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Surrealism in Francis Poulenc’s Bal masqué Hébert, Ginette Marie-Roxanne

Abstract

In the fall of 1931, the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Noailles commissioned Francis Poulenc to contribute to a "spectacle-concert" to be held in Hyere, the site of their country home. Although there is no written account of the soiree held at the Theatre d'Hyeres on April 20, 1932, there is a photograph showing ten of the people in attendance that evening. Of particular interest is the presence of two prominent members of a group known as the surrealists, Alberto Giacometti and Luis Bunuel. The presence of surrealists was not unusual, as the Noailles were known patrons of the movement. Poulenc was never a member of the surrealist group, but his music has often been described as surrealistic, and this aspect of his work has been the subject of some study. Among his compositions often referred to in this regard is Bal masque, the work composed for the 1932 "spectacle-concert." The surrealist label, however, is a difficult one to attach to music. Although the surrealists worked in a variety of mediums, including the visual arts, literature and film, they never included a musician in their group, and, as a rule, they distanced themselves from music. Moreover, the absence of an official surrealist composer or musical style adds to the difficulties of determining how a composition can be viewed as surrealist. This paper explores the surrealist elements in Poulenc's Bal masque. It first looks at the most common characteristics of surrealism found in literature and painting, and then considers how they apply to Poulenc's work. It then focuses on Max Jacob, the poet of Bal masque, and Poulenc, and the relationship of each with surrealism in general. Finally, an analysis of Bal masque is used as a case study for the interrogation of surrealist aspects in Poulenc's music.

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