"When people say about your music: 'It's so typically Poulenc,'" an off-camera voice says to open the conversation, "what does that mean to you? What is Poulenc?"
"My God, that's a pleasure to hear!" Poulenc replies, taking the question as compliment. "It proves people know my music. It proves I have a personality."
Arguably one of the great personalities of 20th-century French music, pianist and composer Francis Poulenc expands on "Qu'est-ce que du Poulenc" in this interview by CBC/Radio-Canada journalist Hubert Aquin (who would later become a significant cultural figure in his own right, as a novelist, filmmaker and political activist in Quebec in the '60s and '70s).
Today, to mark the 50th anniversary of Poulenc's death, CBC Music is making the full interview (originally broadcast on Premier Plan, back in the summer of 1960) available online.
In the footage below, you'll see a very relaxed, charming and generous Poulenc chatting with Aquin (entirely in French, so get ready to exercise your French-immersion muscles) about many subjects, including these highlights:
• His taste for the music of Jules Massenet (1:36: "Every French musician has a little Massenet in him, just like every Italian musician has a little Puccini").
• His regret at not having been able to meet Claude Debussy (3:47: "Naturally, he was God for me, and I wanted to know God").
• His respect for Maurice Ravel (5:00: "Ravel wasn't intelligent. That's what's wonderful. All of his strength, all of his intelligence was reserved for music").
• Igor Stravinsky's considerable influence (8:27: "He's possibly the musician that I most admired, and he's the musician who allowed me to express myself").
• Advice for young composers (9:52: "We must spit on our elders for a certain time, you understand? We can only love them more after").
• His appreciation for musicals (12:13: "It's the future folklore").
• His understanding of jazz (14:08: "I don't know anything about jazz, you must know the question very well to be able to appreciate it").
• His songwriting habits (17:29: "It's very rare that I start with the first verse").
• His initial reaction to the idea of Le Dialogue des Carmélites as an opera (19:24: "I said no. It seemed foolish to write an opera without a tenor who is not dying of love").
• His religious personality (21:13: "I am double").
• And the operas of Richard Strauss (23:11: "It's very funny, but Richard Strauss always touches me. I know it's not fashionable to say that now, but I am very Richard Strauss").
Feeling lost in translation? Why not reach out to the CBC classical music community by leaving your questions in the comments section below.
Francis Poulenc website
All-Poulenc web radio station from espace.mu
on Jan 30, 2013