The unheard voice and the unseen shadow

The Unheard Voice and the Unseen Shadow: Unfolding the Aesthetic Parallels and Paradoxes in Francis Poulenc’s Musical Tributes to Federico García Lorca
Jeremy Cox

Poulenc and Lorca – backgrounds and parallels

The French composer Francis Poulenc had a profound admiration and empathy for the writings of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. That empathy was rooted in shared aspects of the artistic temperament of the two figures: Lorca, although primarily recognised as a poet, was also an accomplished musician and visual artist while Poulenc the composer was deeply responsive from an early age to both poetry and painting. But Poulenc’s artistic identification with Lorca was also undoubtedly reinforced by his fellow-feeling on a human level. As someone who wrestled with his own homosexuality, only fully acknowledging it to himself in his late twenties, and who, throughout his life thereafter, kept his orientation and his relationships apart from his public persona, Poulenc would have felt an instinctive affinity, perhaps tinged with admiration, for a figure who endured similar internal conflicts but who, especially in his later life and poetry, was more open about his sexuality. Lorca paid a heavy price for this refusal to dissimulate; although his arrest in August 1936 was primarily politically motivated, at least one of his biographers suggests that his assassination the following day, probably by Nationalist militia, was accompanied by taunts from his killers about his sexuality.

Everything about the Spanish poet’s life, his artistic affinities, his personal predilections and even the relationship between these and his death, therefore, made him someone to whom Poulenc would be naturally drawn and whose untimely demise he would feel keenly and might wish to commemorate musically. Starting with the death of both his parents while he was still in his teens, reinforced by the sudden loss in 1930 of an especially close friend, confidante and kindred spirit, and continuing throughout the remainder of his life with the periodic loss of close friends, companions and fellow-artists, Poulenc’s life was marked by a succession of bereavements. Many of the dedications that head up his compositions are to the memory of (à la mémoire de…) the individual named. As he grew older, and the list of those whom he had outlived lengthened inexorably, his natural tendency towards the nostalgic and the elegiac fused with a growing sense of what might be termed a ‘survivor’s anguish’, part of which he sublimated into his musical works. Over and above its usual motivations, the act of composing became both a diversionary tactic against this anguish and an attempt to assuage it by creating memorials worthy of his dedicatees and justifying of his own survivor status. It should therefore come as no surprise that, during the 1940s, and in fulfilment of a desire that he had felt since the poet’s death, Poulenc turned to Lorca for inspiration and, in the process, attempted his own act of homage. In fact, he did so in two separate works: the Violin Sonata and the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’. This article attempts to unfold aspects of the two men’s aesthetic pre-occupations and to show how the parallels uncovered cast reciprocal light upon their respective approaches to the creative process. It also examines the network of enfolded associations, musical and autobiographical, which link these two commemorative compositions both to one another and to a wider circle of Poulenc’s works.

According to the Lorca scholar, David Richter, the poet’s work exhibits a focus ‘on calculated and controlled lyrical expression, heightened in its awareness of the desire, emptiness, and anguish of the speaking subject’.[1] Richter cites the importance for Lorca, and for others of the so-called ‘Generation of 27’ writers, of the literary precedent set by the Spanish poet, Juan Larrea. Larrea propounded an aesthetic which he termed ‘sub-realism’, which centred upon ‘the overturning of conventional aesthetic and moral norms through the expression of existential anguish’.[2] Anguish and existential crisis become overt in Lorca’s later poetry but in his earlier works, which contain all the texts that Poulenc used, expressions of the ‘desire, emptiness and anguish’ generally manifest themselves through the adoption of a variety of stylised personae and are often tinged with melancholy and nostalgia. This is reflected in the poet’s embracing and evoking traditional folkloric forms and styles in collections such as the ‘Poema del cante jondo’ (1921) and 'Canciones (1921-4).

In reaching back to this folkloric heritage and bringing it into a modernist poetic framework, Lorca was partly enfolding his own voice within a collective utterance, so that the ‘speaking subject’ of Richter’s formulation above becomes a dispersed and varied entity. And yet, as a modern poet, he was also meditating upon this heritage retrospectively and nostalgically, while simultaneously introducing into his new incarnations of it features such as ‘the fragmentation of the subject and irrational linguistic (dis) associations’.[3] These latter elements counterbalance the tendency to merge with the collective and anonymous traditions into which he was tapping and underline the separation between them and his own perspective as an individual creative artist working in the early twentieth century.

The two poetic collections referred to above provided the original sources for all of Poulenc’s Lorca texts. However, it is important to note that the composer used French translations by Félix Gattegno, rather than the original Spanish versions, for all his selections. Thanks to the simple, lyrical directness of the poems, many of their virtues translate reasonably effectively from one language to the other, but it cannot be denied that something of the deep connection to the very soul of traditional Spain is inevitably lost in the process; the poems feel more like art-works pure and simple, and less like creative re-imaginings drawn organically from a deeply internalised folkloric tradition. Nevertheless, their focus upon ‘desire, emptiness and anguish’ certainly survives their metamorphosis into (pseudo-)French poems.

’à la mémoire de Federico Garcia Lorca’ – Poulenc’s Sonate pour violon et piano

Poulenc’s first creative engagement with Lorca took the form not of a complete setting but of a quotation of a first line, inscribed as a motto at the head of the second movement, ‘Intermezzo’, of his Sonate pour violon et piano (in addition to this specific inscription, the entire work is dedicated ‘à la mémoire de Federico Garcia Lorca 1899-1936’ – it is striking that the poet’s year of birth is incorrectly brought forward by one year and, as a result, aligned with Poulenc’s own). Taken from the poem ‘Las seis cuerdas’ (The six strings) the third of eight poems forming the section ‘Gráfico de la Petenera’ from ‘Poema del cante jondo’ - the text which introduces the second movement reads ‘La guitare fait pleurer les songes’ (originally ‘La guitarra hace llorar a los sueños’ and, in English, ‘The guitar makes dreams weep’). Placed in quotation marks, and without further contextualisation, it is given the simple attribution ‘(G. Lorca)’.

As with any such fragmentary allusion to a poetic text, it is tempting to consider the line in the context of the full poem from which it is drawn when seeking to unfold its implications for a musical work that takes its inspiration from it. The full texts of Gattegno’s French translation, the original Spanish and an English version are as follows (the punctuation has been standardised to conform to Lorca’s original):

Already, in the quoted line (which is actually laid out over two lines by Lorca), we encounter the idea of music – in particular, that which emanates from the guitar - as the making audible of the sadness that otherwise lies buried in dreams. This is further developed as the poet characterises the musical tones emerging from the instrument’s sound hole as the sobs of lost souls. The personification of this feature of the instrument as a round mouth makes the instrument itself somehow a humanised embodiment of these souls and their grief. From this perspective, it is worth noting that no mention is made of the guitarist; the instrument performs all these actions as though it alone is their instigator.

The second half of the poem both repeats and, in a crucial sense, reverses the imagery of the first. Having conjured up these sounds and made them issue forth, the guitar is now seen as weaving a web (whose strands perhaps echo the idea of strings in the poem’s title) in which to trap the countless other sighs which remain latent and floating in the reservoir of its sound box. Significantly, the arachnid doing the weaving is not simply a generic spider but a tarantula with its proverbially mortal bite. It has been suggested that here, at least, the performer does register an implicit presence and that the image of the tarantula is an arresting evocation of the alternately scurrying and motionless right-hand of the flamenco guitarist – a ‘creature’ in its own right, spinning webs of sound from the six strings of the instrument.

So, two complementary but reverse-symmetrical ideas exist within the poem: music as the medium which gives voice to otherwise mute grief, and music as the web of sound that traps and fixes grief, drawing it back into the dark, cocooning reservoir of sounds yet to be uttered. The mirror images of silence given voice and the voice returned to silence – processes of unfolding and enfolding linked in a cyclical embrace - counter-balance one another paradoxically and yet compellingly within the few short lines of the poem. Interestingly, if these lines were to be unfolded in the form of their natural syntactical units, the result would be six longer lines – temptingly evocative of the ‘seis cuerdas’ of the poem’s title (the rhyming scheme is also clarified by this modification):

La guitarra, hace llorar a los sueños.

El sollozo de las almas perdidas,

se escapa por su boca redonda.

Y como la tarántula

teje una gran estrella para cazar suspiros,

que flotan en su negro aljibe de madera.

Poulenc began work on this sonata in 1942 at the request of the virtuoso violinist Ginette Neveu. Two years earlier, he had completed a cycle of songs on texts by Guillaume Apollinaire that ends with a setting of the poem ‘Sanglots’. Apollinaire’s final injunction in that poem is that we should:

Laissons tout aux morts

Et cachons nos sanglots

Poulenc could hardly fail to have caught the echoes, both thematic and sonorous, between ‘chasser les soupirs’ and ‘cachons nos sanglots’, together with the idea of the guitar’s sound box as the place where sighs and tears are both hunted down (chassés) and concealed (cachés). His turning of Lorca’s poem not into a song but into an instrumental work offered him a medium in which both to articulate and to conceal the grief that was his, and Lorca’s, subject matter. The violin offers a voice in whose sighs we can discern grief without explicitly hearing its nature or cause.

The second movement was Poulenc’s point of departure for the composition of the entire sonata and, as will be discussed later, grew, in part, out of material from the unfinished Sonate pour violon et piano that he had been working on in late 1929 and 1930. Arguably, it is the work’s most successful and evocative movement. Poulenc generally struggled in his chamber works written for strings, finding the more literally voiced articulation of wind instruments, in the sense of their being dependent upon breathing, more congenial. To follow and precede the Intermezzo, which he described as ‘une manière d’Andante-cantilène, vaguement espagnol’[4], he composed a Presto tragico finale and, finally, an Allegro con fuoco first movement. Upon completing the draft of the whole work, in late 1942, he expressed a distinctly muted satisfaction – ‘Ce n’est pas mal, je crois’.[5] Later, he was far harsher in his evaluation, describing the Sonata in a recorded conversation with Claude Rostand as ‘carrément ratée’ and suggesting that only the irresistible temptation of a musical collaboration with Ginette Neveu, plus the opportunity to fulfil his long-held desire to dedicate a work to the memory of Lorca, overcame his normal distaste for the violin as a solo instrument.[6]

As is often the case with Poulenc, the emotionally ambivalent nature of the titles of both the outer, fast-tempo, movements is revealing. The opening Allegro is as dark and fiery as its qualifying con fuoco indication might suggest, while the finale, after an opening that seems perversely cheerful and insouciant, fulfils overtly the tragic promise of its title in its final bars in which, in Poulenc’s words, the ‘élan rhythmique et vital’ is ‘tout à coup brisé par une coda lente et tragique’ (the image of fracture which he uses is telling).[7] In both cases, it is tempting to see the more rapid energetic passages as performing a kind of ‘displacement activity’, temporarily suppressing an underlying mood that veers from tender lyricism to ultimate full-blown anguish. This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that, again as so often with Poulenc, even before we reach the tragic coda, the vigorous and extrovert commencements of both these outer movements quickly yield to more lyrical and inward-looking material.

’Fragmentation of the subject’ – unfolding the ambivalence in Poulenc’s musical persona

The volatile, ever-changing quality in Poulenc’s music, characterised as ambivalence by Franck Ferraty in his study of the piano works, goes to the heart of how the composer’s expressive rhetoric operates.[8] It also echoes the traits attributed earlier to Lorca of ‘the fragmentation of the subject and irrational linguistic (dis) associations’.[9] With Poulenc, just as feverishly active music is always only a few bars away from subsiding into lyrical introspection, so the gentler more melancholy vein of expression is frequently cut in upon brusquely by fresh material of an animated, and even sardonic, nature. While this generates a situation where neither mode could unambiguously be said to be the ‘true’ voice of the music, our psychological impulse is generally to interpret the vigorous element as presenting a deliberately cheerful ‘public face’ and the lyrical as being closer to an accurate reflection of the music’s – and the composer’s - interior and ‘authentic’ persona. In a work like the Sonate pour violon et piano, whose emotional centre of gravity lies in its central Intermezzo and whose last bars are undisguisedly tragic in tone, this certainly seems to be the case, even though it is arguably the phenomenon of fragmentation itself that is ultimately the more authentic expression of the music’s nature than either of the two faces which it alternately offers.

A musical narrative in which mood and material are volatile, and persistently go through shifts and contrasts, has resonances with early C20th visual experiments such as the ‘simultanisme’ of painters like Robert Delaunay and the literary counterparts to these such as Apollinaire’s ‘conversation poems’. Simultaneity in the spatial, rather than temporal, medium of painting is generally associated with the notion of combining different perspectives (of which only one is normally available at any given time – hence the use of the term) side-by-side on the same canvas. When applied to the medium of poetry – at least insofar as we still think of poetry as an organisation of words to be read sequentially and therefore unfolding through time – it can be effectively evoked by disjunctive leaps of thought and imagery. The manner in which one train of thought is abruptly cut of and another equally brusquely commenced suggests that, in some way, the first still continues beneath the visible surface of the poem whilst the second has emerged from a veiled, subterranean layer. Although, in reality, still sequential and merely tightly abutted, the kaleidoscopic images imply an overlaying of one idea upon another and the collapsing of the normally single continuum of the poetic thread into a ‘counterpoint’ of simultaneous poetic voices, each coming to the fore in turn.

Poulenc’s musical juxtapositions operate in a similar way to these pictorial and poetic innovations, especially the latter. In the context of a work such as the Sonate pour violon et piano, the feeling that certain strands of musical thought alternately emerge and dive back into a subterranean – and therefore inaudible – layer has a valuable correspondence with the two primary themes of Lorca’s poem – silent grief made audible and audible grief made silent. Consciously or otherwise, we sense the ‘absent presence’ of music that has been effaced by new, contrasting material; it is, in some sense, still amongst us but taking the form of a currently soundless phenomenon – an unheard voice that is part reminiscence and part premonition. Moreover, because reminiscence correlates closely to nostalgia and premonition to longing, it becomes a musical mechanism for evoking both of these moods, and the latent anguish inherent in them, as part of a multi-layered emotional structuring – something that Apollinaire described as ‘ambient lyricism’: ‘où le poète au centre de la vie enregistre en quelque sorte le lyrisme ambient’.[10]

Poulenc’s dissatisfaction with the Sonate pour violon et piano evidently grew throughout the course of the 1940s and he went so far as to re-work it, primarily addressing the final movement, in 1949. Even after this, he remained unconvinced and, as already seen, eventually came to regard the work as a failure. In particular, he was self-critical of what he saw as ‘son ton artificiellement pathétique’.[11] This, in itself, shows the importance to him of portraying pathos authentically in his music and suggests the primacy of this affect among the moods he wished to evoke. It may also be a reflection of the intensity of his desire to do justice to the memory of Lorca and his resultant anxiety that no musical realisation could quite live up to his aspirations. He expressed a similarly self-disparaging judgement concerning his ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’, composed between the two versions of the Sonate in 1947, confessing ‘Comme j’ai de la peine à témoigner musicalement de ma passion pour Lorca!’.[12] As a sufferer from survivor’s anguish, it was natural that he should be at his most harshly self-critical when evaluating the success or otherwise of his most specific acts of commemorative homage. Despite this, the songs are far from unsuccessful and, in fact, prove on close examination to capture many of the essential qualities of Lorca’s poems in a variety of subtle and intricate ways.

’C’est genre subtil’ - the 'Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’

As the work’s overall title might imply, the texts of the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’ are all taken from Lorca’s ‘Canciones’. This is important because rather than being ‘chansons’ in the French sense of the term, which denotes a more popular or traditional, overtly tuneful and extrovert genre, they represent a type of song that would normally be categorised under the French designation ‘mélodie’, indicating a serious vocal composition combining poetry and music in an intimate and subtle synthesis. Poulenc often gave his mélodies, when published in groups of two, three, four or five, the collective title ‘Poèmes’, underlining the primacy of the text; he actually composed relatively few chansons in the sense that a French audience would understand that term and these mélodies to Lorca texts are fully on a par with others in his oeuvre in terms of their fastidious concern for text, music and the lyrical integration of these two elements. The poems’ combination of folkloric simplicity with a modernist sensibility gave him some difficulty in finding exactly the right tone, as indicated in two separate letters written during period of the songs’ composition where he used near-identical language to describe their elusiveness and his hope, nevertheless, to have captured their essence: ‘Les trois Lorca très subtils me donne du mal mais j’en sortirai’[13]; ‘[…] je fais 3 mélodies de Lorca (traduction excellente). Elles me donnent du mal car c’est genre subtil mais je pense en sortir’.[14]

Lorca’s ‘Canciones’ comprise eleven groups of poems; as already indicated, Poulenc took his three choices from a collection of French translations but their originals may be found in the ninth, fourth and eleventh groups of the ‘Canciones’ respectively. The first song sets ‘El niño mudo’ (L’enfant muet/The dumb child) which is the third of the seven poems in the section entitled ‘Trasmundo’; the second, ‘Adelina de paseo’ (Adelina à la promenade/Adelina out walking), sets the second of the nine poems in ‘Andaluzas’; and the final song is a setting of ‘Canción del naranjo seco’ (Chanson de l’oranger sec/Song of the dried-up orange tree), the ninth of the ten poems of ‘Canciones para terminar’ and therefore the penultimate poem of the entire collection.

While a group of three songs is arguably too small in number to be regarded as a cycle, there is no doubt that these Lorca settings were conceived as an integral set. Their emotional centre of gravity unquestionably resides in the last song, which is dark and tragic in its tone and speaks explicitly of anguish (suplicio). The two songs preceding it are respectively subdued and exuberant. In a comparable way to the Violin Sonata’s outer movements, the animated nature of the second song, when placed between its companions, feels somehow forced, as though temporarily displacing and concealing the more melancholy emotions alluded to obliquely in the first song and presented starkly in the last. This is reinforced by the poem itself which, behind its quasi-insouciant and nursery rhyme-like opening proposition that ‘The sea has no oranges and Seville has no love’ (Seville being proverbially famous for its oranges and there always being ‘more fish in the sea’ where love is concerned) is actually a lament for love’s absence, as is revealed in its concluding reiteration of the same proposition, but with the two elements separated by an interjected outburst of undisguised grief:

The sea has no oranges.

Alas love.

And Seville has no love.

Here are the three poems in full, once again with the original Spanish in the centre, the French used by Poulenc to the left and an English translation to the right:

Desire and emptiness – the shadows beneath the surface of Lorca’s and Poulenc’s art

All three poems set out above combine a simplicity and directness of language with often disconcertingly metamorphic imagery. A child’s mute voice is fashioned into a ring to put on the smallest finger of his silence; the green shade under a parasol becomes an underwater scene in which words swim like little fishes; and a barren orange tree dreams that ants and lizards will become leaves on its branches and birds amongst them. The writing has an intensely visual quality but it is also notable how the audible can sometimes slide into the visible, the immaterial become solid, and vice-versa. A drop of water can be the physical hiding place for the disembodied sounds of a child’s voice; words carried on the sultry air of a hot day can become substantiated as darting fish in the more viscous medium of water; and a woodman can be begged to take a physical axe to an insubstantial but hauntingly palpable shadow. All of these qualities contribute to an atmosphere of eerie displacement, as though the world evoked in the poems is some kind of fractured simulacrum of a reality that is both more and less solid than the words and images employed. This, in turn, generates an aching sense of separation from that reality – an oppressive awareness of what Jacques Lacan described as ‘béance’ (gap). According to Lacan, we are what we are on the basis of something that we experience to be missing from us; as a result of this, our abiding unconscious instinct, always doomed to partial failure, is to fill this gap. As with many twentieth-century artists, Lorca’s poetic vision seems both to echo and to give us a more immediate and affectively embodied access to the often-recondite formulations of Lacan’s psychoanalytical theory.

Of course, the extent to which this gap, and the alienation arising from it, is manifested varies from poem to poem and therefore from song to song. It is least pronounced in ‘Adelina de paseo’ and most so in the ‘Canción del naranjo seco’. With his composer’s sense for contrast and trajectory in his musical creations, Poulenc understood the need for a leavening of the mood in the second of his trio of songs before plunging into the unalloyed, and unassuageable, anguish of the third. In the context of his longer song cycles, he often spoke of the necessity for some purely transitional numbers, placed so as to separate those songs where the true weight of the work rested. But in the case of these ‘Trois Chansons’ there is also a feeling that the emotional thread running through the songs is yet more closely drawn than that: the intense, measured pace and control of the first eschews either overt animation or tragic near-stasis but carries the latent capacity for both; in this sense, the following two songs are like an untwining of these two tendencies into separate strands. Again, this generates a feeling that, at any given point in the music, there may be elements that are present, but hidden and enfolded. The fact that, in the tight tripartite structure of work, the conclusion comes at the point of greatest unravelling adds to the desolation of its final emotional impact. In another analogy of unfolding, one could imagine the first song (L’Enfant muet) as being presented in the neutral form of ‘white’ light, this then being split in the following two songs into the extremes of the optical spectrum – from ‘warm’ red (Adelina à la Promenade) to ‘cold’ violet (Chanson de l’Oranger sec). The following diagram attempts to illustrate this:

For Poulenc, this multivalent potentiality in musical material was important for his creative processes throughout his career. As well as his making a network of connections between different musical ideas, as above, we often encounter examples of a single musical idea that, in one work or section of a work, may be slow and melancholy but which is then reconfigured elsewhere by modifications of tempo, dynamic, articulation, etc. into a quite different affect. The more we come across these interconnections the more we are made aware of the gap, the béance, existing between any individual manifestation and the totality of potentialities that lie, as it were, beyond the ‘horizon-line’ of audibility, in each musical idea. Significantly, a striking example of this exists in relation to the ‘Trois Chansons’. A year after they appeared, Poulenc completed his cycle of seven songs on poems by Apollinaire, ‘Calligrammes’. Upon examination, ‘Calligrammes’ and the ‘Trois Chansons’ reveal interesting correspondences, in that ideas appear in both works but with a different character in each. Both the commonalities and the differences cast revealing perspectives upon each individual manifestation and reinforce the multi-layered, and often ambivalent, properties contained within the music.

Keys and ciphers – tonal structuring and tonal symbolism

The correspondences begin at the level of key schemes – as is often the case with Poulenc, who composed at the piano and therefore used the ‘haptic memory’ of his hands on the keyboard as one of his search techniques for finding the desired musical answer to a given compositional question. The ‘Trois Chansons’ and ‘Calligrammes’ share two important key centres: F# and Eb. In the case of the ‘Trois Chansons’, the first song is in F# minor, the second in Eb minor and the third in C minor, but there are also significant passages in both F# minor and Eb minor in the final song, harking back to its predecessors.

In ‘Calligrammes’, with its fuller complement of seven mélodies, Poulenc also begins with songs in F# minor and Eb minor but incorporates these into a palindromic key structure that begins and ends with this pair of keys, their sequence being reversed in songs 6 and 7. Filling in the palindromic scheme, songs 3 and 5 are in E (first minor and then Major). They symmetrically frame the central song, number 4, which is harmonically fluid – as befits its subject matter of rain - but begins and ends with a primary orientation towards the pitch of Db major, variously interpretable as the dominant of Gb Major, the minor third of a Phrygian Bb minor or as a tonal reference point in its own right. In the initial piano arpeggios evoking rainfall, for example, no fewer than 11 of the first 23 notes are Db’s and the vocal line, when it enters, features six occurrences of the note in its first sixteen – more than any other by a clear margin although, taken in isolation, the vocal element is perhaps the most strongly suggestive of Gb Major.

Notable in its absence from this scheme is the key of C minor – the tragic concluding tonality of the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’. The journey through the palindromic key relationships of ‘Calligrammes’ could be seen as reaching its lowest point at the Db identified above – the nearest upper neighbour by step to C - but then retraces its route to F#. Perhaps even more interestingly, the simple relationships of minor thirds/augmented seconds between F#, Eb and C of the earlier songs are once again present in ‘Calligrammes’ but with an important semi-tonal sidestep (from Eb to E) being interpolated into the scheme. The relationship E–Db therefore shadows, at one remove, that of Eb–C whilst avoiding its explicit articulation. Reversing the protagonists in this image of shadowing, one may suggest that the key of C minor is itself something of an ‘unseen shadow’ in the key scheme of ‘Calligrammes’ – at least in the compositional memory banks of its composer. The cycle flirts with a full-scale descent to it (significantly, the text of the final song speaks of a ‘voyage de Dante’) but, after the crucial sidestep described above, and when only the smallest remaining interval away, is able to re-wind the Dantean journey back to its departure point of F#. It is as though, in re-visiting the descending trajectory towards the tragic concluding tonal domain of the earlier songs, Poulenc’s creative mission becomes, in part, an act of will directed towards achieving some kind of redemption, with the key scheme symbolising this. Moreover, if the predominating Db pitch is to be interpreted as the fifth of Gb Major, there is a further shadow effect present in that, at its point of greatest descent, the cycle recalls enharmonically, and transfigured into the major mode, its starting point (F#=Gb). The seeds of redemption are already implanted in the point of greatest apparent digression. The diagram below shows this scheme graphically:

As well as its literal reversal of the descent, the palindromic structure, in evoking a cyclical pattern, suggests the metaphorical possibility of endless renewal, with the further redemptive capacity that this implies. Significantly, ‘Il Pleut’, the song that functions as the ‘fold’ between the initial sequence of keys and its mirror-symmetrical reversal, sets a poem that is steeped in images of present, past and future and their intermingling. There is a liberating and potentially redemptive tone to the final line of the poem, which evokes the sound of restraining tethering lines falling away and implies their being replaced by a buoyant and opportunity-filled freedom:

Ecoutez tomber les liens qui te retiennent en haut et en bas

Immediately following this line, Poulenc appends a brief and initially turbulent instrumental coda to the song which rises to a held Db note. This is then adorned with a halo of further notes (F, Bb and Cb – the latter the lowest note sounded) implying a dominant 7th function towards Gb Major – although it is true that Poulenc frequently used such effects as wistfully-charged final chords in their own right. If the implied leaning towards an unachieved Gb is accepted, it reinforces the idea that we have reached the symmetrical point of reflection and it signposts, albeit enharmonically, the fact that this is to be the moment when Poulenc commences the retracing of his steps to the cycle’s tonal and emotional starting point.

Poulenc had fixed upon the notion of a palindromic key structure by roughly the mid-point of the cycle’s composition. Writing to Pierre Bernac in July 1948, with four of the seven songs completed and another started, he already speaks of the envisaged cycle having a ‘vraie armature interne’ in which ‘les tons sont équilibrés très exactement’.[15] He even sketches out the tonal plan for Bernac as part of the letter. Fascinatingly, as well as a small typo whereby he omits the sharp sign from the final song, making it appear to be in F minor and therefore destroying the very equilibrium of which he speaks, he gives the key of the pivotal central song, ‘Il Pleut’, the composition of which he had not yet started, as B major. As already indicated, when this song was eventually composed, which happened a month later, its primary tonal axis became Db, not B major, and the keys of Bb minor and Gb Major with which the Db is associated are equally alien to that which Poulenc originally envisaged. Nevertheless, the pitches of B and Db both abut that of C, each being only a semitone adrift on one or the other side of it, so that the latter key’s function as a hidden shadow would be operative even if Poulenc had kept to his original scheme. However, the final emphasis upon Db is the stronger, preserving and enriching the relationships of minor 3rds/augmented 2nds across the cycle as a whole and setting the whole key sequence into reverse at a point where the initial descent is still fractionally above the shadow key.

Although C minor is therefore avoided as the primary key of any of the seven songs of ‘Calligrammes’, the precedent of the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’ alerts us to the possibility that keys touched upon during the course of a song may also have significance. There, the return of both F# and Eb during the course of the final C minor song underlined its culminating role and suggested the way in which its tragic tone might already lie beneath the preceding two songs, albeit unseen and unheard. Using a similar approach, it quickly becomes apparent that the imprint of C minor is indeed discernible, albeit subtly, across the songs of ‘Calligrammes’. The crucial central song, ‘Il Pleut’, not only comes the closest of the set to C with its strong emphasis upon Db, it also includes a prominent statement of C minor at roughly its halfway point. Not just the key itself but also the way in which it is approached and departed from is noteworthy. After seven bars in an ambiguous wash of notes, rich, as was seen, in Db’s but potentially evoking either Bb minor or Gb major, the music moves brusquely to E (echoing the key of its predecessor) and then embarks upon a substantial descending cycle-of-fifths progression through A, D and G, eventually cadencing into C minor. Thereafter, it moves first to Eb and then to F#, thereby recalling all three keys of the ‘Trois Chansons’ as well as mirroring those of the second/sixth and first/seventh songs of ‘Calligrammes’ respectively.

Especially in the context of this web of key allusions, there is a highly important moment towards the end of the final song of ‘Calligrammes’, ‘Voyage’. Accompanying the crucial line ‘C’est ton visage’ (of which more later) is a bar full of rich, forte, dominant preparation on G. As the music moves to the next bar and the voice reaches the final syllable of the poetic line, the ear would certainly be entirely ready to be offered a resolution onto C; instead, and accompanied by a dramatic subito p, there is a deft sidestep to Db and the poetic image of the beloved’s face, so recently and vividly conjured up, is erased by the completion of the line: ‘… que je ne vois plus’. A few bars later, Db metamorphoses into C#, preparing the way for the song’s conclusion in F#. A measured coda of spare two-part piano writing, each part doubled at the octave, makes its way through Eb and C before F# is arrived at for the final time, terminating in bare unison octaves on this note. Whether as an absence or as a fleeting and understated presence, the key of C is therefore, one might say, a muted voice and glimpsed shadow in this song. Insofar as it does intrude overtly, it remains elusive and transitory but, precisely because of this, has the capacity to hint at deeper aspects of itself, and of its connotations, that lurk in the realm of the unseen and unheard.

If it is felt that, in this interpretation, too much is being made of key schemes, and of the correspondences and divergences between the two cycles in this respect, it needs to be appreciated how profound a respect Poulenc had for key identity, as evidenced in his almost obsessive faithfulness to the key in which a musical idea first came to him. It has already been noted that, as someone who composed at the piano, the haptic memory retained in his hands as they explored the keys seems to have been an inseparable part of his inspiration and to have added a further layer to the emotional patterns of sonorous experience and recollection that he drew upon in his act of creation. Especially in the context of song composition, he fully embraced the often-piecemeal way in which individual lines and phrases would suggest musical counterparts and, where this left him with a series of fragments in different keys, would work to effect the necessary transitions between them, preserving each element in its original key rather than making his life easier by transposing any material out of its ‘authentic’ form and substance. He underlines his adherence to this principle as part of his description of the compositional processes involved in his 4-year long quest, between 1941 and 1945, to complete the song, ‘Montparnasse’:

Comme jamais je ne transpose dans un autre ton, par facilité, la musique que je viens de trouver pour un vers ou même pour quelques mots, il s’ensuit que les raccords sont souvent difficiles et qu’il me faut du recul pour trouver l’endroit exact ou, parfois, je dois, sur place, moduler.[16]

It is clear from this that not only the keys of the original ideas but also the relationships between them and the method and placement of modulation best suited to moving between them formed part of Poulenc’s compositional concerns. In the case of ‘Calligrammes’, as revealed in the same letter to Bernac quoted from earlier, he describes having conducted an exercise where he experimented with a rough mock-up (monstre) of the entire cycle, moving through its tonalities so as create the sensation that ‘chaque mélodie soit un prolongement de l’autre’.[17] Whilst, for the purposes of this experiment, he was clearly thinking in terms of the prolongation of one song into the next solely within the frame of the cycle itself, the notion that a similar persistence of influence might operate across the tonalities employed in a group of compositions from this period of his creative output is only a relatively small conceptual extension. Poulenc himself certainly recognised a thread running from one work to another throughout a series of Apollinaire settings, of which he saw ‘Calligrammes’ as the satisfying culmination: ‘Il [‘Calligrammes’] représente pour moi l’aboutissement de tout un ordre de recherches quant à la transposition musicale d’Apollinaire’.[18] The period of this experimentation – roughly a decade from 1938 to 1948 – also spans that in which both Poulenc’s Lorca-related works were composed.

From this perspective, it is revealing that the keys of F# minor and Eb minor that are both so important in the schemes of the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’ and ‘Calligrammes’ had already appeared within one important precursor song: ‘Sanglots’, the substantial concluding item of the cycle ‘Banalités’, written in 1940. ‘Sanglots’ begins and ends in F# minor but has a large middle section, amounting to the majority of the song, in Eb minor. ‘Sanglots’ has already been cited in the context of the Violin Sonata, where a line in Lorca’s poem, ‘chassez les soupirs’, was seen to have echoes of its last line: ‘Et cachons nos sanglots’. Furthermore, in his description of ‘Voyage’ in his ‘Journal de mes Mélodies’, Poulenc directly links this song to the earlier ‘Sanglots’, even though to the detriment of the latter:

Nous arrivons à VOYAGE, certainement une des deux ou trois mélodies auxquelles je tiens le plus.

Très supérieur a SANGLOTS dont certaines incidentes me pèseront toujours.[19]

’Ecoutez sonner les liens’ – motifs and their layered motivations

Arguably, the fact that the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’ partake of the same keys and key relationships that feature so strongly in Poulenc’s Apollinaire settings throughout this period (‘Montparnasse’, discussed above, is also in Eb minor) could be merely an arbitrary side-effect of the haptic memory already referred to. The reasoning would go that Poulenc’s hands may simply have strayed through banal habit to the same key regions that he was used to exploring in other contexts. Hopefully, the evidence of his deep-seated concern for key identity as an inseparable element of his response to a poetic line counters this view. But perhaps more unequivocal in linking the two works are the cross-references that also exist on the motivic level. These, in turn, serve to reinforce the idea that the connections already described are not merely coincidental but, on the contrary, go deeply into the fabric of Poulenc’s creative thought. For instance, ‘Voyage’ not only echoes 'Sanglots in its main key of F# minor and further underlines this connection with a significant passage in Eb minor; this latter passage is also motivically almost identical to the main theme of the ‘Chanson de l’Oranger sec’. As has already been seen, although that song, and therefore the first and last statements of its primary motif, is in C minor, the same main motif makes an important appearance in the middle of that song transposed upwards to Eb minor. In other words, embedded at interim points in these two songs are near-identical appearances of the same motif in the same key. The fact that the surrounding contexts of the two songs in which the motif appears are significantly different from one another shows Poulenc’s sensitivity to the multivalent potentiality of musical material and is yet another example of the metamorphic web of allusions, reminiscences and transformations that are the very stuff of his musical processes:

This is far from being the only example of motivic connection between the two works. Perhaps even more significant in its metamorphic quality is the relationship between the second song of ‘Calligrammes’, ‘Mutation’ and both the first and second songs of the ‘Trois Chansons’. ‘Mutation’ shares its Eb minor key with the second song, ‘Adelina à la Promenade’; however, its opening melodic contour closely resembles that of the first, ‘L’enfant muet’, albeit transposed down an augmented second from F#, changed from quadruple to triple metre and speeded up. Conversely, the rapid tempo (follement vite) of ‘Adelina à la Promenade’ is echoed in the presto of ‘Mutation’ despite the former being in a fleet-footed, tarantella-like compound metre and the latter in a rapid simple triple time with a darker, more driven character to it.

Where ‘Mutation’ and ‘Adelina à la Promenade’ really converge emotionally is in their final bars. In ‘Adelina à la Promenade’, the cry ‘Ay amor’ echoes the ‘Eh! Oh! Ha!’ refrain that has run all the way through ‘Mutation’. Correspondingly, in ‘Mutation’, the phrase ‘Tout sauf mon Amour’ that precedes the final ‘Eh! Oh! Ha!’ links the sighs in this song, too, to the theme of love. Up until that point, the poet Apollinaire’s litany of sighs has been over successive snapshots from his wartime experience (a woman crying, soldiers marching past, a lock-keeper grabbing a rare quiet moment of fishing, the whitening walls of the trenches, shells bursting overhead and damp matches that refuse to strike). Amidst all of this ‘mutation’ of his former peacetime existence, love is the only constant – but experienced as an absence because his beloved is far-removed. That this is the cause of the deepest anguish of all is indicated by the precipitous descent of the melodic line, after an initial falling semitone, through an entire octave on this last ‘Eh! Oh! Ha!’. The result is almost the onomatopoeic representation of a huge despairing exhalation and is carried through, in the short piano coda, to a further descending octave span culminating in a sepulchral low bass Eb:

A similarly dramatic vocal gesture, albeit inverted, concludes ‘Adelina à la Promenade’, where ‘amour’ is painted with a rising seventh (F to Eb). Where the singer’s final note in ‘Mutation’ shrinks in dynamic from fff to p, that in ‘Adelina à la Promenade’ begins quietly but grows over almost three bars to a powerful forte. This song, too, ends with a short coda that descends into the depths – in fact to the same contrabass Eb is in ‘Mutation’ but this time accompanied by a tenor-register Gb. Especially in their latter bars, therefore, the two songs betray a common creative source. It is as though they each represent a particular unfolding of a latent ‘pre-compositional’ idea that they share in common:

As already emphasised, the purpose behind tracing this web of connections is not simply to point out resemblances – all composers engage, to some extent, in self-borrowing, and the very process by which a composer develops a recognisable ‘voice’ depends crucially upon his or her compositions having certain family likenesses. The real significance of the exercise lies in the way it underlines how Poulenc’s particular musical language is infused with ambivalence and, in particular, how its livelier manifestations often encompass more melancholy alter-egos which, even when not overtly audible, inform the music’s overall mood. This quality was certainly crucial to the composer’s ability to capture the essence of Apollinaire’s poetry; in ‘Les Collines’, another poem from the collection entitled ‘Calligrammes’ from which Poulenc chose the texts for his cycle of that name, Apollinaire writes that:

Suffering and goodness – Poulenc’s most potent 'unseen shadow’

The concept of beauty arising from the conjunction of positive and negative elements not only rings true for Poulenc’s music, as well as Apollinaire’s aesthetic, but also applies forcibly to the poetry of Lorca. The sense of each artist’s fractured personal identity co-existing with a conviction that it is in art – and in artists generically – that our greatest hope may lie of synthesising a wholeness out of life’s contradictory, and often brutal, realities is a paradox that, in different ways, seems essential to all three of them. If the béance of our individual existence is literally unbridgeable, their message appears to be that art may give us metaphors for envisioning bridges of an aesthetic nature or, at the very least, may partially console us for their non-existence with intimations of a unifying beauty that is as dependent upon suffering as upon goodness.

While the sense of béance just described is abstract, existential and all-pervasive, this does not mean that it may not be given more specific and substantial form in the context of the ‘survivor’s anguish’ identified earlier as an important driver in Poulenc’s creative processes. A diffuse feeling of lack and the more focussed and acute experience of bereavement differ in degree rather than kind. Moreover, a cumulative series of bereavements may merge with, reinforce and impart an element of discernible identity to an underlying propensity for the sensation of béance, and this seems to have been the case with Poulenc. Part of his coming to see each death that touched him in terms of an often anguished and guilt-tinged introspection over his own evasion of such a fate stems from these events’ renewing and amplifying the pain of one very particular loss, that of his close friend and kindred spirit (and, as correspondence published in the 1990s revealed, his one-time intended spouse) Raymonde Linossier. The unseen shadow of Raymonde Linossier provides an important additional thread in the web of associations woven around and between the works discussed here.[20]

Poulenc and Raymonde Linossier were childhood friends whose respective families regularly socialised together. A letter from Poulenc’s mother to him from Vichy in 1910, when he was just 11, speaks of seeing a great deal of the Linossier family and includes the promise that a drawing that he had made would be safely delivered to Raymonde the next time they visited.[21] In 1917, two years after the death of Poulenc’s mother, Raymonde suffered the same loss, doubtless adding to the bonds which they already felt as well as anticipating the association of love and loss which Raymonde’s own untimely demise just over a decade later would prompt.

Raymonde Linossier was some two years older than Poulenc and exceptionally cultured, intelligent and sensitive. It was through her that Poulenc was introduced to the bookshop kept by Adrienne Monnier, ‘La Maison des Amis des Livres’, and to the artists and writers, including Apollinaire, who frequented it. Poulenc quickly came to value her musical judgement and advice and, once his compositions began to be published, presented her with signed copies of virtually all of them, many with cryptic dedications evoking a world of shared intimacy underpinned by secret ciphers and allusions. Interestingly, this secrecy seems to have permeated his whole attitude towards acknowledging her significance to him; although the manuscript of his ‘Journal de mes Mélodies’ acknowledges that it was on her advice, as well as that of Georges Auric, that he reduced the number of songs in his settings of Apollinaire’s ‘Le Bestiaire’ from 12 to 6, the first published version of this journal, which appeared in 1964, a year after his death, gives the sole credit to Auric. And yet, with characteristically contradictory ambivalence, he was quite happy to acknowledge in print that Raymonde was nothing less than the ‘le guide spiritual de mon adolescence’.[22] Perhaps declaring an influence that was both more profoundly all-encompassing and less technically-grounded in his own sphere of competence felt somehow a more appropriate tribute to her memory.

We now know from correspondence published in 1994 that a little under two years before Raymonde Linossier’s death in January 1930, Poulenc had decided that he wished – or perhaps felt that he needed – to put their relationship on a different footing from the spiritually close but essentially still innocently adolescent bond that had persisted throughout their twenties. Unwilling to approach her directly with a marriage proposal, and clearly deeply fearful that their precious friendship might be compromised, he wrote at some length in July 1928 to her older sister, Alice Ardoin, explaining his feelings and intentions and asking her to ‘soyez mon alliée’.[23] With what turned out to be a prophetic trepidation, he explains that: ‘Plus je vais, plus je sens que c’est la seule personne avec laquelle j’aimerais vivre. J’en suis arrivé au point où l’idée de me passer d’elle m’est intolérable […]’.[24] Poulenc’s fear was that he might lose Raymonde through the rupture of their friendship; he could not have guessed that a more profound severance would shortly come through bereavement. Although she appears to have rejected his proposal-by-proxy, they continued to enjoy each other’s company throughout 1929, not least during visits by her to the country house at Noizay that he had purchased with the idea of making it their marital home. On the manuscript of an unpublished Valse that Poulenc gave to her as a leaving present at the end of one of these stays, he wrote:

It was also during the autumn of 1929 that Poulenc took up for a third time the challenge of writing a sonata for violin and piano. Both this attempt and the earlier ones in 1918 and 1924-5 failed to yield a finished work but we do know that elements from this period of composition found their way into 1943/49 Sonate – and specifically into the second movement which carries the Lorca quotation. There is therefore a palpable link between the last months of Poulenc’s time spent with Raymonde Linossier and the genesis of key elements of the Sonate pour violon et piano.

The shock of Raymonde Linossier’s sudden death on January 30 1930 struck Poulenc severely. The words of his biographer, Hervé Lacombe, capture the extent of its significance for him:

Dire que Poulenc est effondré est peu dire. Celle qui a accompagné son existence depuis l’enfance, la femme qu’il a voulu épouser, l’amie intime qui a suivi sa dépression et sa transformation vient accomplir un pas ultime du côté de l’idéal.[25]

Lacombe’s reference to Poulenc’s depression and transformation relates to the fact that, following Raymonde Linossier’s refusal of his marriage proposal, and with much anguish and self-questioning, Poulenc had for the first time fully acknowledged his homosexual inclinations and, during the course of 1929, declared his feelings to the first significant male love of his life, Richard Chanlaire. Lacombe emphasises the role of the feminine ideal, the stabilising influence and the guardian angel that was embodied for Poulenc in Raymonde and suggests how profoundly the composer’s life would divide into the periods before and after her death:

Poulenc approfondit la dualité qui l’anime et révèle une tendance à la dépréciation de soi qui ne cessera de la tarauder aux moments des plus grandes épreuves. Il vit avec une culpabilité rentrée qui éclate ici sous la pression du malheur, avec l’idée que sa nature le détourne du droit chemin, du seul vrai chemin qu’il aurait fallu suivre. Ce qu’il désignera plus tard comme « le pire de soi » est sans doute la force noire de la dépression et plus encore ce désir qui l’éloigne de la normalité hétérosexuelle et que Raymonde a, un temps, permis d’équilibrer.[26]

At Poulenc’s request, the manuscript of his ballet ‘Les Biches’ was placed in Raymonde Linossier’s coffin because ‘c’est toute ma jeunesse qui part avec elle toute cette époque de ma vie qui n’appartient qu’à elle seule’.[27] If this marked his acknowledgement of the closing of one entire period of his life, he also sought to keep alive her memory thereafter by always having with him a photograph of her and a cigarette case that had belonged to her ‘et que je ne quitte jamais. Les soirs importants de ma carrière, j’aime les sentir sous mes doigts’.[28]

From this, it can be seen that, as well as its immediate impact, the loss of Raymonde Linossier had a deep-seated and ongoing significance for Poulenc – one that might well be enfolded in the layers of resonance generated by subsequent works of a commemorative nature even when their overt subject lay elsewhere, as with his two attempts at homage to Lorca. A further reinforcement of this connection is provided by the fact that a mere few months after Raymonde’s death, Poulenc made an extensive visit to Spain, lasting from early April until late May of 1930. Raymonde had urged him to undertake this trip and, as he wrote to Alice Ardoin: ‘L’ombre aimée ne m’a pas quitté un seul jour durant ce voyage que j’ai fait beaucoup sur son conseil’.[29] For the portion of his trip that he was in Madrid, Poulenc stayed at the Residencia de Estudiantes, where Lorca had previously lived while a student. Although there is no record of the two men meeting during Poulenc’s Spanish sojourn, there are many circumstantial reasons why this visit, redolent with grieving memories of Raymonde but also rich in direct experiences of the country and culture so eloquently evoked in Lorca’s writings, might have been called to mind when, a little over a decade later, he came to attempt a musical commemoration of the Spanish poet.

In July 1930, Poulenc began work on a short song intended as his contribution to a commemorative anthology to Raymonde Linossier planned by Alice Ardoin. Writing to Alice, he stressed the importance of composing as a way in which he could honour Raymonde’s memory but confessed how difficult he was finding it to do justice to that memory – a similar sentiment to that which he expressed later concerning Lorca: ‘J’essaye de travailler en souvenir d’elle mais très abattu physiquement je ne fais pas du bon ouvrage. Puisse-t-elle veiller de loin sur ce qui était tout de même de moins pourri en moi’.[30] The song, ‘Epitaphe’ to a text by Malherbe, was finished by early October. Its opening line invokes a ‘Belle âme qui fus mon flambeau’ (Lovely soul who was my flame) – an image which Poulenc found singularly apt as a description of Raymonde’s significance to him: ‘Je pense aussi que le beau texte de Malherbe lui convient bien’.[31]

Given the extent of his emotional investment in this brief, almost fragmentary song – he declared that ‘Je l’ai faite avec tout mon cœur et le plus grand soin possible’[32] – it is surely significant that when, at the end of the second movement of the Sonate pour violon et piano, the music suddenly breaks into a new, solemn and funereal idea, the rhythm of this idea as first presented closely mirrors that of the opening line of the song. Although the first note is lengthened, thereby altering the placement of the first main accent, and the melodic contour is different from that of the song, the motif in the Sonate would form a perfectly apt musical setting for the poetic line. Moreover, the close resemblances that do exist between the two passages – in particular the D pedal-point, the F natural/sharp ambivalence and the presence of an Ab/Bb dyad within the prevailing D minor tonality - cannot have been lost on Poulenc:

Just as many of Poulenc’s dedications of scores to Raymonde Linossier when she was alive were couched cryptically, in the case of the Sonate pour violon et piano, he seems to have inserted a covert tribute to her within a work that outwardly commemorates a different, but also tragic and untimely, death. Moreover, he does so within the movement of that work which, with the quoted poetic text at its head, is the most overtly commemorative and whose opening musical ideas first came to him in the final months of Raymonde’s life. And there is a further possible reason why he might have been moved to embed a secretive reference to Raymonde Linossier at the core of his overt homage to Lorca. As we have already seen, it was his eagerness to collaborate with Ginette Neveu which overcame his innate distaste for the medium of solo violin; another of Poulenc’s biographers, Benjamin Ivry, suggests that he saw in Ginette Neveu an echo of the ‘manly decisiveness’ that was one of the many traits he had admired in Raymonde.[33]

Given the linking threads that have been established between Raymonde Linossier and the first of Poulenc’s two attempts at creating a musical homage to Lorca, one could easily imagine that similar connections might be discernible in his subsequent setting of Lorca’s poetry in the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’. Taking the three songs in isolation, the evidence for this seems to be lacking; however, when the ‘Trois Chansons’ are viewed as being intimately linked with ‘Calligrammes’ – an approach which has already been seen to yield a rich array of correspondences – the shadow of Raymonde does reveal itself once more, right at the end of the latter cycle.

It has already been suggested that the palindromic structure of ‘Calligrammes’ might carry a symbolic message of renewal and redemption, mirroring the ‘voyage de Dante’ through hell and purgatory to heaven and offering an antidote to the irredeemable descent into final anguish and desolation represented in both the subject matter and the key sequence of the ‘Trois Chansons’. It is therefore primarily to the final song of ‘Calligrammes’, in which the opening key of F# minor is regained, that we should look for evidence of a redemptive force that might operate as an attractor, drawing the cycle away from the tragic C minor and back towards its source key. Straight away, it can be seen that the dedication of this song, ‘Voyage’, is to the memory of Raymonde Linossier; in this context it is perhaps not unfanciful to imagine that Poulenc, when choosing this dedicatee, was implicitly casting Raymonde, now transplanted through death to the ‘côté de l’idéal’, in Hervé Lacombe’s phrase, in the role of his idealised Beatrice.

As described earlier, there is a critical moment in ‘Voyage’ when G7 harmonies that seem to be preparing for a resolution into C major/minor are instead followed by a subito piano sidestep to Db. Poulenc makes specific reference to this passage in his ‘Journal de mes Mélodies’: ‘« C’est ton visage » doucement et soudainement f, comme lorsque des nuages dévoilent tout à coup un rayon lumière’.[34] In the manuscript version of the text, but excised from published editions until the 1990s, he explicitly links the image to Raymonde Linossier, describing ‘the irrevocable departure of a face which I have never replaced and of a beautiful, alert intelligence that I shall miss forever’.[35] More generally, he speaks of the relationship between the song’s modulations and the emotions of melancholy and love. In the uncensored version of the text, there are segments, indicated here by square brackets, where these emotions are both intensified and explicitly linked to his personal feelings for Raymonde: ‘By way of [very] unexpected and [very] sensitive modulations, ‘Voyage’ goes from emotion to silence, via melancholy and love. [It is not by chance that it is dedicated to the memory of Raymonde Linossier.]’[36]

If Raymonde Linossier is therefore to be equated with the no-longer visible face evoked in Apollinaire’s poem and Poulenc’s song (‘ton visage que je ne vois plus’) it is also worth remembering that it was thanks to her that the young Poulenc, not yet out of his teens, was introduced to Apollinaire and first got to hear the sound of his voice. This aural memory, although something that, to paraphrase the visual image above, might by the 1940s be expressed as ‘ta voix que je n’entends plus’, provided him with a vital and enduring reference point that he found indispensable in approaching his settings of the poet. After Raymonde’s death, her precious gift to him of having facilitated this early encounter would doubtless have been brought to mind every time he sought to capture the voice of Apollinaire in his mélodies. This can only have added to the poignancy with which, across 25 years from 1931 to 1956, he mined the stock of the poet’s work, largely focussing on that contained in the reviews and journals which he had so avidly collected during the years of his own adolescence.

Coda: voicing the unheard; illuminating the unseen – enfoldings and unfoldings

During the course of this exposition, numerous parallels and connections have been proposed and unfolded: between Poulenc and Lorca; between Poulenc’s numerous dedications of works to deceased individuals and his own ‘survivor’s anguish’; between the ‘Trois Chansons de Federico García Lorca’ and ‘Calligrammes’; by extension, between Poulenc’s two attempts at doing justice to Lorca and his sequence of experiments in setting Apollinaire and, finally, between his very specific and intense sense of loss prompted by the death of Raymonde Linossier and his efforts to work through this, and to commemorate her, through compositional activity. It has been suggested that these connections form an intricate tapestry featuring dimly discernible allusions to people, ideas and memories that are woven throughout the works discussed here. It has been further claimed that the fact that these voices and shadows may be largely unheard and unseen, if anything, amplifies and magnifies their capacity to function as productive ciphers and triggers for Poulenc’s creative imagination.

It may be argued that, by unfolding the connections identified here from their normally concealed and embedded states, they are rendered more prosaically concrete than was the case when they operated in the fertile hinterland at – and, in some cases no doubt, beyond - the margins of the composer’s consciousness. However, for those of us who value Poulenc’s music, it seems to me that anything which offers an enriched understanding of the subtle network of associations underpinning it can only enhance our appreciation. Biographical and psychological factors can never fully encompass or explain the nature of an art-work (as the poet Arthur Rimbaud cautioned us, when we are tempted to equate the artist with his or her artistic production, we should always remember that, in the latter realm, ‘Je est un autre’).[37] Nevertheless, such factors may lead us to a closer understanding of the state of mind of the artist and, as such, deepen our empathy. Whether in terms of process or final product, the more we can unfold the elements that have been painstakingly, or even unconsciously, enfolded into a work of art, the better are our chances of understanding it in all its depth and breadth.


This exposition grew out of a presentation given at the Schulich School of Music, McGill University, Montreal, Canada in April 2017 as part of my activities there as Schulich Distinguished Visiting Chair 2016-17. I gratefully acknowledge the opportunities afforded by my appointment and the generous provision of time, facilities and presentational platforms made by the Schulich School of Music during my term of office as Visiting Chair.

The presentation formed one half of an event entitled ‘Lorca through Two Lenses’. The other participant was Doctor Eleanor Stubley, whose own presentation on Lorca at the same event was an updated version of one that she had given in November 2016 at the Norwegian Academy of Music as part of its second symposium, ‘Unfolding the Process’. It was a great privilege to work on this joint project with Dr. Stubley, who also gave valuable feedback, drawn from her extensive knowledge of Lorca, on my own proposed contribution during the course of its evolution.

The tragic death of Dr. Stubley in August 2017 adds an extra layer of poignancy to the themes discussed in the presentation and expanded upon in this article. Echoing the quality invoked in Malherbe’s poem and ascribed by Poulenc to Raymonde Linossier in his musical tribute to her, one may say that Eleanor’s was also a ‘belle âme’; her passing is indeed a loss to us all.

  1. Richter, D. (2014). Garcia Lorca at the Edge of Surrealism: The Aesthetics of Anguish, p. 7. Bucknell University Press. ↩︎

  2. Ibid., p. 15. ↩︎

  3. Ibid., p. 7. ↩︎

  4. Poulenc, F. Entretiens Avec Claude Rostand, in Southon, N. ed. (2011). J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 796. Paris : Fayard.

    ‘a kind of Andante-cantilena, vaguely Spanish’.

  5. Poulenc, F. letter to André Schaeffner, October 1942 in Chimènes, M. (1994). Correspondance 1910 – 1963 réunie, choisie, présentée et annotée par Miriam Chimènes, p. 532. Paris: Fayard.

    ‘It’s not too bad, I think’.

  6. Poulenc, F. Entretiens Avec Claude Rostand, in J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 796.

    ‘a downright failure’. ↩︎

  7. Poulenc, F. Entretiens Avec Claude Rostand, in J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 796.

    [the] ‘rhythmic and vital momentum’ is ‘suddenly broken by a slow and tragic coda’.

  8. Ferraty, F. (2009). La musique pour piano de Francis Poulenc ou le temps de l’ambivalence. Paris: L’Harmattan. The book’s title foregrounds the concept of ambivalence which is then discussed in detail throughout. ↩︎

  9. See Note 3 ↩︎

  10. In ‘Les Soirées de Paris’, June 1914, reproduced in facsimile in (2012). P. 323. Paris: Editions Edite.

    ‘Where the poet in the midst of life records in some way the ambient lyricism’.

  11. Poulenc, F. Entretiens Avec Claude Rostand, in J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 796.

    ‘its tone of artificial pathos’.

  12. Poulenc, F. (1985). Diary of my Songs/Journal de mes Mélodies. (W. Radford, Trans.), p. 90. London: V. Gollancz.

    ‘How hard I’ve found it to prove through music my passion for Lorca!’.

  13. Quoted in Schmidt, Carl B. (1995). The Music of Francis Poulenc, A Catalogue, p. 337. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    ‘The three Lorca [songs], very subtle, are giving me trouble but I’ll get there’.

  14. Ibid., p.337.

    ‘I’m working on three Lorca songs (excellent translation). They’re giving me trouble because it’s a subtle genre but I think I’ll find a way through’.

  15. Schmidt, Carl B. The Music of Francis Poulenc, A Catalogue, pp. 385-6.

    *’*A real internal armature’, ‘the keys are balanced very precisely’.

  16. Poulenc, F. Diary of my Songs/Journal de mes Mélodies, p.76.

    As I never transpose the music which I have just conceived for a certain line, or even for just a handful of words, into another key so as to make it easier for myself, it follows that making the links between these is often difficult and I need to take a step back in order to find the exact place where I sometimes obliged to make an abrupt modulation.

  17. Schmidt, Carl B. The Music of Francis Poulenc, p.386. [see following page for translation]

    ‘Each song should be an extension of the previous one’.

  18. Poulenc, F. Diary of my Songs/Journal de mes Mélodies, p. 92.

    ‘For me it represents the culmination of a whole range of experiments in setting Apollinaire to music’.

  19. Ibid., p. 94.

    We arrive at ‘Voyage’, [certainly]{.underline} one of the two or three songs which I value most.

    Greatly [superior]{.underline} to ‘Sanglots’, of which certain points will always trouble me.

  20. For a rich account of the life and character of Raymonde Linossier and her significance for Poulenc, see Robert, S. (trans. Buckland, S.). ‘Raymonde Linossier’ “Lovely soul who was my flame” in Buckland, S. and Chimènes, M. eds. (1999). Francis Poulenc: Music, Art and Literature, pp. 87-139. Aldershot: Ashgate. ↩︎

  21. See Chimènes, M. (1994). Correspondance 1910 – 1963, Letter 10-1, pp. 47-8. ↩︎

  22. Poulenc, F. ‘« Lorsque je suis mélancolique » (hommage à Adrienne Monnier)’ in Southon, N. ed. J’écris ce qui me chante, p. 410.

    [the] ‘spiritual guide of my adolescence’.

  23. Chimènes, M. (1994). Correspondance 1910 – 1963, Letter 28-4, p. 287

    ‘be my supporter/advocate’

  24. Ibid., p.287

    ‘The longer I live, the more I feel that she is the only person I would like to share my life with. I have reached the point where the idea of doing without her is intolerable to me […]’.

  25. Lacombe, H. (2013). Francis Poulenc, p. 353. Paris: Fayard.

    To say that Poulenc was devastated would be an understatement. The woman who had accompanied his existence since childhood, whom he had wanted to marry, the closest friend who had stuck with him through his depression and his transformation had just taken a final step into the realm of the ideal.

  26. Ibid., p.353. [see following page for translation]

    Poulenc experiences a deepening of the duality that animates him and reveals a tendency towards self-loathing that will never cease to strike at moments of greatest trial. He lives with an inward-turned guilt that erupts under the pressure of misfortune, with the idea that his nature deflects him from the right path, the only true path that he ought to have followed. What he will later refer to as “the worst of oneself” is undoubtedly the black force of depression and, even more so, that desire that moves him away from heterosexual normality and which Raymonde had, for a time, enabled him to counteract.

  27. Chimènes, M. (1994). Correspondance 1910 – 1963, Letter 30-1, p. 320

    ‘it is all my youth that goes with her, that whole period of my life which belongs to her alone’.

  28. Chimènes, M., Letter 43-14, p. 548.

    ‘and which I shall never abandon. On all the important nights of my career, I like to feel them under my fingers’.

  29. Chimènes, M. (1994). Correspondance 1910 – 1963, Letter 30-8, p. 325.

    ‘Her beloved spirit did not leave me for a single day during the journey, which I undertook very much on her advice’.

  30. Chimènes, M., Letter 30-9, p. 325.

    ‘I’m trying to work in memory of her but as physically debilitated as I am, I’m not working well. May she keep watch from afar over what was, after all, the least rotten of myself’.

  31. Chimènes, M., Letter 30-13, p. 329.

    ‘I also think that the beautiful text by Malherbe is so fitting for her’.

    In a footnote to the letter, Chimènes adds that Poulenc had at first written ‘aurait plu’ ['would have pleased her’] and then struck it through.

  32. Ibid., p.329.

    ‘I have written it with all my heart and the greatest possible care’.

  33. Ivry, B. (1996). Francis Poulenc, p. 125. London: Phaidon. ↩︎

  34. Poulenc, F., Diary of my Songs/Journal de mes Mélodies, p. 96.

    ‘“C’est ton visage” [must be] tenderly and unexpectedly f, as when the clouds all at once clear to reveal a ray of moonlight’. Note that the unexpected forte must nevertheless be executed with tenderness. Given Poulenc’s choice of imagery, the subito piano that follows immediately may therefore, presumably, be likened to an equally sudden veiling from sight of the moon/‘ton visage’.

  35. See Robert, S. (trans. Buckland, S.). ‘Raymonde Linossier’ “Lovely soul who was my flame” in Buckland, S. and Chimènes, M. eds. (1999). Francis Poulenc: Music, Art and Literature, p. 97. For the French edition with this extra passage, see Poulenc, F. Machart, F. ed. (1993). Journal de mes mélodies, p. 55. Paris: Cicero. ↩︎

  36. See Robert, S., p. 96. ↩︎

  37. Rimbaud, A… Letter to Georges Izambard, May 13 1871. This statement is widely cited - for example, in Little, R. (1976). Guillaume Apollinaire, p. 11. London: Athlone.

    I is someone else’.