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Poulenc, Francis

Francis Poulenc is a French composer from the first half of the 20th century. Having written about 200 melodies, he also distinguishes himself in other genres (opera, chamber music, piano works, an important opus of sacred music), and leaves writings which are evidences of the affection he has for the language.

Poulenc discovers piano thanks to his mother, who tells him about classics, and thanks to the pianist Ricardo Viñes, his spiritual mentor, who initiates him to the music of his time (Claude Debussy, Eric Satie, Manuel de Falla…). Viñes helps him to enter the arts communities at the time, where he spends time with Jean Cocteau and Max Jacob for example. It’s notably the discovery of Igor Stravinski that will be determining for his career of composer.

At the very beginning of his career, Poulenc takes part in the creation of the group Les Six (in reference to the Russian group The Five), composed of Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Louis Durey and Germaine Tailleferre: those composers unite to react against romanticism, Wagnerism, and to a lesser extent, impressionism. Even if he remains autodidact for the most part, Poulenc studies composition with Charles Koechlin in the 1920’s, and discovers the style of Gabriel Fauré whose Koechlin was the student.

Between orders and more personal inspirations, Poulenc creates randomly ballets, sometimes not without humor (Les Animaux modèles, 1942), religious works (Messe en sol majeur, 1937) or instrumental works (rural concert for the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska (1928), Sinfonietta, 1947).

He remains very emotionally tied with the voice which he puts in the forefront in many of his melodies but also in operas, like Les Dialogues des Carmélites (1957) or La Voix humaine (1958).

Poulenc alternates in his works between a great seriousness, which seems to go together with his deep faith, and a strong sense of fun and fantaisy. The diversity of his creations underlines a bold and inspired style, which reports the aesthetic eclecticism in the treatment of the orchestra and the voice, while remaining rooted in tonality/modality.

Some of his works:

Gloria (1959)
for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra
3(pic).3(cor ang).3(clB).3(cbn)-, timbales, harp, strings
Editions Salabert - On hire and on purchase

La Voix humaine (1958)
lyrical tragedy in one act from a booklet of Jean Cocteau (Italian version from F. Testi)
for soprano and orchestra
2(pic).2(cor ang).3(clB).2-, timb, perc, hp, strings
Editions Ricordi Paris - On purchase

Concerto in G minor (1938)
pour orgue, orchestre à cordes et timbales
Editions Salabert

All about the unpublished work Souvenirs

It is an unreleased work, which will be published with the autorisation of the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris and Benoît Seringe, secretary of the Association des Amis de Francis Poulenc.

In the first place, Poulenc was asked to write new music for the repeat at the Théâtre de la Michodière in 1944 of Anouilh’s piece Le voyageur sans baggage, premiered in 1937 with music from Darius Milhaud.

This new score of Poulenc, whose existence was ignored until it got discovered in the collection of the Association de la Régie théâtrale, was written between 19 and 21 March 1944, and consists of nine numbers, all of them written for a small ensemble made of an oboe, a clarinet, a cello and a piano.

At the end of the manuscript however, Poulenc rewrites the n°2 Lent and gives a second version, for cello and piano. Curiously enough, the original version of this number isn’t scored out in the manuscript. Poulenc seems to invite us to consider this piece for cello and piano as a distinct piece which we will soon publish.

Francis Poulenc on Youtube

Read the brochure made for the 50th anniversary of Poulenc's death

texts by Hervé Lacombe from interviews with Georges Prêtre, Dame Felicity Lott, Laurence Equilbey, Marc-André Hamelin, Yoel Levi, Karen Vourc'h, and many others ...