Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc

Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death 30 Jan 1963 (aged 64)
Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
Burial Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
Plot Division 5
Memorial ID 7729 · View Source
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Composer. He was a member of "Les Six," a group of French musicians who rebelled against Romanticism and Impressionism in the early 1920s. His richly tuneful music embraces a wide variety of emotions, from acerbic wit and playfulness to melancholy and profound spiritual contemplation. Poulenc is considered one of the foremost creators of French art songs, and his religious settings are among the finest in the genre. Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was born in Paris, into a wealthy family of chemical manufacturers. Although he studied piano with Ricardo Vines and music theory with Charles Koechlin, he was essentially a self-taught composer. Poulenc's work falls roughly into two periods. The first was defined by the popular aesthetic of "Les Six", with whose other members (Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Louis Durey, and Germaine Tailleferre) he collaborated from 1917 to 1921. Most characteristic of his early compositions are the "Mouvements perpetuels" for piano (1918); the ballet "Les Biches" (1924), written for Sergei Diaghilev; the "Concert Champetre" for Harpsichord (1928); the Concerto for Two Pianos (1932); and the cantata "Le Bal Masque" (1932). During this time Poulenc assimilated a potpourri of influences: Igor Stravinsky, Erik Satie, Emmanuel Chabrier, and 17th Century French Baroque, as well as flirtations with Parisian music hall, jazz and even Javanese gamelan. His humor and eclecticism made it hard for critics to take him seriously and he was labeled, among other things, "a musical time machine," "a prankster," and "The Rich Playboy of French Music." Poulenc's creative maturity dates from around 1935 and was sparked by the tragic death of his friend, composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud. The emotional crisis he experienced led him to return to the Catholicism of his youth, and to re-evaluate his art. His greatest songs, many set to poetry of Apollinaire and Paul Eluard, and all his sacred music belong to this period. Among Poulenc's outstanding later works are the Mass in G (1937); the Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani (1939); the cantata "Figure humaine" (1943), composed in protest against the Nazi occupation of France; the beautiful, deeply moving "Stabat Mater" (1950); the opera "Dialogues of the Carmelites" (1957); the delightful "Gloria" (1961); and three chamber sonatas, for Flute (1957), Clarinet (1962), and Oboe (1962), all part of a woodwind series he did not live to complete. In the 1950s he also made several concert tours of England and the United States accompanying baritone Pierre Bernac, his favorite musical interpreter, in his songs. At the time of his death, from a heart attack in Paris, he was planning an opera on Jean Cocteau's play "The Infernal Machine." In person Poulenc's ungainly appearance and sometimes eccentric behavior made him a favorite target of caricaturists. Openly gay, he claimed he had no trouble reconciling his religious faith with what he called his "Parisian sexuality", though he was plagued by depression and suffered a nervous breakdown in 1954. He also waged a lifelong battle against the indolence his independent wealth afforded him and there were times when he resorted to amphetamines to motivate himself to work. (Those who knew him said it was a miracle he accomplished as much as he did). Poulenc finally bought a country estate at Noizay where he could compose in peace, away from the temptations and distractions of his beloved Paris. Once dismissed as the least important of "Les Six", Poulenc is today the only member of that fabled group with a large and devoted following of listeners.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 18 Dec 1999
  • Find a Grave Memorial 7729
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Francis Poulenc (7 Jan 1899–30 Jan 1963), Find a Grave Memorial no. 7729, citing Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France ; Maintained by Find A Grave .