Parigi, 1899 –1963

Francis Poulenc

Born to a wealthy family (his father was the founder of the successful pharmaceutical company which became Rhône-Poulenc), Francis Poulenc showed great talent from a very early age, both as a pianist (initially learning with his mother before continuing with Ricardo Viñes, a great French pianist and teacher and advocate of the work of Ravel) and as a composer. He was a member of the ‘Group of Six’ alongside Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, and Germaine Tailleferre, formed in France in 1917 in reaction to Wagnerism and the impressionism of Debussy. The Group was recognized as being both original and iconoclastic of Erik Satie in music, and Jean Cocteau in literature. A lucky composer, he had the good fortune to live in Paris at a time of high cultural vitality (he met and became friends with Eluard, Apollinaire, Breton, Radiguet …). We are left a large body of work, admittedly not always innovative from a stylistic point of view, but still lively and original, communicative and elegant, ranging from Dadaism to Neoclassicism. His writing is full of humour, but also melancholy, which does not shy away from the atmosphere of the music hall and cabaret. In the second part of his life, the painful conversion to Christianity as a homosexual and typical Parisian ‘bon vivant’, became a turning point in his creativity and he went on to write masterpieces such as: Les dialogues des Carmélites, taken from Bernanos in 1957, which was commissioned by Ricordi and was well received at its first performance at La Scala; the Litanies à la Vierge Noire (1936); Gloria; and Stabat Mater. Among his numerous other works we remember his many compositions for piano, which include a Piano Concerto (1949), Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1932), Huit Nocturnes (1929- 1938) and numerous compositions for voice and piano (including the Bestiaire ou cortège d’Orphée, 1919: the poetry collection that his friend Apollinaire published in 1911). The Concerto in G minor for organ, string orchestra and timpani of 1938 is particularly imposing, while the neoclassical element of the composer can be seen more in works such as  such as the famous champêtre concerto for harpsichord and orchestra, 1928. In his chamber music we see a lot of works for wind instruments which Poulenc had a particular liking for, namely the sonatas for clarinet, flute and oboe.

 

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