30. Francis Poulenc [365 Composers for 2013]


30th January – Francis Poulenc


Poulenc  (7th January 1899 – 30th January 1963) is our composer for 30th January, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: French
Lifespan: 64 years
Genre: 20th Century
Education: Self-taught, and privately with Charles Koechlin
Fame Ranking: 3

Poulenc was born in Paris and began to learn the piano, with his mother, at the age of five, but tragically he lost both of his parents as a teenager. He had a circle of friends and acquaintances who moved within the intellectual, musical and literary elite in Paris, which led to his being part of a new vibrant group of composers based in Montparnasse (Paris) called “Les Six”. The formation of “The Six” was a reaction to the closure of theatres during the First World War –  this gang of youngsters put on their own performances for their own entertainment and that of others. Poulenc’s musical output at this time was light-hearted.

After the sudden death of a close friend in a road accident, Poulenc visited a 15th century pilgrimage church housing a Black Madonna in Rocamadour, South-West France. This experience had a profound effect on him, awakening a religious fervour that stuck with him for the rest of his life. This manifested itself in his music in the form of a massive output of sacred works, mostly choral in orchestration. His musical output from the 1940s onwards was immense, including works for piano, chamber music, choral, sacred & secular, opera, ballet and a film score.

Poulenc’s music is mostly based on the usual major/minor diatonic scale systems, but he did experiment with key and harmony to an extent, dabbling with serialism in his later works, for example.

On his death, Poulenc had a simple funeral with the only music played being that of J.S. Bach.


Here is the second movement of Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata:


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