Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc

Poulenc was born in Paris. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play, and music formed a part of family life. As a young man, in 1918 he was fulfilling his National Military Service but still managed to compose three miniatures. Poulenc had his first major successes as an 18-year-old composer without a single composition lesson. Despite some study, he remained largely self-taught. In fact, his music is so individual, it's remained largely self-taught. In fact, his music is so individual, it's difficult to imagine what anyone could have taught him. The music is eminently tuneful--his major strength. I regard him as a melodist fit to keep company with Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Mozart. As a French songwriter, he is the great successor to Fauré.

Poulenc behaved like a sophisticated eccentric (he once chatted up a stupefied Cannes bartender about an ingenious harmonic progression he managed to pull off that morning), and the eccentricity not surprisingly showed up in his music. Many have called attention to his split artistic personality, "part monk, part guttersnipe," but really he has many more sides. Like most French composers of his generation, he fell under the influences of Stravinsky and Satie. Yet he doesn't imitate either. You can identify a Poulenc composition immediately with its bright colors, strong, clear rhythms, and gorgeous and novel diatonic harmonies. He is warmer and less intellectual than Stravinsky, more passionate and musically more refined than Satie.

In the Twenties, Poulenc was part of Les Six, an informal confederation of French composers who wanted to divorce both Impressionism and Germanicism from French music and create an amalgam from Igor Stravinsky, Eric Satie, and popular forms (Poulenc loved French vaudeville, especially Maurice Chevalier; Darius Milhaud, another member, liked American jazz and Brazilian dances). Artistically, they allied themselves with Cubism. In literature, they found themselves with the French surrealists Cocteau, Eluard, and Apollinaire. Poulenc's works around this time include the brilliant Rapsodie negre, in which a baritone chants the "Madagascan" word "Ho-no-lu-lu" over and over, the surrealist opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias, a classic ballet for Diaghilev, Les Biches, about flirtatious girls, and the Concert champêtre for harpsichord. In the last two works, the neoclassic influence stands out clearly, but it's Poulenc's own brand of classicism, recalling eighteenth-century France rather than Mozart's realm.

In the Thirties, after the death of a friend, Poulenc's Catholic faith re-awoke. He became one of the great religious (and choral) composers of the century. This period includes among its masterpieces the organ concerto (arguably the finest for the instrument), Litanies à la Vierge Noire, Mass in G, and Quatre Motets pour le temps de Pénitence. The works have power, despite their generally short length. In this, they evoke the massiveness of a Mantegna miniature.

Some composers, like Beethoven, aim at a Titanic profundity. They rage and storm and consider the universe. Others, like Delius and Ravel, dream of worlds more beautiful than this one. Poulenc, like Haydn and Schubert, is one of the few great composers not only content with, but modestly amazed at being human. The music doesn't strive for the extraordinary, not even the religious music. What's in us is extraordinary enough. There's a sincere simplicity of effect.

Choral Discography

Polyphony: Poulenc - Gloria and Motets

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Laudamus te
Domine Deus
Domini Fili unigenite
Domini Deus, angus Dei
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris
Salve Regina
Timor et tremor
Vinea mea electa
Tenebrae factae sunt
Tristis est anima mea
O magnum mysterium
Quem vidistis pastores dicite
Videntes stellam Poulenc
Hodie Christus natus est
Exultate Deo

Stephen Layton and Polyphony continue to blaze a trail as dazzling interpreters of a wide range of choral music. Here they turn to some of the most bewitching and distinctive choral works of the twentieth century. Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) imbued this well-loved music with a deep expression of his faith and unique personality. Each motet, with its own delightfully etched character, echoes the composer’s study of Bach, Monteverdi, Palestrina, or Gabrieli, but remains stylistically progressive, containing Poulenc’s ingenious chord progressions. The Gloria is one of his most enduringly appealing works. In some ways straightforwardly pious, it is also tinged with mischievous irreverence and a sense of rollicking enjoyment – facets which are deftly captured here by the soprano soloist Susan Gritton, Polyphony, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Britten Sinfonia, all led by Stephen Layton.

8881 CD $18.95

Cambridge Singers: Poulenc Sacred Music

-Laudamus te
-Domine Deus
-Domine Fili unigenite
-Domine Deus, Agnus Dei
-Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris
Salve Regina
Ave Verum Corpus
Exultate Deo
Litanies a la Vierge Noire
Quatre Motets Pour Un Temps de Penitence:
-I. Timor et tremor
-II. Vinea mea electa
-III. Tenebrae factae sunt
-IV. Tristis est anima mea
Quatre Motets Pour le Temps de Noel:
-I. O magnum mysterium
-II. Quem vidistis pastores dicite
-III. Videntes stellam
-IV. Hodie Christus natus est

Francis Poulenc's interest in choral music began in the early 1920's. During his study with the composer Koechlin, he harmonized Bach chorale melodies. This work had a distinct influence on him. It was not until the 1930's that he began to write for the choral medium more seriously. Poulenc wrote many pieces for accompanied and unaccompanied choir. His astonishing music has very twentieth century sounds but is heavily influenced by earlier styles. The "Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence" have a very dark and dramatic intensity much like the pieces of Victoria, who Poulenc often thought about while writing them. The Cambridge Singers have recorded many of his great choral works. This album includes the "Gloria" for soprano solo, mixed choir and orchestra, "Litanies a la Vierge Noire" for female voices, strings and timpani and many of his unaccompanied motets.

6998 CD $11.98

New College Oxford Choir: Poulenc and His French Contemporaries

Salve Regina - Francis Poulenc
Quatre petites prieres de Saint Francois d'Assise: - Francis Poulenc
-Salut, Dame Sainte - Francis Poulenc
-Tout puissant, tres saint - Francis Poulenc
-Seigneur, je vous en prie - Francis Poulenc
-O mes tres chers freres - Francis Poulenc
Exultate Deo - Francis Poulenc
O sacrum convivium - Olivier Messiaen
Quem vidistis pastores dicite - Francis Poulenc
Videntes stellam - Francis Poulenc
Attende Domine, Op. 45 - Pierre Villette
O magnum mysterium - Francis Poulenc
Hodie Christus natus est - Francis Poulenc
Messe en sol majeur: - Francis Poulenc
-Agnus Dei
Panis Angelicus, Op. 80 - Pierre Villette
Hymne a la Vierge, Op. 24 - Pierre Villette
Litanies a la Vierge noire - Francis Poulenc

Throughout the disc Higginbottom draws exemplary clarity of texture from his New College choristers; the tantalizing, almost acidic harmonies of all these pieces are laid out like jewels ready for the closest of inspections. Moments of beauty (and they come thick and fast) are deliciously understated . . . for performances which are full of musical and artistic integrity and a real sense of involvement with the music, these from New College, Oxford are in a class of their own.

8760 CD $16.95

RIAS - Kammerchor: Poulenc - Motets and Masses

Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence:
-Timor et tremor
-Vinea mea electa
-Tenebrae factae sunt
-Tristis est anima mea
Exultate Deo
Salve Regina
Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel:
-O magnum mysterium
-Quem vidistis pastores dicite
-Videntes stellam
-Hodie Christus natus est
Mess en Sol majeur/G Major/G-dur:
-Agnus Dei

At first listen, French composer Francis Poulenc would seem to have written his ethereal, polyphonic a cappella sacred music during the 15th century instead of the 20th. Polyphony came naturally to him. RIAS-Kammerchor, founded in 1948, helped the revival of the musical life in Berlin in partnership with the Berlin Radio Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic. Under director Marcus Creed the Choir has achieved elite status among German professional choirs. Included here are Poulenc's 4 motets, "Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence" (1938-39), "Exultate Deo" (1941), "Salve Regina" (1941), 4 Christmas motets, "Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel," and the 4-part "Messe en Sol majeur." Sometimes moody, sometimes soaring angelically, there can be no doubt of Poulenc's musical genius, perfectly expressed in the clear, effortless harmonies of RIAS-Kammerchor. Extensive, multilingual liner notes.

7326 CD $15.98

RIAS - Kammerchor: Poulenc: Figure humaine

Sept chansons
Un soir de neige, chamber cantata for 6 voices or chorus
Figure humaine, cantata for 12 voices
Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise, for men's chorus
Chanson à boire, for male chorus

Poulenc’s choral works constitute a high point in the choral art of the twentieth century. Figure humaine is probably Poulenc’s most original choral score. Written in the middle of World War II, this cantata set to Éluard’s texts includes the famous Liberté, a poem that the RAF dropped in the form of leaflets over France. Quatre petites prières de saint François d’Assise was composed in 1948 at the request of the composer’s nephew, Brother Jérôme Poulenc. These four short prayers to texts by Saint Francis of Assisi are dedicated to the Friars Minor of Champfleury. Poulenc’s Sept chansons for mixed chorus bring together poems by Apollinaire and Éluard. Influenced by Monteverdi, they belong to the tradition of Debussy’s Trois chansons de Charles d’Orléans. Since its foundation after the Second World War, the RIAS-Kammerchor has played an important role in the musical life of Berlin. Contemporary music has always been at the heart of its repertoire and these performances, led by Daniel Reuss are presented with innate understanding and deep reverence.

7899 CD $16.98

Groupe Vocal de France: Poulenc - Sacred and Secular Choral Works

Exultate Deo
Litanies a la Vierge Noire
Quatre Motets pour un temps de penitence
Salve Regina
Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue
Ave verum corpus
Quatre Motets pour un temps de Noel
Sept Chansons
Figure humaine
Chansons francaises
Un soir de geige
Chanson a boire

Review pending

7527 CD $14.98

Simon Phipps Vokalensemble: Poulenc - Sacred and Profane

O Magnum Mysterium
Quem Vidistis Pastores Dicite
Videntes Stellam
Hodie Christus NAtus Est
Salve Regina
Timor Et Tremor
Vinca Mea Electa
Tenebrae Factae Sunt
Tristis Est Anima Mea
Exultate Deo
La Blanche Neige
A Peine Defiguree
Par Une Nuit Nouvelle
Tous Les Droits
Belle Et Ressemblante
De Grandes Cuillers De Neige
La Bonn Neige
Ois Meutri
La Nuit Le Froid LA Solitude
Va Ta L'iau
La Belle Se Sied Au Pied De La Tour
Pilons L'orge
C'est La Petit Fill Du Prince
Ah Mon Beau Laboureur
Les Tisserands

Simon Phipps Vocal Ensemble was formed in 1997. Most of the 26 singers have a professional background in music, and several of them are working as musicians in and around Göteborg. The ensemble was named Choir of the Year 2006 by Rikskonserter. During the last few years Simon Phipps Vocal Ensemble has established itself as one of Sweden’s most prominent choirs. By winning a number of competitions, both nationally and around Europe, it has consolidated its position as an ensemble with a high quality of sound and a particular depth of repertoire. Sacré et Profane consists of choir music by Francis Poulenc (1899–1963), with lyrics by great French poets such as Paul Eluard and Guillaume Apollinaire. Poulenc is perhaps primarily regarded as a composer of vocal works: solo songs, choir music, oratories and operas, music that he set to lyrics of a high literary quality. Simon Phipps Vocal Ensemble has previously made a recording of music by Benjamin Britten (FRCD 006). A third CD is in the making, and will include works by Johannes Brahms. These three records reflect the composers’ interpretations of both sacred and secular lyrics. Thus their common designation "sacred and secular".

8536 CD $15.95

Robert Shaw Festival Singers: Poulenc

Mass in G Major
Quatre Motets pour le Temps de Noel (Four Motets for Christmas)
Quatre Motets pour un Temps de Penitence (Four Motets for a Time of Penitence)
Quatre Petites Prieres de Saint Francois d'Assise (Four Short Prayers of Saint Francis)

One of the members of Les Six, a group of avante garde French composers, Francis Poulenc was one of the twentieth century's most notable composers of sacred choral music. Much of this dynamic music is gentle with a mystic sense of simplicity. There are often passages with a rocking alternation of chords with false harmonic relations. Selections from this wonderful recording by then Robert Shaw Festival Singers include the Mass in G major, Four Short Prayers of Saint Francis as well as motets for Christmas and Penitence. The music of Poulenc is must for any collection.

7102 CD $12.98

Joyful Company of Singers: Francis Poulenc

La Blanche Neige
A Peine Defiguree
Par Une Nuit Nouvelle
Tous Les Droits
Belle Et Ressemblante
Ave Verum Corpus
Salve Regina
Exultate Deo
De Tous Les Printemps Du Monde
En Chantant Les Servants S'elancent
Aussie Bas Que Le Silence
Toi Ma Patiente
Riante Du Ciel Et Des Planetes
Le Jour M'etonne Et La Nuit Me Fait Peur
La Menace Sous Le Ciel Rouge
Salut, Dame Sainte
Tout Puissant Dieu
Seigneur, Je Vous En Prie
O Mes Tres Chers Freres
La Blanche Neige (De Grandes Cuillers De Neige)
La Bonne Neige
Bois Meurtri
La Nuit, Le Froid, La Solitude
O Magnum Mysterium
Quem Vidistis Pastores
Videntes Stellam
Hodie Christus Natus Est

A gloriously beautiful choral offering for the Poulenc Centenary year; the perfect introduction to his music and one that truly celebrates the human voice. While no other CD duplicates the programme exactly, all the music is justly familiar. The earliest works are the Sept Chansons of 1936, hailed as comparable to the finest madrigals of Monteverdi. His masterpiece is perhaps the wartime Figure Humaine, written in preparation of when liberation could be celebrated with the majestic climax of the final LibertŽ. Contemporary with this is the chamber cantata Un Soir de Neige, contrasting the bleak coldness with the peace of Christmas. Among the many delights of this beautiful programme are Poulenc's most popular choral pieces, the four Christmas Motets, tranquil and joyful by turn, and the Four Little Prayers of St. Francis of Assisi, written for monks to sing. His last motet, for female voices, was the exquisite Ave verum corpus of 1952.

6538 CD $15.98

Choirs of St. John's, Clare and Gonville and Caius Colleges, Cambridge: Poulenc: Stabat Mater

Stabat mater dolorosa
Cujus animam gementem
O quam tristis
Quae moerebat
Quis est homo
Vidit suum
Eja mater
Fac ut ardeat
Sancta mater
Fac ut portem
Inflammatus et accensus
Quando corpus
Litanies a La Vierge Noire
Timor et Tremor
Vinea mea Electa
Tenebrae Factae Sunt
Tristis est Anima Meea

Poulenc wrote his Stabat Mater, a hauntingly passionate work, after visiting the sacred shrine of the Black Madonna of Rocamadour. Poulenc's journey profoundly changed his life and work as a composer. Like the Stabat Mater, the Litanies à la Vierge Noir is also inspired by the Black Virgin of Rocamadour. Recorded here in an unrivalled performance by the combined choirs of St. John's, Clare and Gonville and Caius Colleges, Cambridge, with the BBC Philharmonic with soprano Judith Howarth.

6432 DVD $29.95

Francis Poulenc: Sept Chansons

La blance neige (The White Snow)
A peine defiguree (Barely Disfigured)
Par une nuit nouvelle (Through a New Light)
Tous les droits (All the Rights)
Belle et ressemblante (Beautiful and Resembling)
Luire (To Dawn)


9261 SHEET MUSIC $19.95

Francis Poulenc: Clic, clac, dansez sabots

9272 SHEET MUSIC $2.95

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