Candle - Gerhard Richter
Vivan le femmine, viva il buon vino! Sostegno e gloria d'umanità! It's always a good time to remember Mozart's Don Giovanni, and now it's quite relevant because I’ll talk about a song cycle that the dissoluto could have sung after his dinner, if the Commendatore hadn’t arrived and interrupted him. There is sex, wine and irreverence in those songs, and a much more explicit language than the censorship would have allowed to Lorenzo da Ponte. I 'm talking about the Chansons Gaillardes by Francis Poulenc, that I jotted down in my notebook for today because the're programmed in Simon Keenlyside's recital at the Liceu; it's a good reason to introduce this cycle.

The dictionary defines gaillard as "sprightly or lively", but also as "bawdy, lewd". Although some of the songs are really lively, in this case the second meaning is more appropriate; The title is directly related to the chansons paillardes, those humourous songs sang among friends after eating and drinking liberally; if I'm not wrong, they are the French equivalent to English bawdy songs. And how did that kind of songs, rather vulgar, arrived at concert halls? You know, Poulenc and the good old times...

Pierre Bernac explains in his book Francis Poulenc et ses mélodies the influence of that time:

It is difficult to imagine today [...] what the outbreak of joie de vivre, during the too short 20s, represented after the First World War. After such a long, cruel war, after such a dreadful bloodbath, everyone believed that the world would finally know an everlasting peace. The extraordinary euphoria, the prodigious artistic vitality of Paris at that time, that allowed all boldness, was the golden age for Poulenc [...]

At that time "that allowed all boldness," Poulenc moved in the avant-garde circles in Paris, which included names like poets Valery, Aragon and Éluard or painters like Picasso and Gris. Among the musicians, he made friends with Milhaud, Honegger and the rest of Les Six, all of them admirers of the peculiar composer Erik Satie and not really keen on 19th century music. You can imagine the context, can't you?

The Chansons Gaillardes were composed in 1925, from eight anonymous poems from the 18th century and he "just tried to prove that obscenity can be adapted to music", according to his own words. Did he want to épater les bourgeois too? Who knows, but it's too late for us, ninety years later. The premiere took place on May 2nd, 1926 at the Salle des Agriculteurs; Poulenc had proposed Bernac to be the singer and that was their first collaboration, ten years before they started working regularly as a duo. The concert was a success, maybe because the Salle des Agriculteurs, the concert hall of the École normale de musique de Paris, wasn't part of the "official" halls, and probably the audience shared Poulenc and Georges Auric's (the other composer performed) phobias and philias. Whatever the case, the Chansons gaillardes became eventually part of the repertoire.

The musical critic Claude Rostand described Francis Poulenc as "moine et voyou" (half-monk, half-rascal), referring to his works that went from deeply religious to absolutely crazy (who else could have composed the operas Dialogues des Carmelites and Les mamelles de Tirésias?). The Chansons gaillardes belong, no doubt, to his rascal side, and they include playful ambiguities with music and poems; If we wouldn't know the lyrics, the songs could be similar, for instance, to Don Quichotte à Dulcinée by Ravel, a cycle that also includes a drinking song, a love song and a prayer (all of them without double meanings). You can experiment with the song that I suggest, L'offrande, in which a girl makes an offering to achieve a lover. First, listen to it without paying attention to the lyrics, just to the music (which is really beautiful), and then, listen again paying attention to what the song says. Yes… you understood it correctly.

I'm sharing with you a performance by José van Dam and Maciej Pikulski, a live recording. People enjoyed very much the song (if you're wondering about the final sigh, it's written in the score). I hope you listen to the whole cycle after listening to this song; It's very short, around 11 minutes. We don't have that many opportunities of laughing when we listen to Art Song!
Au dieu d'Amour une pucelle
Offrit un jour une chandelle,
Pour en obtenir un amant.
Le dieu sourit de sa demande
Et lui dit: Belle en attendant
Servez-vous toujours de l'offrande.
If you need an English translation please visit this link

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