Pierre Bernac


Born: January 12, 1899 Died: October 17, 1979
The baritone Pierre Bernac was one of the most important French singers of the twentieth century. His singing was characterized by a refined, high, and light baritone voice with impeccably clear and gentle enunciation and a sensitive and flexible approach to phrasing. His close relationships to several major composers, most notably Francis Poulenc, made him the definitive interpreter of a large repertoire of mélodies.

After early studies with André Caplet and Yvonne Gouverné, Bernac made his recital debut in Paris in 1925. In 1926, he gave his first Poulenc premiere with Chansons gailliardes. In the early 1930s, he also studied lieder with Reinhard von Wahrlich. Bernac met Poulenc in 1934 when he asked Poulenc to accompany him for some Debussy mélodies, and on April 3, 1935, they gave their first recital together, which included the first performance of Poulenc's Cinq poèmes de Paul Eluard. They toured the world together until Bernac's retirement in 1960. Poulenc wrote 90 songs for Bernac and Bernac's interpretations of these works with the composer at the piano have been recorded on disc (his complete recordings were reissued in 1999) and discussed in his two books: The Interpretation of French Song (London, 1970) and Francis Poulenc: The Man and His Songs (London, 1977). Bernac also collaborated with other important composers of the twentieth century, including Hindemith, Berkeley, Barber, Jolivet, Sauguet, and Françaix. He turned to teaching in later life; his most famous student was Gérard Souzay. Bernac's only performances on the opera stage were in the role of Pelléas in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (in 1933 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and in 1936 in Geneva under the baton of Ernest Ansermet).