Francis Poulenc

Prolific French composer Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc wrote solo piano music, chamber music, oratorios, choral music, operas, ballet music, and orchestral music.

Born in Paris, his mother taught him to play piano from a young age. He began studying with Ricardo Vines in 1914, and featured the keyboard in many of his early compositions. One such work, Rapsodie Negre, written in 1917, attracted the attention of Igor Stravinsky. It was largely because of Stravinsky that the work was published in London.

In the following years, Poulenc continued to write and premiere his pieces, as well as meet with other young composers. His influences ranged from Chabrier and Satie to Debussy and Stravinsky. Though he had been self-taught, Poulenc had his first formal compositional training with Charles Koechlin from 1921-1925. He befriended Pierre Bernac, a baritone who became a close friend and source of inspiration for his vocal pieces.

Following the death of several friends and other composers, in addition to a pilgrimage, Poulenc experienced a religious reawakening in 1936. He began writing the first of many sacred pieces, and pushed himself to new compositional depths. From this point, he began writing in several different styles and contributed a tremendous output of music. He was writing film music, secular and religious works, chansons, orchestral pieces, and works for one or two pianos. Later towards the end of his life, Poulenc would have several more friends die, which caused him to compose large volumes of liturgical music.

He passed away in January 1963 from heart failure, and is buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Though his music is largely considered to be tonal, he is also known for his use of pandiatonicism and chromatically altered chords. Some of his later works include harmonic innovations like 12-tone rows. Despite the use of these radical techniques, he never abandoned lush harmonies and lyrical, flowing melodies, which are best seen in his vocal music contributions.

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Symphonic Orchestra   Solo & Ensemble


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