Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Francis Poulenc

The charming, brief song Hyde Park was one of two songs published under the title Deux poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire. Poulenc was dismissive of it in his valuable Journal de mes melodies, but it is better than he suggests. Poulenc preferred to write songs to poems of contemporaries of his, persons he had met. This description technically includes Guillaume Apollinaire (born Wilhelm Apollinairis de Kostrowitzky, 1880 - 1918), for Poulenc (1899 - 1963) did meet Apollinaire shortly before the wounded soldier/poet's death of Spanish influenza. Apollinaire wrote the two poems Montparnasse and Hyde Park in 1912. The first song deals with the feelings felt by a poet just arrived from Germany and is deeply felt. (Apollinaire was an Alsatian who had just spent some time in Germany.) The second is rather more a tourist's description of one of the sights of London: Hyde Park in the fog, inhabited by its soapbox orators, children at play, and lovers. Once Poulenc had chosen a poem for a song, he habitually studied it deeply, then let the words wait until music for particular lines appeared in his head. Only when he had enough music assembled to link them all and smooth them into a song would he complete it. Montparnasse took four years of this process. Very soon after he completed it, Poulenc went to London to appear in a joint recital with his partner Pierre Bernac and with British composer/pianist Benjamin Britten. Poulenc saw Hyde Park himself and this song took shape very quickly. It is in a fast, amused tempo and it maintains the descriptive, rather than emotional, quality of the poetry. The song is metronomic in its quick, clipped beat, and its vocal writing is virtuosic and colorful. Poulenc wrote that Hyde Park is what he called a "bridging song, nothing more." By this he meant, correctly, that its brevity (it is less than a minute) and emotional neutrality make it a candidate to insert in a sequence of songs to provide a momentary breather between two richer and more emotionally intense songs. Nevertheless, it is a very good "bridging song," with faultless word setting and a delightful, bemused quality.