Unlike the previous three composers in tonight’s concert, Poulenc, who died 50 years ago, was a product of the twentieth century. Born into a chemical industrialist dynasty and inheriting his mother’s love of music, he was largely self-taught as a composer (although his early piano teacher Ricardo Viñes had championed Ravel and Debussy), and received no formal tuition in composition until he was in his early twenties.

Immersing himself in the lively Parisian artistic post-WW1 scene, Poulenc came to the attention of Eric Satie and Jean Cocteau, under whose mentorship he joined a group of young radical composers known as Les Six (along with Auric, Durey, Milhaud, Tailleferre and Honegger). Taking on their decidedly anti-Romantic stance,
he developed a style that combined the simplicity and clarity associated with neoclassicism, along with a dash of the self-conscious wit of the Dadaist movement and vulgarity of the Parisian music halls to which he was greatly drawn. 

He showed a gift for melody from his earliest work, including a large portfolio of songs, and an adherence to tonality, albeit on his own terms, that did not chime with the dissonance and deconstruction driving ‘modernism’. This meant, at first, that he was seen as the most lightweight and flippant of the group but he emerged eventually with a unique and popular style that has stood the test of time beyond that of his peers.

In the 1930s Poulenc was shaken by the death of several close friends and, after a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, he re-discovered his Catholic faith and subsequently a new-found spiritual depth that tempered and complemented
the ironic nature of his neoclassicism. However, like the contradiction of his ‘Parisian sexuality’ and his Catholic faith, he combined this new religious music with his old sense of fun and panache – blending influences as diverse as Gabrieli and the crooners
of Paris nightclubs.

Poulenc’s Gloria, commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation of the Library of Congress, and premiered in 1961, is a wonderful example of this blend of sacred and secular. He was censured by some for the frivolity involved in its livelier passages to which he replied “I was thinking when I composed it of those frescoes by Gozzoli
with angels sticking out their tongues and of those grave Benedictines I once
saw playing football.” 

Described by the composer as having “very clear, primary colours”, the Gloria contains echoes of the soprano arias of Verdi and the rhythms of Stravinsky; it ranges from the dramatic to the playful, yet is always sincere. 

Composer:  Poulenc Wiki Link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_%28Poulenc%29 Title of Musical Work:  Gloria

London Concert Choir concerts featuring this musical work:

Eiffel Tower
(10 July 2013)