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Track(s) taken from CDA68021/4

Bleuet, FP102

First line:
Jeune homme de vingt ans
October 1939
author of text
1917; 'Bleuet' means, literally, 'cornflower' but was a slang term for French soldiers in the First World War

Robin Tritschler (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: January 2012
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: October 2013
Total duration: 3 minutes 10 seconds

Other recordings available for download

Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Robert Murray (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano)


'Johnson's playing is marvellous, virtuosic where needed, but above all attuned to every nuance of his singers. This really is a multifaceted release: the blending of the art forms that was characteristic of Poulenc's time, where poets were absorbed by painters, and composers by poets, alongside the 15 singers gathered on these discs, together with the chameleon-like nature of Poulenc's own genius, all make for an enterprise of dazzling complexity. The recording quality is exemplary, combining clarity with a perfect bloom on the piano sound' (International Record Review)

'There are some outstanding performances: Christopher Maltman's account of Miroirs brûlants and La fraîcheur et le feu (both based on Eluard), and the Calligrammes (on Apollinaire's texts) are worth the price on their own, while Sarah Fox is just as persuasive in Les chemins de l'amour as she is in Tel jour telle nuit. There are telling contributions, too, from Ailish Tynan, Susan Bickley and Ben Johnson, and a brief appearance in the Quatre chansons pour enfants by the English grande dame of French song Felicity Lott. Touchingly, one work also features the voice of baritone Pierre Bernac, Poulenc's recital partner, for whom many of the songs were composed; he's the narrator in a 1977 recording of L'histoire de Babar and the whole set is dedicated to his memory. It's a gorgeous collection, and for sometime Poulenc sceptics like me, a real revelation' (The Guardian)» More

'Especially enjoyable is the final disc, subtitled Fancy. Soprano Susan Bickley is superb in Poulenc’s early Poèmes de Ronsard—sparky settings of Renaissance poetry, and Ashley Riches has fun with the better-known Chansons gaillardes. The Huit chansons polonaises, sung by Agnieszka Adamczak, pay oblique homage to Poulenc’s beloved Chopin. There’s not a weak link among the vocal cast, and there’s even a cameo from the great Felicity Lott. A wonderful bonus is the inclusion of a 1970s BBC taping of Babar, narrated with impeccable grace and wit by Poulenc’s long-time recital partner Pierre Bernac. Johnson’s accessible, comprehensive notes deserve to be published in book form, and Hyperion generously provide full texts and translations. These songs will comfort the most jaded of palates, and this box set contains enough riches to sustain a lifetime’s listening. In Johnson’s words, Poulenc’s music 'has seemed dark and joyous, accessible and remote, imperishable yet infinitely fragile, and now it is in the hands of a younger generation'.' (TheArtsDesk.com)
In Il y a the poem is printed as something of a calligramme—reminiscent of Aussi bien que les cigales in the Poulenc cycle of 1948. The verse beginning ‘Tu as vu la mort’ is printed diagonally across the page and the rest of the poem is ranged on either side, like opposing sides facing each other in battle. Apollinaire was witness to the war of attrition which sent young men over the top at a certain time of day, in this case five o’clock in the afternoon, to face almost certain death as they struggled to storm the enemy position and take a few yards of muddy terrain. When composing this song Poulenc heard that André Bonnélie, a young soldier from Amboise (whom the composer had known since André was a child) had been killed in action; after he had finished the song Poulenc discovered this was not the case, but he dedicated the song to Bonnélie nevertheless.

As a gay man Poulenc had two ‘types’: masculine and stocky (like his long-time companion Raymond Destouches, a professional chauffeur), and the other, younger and more dependent, like Lucien Roubert with whom the composer was in love during the composition of Dialogues des Carmélites and who died as Poulenc kept vigil by his bedside while completing the moving final scene of this opera. The unknown soldier of this song clearly falls into this second category, a hero who might also have been one of the composer’s fallen angels. Like some of the greatest war poems of Wilfred Owen, Bleuet is a subtly homoerotic work—it achieves its lyricism via the composer’s tender engagement, only at a distance of course, with the young solider—‘bleuet’ being a diminutive of ‘bleu’, the nickname of an enlisted man due to the blue-grey colour of his uniform. Poulenc wrote a number of Éluard settings that pay tribute to the strength and poetry of heterosexual relationships; it would have been extraordinary if his output had not included at least one song addressed to a ‘Jeune homme’—and this is the only one. Of course it is possible for a heterosexual man to write tenderly of the pity of war and the senseless loss of young men (Apollinaire’s poem is proof enough of this) but Poulenc’s music, uniquely conceived for tenor (all the others for male voice are written for high baritone) employs an ethereal, youthful tessitura which seems to come from another world where the lover’s caress and the comrade’s salute are interchangeable. In this miniature war-requiem there are moments of determination and manliness (although the composer never forgets the soldier is seventeen and not thirty), but it is the sweetness, the humble readiness to die, the yielding to fate, all conveyed in the music, that break the heart. The final section, a kind of hushed starlit epilogue, is one of the miracles of French song. Poulenc writes movingly of ‘the mysterious moment when leaving the mortal remains in the vestiary the soul flies away after a long, last look at the “douceur d’autrefois”’. It is of course Poulenc himself who glances back at this young man, a hero of ‘la patrie’, a martyr for his loved ones, and the ghost of all the young men the composer has loved and lost—some, like this, in an imagined time and place, and others in real life.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

Chez Poulenc comme chez Apollinaire, la verve peut tojours le céder brusquement à la plus profonde émotion. Bleuet, le titre de la mélodie suivante, est un tendre diminutif de «bleu», terme argotique désignant un jeune soldat. Ce soldat va mourir; à cinq heures, il faut quitter les tranchées pour affronter le feu ennemi. Mais il n’y a ni héroïsme ni patriotisme exacerbés dans cette mélodie. Et Poulenc d’écrire: «L’humilité, qu’il s’agisse de la prière ou du sacrifice d’une vie, c’est ce qui me touche le plus … l’âme s’envole après un long regard jeté sur ‘la douceur d’autrefois’.» C’est l’unique mélodie de Poulenc pour ténor et elle requiert plus la voix d’un Cuenod que d’un Gigli; pour dire le jeune homme de vingt ans, le malheureux gâchis de sa vie et ce dernier long regard, la voix du narrateur doit avoir un timbre particulier, éthéré. Apollinaire rédigea ce poème en 1917, un an environ avant de mourir des suites de ses blessures de guerre.

extrait des notes rédigées par Graham Johnson © 1985
Français: Hypérion

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French Connections
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Poulenc: Voyage à Paris
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