Francis Poulenc Mélodies sur les poèmes de Paul Éluard


Francis Poulenc
Songs on poems by Paul Éluard
Le Travail du peintre
La Fraîcheur et le feu

Laurent Naouri (baritone)
David Abramovitz (piano Steinway)

"Choc" du Monde de la Musique n°252


Francis Poulenc, songwriter or painting poetry in music

Éluard : lyricism and religious sense

Poulenc discovered Paul Eluard (1895-1952) in the same way and at the same time as Apollinaire, thanks to Adrienne Monnier. But this discovery was coupled with meeting the man, who quickly became a friend. Eluard, of whom Poulenc said that he was the only Surrealist poet interested in music, attested to this rare effect of reciprocal revelation that established itself between the poem and the melody :

Francis, I was not listening to myself
Francis, I am in your debt for having heard me
On a completely white road
In a vast landscape
Where the light is re-immersed

At night there are no more roots
The shadow is behind the mirrors
Francis, we dream of expanse
Like a child of endless games
In a starry landscape

That reflects only youth.

However, Poulenc would wait until 1935 before writing the Five Poems, followed by the setting of some thirty others as songs or a cappella choruses including the extraordinary cantata, Figure humaine. With Eluard, it is lyricism that penetrates Poulenc’s vocal art, along with a metaphysical dimension : his return to Catholicism dating from 1936. With their success, their profundity and their structural coherence, the cycles on poems of Eluard rise to the level of the great German lieder cycles and perhaps more particularly those of Schumann, given the importance of the piano part.

La Fraîcheur et le feu, whose title was suggested to the composer by Eluard, came into being in 1950, thirteen years after Tel jour telle nuit, the first important collection devoted to the poet after the experiments of the Five Poems of 1935. Taking up the antithesis of the title for musical ends, Poulenc created a cycle unified by the prelude (and postlude) of Rayon des yeux that he brings back as a conclusion to La Grande rivière qui va. Faithful to syllabic declamation, without vocalise or textual repetition, he multiplies preludes and postludes, reviving an almost Romantic function of a piano with voluble writing.

The literary work was conceived as seven poems making up a single poem (originally entitled Vue donne vie) that became seven songs organised into a cycle according to a play of alternation between coolness (fraîcheur) and fire (feu), fast and calm tempi. Unis la fraîcheur et le feu, in fifth position, serves as a synthesis, while other thematic links are established, as between Tout disparut and, precisely, Unis la fraîcheur et le feu. The first mentions Stravinsky’s Serenade in A, justifying the cycle’s being dedicated to the illustrious elder. Moreover, it is to the finale of that four-movement serenade that Poulenc refers, delighting in the idea of having concocted for Stravinsky "one of the only dishes for which he does not have the secret".

Already during Paul Eluard’s lifetime, Poulenc had planned on setting poems from his collection Voir, in homage to painters. Out of the thirty-two poems, the composer chose seven : Picasso, Chagall, Braque, Gris, Klee, Miró and Villon (pseudonym of Gaston Duchamp, Marcel Duchamp’s brother). We have already seen, as regards Apollinaire, how visual elements of poetry could inspire the composer. With Le Travail du peintre, he accepts the challenge of expressing his passion for painting in music, while conforming to the Baroque tradition of the musical portrait à la Couperin. The texts that he left at the same time as his music are full of references to the visual arts, notably the Feuilles américaines, a diary he kept for the publishing firm La Table ronde on his second journey to the United States. These pages show us a Poulenc avid for visiting American museums, almost going into ecstasies in front of a Saint Francis by Zurbarán, trying to reveal to the American tourist the grandeur of Watteau or the inner relationship between Proust and Renoir, Renoir whom we have already mentioned regarding La Grenouillère. They also reveal his dislikes : the three Gs that are (Van) Gogh, Gauguin and (El) Greco. The challenge of Le Travail du peintre consists of expressing not only Éluard’s poem, but also the artist and his style. One will remember the haughty pride of Picasso who imposes himself in C major on an unthwarted rhythm. In a waltz of heterogeneous musical objects, Chagall expresses the dancing spatial breakdown of pictorial elements. In Poulenc’s view, Braque gives rise to the most detailed melody of the set. For Gris, there is a lack of ornamentation, a certain dryness for Klee, an explosion of light in Miró, and then Villon seems to take up again with Picasso, confirming that Le Travail du peintre is intended as a cycle. The painter’s ‘work’? Only Picasso really responds to this project as concerns the poetic text. Honour to whom honour is due, and of carrying off the whole!

One name, however, was missing for Poulenc : that of Matisse. But Eluard did not admire him as much, and the composer remained faithful to the memory of his poet. However, we would indeed have liked to hear the portrait of that artist whose work, evolving towards a lightening and a purification always inspired Poulenc in his musical writing : "going from the complex to the simple line".

Lucie Kayas

La voix humaine

"I love singing for singing…" Francis Poulenc

In Francis Poulenc’s output, instrumental music occupies less room than vocal music in all its forms : voice with piano, voice with instruments, voice and orchestra, a cappella choruses… It is not arbitrary to state that the composer, as much in love with poetry as with singing, found in the human voice the instrument best suited to express that which was most profound, most essential in him, be it sensual or spiritual, sacred or profane.

From his beginnings in 1918 and 1919, Le Bestiaire and Cocardes prevailed over the Mouvements perpétuels and the Sonata for piano four hands. The composer was then entirely himself in his songs, but also in the Sonata for 2 clarinets, since wind instruments, which call upon breath, are closer to the human voice.

In "My Songs and Their Poems", a lecture given on 20th March 1947, Francis Poulenc admitted that he had passionately loved poetry since childhood : at the age of 10, he already knew Mallarmé’s Apparition by heart. In the course of the same lecture, he said: "I love singing for singing" (Italian singing, Pierre Bernac would specify). While he loved poetry as a child, the musician also knew how to appreciate the qualities of singers. A Journal de vacances ("Holiday Diary") from 1911-12, in À bâtons rompus, published by Actes Sud, informs us that, at the age of 12, Francis Poulenc had attended a performance of Tosca and judged Léon Campagnole and Arlette Bergès with a discernment that was quite rare for one so young : "I had quite a fine time, I assure you, for everyone played very well. Campagnole, very much à l’italienne, which was marvellous. Moreover, he has a splendid voice. As for Bergès, she has quite a pretty voice and considerable diction. She was quite good, especially in the last two acts, for her voice is a bit piercing in the upper register…"

Francis Poulenc treated the human voice in all its states : voluble or floating, capricious or elegiac, frivolous or serious. He married it to poetry and liturgical texts with an amorous intelligence that was never mistaken. He courted it, and for that, it repaid him in kind.

Jean Roy

Laurent Naouri


In 1986, after completing his engineering studies, Laurent Naouri decided to devote himself to singing. Trained at the CNIPAL (National Centre for the Professional Insertion of Lyric Artists) of Marseille, then at the Guildhall School of Music in London, he gained stage experience in the course of his studies, before making his actual début at the Théâtre Impérial in Compiègne, in 1992, in the title role of Darius Milhaud’s Christophe Colomb.

From that time on, engagements have multiplied in a highly varied repertoire ranging from Claudio Monteverdi to contemporary composers. For his 1996 début at the National Opera in Paris, he portrayed Thésée in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, conducted by William Christie. Since then, he has appeared at both Parisian houses, the Palais Garnier and the new Opéra-Bastille, in Manon, Le nozze di Figaro, L'Enfant et les sortilèges, Handel’s Alcina, and Rameau’s Les Indes galantes and Platée.

These have been followed by numerous new roles : Evgeni Onegin (title role); the four evil spirits in Les Contes d'Hoffmann; Hidroat in Gluck’s Armide; Mephistopheles in La Damnation de Faust; Fieramosca in Benvenuto Cellini; Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande with Bernard Haitink conducting and Anne Sofie von Otter as Mélisande; Orphée aux Enfers (Jupiter) with Natalie Dessay and La Belle Hélène (Agamemnon) with Felicity Lott, both under the direction of Marc Minkowski.



Le Travail du peintre
Pablo Picasso
Marc Chagall
Georges Braque
Juan Gris
Paul Klee
Joan Miró
Jacques Villon

La Fraîcheur et le feu
Rayon des yeux
Le matin les branches attisent
Tout disparut
Dans les ténèbres du jardin
Unis la fraîcheur et le feu
Homme au sourire tendre
La grande rivière qui va


"Chocdu Monde de la Musique n°252

Francis Poulenc, qui avouait avoir associé "dés l'enfance dans un commun amour, le bal musette et les Suites de Couperin", donne du fil à retordre à ceux qui veulent chanter ses mélodies. A l'écoute des poètes de son temps, proche d'Apollinaire et d'Eluard, il a trouvé dans la structure même de leurs œuvres matière à nourrir son inspiration, qui procédait par incises, à la manière des cubistes.C'est dire que dans un même vers, dans une même phrase mélodique, un sentiment et son contraire peuvent coexister, qu'il faut guetter le clin d'œil dans les plus profondes déclarations et éviter de se lancer à corps perdu dans les plus gouailleuses des mélodies. Le baryton Pierre Bernac, que Poulenc considérait comme son interprète idéal, a laissé de nombreux témoignages de cet art entre chair et cuir, dans lequel le phrasé et l'articulation comptent davantage que la beauté du timbre. Nombre des mélodies, particulièrement celles à la tonalité sombre, réclament cependant une plénitude vocale dont le baryton hollandais Bernard Kruysen a fait preuve dans des interprétations qui sont restées comme des modèles.
Pour l'interprète moderne, la tâche est d'autant plus ardue que c'est un monde disparu, une sensibilité oubliée qu'il s'agit de faire revivre. Laurent Naouri, qui a été formé au bien-dire baroque et s'est révélé, sous la baguette de Bernard Haitink, être un Golaud étonnamment mûr dans le 
Pelléas et Mélisande de Debussy, s'y risque aujourd'hui et résout à bien des égards la quadrature du cercle. Son timbre chaud, qu'il sait alléger, son goût pour les mots et son talent à révéler ce qu'ils cachent ou suggérer ce qu'ils omettent, son humour fin et savamment distancé contribuent à retrouver cet esprit parisien qu habite... l'évocateur Travail du peintre d'Eluard (magnifique "Braque"!)... - François Lafon

"MusO Bonheurde MusO n°10

Laurent Naouri (en) chante Poulenc.
Saluons d'abord la présentation très soignée des produits du label indépendant Harmonic Classics, installé en Bretagne. Les livrets sont très complets et les prises de son exceptionnelles. Enregistré à l'Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, le disque des chansons de Francis Poulenc par le baryton Laurent Naouri accompagné de David Abramovitz est une des meilleures interprétations disponibles du cycle pour baryton sur les textes de Paul Eluard... Chaque chanson dépeint un tableau différent et il n'est plus nécessaire de décrire combien le compositeur est passé maître dans l'écriture vocale. Toutefois, Poulenc a parfois tendance à se laisser porter par ses habitudes d'écriture et Laurent Naouri réussit à donner originalité et vivacité à chacune de ses pièces, même les plus courtes... On a toujours aimé le timbre de Naouri, notamment dans Debussy, Glück et Offenbach. Dans Poulenc, il est d'un humour enchanteur... On aimerait bien voir Laurent Naouri chanter sur scène ce programme extraordinairement savoureux qui a rarement connu interprétation si remarquable.- P. Guilmot
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