An analysis of self-allusion in Francis Poulenc’s Ier Nocturne for piano (1929/30) not only reveals a complex network of interrelated programmatic and personal associations but also suggests how attention to allusion offers a means of experiencing the piece queerly. The nocturne’s allusions to earlier works by Poulenc point toward a set of shared topics, including childhood, the pastoral, the erotic, and the composer’s romantic relationship with painter Richard Chanlaire, while a chromatic sequence in the nocturne’s coda anticipates the associations of this progression with grace, anxiety, and the divided self in two later works. Alongside these allusive referents, the nocturne’s shifting levels of discourse, dramatic form, and ironic modality inspire a hearing of the piece as a coming-out narrative, whose constant deferral of meaning renders the nocturne different from itself. This interpretation aligns Poulenc’s nocturne with contemporary works by authors Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust, whose writings similarly treat these (self-)referential deferrals as indicative of queer life and trope this difference to instantiate a queer hermeneutics. As a performance of difference and reference, Poulenc’s nocturne benefits from a mode of listening that reflects these deferrals, acknowledging allusion’s effects on listeners and queerly redefining the musical work in the process.
“Au Fond d’un Placard”: Allusion, Narrative, and Queer Experience in Poulenc’s Ier Nocturne
Campbell Shiflett is a PhD candidate in musicology at Princeton University. His dissertation, “The Arcadian Ego: Pastoral and the Myth of Music in Paris, 1912–1926,” explores how French modernist music involves the pastoral mode in reflections on the medium’s origins, ontology, and social function.
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Campbell Shiflett; “Au Fond d’un Placard”: Allusion, Narrative, and Queer Experience in Poulenc’s Ier Nocturne. Journal of Musicology 11 May 2020; 37 (2): 197–230. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2020.37.2.197
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