Françis Poulenc: Montparnasse

Written by Matt Boehler


In category: Song of the Day

Published July 16, 2018

My preferences change a lot, so only two things have earned from me the immutable stamp of “absolute favorite” over the years. My absolute favorite color: green. My absolute favorite art song: Poulenc’s “Montparnasse.”

Green is obvious, it’s the best color. But can we take a moment to chat about, and to adore this song? I fell in love with it several years ago when Steve programmed and played it on Manning the Canon, and Scott Murphree sang it so beautifully. Fun fact: it took Poulenc four years to write the song, because it came to him in bits and bobs, and in various unrelated keys. And yet this bittersweet meditation on Apollinaire’s youth and folly seems so fresh and so right, as if it was simply plucked from the ether, fully formed.

author: Matt Boehler

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Singer and composer Matt Boehler has been hailed by The New York Times as “a bass with an attitude and the goods to back it up,” and the San Francisco Classical Voice for music that “harnesses considerable expressive power.” As a singer, he has been heard in some of classical music’s most prestigious venues, including appearances with The Metropolitan Opera, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Canadian Opera Company, Dallas Opera, the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center, among many others. He is happy to be a member of the NYFOS family, having joined the roster for the world premieres of Bastianello and Lucretia, as well as the programs Where We Come From and Manning the Canon: Songs of Gay Life. As a writer, his song cycle Foursquare Cathedral was awarded first prize in the 2017 NATS Art Song Composition Competition. Some recent and upcoming commissions include works for Washington National Opera, Victory Hall Opera, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and Left Coast Chamber Ensemble.

1 Comment

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    I’m sorry only now to have discovered this blog. I’ve adored “Montparnasse” for decades, since a Jessye Norman LP introduced me to it in maybe 1979. “Tes yeux ressemblent tant à ces deux grands ballons qui s’en vont dans l’air pur à l’aventure” might be an examination test for anybody’s French diction, and Poulenc maximises that in the duration of each vowel. The way he highlights Apollinaire’s constant changes of meter is wonderful, and the less frequent but striking changes of tone too. So interesting that he keeps the vocal line syllabic – an old rule of French vocalism going back to perhaps Gluck (Rossini had to learn it when he came to the Paris Opéra) – until “l’aventure”, where he spins magic with the rise and fall of one vowel.


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