Francis Poulenc: The Man and his Songs

Pierre Bernac
Foreword by Sir Lennox Berkeley
Song translations by Winifred Radford

In 1935 French baritone Pierre Bernac formed a duo with the composer Francis Poulenc that became a legend. Here, Bernac passes on his personal understanding of the songs of Poulenc as well as a little of their experience in performing them.





In 1935 the French baritone Pierre Bernac formed a duo with the composer Francis Poulenc that became a legend throughout the world. Unprecedented in the history of music, it was the first duo in which the singer and pianist were perceived as equals. It lasted for 25 years and was a determining influence on Poulenc’s vocal output: more than two-thirds of his songs were written for Bernac to sing. Bernac’s general book on the French repertoire, “The Interpretation of French Song”, has long been the standard and indispensable work on its subject. In “Francis Poulenc – the Man and His Songs”, first published in 1977, he gives us the fruit of his long association with Poulenc, paying moving tribute to the composer both as man and musician, and providing detailed analyses of every piano-accompanied song that Poulenc wrote. Each of the 137 poems is annotated for pronunciation, with a line-for-line translation into English by Winifred Radford, who also translated the text of the book. The discussion of each song is preceded by a brief biographical note on the poet and a description of Poulenc’s own attitude towards both poet and poem.Bernac aimed in this book, to pass on his personal understanding of the songs of Francis Poulenc, as well as a little of their mutual experience in interpreting and performing them. He has thereby left a unique record whose importance cannot be overestimated.


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About the Author

Pierre Bernac was a French baritone and a famous interpreter of the French mélodie. He had a close artistic association with Francis Poulenc, with whom he performed in France and abroad. Poulenc wrote 90 songs especially for him during their 25-year musical partnership. Bernac was well known as a teacher and among the singers who studied with him were Elly Ameling, Grace Bumbry, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Carol Neblett, Jessye Norman and Gérard Souzay. He gave masterclasses in France, Britain and the US.


Foreword by Sir Lennox Berkeley
List of Songs
1. Francis Poulenc, the Man
2. FrancisPoulenc, Composer of Songs
3. Performance and Interpretation
4. Guillaume Appollinaire
5. Paul Eluard
6. Louise de Vilmorin
7. Max Jacob
8. Maurice Carème
9. Maurice Fombeure
10. Jean Cocteau – Raymond Radiguet
11. Louis Aragon – Robert Desnos
12. Colette – Laurence de Beylié – Jean Anouilh
13. Federico Garcia-Lorca
14. Jean Moréas
15. Ronsard
16. Anonymous Texts of the Seventeenth Century
17. Malherbe -Racine – Charles d’Orléans
Bibliographical Note
Index of Titles
Index of First Lines


No one will ever sing my songs better than Bernac. He knows the smallest secrets of my music.
Francis Poulenc, 1954

This is THE book for singers and anyone interested in the wonderful melodies of Francis Poulenc.

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