It’s not a novel, nor a biography, but “The Black Virgin and the Thug” just published by Xavier-Marie Garcette is a real success, and reads like a… novel. Meeting with the author, who relates with talent the passion of the musician Francis Poulenc, for the Black Madonna of Rocamadour.
You put “novel” on the cover of your book, but it’s all true. Nor is it a biography. How do you qualify your work?
Biographies of musicians are often written by musicologists. There are many. Let’s say it’s part of a fictionalized biography. I rather wanted to identify the personality of Francis Poulenc and his relationship with Rocamadour. I discovered this story while on vacation in Sarlat, I was visiting the city of Quercy. I had spent the day in the crowd and the heat.
And on the forecourt of the basilica, I discovered the museum of sacred art Francis Poulenc. There was no one there and it was air conditioned. I saw there many liturgical objects offered by the musician to the sanctuary, in recognition of his conversion in August 1936. I was then general manager of a bank which finances local communities, and I was looking for an opportunity to create an operation sponsorship in Brive. I had an appointment with a musicologist who wanted to organize a Francis Poulenc competition in Brive. All this made me want to know more and write this book.
The Black Madonna, we guess, but why the rogue?
The life of Francis Poulenc is very romantic and the character is nothing but a paradox. Critic Claude Rostand said of him: “There is a monk and a rogue in Francis Poulenc. He was everything, and the opposite of everything.
He was a great composer and a recognized pianist. He was born to a convinced Catholic father from Aveyron and a mother very attached to the canaille atmosphere of the guinguettes. Each year, he toured Europe with the baritone Pierre Bernac, which he prepared under the direction of a singing teacher, Yvonne Gouverné d’Uzerche. It was she who introduced Rocamadour to the composer.
“Poulenc is both worldly and popular, impulsive and neurasthenic, fickle and faithful, masculine and feminine”
What is the origin or trigger of his conversion?
His father had already told him about Rocamadour as an extraordinary place of pilgrimage, but it was during one of his stays in Uzerche with Yvonne Gouverné that he discovered the site. As soon as he enters the chapel, facing the Black Madonna, he is literally paralyzed to the point of spending a long time there without moving. He will spend the following night composing his “Litanies to the Black Virgin”, which will be followed by numerous religious pieces.
Did his conversion change the course of his life?
Not at all, he remained the misguided “thug” that he was, but with a pronounced taste for shady places. An assumed homosexual, his conversion did not change the course of his life. A world has been created with two parallel and compartmentalised paths.
Apart from his prodigious work and his talent as a pianist, what do you remember of the character?
The discovery of an extremely friendly and endearing man despite all his faults. There is not an ounce of malice in him. He is both worldly and popular, impulsive and neurasthenic, fickle and faithful, masculine and feminine. But he is frank, does not try to pass for what he is not. Very faithful in friendship, funny and cultured, his complexity means that you can’t help but love him.