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La courte paille, FP178

July to August 1960; composed for Denise Duval
author of text
Nos 1, 2, 4 & 6 from La cage aux grillons; Nos 3, 5 & 7 from Le voleur d'étincelles

This is the last of Poulenc’s song cycles; it was composed for the soprano Denise Duval (b1921) who, after the retirement of Bernac, had become the composer’s recital partner, his Blanche in the opera Dialogues des Carmélites, his Elle in La voix humaine, his beloved friend and confidante, and in many respects his muse. Duval, unlike Bernac, was not a lieder or mélodie singer pur sang (she was perhaps happier on the opera stage) and she gave recitals with Poulenc at the piano that included operatic extracts (he referred to her as ‘La Diva’). This cycle indicates a new direction, as if Poulenc was beginning to groom her more specifically for song, and that he was being careful not to compose anything too demandingly esoteric. It was dedicated to the singer and her six year-old son, Richard Schilling. The poems (halfway between Francis Jammes and Max Jacob, according to Poulenc in JdmM) are taken from two whimsical collections by the Belgian poet Maurice Carême (1899–1978): i, ii, iv and vi from La cage aux grillons and iii, v and vii from Le voleur d’étincelles.

Le sommeil is an exasperated text (a mother whose child will not go to sleep) set very gently to music. The late Poulenc song style is somewhat thinner than in the glorious ’30s and ’40s, fewer notes on the pages, less effulgent chords, but it is always elegant, and irreproachable in terms of prosody. Quelle aventure! and Ba, be, bi, bo, bu are both madcap, music-hall Poulenc, the reworking of an old, breathless style to charming effect. La reine de cœur is perhaps the jewel of the set, simple and unpretentious, heartfelt and with a pace and depth that only this composer could muster, a shadow of past splendours perhaps, but an authentic one. It is a song that Régine Crespin recorded magically. Les anges musiciens, with its reference to the half-day holiday on Thursdays in French schools, is notable for its mention of Mozart, and the way that Poulenc subtly suggests the melodic contours of the slow movement (Romanze) in B flat major of the D minor Piano Concerto K466. Le carafon is a charming little ballad featuring the magician Merlin, an old phonograph, a baby giraffe and finally a baby carafe. Poulenc handles this whimsy with delicate mastery. The final song in the set, Lune d’avril, is very much a work from 1960 with its mention of nuclear disarmament, a major theme of the time for parents of young children. The composer was father of a fourteen year-old daughter, although very few people knew about her at the time. Poulenc’s farewell to song trails into the distance with one of his longest, yet least eventful, postludes, its C major tonality and hypnotic pace finally melting into a voluptuous dominant seventh. The addition of that crucial and luxuriously decadent B flat in the final chord adds a haunting, questioning resonance. At that very moment Poulenc’s life’s work as a great song composer fades away with the indication pppp. ‘The taste for this musical form is coming to an end, so I am told’, he wrote in JdmM. ‘So much the worse. Long live Schubert, Schumann, Musorgsky, Chabrier, Debussy, etc, … etc …’

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013


Poulenc: The Complete Songs
CDA68021/44CDs for the price of 3
Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Vol. 1
Studio Master: SIGCD247Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The Soldier
Studio Master: SIGCD592Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


No 1: Le sommeil  Le sommeil est en voyage
Track 25 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [2'06] 4CDs for the price of 3
Track 31 on SIGCD247 [2'04] Download only
No 2: Quelle aventure!  Une puce, dans sa voiture
Track 26 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [1'02] 4CDs for the price of 3
Track 32 on SIGCD247 [1'04] Download only
No 3: La reine de cœur  Mollement accoudée
Track 27 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [1'38] 4CDs for the price of 3
Track 33 on SIGCD247 [1'44] Download only
No 4: Ba, be, bi, bo, bu
Track 28 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [0'30] 4CDs for the price of 3
Track 34 on SIGCD247 [0'28] Download only
No 5: Les anges musiciens  Sur les fils de la pluie
Track 29 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [1'22] 4CDs for the price of 3
Track 35 on SIGCD247 [1'30] Download only
No 6: Le carafon  Pourquoi, se plaignait la carafe
Track 30 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [1'05] 4CDs for the price of 3
Track 36 on SIGCD247 [1'06] Download only
No 7: Lune d'avril  Lune, belle lune, lune d'Avril
Track 31 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [2'34] 4CDs for the price of 3
Track 37 on SIGCD247 [2'39] Download only
Track 22 on SIGCD592 [2'30] Download only

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