Poulenc makes his song-composing debut under Jean Cocteau’s wing—the chanson was more or less commissioned (without fee of course!) for a Cocteau-inspired ‘Séance’ a the Vieux-Colombier Music-Hall, crossover 1918-style, where it was almost certainly sung with instrumental accompaniment by its dedicatee, the singing actor Pierre Bertin (1891–1984), the husband of the famous pianist Marcelle Meyer. It so happens that he was the exact namesake of another Pierre Bertin (1899–1979) who was later forced to change his stage name (being the younger member of the actors’ union) to Pierre Bernac. Poulenc used to sing this silly song himself, to the delight of his friends, and was eventually persuaded to publish it, doing so only in 1932. It is a strictly strophic creation, in the manner of a popular hit, the refrain sung slower the third time around. The words are sheer whimsy: the story concerns Pépita, so-called queen of Venice for whom the toreador conceives an unrequited passion. In the manner of a Peter Blake montage the bullring is transported to Venice’s Piazza San Marco, gondoliers become Spanish galleons and the oldest doge in the city enjoys Pépita’s favours, all sheer insouciant nonsense, quasi-surrealist.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013