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Épitaphe, FP55

First line:
Belle âme qui fus mon flambeau
July 1930
author of text

François de Malherbe (1555–1628), born in Caen in Normandy, belonged to the generation of French poets after Ronsard. He was the official court poet of both Henri IV and Louis XIII, remaining also in favour with Cardinal Richelieu. Poulenc’s Épitaphe thus explores the deeply serious side of the epoch of the Chansons gaillardes and Dumas’ Three Musketeers. Malherbe was famous for this literary severity and set himself against the frivolity and freedom of the poets of the Pléiade. He was something of a killjoy in fact—although the noble austerity and economy of the lines that Poulenc chose were ideal for the purpose of honouring the memory of his beloved Raymonde Linossier.

Poulenc never wrote a more austere song than this, and none that looked more like Stravinsky on the printed page; from the eighth bar the accompaniment is laid out in an unnecessarily complex arrangement in three staves with a pile-up of bass-clef chords that adds to a feeling of doleful lugubriousness. The vocal line is also untypical with a succession of difficult intervals; it is as if singer and pianist have been invited to take part in a ritual of grave importance, but first have to decipher the secret of the message to be relayed. Fortunately the poem is a very fine one, short and succinct, and there is no doubt of the depth of Poulenc’s feeling. The result is a profound song in every sense; true to its title this is an epitaph short enough to be engraved on a headstone with every word chiselled in musical marble. In JdmM Poulenc compares the song to a piece of the architecture of Louis XIII and directs that it should be sung 'without bombast'.

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


Track 15 on CDA68021/4 CD4 [1'34] 4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 16 on SIGCD247 [1'13] Download only

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