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Poulenc (1899-1963) - Gloria

Initially taught piano by his mother, in his teens Poulenc studied with Ricardo Vines who introduced him to Satie, Auric and others. Joining Les Nouveux Jeunes, his (now politically incorrect?) Rapsodie Negre (1917) brought the prerequisite notoriety, but by 1920, conscious of his sparse education, he studied harmony under Koechlin for three years. “Graduating” to membership of Les Six, the inner sanctum of Les Nouveux Jeunes nominated by critic Henri Collet, Poulenc enthusiastically embraced their guiding principle: conversion of “Parisian folklore” into what we might call “Nationalism with street cred”. Traditional audiences were outraged; the popular masses enthused. 

That lop-sided “education” steered the evolution of his distinctive style. With scant knowledge of form and counterpoint, he couldn't “carry” an argument. Instead he interlocked “tiles” of contrasted, naturally “breathing” phrases into musical “mosaics”, varying recurrent episodes almost minimalistically. While the method is reminiscent of Messiaen, the results are very different!  Although technically ignorant his innate talent for orchestral sonority, plus that harmonic education and strong jazz influences, gave his music a vaguely sleazy, but dangerously seductive charm. 

In the Gloria, the “tiles” come in two basic “colours”. Bright, jagged, jazzy “tiles” reflect the outrageous joi-de-vivre of his “Street cred” persona. Mystical, mellifluous, serene “tiles”, often tinged by ecclesiastical chant, reflect his enduring Catholic faith. This alternation of  “profane” and “sacred” imbues the Gloria with unique succulence, which some found unpalatable when it was premièred by the Boston Symphony in 1961. Fortunately, the misery-gutses who were scandalised by the glories of the Gloria failed miserably to suppress this irrepressible music. 

Poulenc dedicated the work to the memory of his wife, Nathalie, and Serge Koussevitsky. Of the six short movements, the last features some spine-tinglingly organ-like sonorities and one of the most sublime, throat-lumpingly beautiful codas it has been my privilege to experience. 

1. Gloria in excelsis Deo. 

2. Laudamus te. 

3. Domine Deus. 

4. Domine fili unigenite. 

5. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei. 

6. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris.
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© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


 

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