Orpheus poem 1: Orphée Admirez le pouvoir insigne
Orpheus poem 2: Orphée Regardez cette troupe infecte
Orpheus poem 3: Orphée Que ton cœur soit l’appât et le ciel, la piscine!
Orpheus poem 4: Orphée La femelle de l’alcyon
The collection of quatrains making up Apollinaire's 'Bestiaire', illustrated by Dufy's woodcuts, had scarcely been published. Without consulting each other at all, ignorant of our respective projects, Francis Poulenc and I took hold of these texts and set them to music, mine begun a little bit earlier and finishing later, framing those of my friend. But whereas Francis set only 12 of the pieces (of which he retained only 6), I devoted my energy to the whole of these 26 little poems.
It was not as easy as it looked at first glance, because, though some of them called irresistibly for music, others, on the contrary, proved more daunting for me: I managed to get through these (La Chenille, Le Poulpe, Le Paon, La Colombe) helped by the strictest simplicity.
I think La Chèvre du Thibet and La Carpe can be paralleled with the same settings of Francis. I particularly like Le Chat for its intimate tenderness, Le Lièvre and Le Lapin, La Souris, La Sauterelle. I also believe that, in La Tortue, Le Cheval, Ibis, La Méduse, Les Sirènes, I have enlarged the frontiers of the poems and opened the imagination to more distant and immense horizons.
(Louis Durey, from his Catalogue Commenté, translation by Isabelle Battioni)
This version of Le Bestiaire is full of unusual and ingenious pianistic touches. The composer has a way of capturing the behaviour or movement of an animal with deft conjuring tricks between the accompanist’s hands. One thinks of the strut of Le Cheval, the slither of Le Serpent, the grace of Le Chat and the lolloping gait of Le Lapin where right-hand quavers seem to spring from the spread left-hand chords. There is an immensity about L’Éléphant; one can almost hear the earth thundering under his feet. La Mouche is worthy of Bartók’s Diary of a fly, and La Puce not only jumps, it bites. The friendly grace of the dolphin is perhaps better caught than in Poulenc’s jollier setting of Le Dauphin, and Le Poulpe throws its ink into the water with the simplest of pianistic means. A personal favourite is the way the accompaniment of La Colombe captures the repetitive coo of the dove. There is a similar felicity about the way the mournful call of the owl is evoked in the grave phrasing of the piano writing in Le Hibou.
There is also a version of this work (Op 17b, as late as 1958) for voice and twelve instruments (two flutes, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, string quintet and piano or celesta).
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002