Tuesday, 30 January 2018

TRIVIA & HUMOR XII: PUTTING THE "GROSS" IN ANATOMY; GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY WITH THE BIG BOYS




It's high time for another installment of TRIVIA & HUMOR. In this, Unraveling Musical Myth's 12th journey behind the scenes of Western Classical music's lives of centuries past, we once more indulge into the sometimes horrifying, almost always hilarious harems of hell on earth in which our beloved icons of yore so greatly enjoyed (or, in some instances, recoiled from).

Without further ado, I present to the reader
TRIVIA & HUMOR XII:



German composer Richard Wagner may not have been triskaidekaphobic (as far as we know). However, according to a statistician living in 1895, the vast multitude of incidences in which the Number 13 would make an appearance in the controversial composer's life would have been sufficient enough grounds to make Schoenberg faint dead away like a groupie at a Liszt concert.

Here are more than a few instances in which the number occurs throughout Wagner’s work/life, as recounted by author Willey Francis Gates from the calculations of a “statistically inclined writer” living in the 19th century:


Of course we see what we want to see, and much of this is a stretch – like picking at straws, but a clever anecdote nonetheless:

  • Born 1813: The sum of the figures in 1813 equals 13. (1+8=9; 1+3=4: 9+4=13)  Died on the 13th day of February, 1883
  • The full date of his death was the 13th day of the 2nd month in ’83. It makes 13 twice: first the day of death: 13; and again in the 2nd month of the year (February: 2+ 8+3 =13)
  • There are 13 letters in the name Richard Wagner
  • Wagner composed 13 operas (music dramas)
  • His decision to pursue a dramatic career was formed on the 13th day of the month; he was influenced in changing his format after hearing Carl Maria von Weber’s "Der Freischütz,” which, in it’s entirety (famous overture included) was completed on the 13th May 1820; it’s first appearance at Dresden, home to Wagner, was in 1822 (1+8+2+2=13).
  • Weber died in Wagner’s 13th year
  • Wagner’s first appearance as a “musical personage” occurred in 1831 (1+8+3+1=13) during his tenure as a music student at Leipzig.
  •  He would become director of the stage at Riga, which opened its doors on the 13th day of September, 1837; it was here that Wagner began to compose his early opera “Rienzi,” completed in Paris some 3 years later in 1840 (1+8+4+0=13)
  •  On April 13, 1844, Richard completed Tannhauser, which was performed in Paris on March 13 1861
  •  By 13th of august in the year 1876, Wagner began the first presentation of the “Bayreuth Dramas,” the Nibelungen Ring.;” the last day at “Bayreuth” was on 13th of September 1882
  • Wagner would be forced into exile from Saxony for a total of 13 years
  • Richard would visit his father in law, Franz Liszt for the last time in Venice on January 13th, 1883, before dying on the 13th of February, in the 13th year of the new German Confederation.

Whew!

In keeping on the subject of all things Wagner, allow me to re-introduce the reader to some rather famous scandals that rocked the life of the erudite composer:


FISTFIGHT AT WAGNER PREMIERE: 


It seemed Wagner was destined for controversy almost from the beginning. The premiere of his second opera Das Liebesverbot was already off to a poor start for then relatively unknown composer, with a lead singer resorting to reciting a load of gibberish after failing to remember his lines.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the second performance had to be cancelled altogether following a pre-show backstage row – complete with fists and curses – courtesy of the works’ lead tenor and the husband of the opera's Prima Donna. Wagner fully intended to see the performance through after having quelled the violent scuffle, yet, much to his embarrassment, when the curtain finally arose, both composer and orchestra were greeted to an audience only 3 patrons strong. Humiliated, Wagner never again attempted to stage this opera during his lifetime.


FUN FACT: Fist fights were no stranger to Richard Wagner; in fact, in the composer’s personal autobiography Mein Leben (written at the request of Wagner patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1865), Wagner describes a real-life experience of mistaken identity and a near-riot that made such a frightening impression on him, he would later incorporate the experience into the second act of his 1862 music drama Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in which the diarist relates:

"Out of this situation evolved an uproar, which through the shouting and clamour and an inexplicable growth in the number of participants in the struggle soon assumed a truly demoniacal character. It looked to me as if the whole town would break out into a riot...Then suddenly I heard a heavy thump, and as if by magic the whole crowd dispersed in every direction...One of the regular patrons had felled one of the noisiest rioters.... And it was the effect of this which had scattered everybody so suddenly."
-Richard Wagner, Mein Leben

HIERONYMUS BOSCH: "BUTT MUSIC"


Back in 2015, the worldwide press erroneously labeled Oklahoma Christian University student Amelia Hamrick as having “discovered" a formerly “unnoticed" fraction of a musical score on the backside of a man, positioned fanny-up (that's derrière, to you naughty folks in the U.K) in Dutch/Netherlandish Painter Hieronymus Bosch’s infamous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Certainly I, and many fans of this peculiar work have pondered the mystery of the “formerly unnoticed score” – hint: we noticed – long ago: in fact, speculation as to the meaning of the music has been a hot topic amongst artistic circles since the renewed interest in the Dutch artists' work peaked during the height of the Surrealist Movement in the 20th Century. Likely, it sparked interest in it's heyday as well.


The famous triptych, so named after it’s middle panel, is said to be a depiction (from left panel to right) of Paradise, Purgatory (debated), and finally, Hell. It is in the right panel (the portion that covers the subject matter of this post both cropped and highlighted for the viewer) that one finds the oddest of material: some say the proliferation of nude men and women engaging in destructive behavior (our “Butt” man is seen being crushed by a giant lute and harp, his derrière and legs protruding underneath the instruments) as being symbolic of Bosch’s distaste for worldly lust, and their inevitable path to hell through displaying such lewd and loose behavior.

Whilst the Oklahoma grad may not have been the first to “notice” the music on the “butt” of the figure, she was perhaps the first to transcribe the 16th century era piece, telling her followers on social media site Tumblr:

“I decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era,”

Hamrick titled the score “The 500-Year-Old Butt Song from Hell.”

Listen to it below, played by Hamrick herself: (also check out the transcriptions of other modern day musicians, who have based their material on Hamrick's transcription on YouTube. Such a following is quite the honor for the young student.




ERIK SATIE: VIGILANT HOARDER BY DAY, MANIACALLY EN GARDE! BY NIGHT


A sketch of Erik Satie by Frueh
Parisian composer Erik Satie, ever the eccentric, held a rather filthy secret all the way to his grave: much like his musical predecessor Ludwig van Beethoven, whose shared ‘secret’ was discovered during the larger-than-life composer’s downward spiral into anacusis during the late 1800’s. Perhaps a reaction to stress and undoubted fear – perhaps a stalwart dedication then more than ever before to compose beautiful music – Beethoven would be discovered living in a state of utter squalor and disarray: it is said the rank and vile odor from wasted food piled up in his lodgings permeated the streets wherever the Bonn native chose to set up shop. Ludwig, once maestro supreme of Germany, had become a full-blown hoarder, “collecting” (or simply not disposing) of anything that would enter into the vicinity of his lodgings.

This behavior – although understandable from a psychological/physiological aspect still left fans of the composer stunned: how could such a dynamic, creative mind reduce himself thus? 

Monday, 22 January 2018

COMING IN FEBRUARY 2018: NASA’S INFAMOUS “VOYAGER GOLDEN RECORD” RECEIVES VINYL TREATMENT, PUBLIC ACCESS TO ALBUM ONCE DESIGNATED ONLY FOR THE EYES AND EARS OF GOVERNMENT AGENCY BECOMES AVAILABLE TO ALL SEEKING AN ETHEREALLY COSMIC EXPERIENCE

Above: Cover of the so-named "Golden Record" (top)
and the record itself (bottom)
In the late summer of 1977, scientists at NASA successfully launched into interstellar space two probes, dubbed “Voyager 1,” and “Voyager 2,” (both of which catapulted high above earth’s atmosphere on September 5 and August 20th, respectively). “On board” these probes was a little gift from Earth – a pleasant introduction of sorts to any potential intelligent life forms that may (or may not) exist within and/or beyond the confines of our vast solar system. It was a simple (by layman’s standards) token of peace: a record, comprised of two 12-inch gold-plated copper discs dubbed “The (Voyager) Golden Record,” which, by scientific standards, was a highly complex collection of sounds recorded here on earth combined with embedded imagery of life on what present day space fanatics call the only planet hospitable to man.

The project, which cost in excess of One billion one hundred forty-five million USD to reach its goal of launching far outwards into interstellar space, borrowed the curated collection of American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist and astrobiologist, Carl Sagan, then 43, which contained sounds of nature such the violent clapping of thunder and the calming tidal waves of the ocean - to the chirping of birds above earth’s terra firma, the various clicks and whistles of whales below sea level - to the gentle whimpers of a human infant, and, dispersed among some rock n' roll songs and greetings in 55 native tongues (including a written message from then-US president Jimmy Carter and U.N. General Secretary Kurt Waldheim), were some of Western (and Eastern) classical music’s most influential pieces – each designated to a country on Earth – according to where each composer was sired - showcasing to any curious extraterrestrial beings the traditions and styles of the music genre according to it’s creator’s home country on Earth.

Some of the standout pieces on The Golden Record include, from Germany, Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F, (first mvmt) performed by the Munich Bach Orchestra under the baton of Karl Richter, and in the style of Baroque chamber music. Also featured on the album are Bach's "Gavotte en rondeau" (mvmt. III) from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin as performed by the Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux, in the style of Baroque solo violin, and, in a slight switch in categorization, such as was the case with Stravinsky (as we will soon learn), we have, hailing from Canada, the Torontonian keyboard legend Glenn Gould’s renditions of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, (book II, Prelude and Fugue No.I in C major) in the style of Baroque keyboard music.


Above: Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux performs the third movement - the Gavotte en Rondeau" - by J.S. Bach.

From Austria, we have Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s stratospheric aria Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen from the composer's much beloved Die Zauberflöte, as performed by the famous German coloratura soprano Edda Moser with the Bavarian State Opera under the baton of Wolfgang Sawallisch, categorized as Opera, specifically "Classical Opera" - indicative of the genre's so-dubbed "Classical" era.


Above: German Coloratura Soprano Edda Moser sings the extremely challenging "Der Hölle Rache..."  under Wolfgang Sawallish - music
from Herr Mozart's masonic opera The Magic Flute.


As mentioned previously in regard to Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, Russian born composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky is hailed as a Frenchman on the infamous record. This is not much of a surprise, given the work selected for the album: Le Sacre du Printemps, or, The Rite of Spring (in particular, the exquisite and emotionally charged Sacrificial Dance sequence), listed under the category of ballet. Stravinsky's 1913 Parisian premiere at Paris' Théâtre des Champs Elysées
would show to any extraterrestrial intelligent life the pettiness of man, the value of wealth, and the snobbery that innately lurks within all of us. For it was at the May 29 premiere of Stravinsky's ballet in Paris that mankind proved the existence of a vitriolic distinction between the upper and middle classes and the clashing of overzealous egos, progressiveness, and cultural pomposity.

The movement chosen for The Golden Record is therefore quite fitting - the music portraying a young virgin, sacrificed by her peers to literally dance herself to death in a most insane fashion in order to yield bountiful crops come spring - a nod to mankind's cruel nature of out with the old, in with the new, and proving only the strong survive and supersede - often through meaningless sacrifice and at the expense of others. This recording in particular, added to The Golden Record, was conducted by Stravinsky himself: leading the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. It is categorized as Modernist Classical Ballet.


Above: Igor Stravinsky conducts his very own masterpiece: Le Danse Sacrale from his highly polarizing ballet Le Sacre Du Printemps. He
leads the Columbia Symphony Orchestra into a whipped-up frenzy of pagan suffering and sacrifice to expert effect.

Again we re-visit Germany, with works by Bonn native Ludwig van Beethoven (his infamous Symphony no. V, mvmt. I), as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Otto Klemperer, categorized as Romantic Symphony; in addition to the composer's 1826 Cavatina (from the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130). Listed as a Romantic String Quartet, both pieces by Beethoven capture Western Classical Music’s so-called “Romantic" era.


Above: the melodious Cavatina from Herr Beethoven's String Quartet XIII, as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under maestro
Otto Klemperer.

Now that we have some of the facts regarding this golden treasure, the question remains – just how rare is the record, and, more importantly, can you get you hands on a copy?

The answers to these questions are thus:

The originals are extremely rare: only 12 discs were pressed in 1977, and ten of those twelve records were distributed exclusively to NASA facilities. The other two, of course, are, literally speaking, far out of our reach – soaring high at some 13 billion miles outside of our planet, attached to the Voyager probes. So rare are the records, that Sagan – the curator himself – was refused a copy!

But my, how things have changed: come February 2018, you can get your hands on a copy of the infamous “Golden Record.” Sagan had recorded in 1992 a “digital recreation” of the album, however it was far from a "re-issue." By next month (tentatively – the record launch day here on earth has been pushed back several times since 2016), you, and any of your loved ones will be the first humans outside of NASA to “hear” the record “in the same fashion and format” that an “alien civilization,” if they indeed exist, would have heard it.” This endeavor was made possible by a group of astronomy, music and scientific aficionados at Ozma Records – who pride themselves on presenting to the public introspective, artful and scientific works), and who launched a successful “Kickstarter Campaign”  in an effort to raise enough funds to “re-issue” and remaster the original and highly prized Golden Record. A whopping 10,768 contributors collectively pledged $1,363,037 USD, enough to bring the album to us mere mortals in the form of a two-CD set and a much awaited 3xLP vinyl box set – the latter of which is to be released next month, the former being currently available for purchase. (N.B: Buyers are relegated to purchasing only one copy, so this has all the hallmarks of a limited edition set).

If you are a lover of fine music and a lifetime space geek like I am, you will be delighted to add The Voyager Golden Record to your collection.

Thanks to all who donated to the cause!

DISCOVER MORE (External link):

Rose.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

EXPERTS ALLEGE (AGAIN) CHOPIN’S “ROMANTIC DEATH” CAUSED BY THE WHITE PLAGUE TO BE CONSIDERED “CASE CLOSED” AFTER RECENT "EXAMINATION" OF A NEARLY TWO CENTURIES' OLD HEART, PRESERVED IN COGNAC, MAKES THE PAGES OF THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF MEDICINE

Chopin on his deathbed "The Death of Chopin." The composer surrounded himself with close
family and friends (including his physician). Among them were George Sand's daughter
Solange, and one
Princess Marcelina Czartoryska.
17th of October, 1849, Place Vendôme 12, Paris, sometime after midnight: a grievously ailing Frédéric Chopin lay on his deathbed, soaked in sweat and appearing gaunt and pale in his sickly pallor (telltale signs of advanced "consumption" (the colloquial term for Tuberculosis): that highly “romantic” yet exceedingly infectious disease which earned its moniker from the sufferer appearing to onlookers to be "consuming from the inside." 

It was considered a "fashionable" pestilence, beloved by an uninformed public who bore witness to the various stages of “beauty”  which the vile scourge would temporarily extol in it’s victims - many of them poets, artists, writers, composers - stricken during the so-called “romantic era” of music and art: those poor victims who, as the disease progressed, would experience a brief period of external grandeur: a tauter waistline (due to anemia) and more porcelain complexion. It seemed a gift from heaven for men and women alike seeking to edge off a few years - an otherworldly elixir of youth.

For actual suffers of the disease, however, the slow moving contagion was anything but a gift from the gods. Chopin knew this all too well: when prompted that fateful autumnal evening at the Place Vendôme, the very mortal Chopin had seemingly accepted his early mortality and must have known the end was drawing near. He at once informed his physician, who had gathered at his deathbed, that he was suffering “no longer”.

Within hours, he would be dead.

With his passing, the Polish-born, French idol joined a large cast of artistic carriers of the disease, all of whom expired before their time, and before the advent of penicillin (antibiotics) (see: Louis Pasteur here at Unraveling Musical Myths) and the discovery of the illness’s progression by German physician and microbiologist Robert Koch (pictured below, right) in the late 19th century.

Prior to Koch’s discovery in the 1882 of the slow growing bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, it was widely believed amongst the public (and even among physicians themselves) that “TB” (code for Tuberculosis) was an inherited disease – the public taking it one step further, claiming it a disease inherited only by the minds of great men, and could be “healed” only by the divine touch of a Royal Monarch (which quite a few Kings were known to have taken advantage of, providing the "healing service" - for a pretty penny, of course). Parisian women and men alike were known to mask their faces in a veil of lead-ridden white paint (makeup: a disaster of its own), starve themselves and tighten their corsets to the point of asphyxiation and repeated cases of syncope to mimic the mysterious disease which inflicted their exalted idols.

With his passing, Chopin found himself in the company of fellow composers Alfredo Catalani – the Italian mastermind behind the 1892 opera La Wally; The exquisitely gifted and much admired German composer and musician Carl Maria von Weber of Der Freischütz fame; the young and immensely talented Giovanni Batista Pergolesi - just 26 when he perished from the infernal white plague, and whose glorious Stabat Mater remains to this day one of the greatest sacred works ever composed; Igor Stravinsky – that Russian-born mover and shaker that revolutionized the modern orchestra and ballet not only in Paris but around the globe, and, just over a century and a half earlier to Chopin’s demise, the great English composer Henry Purcell, beloved – and employed by - Britain’s reigning Royal family – and that's just to name a few.

Listen below to the exquisite voice of Renata Tebaldi as she sings from Catalani's opera La Wally "Ebben! Ne andrò lontana:"



Tuberculosis, Consumption, Phthisis, The White Plague, The White Death, “TB” - a disease of many names - even made appearances on the theatrical and operatic stage. Italian composer Giacomo Puccini famously (and erroneously) referred to it as a “social disease,” in his 1896 opera La bohème: abandoned by her lover for fear of catching TB via sexual transmission, the opera’s heroine, Mimi, ashamed, ailed, and anguished, perishes without seeking medical intervention.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

PARISIAN GOBBLEDYGOOK TURNS POULENC’S FIRST PUBLIC PREMIERE INTO A SUCCÈS DE SCANDALE, PAVES WAY FOR COMPOSER’S FUTURE IN MUSIC



Today, we celebrate the birth of French composer and pianist, Francis Poulenc, born 119 years ago today, the heir-assumptive to his family’s lucrative privately owned pharmaceutical company.

Poulenc, who would later become an avid soldier during the culmination of WWI (and a short stint in WWII) however, had other things in mind for his future than joining the family business.

From a very tender age, he would marvel at his mother, an amateur pianist, set atmosphere to the family lodgings with a delightful hodgepodge of both classical and simple, frolicky works - the latter, to amuse her young (and, as time would see, quite impressionable) son, of course.

Although strictly verboten by the master of the household, his father, Émile, from pursuing a life in music, young Francis would begin lessons on the piano by the age of five. Through his pre-pubescent and teenage years, young Poulenc would familiarize himself with the music of French composer Claude Debussy, the Austrian master of the lied, composer Franz Schubert (in particular his famous Winterrise cycle), and, chiefly, the scandalous (yet utterly delicious) cacophony of Russian-born, Parisian legend Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which Poulenc would later claim as his single greatest influence in pursuing a life in the arts – his fathers’ wishes be damned.

Spanish virtuoso pianist Ricardo Viñes
was instrumental in helping Poulenc
reach the stars.
Three years after Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky caused an uproar in Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Elysées with their deeply polarizing performance, a then 17-year old Francis delved deep into the world of music – mingling with the avant-garde poets of the day, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Paul Éluard and Louis Aragon - setting, in private, their texts to music. Many of these ‘practice’ pieces are said to have been later destroyed by Poulenc himself, after having been so fortunate as to being taken under the wing and tutelage of Spanish virtuoso pianist and teacher Ricardo Viñes, in whom Poulenc once revealed that he “owed everything” to the tutorship of this fine Spanish maestro. There lay some doubt as to when exactly the duo began practicing together. However it is believed Francis met with, and began his tutorship as early as 1914 – officially becoming Viñes pupil by 1916.*

The pairing of these two musicians could not have been more fruitful for young Poulenc. The virtuoso Viñes -a graduate of the Paris Conservatoire, no less - was so sought after, he was selected to premiere some of the works of leading French musical icons of the day, including works of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and the ever-eccentric composer Erik Satie. Young Francis did not take his sessions with his professor lightly, and, according to the composer himself, neither did Viñes: Poulenc would later claim his esteemed teacher would was known to occasionally “rap at [his] shins” with heavily “buttoned boots” until Poulenc was able to correct his pedaling technique on the piano.

"Le Nègre au turban" by Delacroix.
Apparently, a good kick to the shin was exactly what the doctor ordered for young Francis. After just three years* under Viñes tutelage, a confident Poulenc decided he was ready or the public stage – quite literally. Unlike the riot that ensued in Paris with Stravinsky’s Rite, which drew boos, hisses, a little bit of cheering and a whole lot of drunken pummeling of thy neighbor, Poulenc’s premiere performance of Rapsodie left the audience aghast, not only by the composer’s drôle sense of humor, nor alone by the tenor who "threw in the towel" at the tail-end of the performance, refusing to sing what were known to be entirely inane, ludicrous lyrics – but also by the composer’s gall: Poulenc’s’ Rapsodie nègre, a 5-movement vocal and orchestral work for flute, clarinet, string quartet, piano and baritone, was scored by the composer during France’s love affair with “Art nègre” (African art – in particular sculpture) which began at the dawn of the twentieth century, attracting such artists from the French School as Henri Matisse, Eugene Delacroix and Pablo Picasso to

“[blend] the highly stylized treatment of the human figure in African sculptures with painting styles derived from the post-Impressionist works of Cézanne and Gauguin."[1 - see: African Influence in Modern Art - MET].


The issue with Paris’ newfound love affair with African art was a lack of knowledge of African nations, customs - and most importantly, it's vast array of languages. There was, however, at least one person who didn’t lack at least some knowledge of the many languages of the giant continent: Poulenc himself - who, like many a Parisian, browsed through the local book shops for traditional African verse that he could later set to music. He espied a book of published verses edited by Marcel Prouille and Charles Moulié: “Les Poésies de Makoko Kangourou,” allegedly written in the language of Liberian but soon discovered to be a total hoax, penned by some pranksters, and stuffed to the brim with a litany of nonsensical words, and the occasional bawdy Parisian slang!

Neverthemind, Poulenc decided – and charged full speed ahead at setting the poem to lyrical verse, deciding its either now or never – for it was during this season of the budding composers’ life, surrounded by the likes of Ravel, Satie and co, encouraged by his muse Igor Stravinsky and praised by his renowned tutor Viñes, that he had better set this new work of his to stage before he lost his nerve (remember, this would be the first public perfomance of any of Poulenc's works - as formentioned, he had destroyed all previous attempts at composition prior to meeting Viñes). Rapsodie would be the very first time anyone outside of his practice sessions would hear the music – and come to know it's creator: Francis Poulenc - le nouvel homme sur la scène.

The highly anticipated premiere would be held Dec 11 1917 at Paris' Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier. Poulenc and all who surrounded and supported him through his musical journey expected the performance to go off without a hitch – but, alack! A hitch there were a many.

The baritone assigned the vocal parts during the third and final movement was not impressed. Sure, the music was beautiful indeed, but the inane gibberish of a writer taking the mickey, soured the singers ego:

During the third movement, the baritone began to sing the malarkious ode:

"Honoloulou, pota lama!
Honoloulou, Honoloulou,
Kati moko, mosi bolou
Ratakou sira, polama!

Wata Kovsi mo ta ma sou
Etcha pango, Etche panga
tota nou nou, nou nou ranga
lo lo lulu ma ta ma sou.

Pata ta bo banana lou
mandes Golas Glebes ikrous
Banana lou ito kous kous
pota la ma Honoloulou..."

So, what exactly do those trite lyrics mean? Your guess is as good as mine.

By the fifth movement, the interlude (vocal section) was to be repeated. The boastful baritone, feeling his manlihood slip away at the beginning of each verse, suddenly “threw in the towel.” According to Poulenc himself,

“[the singer said] it was too stupid and that he didn't want to be taken for a fool. Quite unexpectedly, masked by a big music stand, I had to sing that interlude myself. Since I was already in uniform, (remember Poulenc doubled as a soldier for the French Army during this period) you can imagine the unusual effect produced by a soldier bawling out songs in pseudo-Malagasy!" [2: language of Madagascar].

Surprisingly, the audience found the whole debacle hilarious (and the gorgeous music certainly went a long way to help matters), and was declared an immediate success!


If not already queued, skip ahead in the video below to the 3:11 mark to hear the first solo - which the baritone meandered his way through, and then 8:20 to hear it repeated - this is where the singer "threw in the towel," and Poulenc himself, not exactly known nor praised for his singing abilities, ran onto the stage, still dressed in his military garb, and began to belt out the nonsensical lyrics - much to the amusement of the audience:


During his tenure as estudiante to Viñes, Francis would balance his highly prized sessions with a role in the French army during the culmination of WWI, first serving as a conscript from 1918-1921, and remaining during the immediate post war period. (He would later take up orders again as a soldier during the Second World War; serving in June 1940 in an anti-aircraft unit at Bordeaux. After France surrendered to Germany, Poulenc was demobilized from the army July 18th of that year).

During this period, the then 18 year old served a stint on the Franco-German front (during July and October 1918). Shortly following his success on the frontlines, Poulenc was assigned a series of auxiliary posts, ending as a typist at the Ministry of Aviation. These less intense duties allowed time for Francis to work on his compositions.

Ironically, Poulenc would share the same bittersweet critiques by the public and press as he had once shared privately about his mother whilst sitting cross legged on the carpet as a child, enraptured at one moment by the seriousness of her classical household performances on the piano, and gideously giggling at the more frolicky and lighter fare she would often perform - much to her son’s amusement. Rapsodie and its minor scandal so amused it’s dedicatée, Erik Satie, and fellow composers Ravel and Stravinsky, that the latter used his influence to connect the rising star with a publisher, in whom Francis would secure a contract - a gift of such great generosity - bestowed upon Francis by his musical idol nonetheless - was a treasure never forgotten by Poulenc.

As 'a whole,' the daring soldier-cum-composer Poulenc was neither loved nor hated by the press - he had a particular panache that was perhaps welcoming to the public during the hardships of war.

First impressions, however, are made to last: Rapsodie’s impromptu solo vocal by a frazzled Poulenc during the work’s finale – all whilst dressed in military garb – combined with the known fact that he had managed to make such beautiful music out of utter gobbledygook – the composer became known by the colloquial tongue-in-cheek “Leg Poulenc,” a petit maître (dandy – but yet a talented one at that) – with even the snobbiest of the snobby critics noting that that it was the composer's "good luck that the public mood was turning against late-romantic lushness in favor of the freshness and insouciant charm of his works, technically unsophisticated though they were."

The composer's fresh, "technically unsophisticated" works, and the praise lauded upon him, slightly back-handed though they may have been, soon spread across Europe. In Britain, one critic Ernest Newman  wrote of the new man about town:

 "I keep my eye on Francis Poulenc, a young man who has only just arrived at his twenties. He ought to develop into a farceur of the first order."

Indeed.

-Rose.

N.B.: I am currently busy with studies - as time permits I will re-visit this post to add all hyperlinks for easier access to related articles here at Unraveling Musical Myths.