At the same time as Tel jour telle nuit
was being written, Poulenc discovered a writer whose words allowed and encouraged musical settings of charm—with (in his words) ‘a kind of sensitive audacity, of wantonness, of avidity which extended into song that which I had expressed, when very young, in Les Biches
with Marie Laurencin’. Not surprisingly for a composer who loved to write for the female voice, this discovery was of a woman poet, Louise de Vilmorin (1902–1969). The poetess’s family was celebrated for the plants, seeds and flowers produced on their estate of Verrières-le-Buisson. Poulenc wrote: ‘Few people move me as much as Louise de Vilmorin: because she is beautiful, because she is lame, because she writes innately immaculate French, because her name evokes flowers and vegetables, because she loves her brothers like a lover and her lovers like a sister. Her beautiful face recalls the seventeenth century, as does the sound of her name.’
The three short songs that make up Vilmorin’s Métamorphoses are quintessential Poulenc, and indeed make up a sampler and mini-compendium of his three basic song styles: fast and capriciously lyrical (Reine des mouettes), slow (never very slow) and touchingly lyrical (C’est ainsi que tu es) and fast in the café-concert tradition, where moto perpetuo virtuosity is the thing (Paganini). That these enchanting feather-light songs stand chronologically close to Tel jour telle nuit shows the discerning versatility of Poulenc’s song-writing in the late 1930s.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1985