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Chansons gaillardes, FP42

author of text

Pierre Bernac (who must have taught these songs a thousand times, so popular are they with baritones) made a point of turning his back on the audience and engaging the student-singer in a mock-discreet man-to-man chat, purportedly to reveal the already obvious double entendres of the texts. In this way he conveyed to the public that, yes, the songs were really as rude as suggested by the printed translations, and he was spared any further public explication. The early association between the composer and this singer came to grief as a result of the disinclination of Bernac—a young man much more bourgeois in upbringing than the composer, and initially more innately religious—to extol the virtues of masturbation, both female and male (songs vi and viii), on the concert platform (the composer was later to depict the former with much greater subtlety in the Vilmorin setting Au-delà; nearly a decade was to elapse before Poulenc and Bernac re-established professional contact. By this time Bernac was more relaxed and Poulenc was far less of a tearaway.

Why the Ronsard cycle should be so seldom performed, and this collection of scabrous seventeenth-century poems should have remained ceaselessly popular is scarcely a mystery. The poetry is far less good than Ronsard, but this is precisely what appeals to Poulenc—and the result is a much more characteristic piece of music. The texts have a chic literary pedigree of course—they appear in the third and supplementary fourth volume (‘Choix de chansons joyeuses’) of Chevalier Monet’s Anthologie françoise [sic], 1765 (the first volume of which is the source for Mozart’s two songs in French, Oiseaux, si tous les ans and Dans un bois solitaire). The tradition of Chansons gaillardes of this outrageous kind is a time-honoured one in French literature. Singing them on the recital platform is another matter. What seemed deliciously ‘osé’ when I first performed these songs in 1975 is now far less hilarious; ‘épater la bourgeoisie’ was much more fun for Poulenc in 1926 than if he had lived, as we do, in an age of pornographic surfeit. The songs are good despite, rather than on account of, their obscenities. The composer counsels against the smuttiness of ‘knowing winks’ in performance, but those songs in implacable tempi are impossible to distort in such a manner, and it would take an exceptionally bold and vulgar singer to act out the slow ones. What makes this cycle effective in performance is the rhythmic drive of the music, the virtuosic pianism and the welcome fact that the web of motifs of the Ronsard has been replaced by a stream of vocal melody. Poulenc is now writing his own folksongs, as Ravel remarked. The poems, incidentally, are all parodies of contemporary seventeenth-century airs where well-known words were ousted by these suggestive replacements. Although Poulenc pays no attention to the original tunes given in the anthology, his musical means throughout are simple and direct while remaining challenging, especially so far as the accompaniments are concerned.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013


Poulenc: The Complete Songs
CDA68021/44CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Vol. 1
Studio Master: SIGCD247Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


No 1: La maîtresse volage  Ma maîtresse est volage
Track 6 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [0'41] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 7 on SIGCD247 [0'40] Download only
No 2: Chanson à boire  Les rois d’Égypte et de Syrie
Track 7 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [2'15] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 8 on SIGCD247 [2'29] Download only
No 3: Madrigal  Vous êtes belle comme un ange
Track 8 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [0'35] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 9 on SIGCD247 [0'37] Download only
No 4: Invocation aux Parques  Je jure, tant que je vivrai
Track 9 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [1'26] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 10 on SIGCD247 [1'46] Download only
No 5: Couplets bachiques  Je suis tant que dure le jour
Track 10 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [1'26] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 11 on SIGCD247 [1'31] Download only
No 6: L'offrande  Au dieu d’Amour une pucelle
Track 11 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [0'56] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 12 on SIGCD247 [1'04] Download only
No 7: La belle jeunesse  Il faut s’aimer toujours
Track 12 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [1'46] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 13 on SIGCD247 [1'40] Download only
No 8: Sérénade  Avec une si belle main
Track 13 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [2'15] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 14 on SIGCD247 [2'45] Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDA68021/4 disc 4 track 13

Recording date
5 January 2012
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Poulenc: The Complete Songs (CDA68021/4)
    Disc 4 Track 13
    Release date: October 2013
    4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
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