The World's most beautiful music: Les chemins de l'amour

>> Sunday, May 4, 2008


Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc, (January 7, 1899–January 30, 1963) was a French composer and a member of the French group Les Six. He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music. Critic Claude Rostand, in a July 1950 Paris-Presse article, described Poulenc as "half bad boy, half monk" ("le moine et le voyou"), a tag that was to be attached to his name for the rest of his career.

Poulenc was born in Paris in 1899. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play, and music formed a part of family life. As he was a capable pianist, the keyboard dominated much of his early compositions. He also, throughout his career, borrowed from his own compositions as well as those of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Camille Saint-Saëns. Later in his life, the loss of some close friends, coupled with a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, led him to rediscovery of the Catholic faith and resulted in compositions of a more sombre, austere tone.

Some writers consider Poulenc one of the first openly gay composers. His first serious relationship was with painter Richard Chanlaire to whom he dedicated his Concert champêtre: "You have changed my life, you are the sunshine of my thirty years, a reason for living and working." He also once said, "You know that I am as sincere in my faith, without any messianic screamings, as I am in my Parisian sexuality." However, Poulenc's life was also one of inner struggle. Having been born and raised a Roman Catholic, he struggled between coming to terms with his unorthodox sexual appetites and maintaining his religious convictions.

Poulenc also had a number of relationships with women. He fathered a daughter, Marie-Ange, although he never formally admitted that he was indeed her father. He was also a very close friend of the singer Pierre Bernac for whom he wrote many songs; some sources have hinted that this long friendship had sexual undertones; however, the now-published correspondence between the two men strongly suggests that this was not the case.

(Information source: Wikipedia)

Les Chemins de l'amour is a torch song composed near the end of WWII for one of Paris' famous night club singers, Yvonne Printemps. I discovered this chanson years ago, and fell in love with it and several years later used it as the closing piece on my master's recital. Sung here by one of the world's greatest singers, Jesse Norman, you'll hear why this piece is so beloved.

The English translation of the French text is as follows:

The paths that arch of the ocean
protect our crossing,
flowers losing their leaves
and the echo under the trees,
Our two bright laughs.
Alas, from days of happiness
radiant joys take flight,
I journey without recovering your traces
In my heart.

Paths of my love
I try to find you always
lost paths, you don't exist anymore,
And your echoes have been muffled.
Paths of despair,
Paths of memory,
Paths of first love,
Divine pathways of love.

This I am duty-bound to forget one day
the way that life obliterates all things.
I want in my heart that a memory will rest
More strongly than another love.
The memory of paths
Where trembling and completely passionate,
a day I have felt above myself
to burn and be consumed by your hands.

(text by Jean Anouilh)


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