Virtual Music Hour

  Poulenc Archive

  Introduction to the Poulenc Gloria

  Listen to the Music

Poulenc Gloria

Featured Artists:
Colorado Symphony Chorus
Duain Wolfe, Chorus director
Ken-David Masur, conductor
Jessica Rivera, soprano


Welcome to Virtual Music Hour. In preparation for your listening experience, Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson has made guides with activities that can be enjoyed alone, with your quarantine buddies at home and online, or with your students. These activities can be mixed, matched, and altered to create an experience that’s right for you, or as inspiration to create your own. Get as creative as you’d like. Share it with us on social media! If you like seeing and hearing the Colorado Symphony musicians online, imagine how uplifting it would be for us to see and hear you too!

If this is your first or hundredth listening, Francis Poulenc’s Gloria has something surprising in store for you. This music is pure wonderment - influences of Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev with hints of what would come from Leonard Bernstein and John Adams. Enjoy learning about the piece and listening to this performance with your Colorado Symphony and Chorus.

  Francis Poulenc composed Gloria in 1959 and 1960. It was premiered by Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1961.

  Gloria lasts about 25 minutes. It is a six-movement setting of the Gloria text from the Roman Catholic mass.

  Gloria was reviewed positively by both major Boston newspaper critics: “One of the French composer’s major scores and an exceedingly fine work” and a “major work, prominent in the career of a contemporary master and a significant addition to the repertory of twentieth-century music.”

  Gloria is one of British physicist Stephen Hawking’s favorite pieces of music. He first heard it during a conference in Aspen and in an interview said “Next door to the physics center is an enormous tent where they hold a music festival. As you sit working out what happens when black holes evaporate, you can hear the rehearsals. It combines my two main pleasures: physics and music. If I could have both on my desert island, I won't want to be rescued.”

  Poulenc’s score calls for soprano soloist, mixed chorus, and a full orchestra with 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba, timpani, harp, and the usual string section of violins, violas, cellos, and basses.

Here is a listening map that can guide you through your listening experience. Read it in advance or while you’re listening!

1. Gloria in excelsis Deo

The first music we hear is a bright and celebratory fanfare from the brass with shimmering sounds in the strings. The chorus enters soon after in a rather “glorious” manner (see what I did there?) with groups of woodwinds and strings busily coloring the sound while the brass periodically punctuates.

2. Laudamus te

This music starts off with a lighthearted laughing figure from the brass before kicking into a high energy dance that swirls through the orchestra and chorus before suddenly moving into a gauzy rhythmless world with the line “Gratias animus tibi”. We hear the chorus express thanks with this line, and then return for a last “Laudamus te” dance.

3. Domine Deus, Rex caelestis

In this music we hear the woodwinds taking a contemplative walk, setting up the entrance of first the soprano soloist and then the chorus. Each “Domine Deus” seems like an epic sigh followed by a hopeful “Rex caelestis”.

4. Domini Fili unigenite

This music returns to the joyous rhythmic sensibility of the earlier movements. It is a playful game of back and forth between the orchestra and chorus.

5. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei

This music reminds us a little of the Domine Deus, as the woodwinds are again leading us on a medium tempo walk through what sounds like a mysterious dark path. The searching music sung by the soprano adds to this engaging but unsettled feeling.

6. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris

We begin with ‘a cappella’ chorus, or chorus alone, with periodic interruptions from the orchestra with the fanfare music from the first movement. The general sound and feeling of the first movement continue with the swirling music over a bass line punctuated with the fanfare music. This continues until a final triumphant “Amen”.

Gloria is a sacred work - a musical setting of the text of the Roman Catholic mass - but has a dancing folk-like quality to a lot of it.

  Consider and discuss the following quotes about and from Francis Poulenc, a composer who was open to radical innovation that managed to stay rooted in tradition.

For American composer Ned Rorem, Poulenc was:

“a whole man always interlocking soul and flesh, sacred and profane.”

Responding to critics who claimed Gloria bordered on the sacrilegious, Poulenc said:

“While writing it I had in mind those Crozzoli frescoes with angels sticking out their tongues, and also some solemn-looking Benedictine monks that I saw playing football one day.”

About his compositional style, Poulenc wrote:

“I am not the kind of musician who makes harmonic innovations, like Stravinsky, Ravel, or Debussy. There is a place for new music that is content with using other people’s chords.”

Poulenc responded to criticism that his music, tending toward the cabaret style, was inauthentic saying:

“I’ve often been reproached about my ‘street music’ side. Its genuineness has been suspected, and yet there’s nothing more genuine in me.”

Poulenc also said:

“I think I put the best and most authentic side of myself into my choral music.”

Poulenc used a rhythmic device called syncopation to great effect in Gloria. This is especially true in the "Laudamus Te" movement. In this music, Poulenc writes for the chorus to accent the “wrong” syllables in their text, and for the orchestra to punctuate all around the pulse instead of staying right on it. This gives an active and dance-like feeling to the music.

Have some fun experimenting with these ideas!

  1. Together with your quarantine buddies, establish a pulse (steady beat) by clapping together.
  2. Think of a march tempo to help you stay steady and “on beat” together.
  3. While this continues, each of you take a turn at clapping patterns that come at unexpected times in relationship to that steady pulse.

  Pro Tip: Don’t have a quarantine buddy handy? Use your phone and make a video of yourself clapping the pulse. It’s good nerdy fun to try some rhythm duets this way!

  What did you notice?

  Was it easy/challenging to avoid the pulse?

  What kind of effect did the rhythmic interplay have on the mood or feeling of the sound?

  What other composers or styles of music came to mind when you were playing with those syncopated rhythms?


Check out Week 5 of our Virtual Music Hour where we also experimented with syncopation after listening to our A Tribute to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops performance.

View Archive

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider, discuss, and get active around Gloria by Francis Poulenc it’s time to listen to the Colorado Symphony performance. There are all sorts of ways to engage as a listener, especially when listening at home instead of the concert hall. Sing/hum/whistle along, move and dance, journal or draw what you hear, or just turn the volume up and listen for sheer pleasure! Please share your experience with us! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!



Please share your musical adventure with us through social media! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!


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