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The University of Southampton
MusicPart of Humanities

Poulenc and the Painters

Published: 11 June 2013

Guardian Cartoonist Martin Rowson will come to Southampton on June 12th to imagine portraits to Poulenc's music, drawing on-the-spot as David Owen Norris plays Poulenc's Les soirées de Nazelles, a series of ironically-titled portraits -­ a sort of French Enigma Variations.

In the darkly hectic Thirties, the composer Francis Poulenc would drive to the next château down the Loire from his own, for jovial evenings with the neighbour he called Tante Liénard. And then Poulenc would sit at the piano, and improvise a portrait of some lucky guest. As the clouds gathered over Europe, he crystallized these portraits into a set of variations. We don't know exactly who they represent (except for the Finale ­ that's the man himself), but we have Poulenc's evocative titles. Spurred on by them, Martin Rowson will create new people as he listens to their variation ­ a remarkable act of willed synaesthesia to be preserved on film.

Rowson and Norris will spend the day working in the University's keyboard room, and their interaction will be filmed. The film and the images, commissioned by the Southern Cathedrals Festival, will form part of a multi-media concert, Poulenc & the Painters, at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester on July 19th at 11.30am and 2.30pm. Projected images will also include paintings by Poulenc's friends Picasso, Chagall, Braque and others, to accompany Poulenc's song-cycle Le travail du peintre, sung by David Wilson-Johnson, which provides musical portraits of each of these painters.

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Illustration by Martin Rowson
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