Poulenc, the composer's work:
The Cannes Film Festival (which takes place this year from the 17th to the 28th of May) is not just a high point for cinema: it has also directly influenced music history and its composers – notably Francis Poulenc, who attended the festival 1955 for the famous "Cahiers du Cinéma". Though he was a lover of many other arts, in particular the seventh, and a composer of several soundtracks, Poulenc was never to be considered a "composer of film music". However, as Jérôme Rossi writes, Poulenc "contributed in a significant and remarkable way to the emergence of a tradition of French film music which could be characterised as follows: a predilection for light instrumentation, a refusal of musical pleonasms, a stylistic diversity, and a love of popular melodies." Let us examine this closer:
In La Duchesse de Langeais (1942), the famous adaptation of Balzac by one of the biggest French stars of the time, the great Giraudoux, Edwige Feuillère embodies the Duchess, a queen of Parisian salons who finally gives up on men and places her faith in God. The author of the Litanies à la Vierge noire, "a monk and a rogue" according to Claude Rostand’s well-known expression, could only work wonders in his first feature film: waltzes and mazurkas but also a famous romance orchestrated and arranged are all "popular" materials that Poulenc shapes in his own way to give the visual elements depth and dramatic
After Honoré de Balzac, Poulenc honoured another great author, Jean Anouilh. The French playwright’s most famous play, Le Voyageur sans bagage, was adapted for the silver screen after the liberation of Paris, an opportunity for Poulenc to compose a serious and “darker” score (for a darker room!) with strong harmonic effects and contrapuntal techniques.
From the third feature film for which Poulenc composed the soundtrack (Le voyage en Amérique, a 1951 film with Yvonne Printemps, the composer's muse as shown by the famous Chemins de l'Amour published by Eschig and Pierre Fresnay), only the music for L’embarquement pour Cythère has survived, a musette waltz for two pianos (it is transcribed in the film for two pianos and accordion, an instrumentation chosen by Poulenc for the whole soundtrack, which was very rare!):
To conclude our discovery of an unknown Poulenc, what could be better than to embark on a journey with a fine connoisseur of the composer, the pianist Alexandre Tharaud, performer of one of the most delightful phonographic escapades in recent years: a particularly silky Valse by Poulenc, rediscovered by the musicologist Nicolas Southon whose merits are widely known and greatly appreciated. Put on your scarves and hats, our journey begins!
Francis Poulenc © DR
Le Voyageur sans bagage (1944)
La Duchesse de Langeais (1942)
Jacques de Baroncelli
Le Voyage en Amérique (1952)
La Valse (des Musiques de soie)
© Editions Salabert