About Le bal masqué
, Poulenc never had qualms. ‘To a lady from Kamchatka,’ he said, ‘writing to ask what I’m made of, I would send her my portrait at the piano by Cocteau, my portrait by Christian Bérard, Le bal masqué
and the Motets pour un temps de pénitence
. I think from those she’d get a very precise idea of Poulenc-Janus.’ Of all his works, Le bal masqué
is perhaps the least susceptible to analysis, or even description. The action is all on a surrealist level, divorced from anything resembling causality or common sense, even the made-up popular tunes coming and going without rhyme or reason. The brilliant, often garish instrumental colours ‘underline the bombastic, the ridiculous, the pitiable, the terrifying. It’s the atmosphere of the colour plates in the Petit parisien of my childhood. "Oh Gawd!" my grandmother’s cook would exclaim, "’ere’s annuver bloke wot’s done in ’is sister-in-law."' And at the end of the piece ‘the audience should be stupefied and exhilarated as though they’d just got off a merry-go-round.’ As the critic said of Poulenc’s Max Jacob songs a decade earlier, Le bal masqué
is flooded with ‘music, colour, and life’.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011