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About this Piece

French composer and pianist Francis Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a group of composers working in Paris in the first part of the twentieth century. Poulenc eschewed the daring harmonic language of his contemporary Olivier Messiaen (he once wrote, "I think there is room for new music which doesn't mind using other people's chords"). However, he found a musical language that is easily recognizable in his numerous compositions, most notably his songs and choral music. While his early works tend to lighter fare, he experienced a religious awakening after the death of a close friend, and his compositions began to reflect his renewed Catholicism.

The desire to compose for a cappella chorus came to Poulenc after hearing a performance of Monteverdi madrigals presented by Nadia Boulanger. One of his earliest endeavors was the Sept chansons, published in 1936. Like much of Poulenc's secular choral music, this set of seven songs - three of which are heard here - pays homage to the Renaissance chanson, in particular those of Janequin. These songs display an attention to text and a use of concise melodic phrases that are well-suited to the enigmatic and slightly surreal verses of the lyric French poet Paul Eluard (1895-1952).

A peine défigurée   Barely distorted
Adieu tristesse.   Farewell, sorrow.
Bonjour tristesse.   Good day, sorrow.
Tu es inscrite dans les lignes   Your name is inscribed
du plafond.   upon the lines of the ceiling.
Tu es inscrite dans les yeux que j'aime.   It is written in the eyes that I love.
Tu n'es pas tout à fait la misère,   You are not quite misery itself,
Car les lèvres les plus pauvres   since the most wretched lips
te dénoncent   can betray you
Par un sourire.   with a smile.
Bonjour, tristesse.   Good day, sorrow.
Amour des corps aimables.   Friend of kind souls.
Puissance de l'amour   The power of love
Dont l'amabilité surgit   whose kindliness rises up
Comme un monstre sans corps.   like a bodiless monster.
Tête désappointée   Disappointed face,
Tristesse, beau visage.   lovely countenance of sorrow.

Par une nuit nouvelle   For a new night
Femme avec laquelle j'ai vécu,   Wife with whom I have lived,
Femme avec laquelle je vis,   wife with whom I now live,
Femme avec laquelle je vivrai,   wife with whom I will live,
Toujours la même.   always the same.
Il te faut un manteau rouge,   You need a red cloak,
Des gants rouge, un masque rouge.   some red gloves, a red mask.
Il te faut des bas noirs.   You must have black stockings.
Des raisons, des preuves,   Motives, proof
De te voir toute nue.   to see you completely naked.
Nudité pure, ô parure parée.   Pure nudity, O perfectly dressed.
Seins, ô mon cœur.   Your breasts, O my heart!

Belle et ressemblante   Beautiful and resembling
Un visage à la fin du jour,   A countenance at the end of the day,
Un berceau dans les feuilles mortes du jour.   a cradle in the dead leaves of the day.
Un bouquet de pluie nue,   A bouquet of naked rain,
Tout soleil caché.   the sun completely hidden.
Toute source des sources   Every fount of founts
au fond de l'eau.   beneath the water.
Tout miroir des miroirs brisés.   Every mirror of shattered mirrors.
Un visage dans les balances du silence.   A countenance suspended in silence.
Un caillou parmi d'autres cailloux   A stone among other stones,
Pour les frondes des dernières   thrown from the sling by the last
lueurs du jour.   light of day.
Un visage semblable   A countenance similar
à tous les visages oubliés.   to all forgotten faces.