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This report is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

Where Words End Brian Moreton
Francis Poulenc headed his diary entry for 3 November 1939 'Horrible journée!' It was not in any respect a good day for either France or the Geneva Convention, but Poulenc's discomfiture came from having heard on the radio a performance of some of his songs by a woman who had clearly not read the Geneva protocols on the treatment of prisoners, for such is a song in the hands of a performer. 'Ah! les chanteuses qui n'écoutent que leur instinct. Je devrais dire leurs instincts car je suppose, celle-ci, douée pour tout autre chose que la musique.' It represented a double insult to Poulenc for though he was entirely used to hearing his delicately cadenced piano pieces massacred by thickfingered performers, few composers since Schubert had demonstrated so much sensitivity to the exact intentions of the text; 'Si j'etais profeseur de chant j'obligerais mes élèves à lire attentivement les poémes avant de travailler une mêIodie'. It distressed him to hear text reduced to an emphysemic gabble rather than the 'souffle court' by which the singer was asked to convey the urgent 3/8 turns of 'Le Présent' in which Apollinaire posed as 'Louise Lalanne'. (Marie Laurencin had written to Poulenc that his settings of Apollinaire had the true 'son de voix de Guillaume'.)

Poulenc's synaesthesia was quite remarkably developed. In Eluard's Le Travail du peintre he even attempted to express in sound a sequence of poems which attempted to capture in language the styles and imaginations of Braque, Gris, Picasso ...

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