Francis Poulenc born 7 January 1899 (d. 1963)
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les Six. He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music and orchestral music.
Francis Poulenc was born in Paris. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play, and music formed a part of family life.
An outstanding pianist, the keyboard dominated much of his early compositions. He also, throughout his career, borrowed from his own compositions as well as those of Mozart and Saint-Saëns.
Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a group of young French composers, Milhaud, Auric, Durey, Honegger and Tailleferre, who also had links with Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau. He embraced the Dada movement's techniques, creating melodies that would have been appropriate for Parisian music halls.
During the late 1920s Poulenc came to realise his homosexuality and met his first lover, the painter Richard Chanlaire. This realisation resulted in his first serious period of depression, heightened in 1930 by the death of Raymonde Linossier, the only woman Poulenc seriously considered marrying. (He would later have a brief affair with a woman known only as Frédérique and have a daughter, Marie-Ange, by her in 1946.) Linossier's death affected Poulenc deeply and may have led him to return to Roman Catholicism for solace.
The death in 1936 of a rival composer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, prompted Poulenc to undertake a religious pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Rocamadour near Noizay. This pilgrimage in particular seems to have confirmed the revival of his Roman Catholicism, for he began to compose sacred works thereafter, beginning with Litanies à la Vierge noire (1936) and continuing with some of his most popular works: the Stabat Mater (1950) and the Gloria (1959).
Poulenc never entirely abandoned the light gracefulness of his earlier music, but many of the later compositions are notably deeper and more serious.
Poulenc toured widely, mostly as a means of raising money, but did not enjoy travelling beyond the confines of the comfortable and familiar parts of Europe. He made one tour of the United States, where he met a friendly gay couple, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, the accomplished duo pianists who commissioned the Sonata for Two Pianos (1953).
Poulenc found the tours difficult, for they separated him from his lover of the time, Lucien Roubert, who died of pleurisy in 1955, just after Poulenc completed one of his masterpieces, the opera Les dialogues des Carmélites.
After the Dialogues, Poulenc found it difficult to compose, but in 1957 he met his last significant lover, Louis Gautier, who helped to revive his spirits. In that year, Poulenc produced his Flute Sonata.
La voix humaine, a one-act lyric tragedy based on a libretto by Jean Cocteau, one of the icons of French homosexuality and a friend of Poulenc's for more than 50 years, followed in 1958. This was also the time that he renewed his acquaintance with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.
Two more important works were to be written before Poulenc's death: Gloria and, at the commission of Leonard Bernstein for the opening of the Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center, the Sept répons des ténèbres (1961).
Poulenc died suddenly of heart failure in Paris in 1963.
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