Francis Poulenc
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1899-01-07
https://musicbrainz.org/artist/5e1ef22b-310a-46ad-885b-4897b8c9c85a
Francis Poulenc

Biography

It was the French critic Claude Rostand who made the classic distinction between Poulenc the monk (‘le moine’) and Poulenc the bad boy (‘le voyou’). Had he been writing when the composer was in his early thirties rather than his ...

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Biography

It was the French critic Claude Rostand who made the classic distinction between Poulenc the monk (‘le moine’) and Poulenc the bad boy (‘le voyou’). Had he been writing when the composer was in his early thirties rather than his early fifties, Rostand would not have been able to make such a distinction: there was only the bad boy. What changed things – following the trauma of the death of a colleague in a particularly horrific road accident in 1936 – was a revelatory first visit to the chapel of the Black Virgin at Rocamadour. Immediately on leaving there Poulenc made a start on his Litanies à la Vierge noire, the first in a series of 12 religious choral works written over the remaining 27 years of his life.

During his childhood he had been influenced less by his God-fearing father – one of the founders of the chemical manufacturing company that became Rhône-Poulenc – than by his mother, who was not very religious but was very musical. He absorbed cabaret and dance music as thoroughly as classical music from Monteverdi to Stravinsky via Mozart. His refusal to discriminate between the two types is one of the most distinctive, most appealing and most durable features of his own compositions, many of which are all the better for their quota of ‘bad-boy’ music.

Not having had a conservatoire training, though he studied piano with Ricardo Viñes and harmony with Charles Koechlin, he needed a model. That is where Stravinsky came in. Stravinsky was the dominant influence on his music not only in the 1920s – when Poulenc found early notoriety as one of the so-called ‘Groupe des Six’ under the anti-Impressionist aesthetic leadership of Jean Cocteau – but through much of his career. In fact, it would take him as long to integrate the Stravinsky idiom into his own harmonic language as to reconcile the monk and the bad-boy elements in his make-up.

Poulenc was an entertaining and affectionate companion who loved music above everything else. Recent biographies have made much of his homosexuality but it was no more important to his development than any other composer’s sexuality to his or hers. Besides, apart from the fact that he was by no means exclusively homosexual, the two most fruitful relationships in his adult life were strictly platonic. But for his long-term recital partnership with the baritone Pierre Bernac he would not have provided a catalogue of songs as distinguished as any in the 20th century. And without his loving admiration for the soprano Denise Duval, for whom he conceived the roles of Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites and the solitary protagonist in La voix humaine, his last two operas might not have been written at all.

Profile © Gerald Larner

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Francis Poulenc
Intermezzo for piano in A flat major
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Intermezzo for piano in A flat major
Francis Poulenc
Les Biches - suite, Rag-mazurka
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Les Biches - suite, Rag-mazurka
Francis Poulenc
Novelettes for piano no. 1 & no. 2 & no. 3
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Novelettes for piano no. 1 & no. 2 & no. 3
Francis Poulenc
Clarinet Sonata, 3rd movement; Allegro con fuoco (Tres anime)
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Clarinet Sonata, 3rd movement; Allegro con fuoco (Tres anime)
Francis Poulenc
Melancolie
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Melancolie
Francis Poulenc
Videntes stellam
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Videntes stellam
Francis Poulenc
Sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon
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Sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon
Francis Poulenc
Concerto in G minor for organ, timpani and strings
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Concerto in G minor for organ, timpani and strings
Francis Poulenc
4 Motets pour le temps de Noel
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4 Motets pour le temps de Noel
Francis Poulenc
Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel
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Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel
Francis Poulenc
Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noel, for acappella chorus
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Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noel, for acappella chorus
Francis Poulenc
4 Motets pour le temps de Noel for chorus, no.1; O magnum mysterium
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4 Motets pour le temps de Noel for chorus, no.1; O magnum mysterium
Francis Poulenc
Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra - Allegro ma non troppo
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Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra - Allegro ma non troppo
Francis Poulenc
Poulenc: Salve Regina
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Poulenc: Salve Regina
Francis Poulenc
Les Soirees de Nazelles - suite for piano
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Les Soirees de Nazelles - suite for piano
Francis Poulenc
Chansons villageoises
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Chansons villageoises
Francis Poulenc
Fiancailles pour rire - song-cycle for voice and piano
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Fiancailles pour rire - song-cycle for voice and piano
Francis Poulenc
Sextet for piano and wind
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Sextet for piano and wind
Francis Poulenc
Sonata for clarinet and piano
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Sonata for clarinet and piano
Francis Poulenc
Intermezzo in A Flat Major
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Intermezzo in A Flat Major
Francis Poulenc
Piano Concerto: 3rd mvt, rondo a la francaise
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Piano Concerto: 3rd mvt, rondo a la francaise
Add music you love and enjoy it
Playlists featuring Francis Poulenc
Essential Classics: Guest Choices
Essential Classics: Guest Choices
Radio 3 Breakfast: Music Box
Radio 3 Breakfast: Music Box
20 Years of Private Passions
20 Years of Private Passions


Francis Poulenc Biography

It was the French critic Claude Rostand who made the classic distinction between Poulenc the monk (‘le moine’) and Poulenc the bad boy (‘le voyou’). Had he been writing when the composer was in his early thirties rather than his early fifties, Rostand would not have been able to make such a distinction: there was only the bad boy. What changed things – following the trauma of the death of a colleague in a particularly horrific road accident in 1936 – was a revelatory first visit to the chapel of the Black Virgin at Rocamadour. Immediately on leaving there Poulenc made a start on his Litanies à la Vierge noire, the first in a series of 12 religious choral works written over the remaining 27 years of his life.

During his childhood he had been influenced less by his God-fearing father – one of the founders of the chemical manufacturing company that became Rhône-Poulenc – than by his mother, who was not very religious but was very musical. He absorbed cabaret and dance music as thoroughly as classical music from Monteverdi to Stravinsky via Mozart. His refusal to discriminate between the two types is one of the most distinctive, most appealing and most durable features of his own compositions, many of which are all the better for their quota of ‘bad-boy’ music.

Not having had a conservatoire training, though he studied piano with Ricardo Viñes and harmony with Charles Koechlin, he needed a model. That is where Stravinsky came in. Stravinsky was the dominant influence on his music not only in the 1920s – when Poulenc found early notoriety as one of the so-called ‘Groupe des Six’ under the anti-Impressionist aesthetic leadership of Jean Cocteau – but through much of his career. In fact, it would take him as long to integrate the Stravinsky idiom into his own harmonic language as to reconcile the monk and the bad-boy elements in his make-up.

Poulenc was an entertaining and affectionate companion who loved music above everything else. Recent biographies have made much of his homosexuality but it was no more important to his development than any other composer’s sexuality to his or hers. Besides, apart from the fact that he was by no means exclusively homosexual, the two most fruitful relationships in his adult life were strictly platonic. But for his long-term recital partnership with the baritone Pierre Bernac he would not have provided a catalogue of songs as distinguished as any in the 20th century. And without his loving admiration for the soprano Denise Duval, for whom he conceived the roles of Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites and the solitary protagonist in La voix humaine, his last two operas might not have been written at all.

Profile © Gerald Larner

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