Choral music is traditional at this time of year. Day 3 of our Advent Calendar brings us a beautiful example.
At this time of year, choral music tends to takes centre stage in our listening habits. For obvious reasons, most of it is religious, and secular choral pieces depicting winter are few and far between. Francis Poulenc, though, managed it with his short a cappella cantata Un Soir de Neige (A Snowy Night) written over Christmas 1944. For his texts, Poulenc chose four poems by Paul Éluard (whose monumental Figure Humaine he had set the year before): ‘De grandes cuillers de neige’ (‘Great scoops of snow’); ‘La bonne neige’ (‘Fine snow’); ‘ Bois meurtri’ (‘The slaughtered wood’); ‘ La nuit, le froid, la solitude’ (‘Night, cold, solitude’). The perfect mid-20th-century marriage of text and music gives rise to a set of choral songs summoning a dark, frozen woodland that is not only bleak but, on occasions awe-inspiring. There is an edgy, crystalline beauty to these pieces that speaks of dark, haunted trees, hunted animals and massive snow drifts, reflecting the inner chill of the author. It’s definitely a piece to listen to in front of a fire.