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Classical Composers A-Z: Francis Poulenc

Peter Wintersgill presents a portrait of the French composer Francis Poulenc, whose composing career began when he was seven.

Born
7th January, 1899, in Paris.

Father
Emile, industrial chemist, music lover.

Mother
Jenny, fine amateur pianist.

Childhood
Only child. Had a great friend, a girl called Raymonde who died young. They used to go to a literary bookshop together, where they saw many famous poets and authors.
Was taught the piano by his mother from the age of five, started composing at the age of seven.

Adolescence
No formal teaching as composer, but he had piano lessons from Ricudo Vines from age of 14. Vines introduced him to other teachers, such as Eric Satie and Georges Auric, who helped him form Les Six, a group of young musicians who used to give recitals together. Their music was in revolt against Impressionism and Romanticism and tended to be based on folk music and street bands.

Adult Life
His main claim to fame were his many songs, especially those written after 1935, when he teamed up with baritone singer Pierre Bernac, whom Poulenc used to accompany on the piano.

His music was heard by Stravinsky, who recommended him to Diagilhev; together they produced his ballet Les Biches (1923), The Little Darlings.

He wrote three operas, the second one being Les Dialogues des Carmelites (1956), based on the French Revolution. He wrote a highly original Organ Concerto (1938) and the Mass in G (1927). Later choral works were Stabat Mater (1950) and Gloria (1959). He was made Hon. Mus. Doc. at Oxford.

He was liable to fits of depression; his music was a curious mixture of gaiety and melancholy.

He died on 30th January, 1963,in Paris aged 64.

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