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The American composer Ned Rorem had this to say about Francis Poulenc: “He is among the magic few.” It has become obvious that, of the many French composers of the 20th century, Poulenc is indeed one of the magic few whose music has endured and has perhaps become even more popular since his death. Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël, of which Quem vidistis, pastores dicite is the second, date from 1951 and 1952. These settings of Latin verses for the season, for four-voice mixed choir in chordal style, are enriched by Poulenc’s characteristic lyricism and harmonic inventiveness to evoke both the serenity and the jubilation of Christmas. “Quem vidistis” evokes an open-air mood of breathless excitement, the melody often in octaves and usually accompanied by humming. Poulenc freely repeats portions of the fragmented text, always adding a countermelody or changing the texture. A more insistent middle section gives way to a return of the initial melody, a five-voice texture that serves as the most lush repetition of the text.

Quem vidistis, pastores, dicite,
annuntiate nobis, in terris quis apparuit?
Natum vidimus et choros angelorum
collaudantes Dominum.
Dicite, quidnam vidistis?
et annuntiate Christi nativitatem.

Whom did you see, shepherds, say,
tell us: who has appeared on earth?
The new-born we saw and choirs of angels
praising the Lord.
Say, what did you see?
And tell us of Christ’s nativity.