Poulenc’s Gloria: You pay, I decide what to write!

Poulenc Gloria

In 1959 when Poulenc decided to write his Gloria, he has just seen the success of his operas “Dialogues des Carmélites” and “La voix humaine”.  Having failed to find a satisfactory libretto for yet another new opera, he decided to return to the choral genre.  His friend Pierre Bernac sent him the text and translation of the Gloria, and the decision was made.  Then came the question of money: who’s going to pay for it?

It happened that around that time the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in touch with Poulenc for a possible commission.  The composer, unwilling to conform to the initial instrumentation requirements, has been declining this commission for an “orchestral work of major proportions”.  Once he decided to compose a Gloria, however, he turned back to the Koussevitzky Foundation.

I’m taking it, but only under my terms!

His offer was this:  he will take the commission, but instead of a purely orchestral work, he would write a Gloria for mixed choir, soprano and orchestra that is 20-25 minutes in duration.  With some negotiation and possibly the help of conductor Charles Munch, the Foundation agreed to leave the terms open, and Poulenc wrote his Gloria over the next year.

The American premiere in Boston and the European premiere of the finished Gloria happened within a few weeks of each other.  Surprisingly, the reception differed vastly in the two regions.  In Paris, reviewers complained that the work was not as good as his Stabat Mater, and BBC reviewers found it “unworthy of its dignified text”.  In America, however, the Gloria was met with high praise and the New York Music Critics Circle Award.

Regardless of such polarized opinions, Poulenc’s Gloria is now frequently performed choral works and a mainstay of the choral repertoire.

Come hear us perform Poulenc’s Gloria, Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony” and more in the upcoming Learners concert on May 10, 2017! Contact us at 9234 6057 or by email at learnershk@gmail.com for ticketing and donation enquiry.

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.