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Francis Poulenc

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Francis Poulenc


(born: Paris, 7 Jan 1899; died: there, 30 Jan 1963).
French composer. His background gave him a musical and literary sophistication from boyhood, and he was already a publicly noted composer by the time he took lessons with Koechlin (1921-4): such works as his Apollinaire song cycle Le bestiaire (1919) and Sonata for two clarinets (1918) had shown the Stravinsky-Satie inclinations that assure him a place among Les Six. His ballet Les biches (1924), written for Dyagilev, established his mastery of the emotions and musical tastes of the smart set, opening a world of suavity and irony that he went on to explore in a sequence of concertante pieces: the Concert champêtre for harpsichord, the Aubade with solo piano and the Concerto for two pianos.
Around 1935 there came a change in his personal and spiritual life, reflected in a sizable output of religious music, a much greater productivity and an important contribution to French song (from this time he gave recitals with the baritone Pierre Bernac). Yet the basis of his style was unchanged: Stravinsky, Fauré and contemporary popular music continued to be his sources, even in the devotional music (Litanies à la vierge noire for female voices and organ) and the larger sacred works (Stabat mater, Gloria). The songs include four cycles. But his output of instrumental music, apart from the many piano pieces of a private character, continued to be modest: his most important later orchestral piece is the G minor organ concerto with strings and timpani (1938), which journeys between Bach and the fairground, while his main chamber works were the sonatas for flute, oboe and clarinet.
Music for the stage also continued to occupy him. There was another ballet, Les animaux modèles (1942), scores for plays and films, and a new departure into opera, begun with the absurd Apollinaire piece Les mamelles de Tirésias and pursued with more seriousness in his deeply felt tragedy of martyrdom, Dialogues des Carmélites (1957), as well as a setting of Cocteau's telephone monologue La voix humaine (1959).
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