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Francis Poulenc

When he penned the tongue-in-cheek tune "I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You," little did Lyle Lovett know he was allying himself with the French existentialist theater tradition as well as the music of Les Six. The connection is, obviously, tenuous, but Lovett's dysfunctionally tender sentiment does faintly echo the story of French playwright Jean Anouilh's 1940 stage hit, Léocadia, in which a prince romances a miller's daughter who happens to bear a striking resemblance to his former love, now deceased. Francis Poulenc's incidental score to this play is the source for his song, "Les chemins de l'amour," which has since entered the solo song repertory on its own.

In composing his score for Léocadia, Poulenc avoided many of his characteristic compositional and aesthetic devices. We are accustomed to his frequent harmonic turns, his strung-together melodies, his highly pianistic accompaniments (he did, after all, study with Ricardo Viñes, who sat at the keyboard for the premieres of numerous works by Debussy and Ravel), and his blending of foreground and background into one integrated sound world. "Les chemins," however, is unusually conservative, and more typically tuneful. The vocal line is smooth and clean, moving largely in scalar motion or lilting repeated leaps. The piano accompaniment is entirely subservient, though its role is not entirely metronomic; its steady bass and chordal timekeeping partially conceal beautiful countermelodies and inner voices. The harmonic resources are greatly pared-down, as well--perhaps not surprising since, unlike his settings of poetry by Eluard and Apollinaire, "Les chemins" is simply a vehicle for text rather than commentary on its meaning. The effect achieved is very much like that of popular or cabaret music, but still unmistakable are Poulenc's careful ear for melodic nuance and his gift for expressive concision and poignancy.