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Pierre Bernac

Pierre Bernac

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Pierre Bernac was a French baritone
Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...


Born Pierre Bertin in Paris on January 12, 1899, he studied with Reinhold von Wahrlich in Salzburg. he came to music relatively late and gave his first recital in 1921.

He gave the first performances of Poulenc's Chansons gaillardes in 1926. He began appearing in recital with Poulenc as his accompanist in 1934 and they continued performing together until Bernac withdrew from performing in public about 1960. Poulenc wrote a majority of his songs for Bernac, including Tel jour, telle nuit and Calligrammes. He became the most renowned interpreter of the French art song
Art song
An art song is a vocal music composition, usually written for one voice with piano or orchestral accompaniment. By extension, the term "art song" is used to refer to the genre of such songs....


When his American debut, delayed by World War II, finally came in 1948, according to Allen Hughes of the New York Times:
He was also famous as a teacher. He taught in master classes and the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau
Fontainebleau is a commune in the metropolitan area of Paris, France. It is located south-southeast of the centre of Paris. Fontainebleau is a sub-prefecture of the Seine-et-Marne department, and it is the seat of the arrondissement of Fontainebleau...

 and the École Normale de Musique de Paris
École Normale de Musique de Paris
The École Normale de Musique de Paris is a leading conservatoire located in Paris, France. The school was founded by Auguste Mangeot and pianist Alfred Cortot in 1919...

. Musical Times called him "an outstanding teacher of song interpretation–visionary, precise, tireless and loving." His students include Gérard Souzay
Gérard Souzay
Gérard Souzay was a French baritone singer, regarded as one of the very finest interpreters of mélodie in the generation after Charles Panzéra and Pierre Bernac.-Background and education:...

, Mattiwilda Dobbs
Mattiwilda Dobbs
Mattiwilda Dobbs is an African-American coloratura soprano and one of the first black singers to enjoy a major international career in opera...

, Elly Ameling
Elly Ameling
Elisabeth Sara "Elly" Ameling is a Dutch soprano.-Career:Ameling was born in Rotterdam. She studied with Bodi Rapp, Jo Bollekamp, Sem Dresden and Jacoba Dresden-Dhont and later French art song with Pierre Bernac...

, Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman
Jessye Norman is an American opera singer. Norman is a well-known contemporary opera singer and recitalist, and is one of the highest paid performers in classical music...

, Bruno Laplante, Bernard Kruysen, Margreet Honig, Michel Piquemal, and Gerda Hartmann.

Bernac made a number of international concert tours with his lifelong friend Francis Poulenc
Francis Poulenc
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les six. He composed solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music...

 as accompanist. Composers such as André Jolivet
André Jolivet
André Jolivet was a French composer. Known for his devotion to French culture and musical thought, Jolivet's music draws on his interest in acoustics and atonality as well as both ancient and modern influences in music, particularly on instruments used in ancient times...

, Henri Sauguet
Henri Sauguet
Henri Sauguet , was a French composer. Born in Bordeaux as Henri-Pierre Poupard, he adopted his mother's maiden name as his pseudonym. His output includes operas, ballets, four symphonies , concertos, chamber and choral music and numerous songs, as well as film music...

 and Jean Françaix
Jean Françaix
Jean René Désiré Françaix was a French neoclassical composer, pianist, and orchestrator, known for his prolific output and vibrant style.-Life:...

 also wrote with Bernac in mind. He also shone in German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 lieder and in English songs. He ceased giving public performances in 1960.

Bernac did not marry and left no survivors. He died following a series of heart attacks in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on October 17, 1979.

The Friends of the Académie Ravel in Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a commune in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in south-western France.Saint-Jean-de-Luz is part of the province Basque of Labourd and the Basque Eurocity Bayonne - San Sebastian .-Geography:...

awards the Pierre Bernac Prize in Song (Prix de chant Pierre Bernac).


  • Francis Poulenc: The Man and His Songs (NY: Norton, 1977)
  • The Interpretation of French Song (NY: Praeger, 1970)