Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (January 7, 1899 – January 30, 1963) was a French composer and a member of the French group Les Six. He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music and orchestral music. Critic Claude Rostand, in a July 1950 Paris-Presse article, described Poulenc as "half bad boy, half monk" ("le moine et le voyou"), a tag that was to be attached to his name for the rest of his career.
Francis Poulenc was born in Paris. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play, and music formed a part of family life. An outstanding pianist, the keyboard dominated much of his early compositions. He also, throughout his career, borrowed from his own compositions as well as those of Mozart and Saint-Saëns. Later in his life, the loss of some close friends, coupled with a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, led him to rediscovery of the Catholic faith and resulted in compositions of a more sombre, austere tone.
Poulenc "adored women, but loved men". His first serious relationship was with painter Richard Chanlaire to whom he dedicated his Concert champêtre: "You have changed my life, you are the sunshine of my thirty years, a reason for living and working." He also once said, "You know that I am as sincere in my faith, without any messianic screamings, as I am in my Parisian sexuality."
Poulenc also had a number of relationships with women. He fathered a daughter, Marie-Ange, although he never formally admitted that he was indeed her father. He was also a very close friend of the singer Pierre Bernac for whom he wrote many songs; some sources have hinted that this long friendship had sexual undertones; however, the now-published correspondence between the two men strongly suggests that this was not the case.
Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of friends. First came the death of the young woman he had hoped to marry, Raymonde Linossier. While Poulenc admitted to having no sexual interest in Linossier, they had been lifelong friends. Then, in 1923 he was "unable to do anything" for two days after the death from typhoid fever of his twenty year old friend, novelist Raymond Radiguet. However, two weeks later he had moved on, joking to Diaghilev at the rehearsals he was unable to leave, about helping a dancer "warm up". In 1936 Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of a rival composer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, who was beheaded in an automobile accident. This led him to his first visit to the shrine of the Black Virgin of Rocamadour. Here, before the statue of the Madonna with a young child on her lap, Poulenc experienced a life-changing transformation. Thereafter his work took on more religious themes, beginning with the Litanies à la vierge noire (1936). In 1949, Poulenc experienced the death of another friend, the artist Christian Bérard, for whom he composed his 'Stabat Mater' (1950). Other sacred works from this period include the Mass in G (1937), Gloria (1950), and Sept répons des ténèbres (1961–2).
Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a group of young French composers, Milhaud, Auric, Durey, Honegger and Tailleferre, who also had links with Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau. He embraced the Dada movement's techniques, creating melodies that would have been appropriate for Parisian music halls.
Among Poulenc's last series of major works is a series of works for wind instruments and piano. He was particularly fond of woodwinds, and planned a set of sonatas for all of them, yet only lived to complete four: sonatas for flute, oboe, clarinet, and the Elegie for horn.
Poulenc died of heart failure in Paris in 1963.
His works of chamber music include:
Other works include:
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