Main content

Poulenc's Legacy

To mark the 50th anniversary of Francis Poulenc's death Tom Service visits his home city of Paris, and traces his remarkable musical life.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc, Tom Service travels to the composer's home city of Paris to explore the passions, paradoxes and pleasures of the man behind this most joyful but melancholic music. On the way he talks to Poulenc's great-nephew, to some of his greatest living interpreters including Gabriel Tacchino (pianist), his favourite conductor, Georges Prêtre, baritone François Le Roux, pianist Graham Johnson, and musicologists Barbara Kelly and Nicolas Southon.

Available now

45 minutes

Francis Poulenc (1899 - 1963)

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc, Tom Service travels to the composer’s home city of Paris to explore the passions, paradoxes and pleasures of the man behind this most joyful but melancholic music. On the way he talks to Poulenc’s great-nephew, to some of his greatest living interpreters including Gabriel Tacchino (pianist), his favourite conductor, Georges Prêtre, baritone François Le Roux, pianist Graham Johnson, and musicologists Barbara Kelly and Nicolas Southon. 

 

Tom discovers the essential doubleness of the man and his music; the party-animal and the melancholic, the composer of silliness and seriousness; the promiscuous homosexual who fathered a daughter late in his life, the modern urbane composer who was also riven with nostalgia, the vibrant sensualist who also had strong religious feelings.

 

It all begins in the heady cultural ferment of Paris in the teens and twenties.

Born in 1899 into a wealthy Parisian family, Poulenc was a precocious teenager who exploded onto the scene of Parisian culture as an 18 year-old composer and pianist. And what a scene: Paris in the 1920s must have felt like it was the centre of the cultural universe: Stravinsky, Picasso, Cocteau, Diaghilev, Eluard - Poulenc knew and worked with them all. In the early 1920s, thanks to Cocteau and the critic Henri Collet, Poulenc was one of Les Six, composers whom Cocteau charged with reshaping music.

 

Yet having found his voice in the mid 1920’s Poulenc did not simply churn out music of charming neo-classical brilliance for the rest of his life. As musicologist Nicolas Southon tells Tom, Poulenc experienced a personal and religious epiphany in the 1930s. As a result the music of his last two and a half decades finds a new depth and maturity. As we hear in his songs and operas of the 40s and 50s Poulenc finds a combination of joie de vivre and nostalgia that has spoken to audiences ever since his death in 1963. Through the voices of all of the contributors we discover the sheer love that his music inspires and continues to inspire in anyone who counts themselves among les amis de Francis Poulenc.

Credit

Role Contributor
Composer Francis Poulenc

Broadcast

Knock on wood – six stunning wooden concert halls around the world

Knock on wood – six stunning wooden concert halls around the world

Steel and concrete can't beat good old wood to produce the best sounds for music.

The evolution of video game music

The evolution of video game music

Tom Service traces the rise of an exciting new genre, from bleeps to responsive scores.

Why music can literally make us lose track of time

Why music can literally make us lose track of time

Try our psychoacoustic experiment to see how tempo can affect your timekeeping abilities.

Podcast

Gallery