Poulenc personifies the French spirit. Born into a rich family, the gifted child was taught the piano by Ricardo Vines and attended Charles Kœchlin’s classes in composition. Having quickly come to the attention of the Parisian intelligentsia, Poulenc had his astonishing Negro Rhapsody performed during a concert when he was only eighteen. Even though Poulenc the pianist caused a sensation, it was the composer who made the greatest impression with the confidence of his style. Satie, Auric, Stravinsky, Gide and Claudel were all admirers of the young Poulenc.
Fanatical about culture, Poulenc followed Cocteau’s advice and sought to rid his music of the general influences of Wagner, Mussorgsky and Debussy in the aim to define a clear, articulate style blending lightness, irony and humour. Member of Les Six group, Poulenc gave new inspiration to French music during the period between the wars. He and his friends had a taste for jazz, music halls, circuses and high society parties.
Far from apparent superficiality, Poulenc’s music shows great sensitivity. Behind the laughs are concealed tears and melancholy. His melodic inventiveness gave rise to numerous, always refined works for voice and piano. His incomparably rich chamber music blends both modernity, (Poulenc met Schoenberg in 1922) and French clarity. The reinvented classicism, childhood nostalgia, caustic humour and sparkling virtuosity of the music Poulenc left behind is very captivating. This “monk-rascal” was to compose sublime scores of sacred music such as his Gloria and Stabat Mater.
“While writing, I was thinking quite simply of these frescos by Gozzoli (Benozzo Gozzoli) where the angels are sticking out their tongues, and also of those serious Benedictine monks whom I saw playing football”.
Poulenc explaining the Gloria
Francis Poulenc : Main works
Concerto for two pianos (1932)
Concerto organ, strings and timpani (1937)
Stabat Mater for soprano, SATB divisi and orchestra (1951)
Flute Sonata (1957)
Dialogues of the Carmelites, Opera in three acts, libretto by Georges Bernanos (1957)
Gloria for soprano, SATB divisi and orchestra (1961)