Composers Datebook®

Poulenc's "Gloria"

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) Gloria Tanglewood Festival Chorus; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Owaza, conductor. DG 427304

Composer's Datebook - Jan. 20, 2023


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January 20, 2023


On today’s date in 1961, the French composer Francis Poulenc was in Boston for the premiere of his new choral work. It was a setting of a Latin text Gloria in excelsis Deo or Glory to God in the Highest.

These days Poulenc’s Gloria is regarded as one of his finest works, but back in 1961, some critics shook their heads and tut-tutted about the perceived irreverence of sections of the new work which to them came off as too light-hearted and out of place in a presumably “serious” religious work. Poulenc’s setting of the Latin text “Laudamus te, Benedicimus te” (We praise you, we bless you), seemed downright giddy to those critics.

In his defense, Poulenc said: "I was thinking when I composed it of these frescoes by Gozzoli with angels sticking out their tongues, and of Benedictine [clergy] I once saw playing soccer."

In retrospect, it seems odd that anyone should have been surprised by the coexistence of the serious and the silly in the music of Poulenc, since both moods had been evident in his music for decades. In 1950, the critic Claude Rostand described the composer as "A lover of life, mischievous and good-hearted, tender and impertinent, melancholy and serenely mystical, half monk—and half delinquent.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) Gloria Tanglewood Festival Chorus; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Owaza, cond. DG 427304

On This Day


  • 1586 - German composer Johann Hermann Schein, in Grünhain;

  • 1855 - French composer Ernest Chausson, in Paris;

  • 1869 - Russian composer and violinist Julius Conus, in Moscow (Gregorian date: Feb. 1);

  • 1894 - American composer Walter Piston, in Rockland, Maine;


  • 1952 - American composer and music educator Arthur Farwell, age 79, in New York;


  • 1649 - Cesti: opera "Orontea," in Venice;

  • 1726 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 13 ("Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen") performed on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1725/27);

  • 1856 - Brahms: Two Sarabandes (in a & b) and Gavotte in A (arranged from Gluck's "Paris ed Elena"), for piano, in Vienna;

  • 1880 - Brahms: Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, for piano, in Krefeld;

  • 1892 - Catalani: opera "La Wally," in Milan;

  • 1933 - Gershwin: musical "Pardon My English," at the Majestic Theater in New York City; This show included the classic Gershwin songs "Isn't It a Pity," "My Cousin in Milwaukee," and "So What?";

  • 1939 - Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2 ([Concord, Mass. 1840-1860), by John Kirkpatrick, in New York City;

  • 1941 - Bartók: String Quartet No. 6, in New York City, by the Kolisch Quartet;

  • 1944 - Hindemith: "Symphonic Metamorphosis on a Theme of Weber," by the New York Philharmonic, Artur Rodzinski conducting;

  • 1956 - Hanson: “Elegy” (to the Memory of Serge Kousseviztky), by the Boston Symphony, Charles Munch conducting;

  • 1961 - Poulenc: "Gloria," in Boston;

  • 1977 - Tobias Picker: Sextet No. 3, at Alice Tully Hall in New York City, by Speculum Musicae;

  • 1979 - Rochberg: String Quartets Nos. 4-6 ("The Concord Quartets"), at the University of Pennsylvania, by the Concord Quartet.


  • 1626 - Payments to the royal musician, lutenist and composer John Dowland cease, and his son, Robert Dowland, succeeds him in his post at court; This date is often cited as the day the famous elder Dowland died, but his burial at St Ann Blackfriars was not recorded until a month later, on February, 20, 1626, which suggests the elder Dowland had perhaps been too ill to continue in service as of January 20-21 when the records state the transfer took place, and that the elder Dowland might have in fact died sometime in mid-February;