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French Composer & Pianist Francis Poulenc Died in 1963

The composer played a significant role in shaping French music in the post-World War I era, with his songs regarded among the finest composed in the 20th century

 

French composer and pianist Francis Poulenc was born on this day in 1899, 124 years ago. Poulenc was primarily self-taught, and his first compositions include Rapsodie Nègre (1917), Trois Mouvements Perpétuels for piano, and Sonata for Piano Duet (1918), as well as a settings of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem Le Bestiaire and Jean Cocteau’s Cocardes (1919). These works display a clever blend of wit and impudent parody.

Humor remained a notable characteristic of his music, exemplified by the Surrealistic opéra bouffe Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1947), inspired by Apollinaire.

In 1920, the French critic Henri Collet grouped Poulenc with five other emerging French composers, collectively naming them “Les Six”. Other members included Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey.

Poulenc pursued studies under the composer and teacher Charles Koechlin from 1921 to 1924. His ballet Les Biches premiered under the direction of Serge Diaghilev in 1924. Poulenc composed the song cycles Poèmes de Ronsard and Chansons gaillardes in 1924 and 1926, respectively. This marked the beginning of an extensive repertoire of over 100 songs, primarily based on poems by Apollinaire.

In 1934, Poulenc collaborated with baritone Pierre Bernac, an experience that deepened his understanding of the song as an art form. During the 1930s, Poulenc also wrote many religious works, including Litanies à la Vierge Noire de Rocomadour (1936), Mass in G Major (1937), and Stabat Mater (1951).

Composing for string instruments did not come easily for Poulenc- particularly the violin, since he did "not like the violin in the singular." He made multiple attempts to write a violin sonata as early as 1918 but later destroyed any attempts.

He was approached by French violinist extraordinaire Ginette Neveu, who strongly encouraged him to try once more. In 1943, Poulenc's only surviving Violin Sonata was completed, Poulenc stated:

"The monster is finished. I will begin the realization. It is not bad, I think, and in any case very different from the eternal "violin-melody line" of the French sonatas of the 19th century.... The violin prima donna over piano arpeggio makes me vomit."

 

NIKITA BORISO-GLEBSKY & KASPARAS UINSKAS | FRANCIS POULENC | VIOLIN SONATA NO. 1 

 

 

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