Francis Poulenc


Francis Poulenc once said half-jokingly that he would have liked to have been born in the 15th century, so much did the vocal polyphony of the Renaissance correspond to his compositional nature. As a native Parisian, however, he added that “our fifteenth” – the 15th arrondissement – also had its charms. Poulenc left behind an oeuvre that moves between surrealism, cabaret and polyphonic sacred music and which consistently eschews atonal, twelve-tone or serial experiments.

Francis Poulenc was born into a wealthy Parisian family in 1899: his father Émile worked as managing director of the company [Poulenc Frères], which by the end of the 1990s had grown into the seventh-largest pharmaceutical and chemical group in the world under the name [Rhône-Poulenc]. His mother, a talented amateur pianist, sparked her son’s interest in music and arranged for him to receive piano lessons from the Spanish virtuoso Ricardo Viñes. Although Poulenc also studied under Maurice Ravel and Paul Vidal, he was rejected by the Conservatoire de Paris. When he was 18 years old, his parents died in quick succession. In these difficult times during the First World War, Poulenc met the composer Georges Auric and joined the artists’ group [Nouveaux Jeunes] formed around Erik Satie. This group rebelled against the works of Wagner and wanted to liberate French music from the “aristocratic” elegance of Debussy. The [Concerts des Nouveaux Jeunes] gave rise to the [Groupe des Six], a group of composers randomly thrown together by Parisian critic Henri Collet but effectively marketed to the media, which included Auric and Poulenc as well as Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Louis Durey and Arthur Honegger. [Les Six] offered young composers an ideal platform for the performance and promotion of their works. After distancing himself more from the group and under the increasing influence of Igor Stravinsky, Poulenc’s work soon took on a classical orientation. In 1927, the composer bought an estate near Noizay in the Loire Valley, where he composed the majority of his oeuvre, in which vocal music took centre stage from the 1930s onwards: his sacred music in particular achieved great popularity. Francis Poulenc died in Paris on 30 January 1963.


Help Contact
How to watch Newsletter Institutional Access Access Vouchers
Legal notice Terms of use Privacy Policy