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Francis Poulenc (Composer)

Born: January 7, 1899 - Paris, France
Died: January 30, 1963 - Paris, France

The brilliant French composer, Francis (Jean Marcel) Poulenc, was born into a wealthy family of pharmaceutical manufacturers. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play, and music formed a part of family life. At 16, he began taking formal piano lessons with Ricardo Viñees.

A decisive turn in his development as a composer occurred when Francis Poulenc attracted the attention of Erik Satie, the arbiter elegantiarum of the arts and social amenities in Paris. Deeply impressed by Satie's fruitful eccentricities in the then-shocking manner of Dadaism, Poulenc joined an ostentatiously self-descriptive musical group called the Nouveaux Jeunes. In a gratuitous parallel with the Russian Five, the French critic Henri Collet dubbed the "New Youths" Le Groupe de Six, and the label stuck under the designation Les Six. The 6 musicians included, besides Poulenc: Auric, Durey, Arthur Honegger, Milhaud, and Tailleferre. Although quite different in their styles of composition and artistic inclinations, they continued collective participation in various musical events. Les Six also had links with Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau.

Francis Poulenc embraced the Dada movement's techniques, creating melodies that would have been appropriate for Parisian music halls. From 1918 to 1921 he served in the French army, and then began taking lessons in composition with Koechlin (1921-1924). An excellent pianist, Poulenc became in 1935 an accompanist to the French baritone Pierre Bernac, for whom he wrote numerous songs.

Compared with his fortuitous comrades-in-six, Francis Poulenc appears a classicist. He never experimented with the popular devices of "machine music," asymmetrical rhythms, and poly-harmonies as cultivated by A. Honegger and Milhaud. Futuristic projections had little interest for him; he was content to follow the gentle neo-Classical formation of Ravel's piano music and songs. Among his other important artistic contacts was the ballet impresario Diaghilev, who commissioned him to write music for his Ballets Russes. He also, throughout his career, borrowed from his own compositions as well as those of Mozart and Camille Saint-Saëns.

Apart from his fine songs and piano pieces, Francis Poulenc revealed himself as an inspired composer of religious music. Later in his life, the loss of some close friends, coupled with a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, led him to rediscovery of the Catholic faith and resulted in compositions of a more sombre, austere tone. Of his choral works Stabat Mater and Gloria are notable. He also wrote remarkable music for the organ, including a concerto that is considered among the most beautiful concertos organists have in repertoire. A master of artificial simplicity, he pleases even sophisticated listeners by his bland triadic tonalities, spiced with quickly passing diaphonous discords. Among his last series of major works is a series of works for wind instruments and piano. He was particularly fond of woodwinds, and planned a set of sonatas for all of them, yet only lived to complete four: sonatas for flute, oboe, clarinet, and the Elegie for horn.


Chamber Music:
Sonata for 2 Clarinets, Op. 7 (1918/1945)
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 12 (1918)
Piano Suite (1920)
Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon, Op. 32 (1922/1945)
Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone, Op. 33 (1922/1945)
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano, Op. 43 (1926)
Villanelle for Pipe (pipeau) and Piano, Op. 74 (1934)
Suite française for 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Percussion and Harpsichord, Op. 80 (1935)
Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet, Op. 100 (1932-9)
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 119 (1942-3/1949)
Sonata for Cello and Piano. Op. 143 (1940-48)
Trois mouvements perpétuels for 9 Instruments, Op. 14 (1946)
Flute Sonata, Op. 164 (1956-7)
Elégie for Horn and Piano, Op. 168 (1957)
Sarabande for Guitar, Op. 179 (1960)
Clarinet Sonata, Op. 184 (1962)
Oboe Sonata, Op. 185 (1962)

Choral Music:
Chanson à boire (TTBB) (1922)
Sept chansons, (SATB) (1936)
Litanies à la vierge noire (SSA, org) (1936), orchestrated (1947)
Petites voix (SSA) (1936)
Mass in G (SATB) (1937)
Sécheresses (chorus, orchestra) (1937)
Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (SATB): Vinea mea electa (1938); Tenebrae factae sunt (1938); Tristis est anima mea (1938); Timor et tremor (1939)
Exultate Deo (SATB) (1941)
Salve regina (SATB) (1941)
Figure humaine (12 voices) (1943)
Un soir de neige (6 voices) (1944)
Chansons françaises: Margoton va t'a l'iau (SATB) (1945); La belle se siet au pied de la tour (SATBarB) (1945); Pilons l'orgue (SATBarB) (1945); Clic, clac, dansez sabots (TBB) (1945); C'est la petit' fill' du prince (SATBarB) (1946); La belle si nous étions (TBB) (1946); Ah! Mon beau laboureur (SATB) (1945); Les tisserands (SATBarB) (1946)
Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise (Men's chorus) (1948)
Stabat Mater (Soprano solo, SATB divisi, orchestra) (1950)
Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël (Mixed chorus): O magnum mysterium (1952); Quem vidistis pastores (1951); Videntes stellam (1951); Hodie Christus natus est (1952)
Ave verum corpus (SMezA) (1952)
Laudes de Saint Antoine de Padoue (Men's Chorus): O Jésu perpetua lux (1957); O proles hispaniae (1958); Laus regi plena gaudio (1959); Si quaeris (1959)
Gloria (Soprano solo, SATB divisi, orchestra) (1959)
Sept répons des ténèbres (Child Soprano, Men's Chorus, Children's Chorus, orchestra (1961-2)

Other Works:
Sonata for Piano Duet (1918)
Music for the ballet Les Biches (1922/23)
Concert champêtre for harpsichord (1927-1928)
Concerto Choréographique pour piano et dix-huit instruments, "Aubade" (1930)
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra in D minor (1932)
Song Le Portrait (Poem by Colette) (1937)
Concerto for organ, strings and timpani in G minor (1938)
Song La Grenouillère (Poem by Apollinaire) (1938)
Songs Deux poèmes d'Apollinaire (Poems by Apollinaire: I: Dans le jardin d'Anna, II: Allons plus vite) (1939)
Song Bleuet (Poem by Apollinaire) (1939)
Songs Banalités (Poems by Apollinaire: I: Chanson d'Orkenise, II: Hôtel, III: Fagnes de Wallonie, IV: Voyage à Paris, V: Sanglots) (1940)
The Story of Babar the Elephant for Piano and Narrator (1940 - orchestrated by Jean Françaix, 1945)
Cantata Figure humaine for double-choir a cappella (1943), Premiere in January 1945 in London
Songs Deux poèmes d'Apollinaire (Poems by Apollinaire: 'I: Montparnasse, II: Hyde Park ) (1941-1945)
Songs Deux poèmes d'Apollinaire (Poems by Apollinaire: I: Le pont, II: Un poème) (1946)
Song Paul et Virginie (Poem by Raymond Radiguet) (1946)
Opera Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947)
Concerto for piano and orchestra (1949)
Song Rosemonde (Poem by Apollinaire) (1954)
Song Parisiana (Poems by M. Jacob: I: Jouer du Bugle, II: Vous n'écrivez plus ?) (1954)
Song Dernier Poème (Poem by Robert Desnos) (1956)
Opera Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957)
Opera La Voix Humaine (1959)
Gloria 1959, Premiere in Boston (1961)
Songs La courte Paille (Poems by Carême, I: Le sommeil, II: Quelle aventure !, III: La Reine de Coeur, Ba, IV: be, bi, bo, bu, V: Les anges musiciens, VI: Le Carafon, VII: Lune d'Avril ) (1960)

More Photos

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2007)

Prancis Poulenc: Short Biography | Bach-inspired Piano Works: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Francis Poulenc (Wikipedia)
Francis Poulenc (Classical Net)
Francis Poulenc (Chester & Novello)
Francis Poulenc Biography (Naxos)
Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) (Karadar)
Franis Poulenc FanSite

Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963) (Find A Grave)
Learn - Francis Poulenc (Arizona Opera)
Classical Music Archives: Biography of Francis Poulenc
Remembering Francis Poulenc (Unitel)
Francis Poulenc (Encyclopaedia Britannica)


Benjamin Ivry: Francis Poulenc, 20th-Century Composers series (Phaidon Press Limited, 1996)
Myriam Chimènes: 'Poulenc, Francis',
Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 25 December 2006),
In the words of his muse Denise Duval
Robert Aldrich & Gary Wotherspoon (Eds.): Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (New York: Routledge, 2001)

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