Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Francis Poulenc

This is a very pretty song about a memory of a momentary youthful infatuation. It is not deep, but it is touching and charming.

It is one of the three songs written in April and May 1954 -- the only Poulenc songs written between the song cycles La Fraîcheur et le feu (1950) and Le Travail du peintre (1956). During this time Poulenc was writing major works, especially his only full-length opera, Les Dialogues des Carmélites. It is likely that he was able to write these songs because he was creatively bogged down in the second act and in fact made little progress most of that year. (In addition, there was a major row over stage rights to the literary property, threatening to end the project altogether.) Poulenc composed these songs, "almost without knowing it," as he wrote in his Journal de mes melodies.

He published two of them, written by Max Jacob, together, and this one, on an Apollinaire poem, separately.

Although Poulenc has written that he preferred to write songs on texts of living poets who were personal acquaintances and friends, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918) was the major exception to this rule. Poulenc set his poems numerous times. He found this one in Apollinaire's collection of poems called Alcools.

Pierre Bernac, Poulenc's friend and song recital partner, notes in his own volume on Poulenc's songs that the two of them had appeared in Amsterdam during 20 concert seasons and that Poulenc always loved the city. It appears likely that Poulenc wrote these songs so that he would have something new to present the Dutch audience in his autumn 1954 tour of the country, and picked this poem because it is set along the canals of Amsterdam.

In it, Apollinaire recalls seeing a beautiful woman. He followed her for two hours until she went into a house. Although he blew a kiss after she closed the door, he never saw her again or learned her name. He gave her the private name "Rosemonde" to recall "her flowery mouth in Holland."

It is a straightforward song. Bernac said it poses little special difficulties in interpretation, and assessed it as a "delicious song." He cautioned against singing it as a sad song: "The atmosphere is of happy nostalgia," he says.

Poulenc said that it "is a song of no great importance with a rather pretty final ritornello." This assessment may make sense when it is ranked against Poulenc's truly great contributions to song literature, but it is a high quality song nonetheless.