A few of these small choral gems are well known to amateur choirs, and Poulenc's secular choral pieces are more often presented one at a time on choral albums than in the groupings in which they were originally included. Francis Poulenc: Secular Choral Music offers the composer's very first choral piece, the Chanson à boire for men's voices (1922), but most of the music here dates from either the late '30s (the Petites voix, for female or children's voices, and Sept chansons) or the World War II era (Un soir de neige), the folk-song settings entitled Chansons françaises, and the ambitious Figure humaine, whose final number, "Liberté," was dropped in sheet music form over French cities by Britain's Royal Air Force. Someone once described Poulenc as "part monk, part hooligan," and these a cappella choral works give evidence of both tendencies. The Chansons françaises are cheerful pieces with just a shade of extended harmony, almost French counterparts to Bartók's folk song settings, while the more serious pieces, such as "Un chien perdu" (A Lost Dog), from the Petites voix, have a mystical tinge that links them strongly with Poulenc's better-known sacred choral music.
This 2004 survey of modern settings of the medieval sequence Stabat Mater Dolorosa is part of conductor Marcello Viotti's project to record the little-known but worthy sacred works of the twentieth century, in conjunction with the Munich Radio Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Chorus for their concert series Paradisi gloria. The four works by Francis Poulenc, Karol Szymanowski, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Wolfgang Rihm are dramatically different in conception and musical content, and may be regarded more as reflections of personal faith than as practical works for ecclesiastical purposes.
Marking 50 years since the death of French composer Francis Poulenc, star soprano Patricia Petibon is the soloist in new recordings of his most rapturously beautiful sacred works; “Gloria” and “Stabat Mater”. Conductor Paavo Järvi also makes his DG recording debut, conducting the Orchestre de Paris and their renowned choir.
Peter Philips was, after William Byrd, the most published English composer of the Elizabethan-Jacobean Age. He was also, in his day, the best-known English composer on the European mainland but his absence from his homeland after the age of about twenty-one means that he remains relatively neglected at home. Born in 1560 or 1561, he trained as a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and may have studied keyboard playing with Byrd. In 1582 he fled England to avoid persecution as a Roman Catholic, making his way to Rome. In 1585 he joined the entourage of another Roman Catholic refugee, Sir Thomas Paget, travelling with him through Northern Europe for the next five years, eventually settling in Antwerp in 1591. In 1593 he was accused of plotting against Elizabeth I and arrested, but was eventually exonerated. He joined the court chapel of Archduke Albert, Viceroy of The Netherlands, as organist in 1597 and remained there until his death in 1628.
Poulenc’s 'Stabat Mater', which he described as a ‘requiem without despair’, was written in 1950 following the death of Christian Bérard who designed the sets for Cocteau’s films and plays and was a leading figure of 1940s Paris. This masterly work, dedicated to the Virgin of Rocamadour, gives pride of place to the chorus and clearly shows its line of descent from the French grands motets. On completing it, Poulenc wrote to Pierre Bernac: "It’s good, because it’s completely authentic".