Poulenc’s “Rapsodie nègre”


photo by Fred Plaut MSS 52 Box 18

The Frederick and Rose Plaut Papers consist of over 35,000 photographs taken by Frederick Plaut during his years as a recording engineer for Columbia Records. Francis Poulenc was a dear friend of Rose Plaut – this photograph was taken during a trip to France.

Poulenc was a composer of the Parisian avant-garde. His work exhibits a fascination with evocations of the distant past, as well as the primitive. His first piece, Rapsodie nègre (1917), draws upon an exotic African theme – much in vogue in Paris at the time. The piece consists of five movements:

  1. Prelude
  2. Ronde
  3. Honoloulou – Vocal interlude
  4. Pastoral
  5. Final

The third movement, Honoloulou, is set to a poetic text purportedly by Liberian poet Makoko Kangourou in a language of nonsense syllables. The book in which Poulenc found the text has never been located, and the Liberian poet was almost certainly a hoax. Poulenc himself stated that, “The Rapsodie nègre is not an exotic or picturesque work: it is simply a work of free melody.”

-Allie Kieffer and Emily Ferrigno

Listen to “Honoloulou”, played by Francis Poulenc, Hugues Cuenod, tenor

Read more about Poulenc’s Rapsodie nègre.


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