is work inspired by war. This was Poulenc’s last Apollinaire cycle, written in 1948, although the composer had known these poems since they had first appeared in 1918—he bought his copy of the sumptuous large-format first edition (published by Mercure de France, with a drawing by Picasso of the poet, a war-hero with a bandaged head) in Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop. How extraordinary and exciting these ‘calligrammes’ (drawn poems, poems-in-pictures, bold experiments in typography) must have seemed in 1918! The poet had written (and designed) this collection between 1913 and 1916; they recount one man’s reactions, a poet in his mid-thirties and in love (when was Apollinaire not in love?) as he survived from day to day through emotional vicissitudes and a cruel and senseless war. The collection’s subtitle (‘Poèmes de la Paix et de la Guerre’) emphasizes that before, and even during, Apollinaire’s time at the front he experienced—and remembered—times of repose and delight. These poems germinated in Poulenc’s brain for thirty years during which time he burnished his skills with regard to composing Apollinairian music, eventually ready to tackle, as he put it, ‘the culmination of a whole range of experiments in setting Apollinaire’. The composition of Calligrammes
was also a massive exercise in nostalgia for the composer as he returned to a time in his youth, the spring of 1918, when he bought a copy of these poems in Paris as he himself prepared to leave for the front. Nineteen years younger than Apollinaire, Poulenc could at least claim to have participated, even if only at the margins, in the same war as his beloved poet.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013