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Biography of

Francis Poulenc

7 jan 1899 (Paris) - 30 jan 1963 (Paris)
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Francis Poulenc and Wanda Landowska.

Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (French pronunciation: [fʁɑ̃sis ʒɑ̃ maʁsɛl pulɛ̃k]; January 7, 1899 – January 30, 1963) was a French composer and a member of the French group Les Six. He composed music in genres including art song, solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music. Critic Claude Rostand, in a July 1950 Paris-Presse article, described Poulenc as "half monk, half delinquent" ("le moine et le voyou"), a tag that was to be attached to his name for the rest of his career.[1]



Early life

Poulenc was born in Paris in 1899. His father Emile Poulenc was a second generation director of Poulenc and later Rhone-Poulenc chemical corporation. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play and music formed a part of family life. He was a capable pianist[2] and the keyboard dominated his early compositions. He borrowed from his own compositions as well as those of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Camille Saint-Saëns. Later in his life, the loss of close friends, coupled with a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour, led him to rediscover the Roman Catholic faith and resulted in compositions of a more sombre, austere tone.


Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a loose-knit group of young French and Swiss composers (it also included Milhaud, Auric, Durey, Honegger and Tailleferre) who had links with Erik Satie, Jean Hugo and Jean Cocteau. He embraced the Dada movement's techniques, creating melodies that would have challenged what was considered appropriate for Parisian music halls.

He was identified with this group before he undertook his first formal musical training, with Charles Koechlin in 1921.[3]

Poulenc was a featured pianist in recordings, including some of his own songs (with Pierre Bernac, recorded in 1947; and Rose Dercourt) and the Concerto for Two Pianos (recorded in May 1957). He supervised the 1961 world premiere recording of his Gloria, which was conducted by Georges Prêtre. His recordings were released by RCA Victor and EMI. Poulenc's Perpetual Motion No. 1 (1918) is used in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948).

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 Elégie for horn.

He had only one piano student, Gabriel Tacchino, who has performed and recorded all his piano music, lending it a unique insight.[4]

Poulenc died of heart failure in Paris in 1963 and is buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Personal life

Poulenc was a member of a rich industrialist family and known for his generosity. Rhône-Poulenc was and is one of the biggest chemical corporations in the world.

Some writers consider Poulenc one of the first openly gay composers.[5] 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."[1] 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."[6] However, Poulenc's life was also one of inner struggle. Having been born and raised a Roman Catholic, he struggled throughout his life between coming to terms with his "unorthodox" sexual "appetites" and maintaining his religious convictions.[7][dubious ]

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[citation needed]. Her mother, "Freddy" is the dedicatee of two of his pieces. He was also a very close friend of the singer Pierre Bernac, for whom he wrote many songs. The published correspondence between the two men, however, strongly suggests that they were never sex partners.[citation needed]

Poulenc lived at 5, rue de Médicis, Paris.

Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of friends. In 1923 he was "unable to do anything" for two days after the death from typhoid fever of his twenty-year-old friend, the novelist Raymond Radiguet. However, two weeks later he had moved on, joking to Sergei Diaghilev at the rehearsals he was unable to leave, about helping a dancer "warm up".[1] Then in 1930 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.[1] In 1936, Poulenc was profoundly affected by the death of another composer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, who was decapitated in an automobile accident in Hungary. 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, he produced a sizeable output of liturgical music or compositions based on religious themes, beginning with the Litanies à la vierge noire (1936) and including his opera The Dialogues of the Carmelites (1956). 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 (1959), and Sept répons des ténèbres (1961–2).


See List of compositions by Francis Poulenc.


  • Francis Poulenc Echo and Source. Selected Correspondence 1915-1963, translated and edited by Sidney Buckland, London, Gollancz, 1991, 448 p.
  • Francis Poulenc, Correspondence 1910-1963, éditée par Myriam Chimènes, Paris, Fayard, 1994, 1128 p.
  • Francis Poulenc, Journal de mes mélodies, Cicero, 1993, 160 p.
  • Francis Poulenc, À bâtons rompus (écrits radiophoniques, Journal de vacances, Feuilles américaines), écrits édités par Lucie Kayas, Arles, Actes Sud, 1999.
  • Francis Poulenc, Moi et mes amis, confidences recueillies par Stéphane Audel, Paris, La Palatine Ligugé, 1963, 206 p.
  • Renaud Machart, Poulenc, Paris, Seuil, 1995, 252 p.
  • Henri Hell, Francis Poulenc, Paris, Fayard, 1978, 391 p.
  • Jean Roy, Francis Poulenc, Paris, Seghers, 1964, 191 p.
  • Carl B. Schmidt, Entrancing Muse: A Documented Biography of Francis Poulenc, London, Pendragon Pr, 2001, 621 p.
  • Benjamin Ivry, Francis Poulenc, Londres, Phaidon Press Limited, 1996.
  • Simon Basinger, Les Cahiers de Francis Poulenc, Paris/collectif de l'Association F.Poulenc, Paris, 2008.
  • Pierre Bernac, Francis Poulenc et ses mélodies, Paris, Buchet-Chastel, 1978, 220 p.
  • Richard Burton, Francis Poulenc, Absolute Press, 2002, 114 p.
  • Francine Bloch, Phonographie de Francis Poulenc. Paris / Bibliothèque Nationale (1984)
  • Poulenc: Music, Art and Literature, sous la direction de Sidney Buckland et Myriam Chimènes, Ashgate, 1999, 409 p.
  • Alban Ramaut, Francis Poulenc et la voix, Lyon, Symétrie, 2005, 336 p.


  1. ^ a b c d Benjamin Ivry (1996). Francis Poulenc, 20th-Century Composers series. Phaidon Press Limited. ISBN 0-7148-3503-X.
  2. ^ Myriam Chimènes: 'Poulenc, Francis', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed [25 December 2006]),
  3. ^ Composer profile
  4. ^ Bach Cantatas
  5. ^ Champagne, Mario (2002), "Poulenc, Francis",, 
  6. ^ Aldrich, Robert and Wotherspoon, Gary (Eds.) (2001). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22974-X.
  7. ^ Composer Biographies for Elif Savas' CD of Reynaldo Hahn, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Peter Tchaikowski, Francis Poulenc, Karol Szymanowski, Martin Hennessy

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Francis Poulenc. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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