollinaire published in 1914, containing ‘Hôtel’ and ‘Voyage à Paris’. The composer found the remaining three poems in other collections. The resulting cycle therefore has a sense of movement about it, of twice gaining and finally leaving the comfort of the capital. In ‘Chanson d’Orkenise’, Poulenc had in mind the city of Autun, as he would in the Chansons villageoises
written two years later. But this is not the city beautiful: the ‘vanupieds’ is cousin to the ‘mendiant’ of the later cycle, and the gates of the city close against him. After the smoky indolence of ‘Hôtel’ (surely Poulenc’s laziest song), we are fighting implacable winds on the desolate bogs of southern Belgium, even if the piano epilogue does give some comfort. Then ‘Voyage à Paris’, an even more boisterous version of ‘L’anguille’—Bernac and Poulenc liked to perform this song at the end of their exhausting concert tours, with home in sight. But finally … ‘Sanglots’. In later years Poulenc came to criticise some of the modulations as being ‘unexpected, and obviously so’. Do composers always know the value of their own music? Apollinaire’s language is, for once, enigmatic . But in some strange way Poulenc’s notes clarify it, if not always in detail, at least in its general thrust—melancholy, nostalgic, yet resigned, the regularly pulsing quavers assuring us that ‘my broken heart’ is indeed no different from ‘the heart of all men’. Then, on the phrase ‘la fin des temps’, Poulenc places a major chord. Writing in Paris in November 1940, was he saying that there would, eventually, be freedom, even if only in another world?
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011