Richard Buell will be contributing a column from time to time on music in Boston. His first for BMInt features excerpts from Francis Poulenc, “‘Echo and Source’: Selected Correspondence 1915-1963,” translated and edited by Sidney Buckland; research consultant: Patrick Saul (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1991)
“What a dismal town” — Francis Poulenc, the Gloria, and Boston
201. Francis Poulenc to Brigitte Manceaux
Boston, Tuesday evening, 3 January 1950
Well, that’s it … this morning we played through the Concerto [for piano] for the first time. The orchestration is excellent and Charloton [Charles Munch] is delighted, delighted. So am I. Of course I played like a pig — my attention being mainly on my orchestration — but I will rectify that in the morning. Naturally, the first movement changes the most (and for the better): the second subject is ravishing and the two orchestral tutti, soli – hopeless when played on two pianos — are on the contrary quite perfect. The Andante is as I expected, the Finale very amusing. The whole bang lot is stunning. The orchestra was delighted. Thirty Frenchmen among them. Munch has conducted the Concerto for organ twice this autumn — it has had an incredible success here. It has been recorded and I am going to hear the test copies any day now.
I am leading an austere life in this very puritanical town. Fortunately the museum is fantastic, as much for painting as for Egypt, Asia, Greece, etc.
Charloton is a treasure, and as French as Maurice Chevalier when one sees him in this environment. He lives in a charming country house, half an hour from the town. Naturally Ginette [Neveu’s] death was a most dreadful blow to him.
I rehearse every morning. Light, easy piano, very pleasant hall. By the grace of God. I eagerly await your news. Give mine to everybody around you. Pierre [Bernac] has just phoned from New York, delighted with his trip and entirely rejuvenated by his success.
On that note I leave you to go and rehearse.
A thousand tender kisses.
298. Francis Poulenc to Charles Munch
Hotel Bristol Palace, Genoa, Italy, 23 May 1959
Dear and alas invisible friend, I am writing to you from Genoa where, after Naples and Catania, my Carmelites is being performed. I am supposed to be writing a new opera for La Scala but as the choice of a libretto has not yet been settled (perhaps La Machine infernale of Cocteau) I have a certain amount of time at my disposal to begin a symphonic work. The Koussevitzky Foundation having twice asked me for a work, I have suggested writing a Gloria for mixed choir, soprano solo and orchestra, 20 to 25 minutes in duration. You may perhaps be able to sway the balance in my favour if there is any hesitation. You know that the pure symphonic form is not my forte whereas with the human voice — no allusion to my latest work — I am usually successful .
I still had hopes that you might conduct my Stabat in Boston, but alas … you have no doubt entirely forgotten me. Believe me, the extraordinary success of Les Carmelites has not made me less sensitive to certain omissions. However, I still admire you and am as fond of you as ever.
Thank you in advance for what you may be able to do for me and believe, cher ami, in my loyal affection.
323. Francis Poulenc to Pierre Bernac
Sheraton Plaza Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday [January 1961]
Mon petit Pierre,
My first long letter is for you. Phone it through to Brigitte afterwards and she will do the same for you with the next letter. The concert here promises to be very good. An excellent ‘Monique’ [Evelyne Crochet], young, pleasant, catches on quickly and loves my Concerto [for two pianos]. As for the Gloria, if I had not come here, what peculiar music would have been heard! Dear, adorable, exquisite Charlie had understood precisely nothing.
Arriving for the first rehearsal of the choir, I heard something so unlike me that my legs almost failed me on the staircase. Excellent choir but [Alfred Nash] Patterson is not the intuitive [Robert] Shaw and all those worthy Protestants were singing sharp and shrill (especially the women) as they do in London, with that ‘Oh my good Lord! quality. All Munch’s tempi were wrong — all too fast, naturally. A well-intentioned lady was singing the part of [Adele] Addison (who had not yet arrived), with a voice like a goat and all out of tune. A pale, wan pianist tinkled the keys, and not always the right ones!! I tell you, I wanted to run a mile. My poor child was really presenting itself badly. What a burden music is!!!
I didn’t say a word before the interval but then I explained everything. Mr Patterson, hearing me demonstrate, said: ‘Oh! so they have to sing like Maurice Chevalier.’ ‘Exactly!’ When we started again, I played the piano, the soloist sang no more, Munch calmed down, and the thing was perfect. Ouf!!!
Basically, Charlie only understands Arthur [Honegger] and Roussel. How very Strasbourgeois he is, the dear treasure! I had lunch at his place. It was divine. Everybody is adorable here, but what a dismal town — I am dying of boredom despite the radio and the TV in my room. Quick, New York!
Here is this winter’s barometer of virtuosos: Richter — delirium; Samson — triumph with orchestra, recital less good; Monique — went unnoticed; continued success of Entremont, who will become Casadesus (don’t tell ‘his’ Countess!!!). The Met, wild with excitement in anticipation of the joint debuts of Price and Corelli in Trovatore. I shall be there. Tebaldi — Della Casa: usual success. Enormous success of la Simionato in L’Incoronazione di Poppea.
I must go to my rehearsal with orchestra. Wonder what that will bring!
Very much affection to you and the Queen of Hearts.
P.S. I was not made for going on tour on my own.
325. Francis Poulenc to Pierre Bernac
Boston, Thursday morning [January 1961]
Mon petit Pierre,
The rehearsal yesterday was extraordinary. Munch suddenly inspired; as for Addison, she drives you wild, she is sheer heaven, with that warm Negro purity.
Everyone was full of enthusiasm. Clearly, you know me better than I know myself. The Gloria is without doubt the best thing I have done. The orchestration is marvellous (the ending, among other things, is astonishing). There is not a single note to be changed in the choral writing and at least the women do not shriek their heads off on the upper As and Bs. I must confess that I have surprised myself.
It has given me a confidence that I badly needed. How right I was not to rush Les Repons. I am sure it will benefit from this. Everybody is delighted here. And I have at last shaken off the torpor of the time-change.
Rose [Dercourt-Plaut] is arriving this evening, wild with delight about this honeymoon!!!!! We are going to hear Marlene Dietrich! I am enjoying it all very much. The Consul, a great-nephew of Vincent d’Indy, is handsome and charming. His wife as well. But what a hard country! Arthur [Honegger] is hardly ever played here any more, except by Munch. It is frightening. For the moment I am still going strong, thanks to the choral works, concertos and wind compositions. Long may it last.
Phone Brigitte [Manceaux] right now, and Genevieve [Sienkiewicz].
I embrace you,
I miss you. To quote La Voix [humaine]: ‘I am not used to traveling alone any more.’
326. Francis Poulenc to Pierre Bernac
Boston, Monday 
Eh bien mon enfant, it was a triumph to beat all triumphs!
You heard that because of the snow, Friday’s concert was put off until yesterday — Sunday. Saturday’s concert went ahead. Very good, very beautiful, successful, but Munch was less inspired than at the final rehearsal. Yesterday, on the other hand (all the critics were there), sublime performance. Charlie in a trance but controlled, the choir unbelievable, Addison beyond belief, so ovation after ovation. They tell me the press is excellent this morning. Marlene Dietrich was there, embraces, photos, etc.
I am delighted, as audiences here — quite dreadful — give you marks! I can already feel a favourable feeling from Bernstein. I am busy arranging something for you in Boston for this summer. The Consul, Charles de Pampelonne, is exquisite (grand-nephew of d’Indy). I will tell you about him when I get back. Yes, we would have been at your funeral had you accepted Boston. Munch has had just enough.
My week here promises to be entertaining with Leontyne Price, Laurence Olivier in Becket, visits to Horowitz, Titou, Rubinstein, etc.
I find this country interesting but frightening. You have to be really on top of things not to suffer the whims of the public and the press: even stranger than at home.
Thank you for writing at such length. I can assure you that you are not forgotten here. If you see Lesur tell him about the success of the Gloria. I had a letter from an ecstatic Carteri. So let’s take advantage of the fair weather!
I embrace you,