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Each of the songs introduces a type of mélodie that would later come to be considered generically typical of the composer; perhaps this is why Poulenc wrote in JdmM in connection with this work that with Apollinaire he had at last found his ‘true melodic style’. Le présent has an accompaniment that doubles the voice and hurtles through the staves like a miniature storm, the hands an octave apart throughout—inspired, surely, by the ‘wind across the graves’ of the last movement (also a Presto) of Chopin’s B flat minor Piano Sonata. This is one of Poulenc’s innumerable moments as a musical magpie. Chanson is also a moto perpetuo, more populist than the first song. This is a vintage piece of so-called ‘leg Poulenc’ with its echoes of the music-hall and the madcap gaiety of the 1920s. Poulenc wrote that he considered it a counting song in the manner of ‘Am–stram–gram–pic et pic et colégram’. Hier is eloquent and touching, prophesying the long sinuous vocal lines, accompanied by flowing quaver chords, for which this composer was to become justly famous. It is the first of his songs where Poulenc permits the shadow of a slow and nostalgic popular style to influence the mood of a deeply serious song. He manages to do this without cheapening his music; rather is it enriched with a nostalgia for ‘yesterday’ that seems especially French, in fact uniquely Parisian, especially for the British or American listener. While he composed the music Poulenc admitted to thinking of the operetta and musical star Yvonne Printemps, and of an interior painted by Vuillard. ‘If you think carefully of the words you are saying’, he advised in JdmM, ‘the colour will come of itself.’ The set as a whole is dedicated to the Comtesse Jean de Polignac, daughter of the great couturier Jeanne Lanvin, and better known as Marie-Blanche de Polignac, a fine soprano in her own right. Perhaps that is what made Poulenc think of Vuillard, who painted both Lanvin and her beautiful daughter.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013
extrait des notes rédigées par Graham Johnson © 1985
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