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The sacred choral music of Francis Poulenc: a contextual and analytical study

Moschard, Toby Patrick (2004) The sacred choral music of Francis Poulenc: a contextual and analytical study. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Poulenc is perhaps best known for his instrumental works, for his adherence to the aesthetics of Neo-classicism, and his place among the Parisian intellectual circles in tJie 1920s and 1930s in which his friend, Jean Cocteau, played a central role. This essentially secular side of Poulenc's creativity was, after the composer's return to Roman Catholicism in 1936, challenged by a need to express a newly-found religious conviction in sacred music. Consequently Poulenc, who had been accustomed to the secular aesthetics of Neo-classicism of Parisian artistic life and the French capital's concert halls, found it necessary to 'rediscover' and assimilate the language of French church music and its history (notably through the filter of the Cecilian Movement, Niedermeyer and the pkinchant of Solesmes) in order to create for himself an appropriate 'sacred style’ that could also incorporate those essential elements of his characteristically playful and sensual, 'secular' language. This study aims to explore this confrontation of styles and how Poulenc successfully forged a cohesive and congruent language for his sacred works. The opening chapters have several distinct perspectives: chapter one outlines the tortuous history of the Church's relationship with the State in France dating back to the pivotal effects of the 1789 Revolution, in an attempt to provide a necessary context for the importance that Poulenc and his predecessors and contemporaries (most significantly Debussy) attached to the past; chapter two, by contrast, discusses some of the principal issues at the heart of Parisian artistic society in the early decades of the twentieth century and focuses on the lively artistic community which existed in Paris with the influx of large numbers of foreign musicians (particularly Americans and Russians) and artists, the emergence of 'Les Six' (of which Poulenc was a member) and the artistic leadership and inspiration given by figures such as Jean Cocteau, Serge Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky. Cocteau and Stravinsky, indeed, had a huge impact on the young Poulenc. The second part of the thesis is an analytical study of Poulenc's sacred works (putting aside the Gloria, Stabat Mater and Sept Repais de Tetibres which are unmistakably concert works) and connects these analyses with the issues presented in the earlier chapters, beginning with the emotionally powerful Litanies a la vierge noire for women’s voices, composed soon after his Catholic faith returned in 1936, and ending with the decidedly hard-edged, Stravinskian Neo-classicism, yet relative placidity, of the Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue for men's voices, completed in Cannes in 1959. Central to the analytical discussion are the well known eclectic Mass in G (1937), the dramatic Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence (1939) and the stylistically distilled Quatre petite prieres de Saint Francois d'Assise which display the greatest variety of style and form and which combine to present significant examples of Poulenc's skilful unification of sacred and secular, ancient and modem sound worlds.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:2004
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Sep 2011 09:58

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