7 Jan 1899 - 30 Jan 1963 (age 64)

Francis Poulenc was a French composer, one of a group known as 'Les Six'. He was also a talented pianist.He is one of France's most important 20th century composers.He was described by a music critic as being 'part monk. part guttersnipe'






portrair of Poulenc


Born: 7 Jan 1899, Paris
Father: Émile Poulenc, director of the Poulenc chemical company. Affluent.
Mother: Jenny Royer, a gifted amateur pianist
Siblings: one sister, Jeanne
Wife: none (he was openly gay) but did have several affairs with both men and women.
Children: a daughter Marie-Ange, but he never admitted paternity.
Died: 30 Jan 1963, Paris
Cause of death: heart failure
Grave: Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris. see findagrave


Style: French Neoclassical 
Output: considerable

A selection of his works: 

- Mouvements perpétuels
- Overture
- Sinfonietta
- Dialogues des Carmélites (opera)
- Mamelles de Tiresias (comic opera)
- La Voix Humaine
- many songs
- Les Biches
- Les Animaux Modèles  
Chamber music
- sonatas for various instruments including clarinet, horn, oboe, flute, trumpet, tombone 
- concertos
- many pieces for piano
- Stabat Mater
- Gloria in G

Concerto for Two Pianos 
with Poulenc himself playing one of the pianos


- Age 5: His mother, Jenny, starts teaching him the piano. Both his mother and his father were good pianists and lovers of music.
Age 12-14: His uncle takes him to concerts including Stravinsky's Petrushka and The Rite of Spring which made a deep impression on him.
- Age 15: Not allowed to attend the Conservatoire as his father insisted he do general studies and not concentrate on music.
- Age 15-18: Some lessons from the Catalan teacher Ricardo Viñes who teaches him contemporary music of Debussy, Stravinsky and Satie. 
- Age 16: Mother died.
- Age 18: Father died. Goes to live with his sister Jeanne.
Meets the composers Satie, Ravel and Darius Milhaud and the writers Jean Cocteau and Apollinaire. He frequents the company of the writers poets, artists and musicians of Paris.
Associated with other composers who came to be known as 'Les Six'.
Performs his Rapsodie Nègre (for baritone, flute, clarinet, piano and string quartet) the success of which which brought him to prominence.
- Age 19 - 22: Military service during which he continues to compose.
- Age 25: Commissioned by Diaghilev to compose a work for the Ballets Russes. Les Biches premiered in Monte Carlo to great acclaim.
- Age 31: The death of his childhood girlfriend Raymonde Linossier affected him profoundly. 
- Age 36: Started a long standing collaboration with the baritone Pierre Bernac.
- Age 37: Following the death of a composer friend of his he underwent a profound spiritual transformation causing his return to Catholicism. He went on to compose many works based on liturgy and religious themes.
- Age 55: Suffered a nervous breakdown following the termination of his six year relationship with his male companion Lucien Roubert. Lucien died of cancer soon after.
- Age 61 - 62: Two visits to the USA - New York and Boston.
- Age 63: Died of a heart attack at his home in Paris.

La Voix Humaine

Synopsis:A young woman has been interrupted during a telephone call from her lover of five years. He has abandoned her and is to marry another woman the following day. This is the last time they will speak to each other. During the conversation, we learn that the woman has attempted suicide. The telephone service in Paris being notoriously poor during that era, they are interrupted several times during the agonizing conversation. (Wikipedia)

Les Mamelles de Tirésias
"The Breasts of Tirésias" - a comic opera

Dialogues des Carmelites - finale

During the French Revolution sixteen Carmelite nuns were guillotined for "crimes against the French people". 
You can read a synopsis here

Stabat Mater
The combined choirs of St John's, Clare and Gonville & Caius Colleges, Cambridge, the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Christopher Robinson, with soprano Judith Howarth. Opus Arte.


"When I wrote this piece … I had in mind those frescoes by Gozzoli where the angels stick out their tongues. And also some serious Benedictine monks I had once seen revelling in a game of football." 
(referring to his Gloria).

“Mon canon, c’est l’instinct” (My model is my instinct).

Les Biches

Links, sources - and where to go for more information

poulenc.fr site of the Friends of Francis Poulenc Association. Lots of information. Recommended.

MusicAcademyOnline interesting brief bio..

Answers.com various reference sites including Wikipedia

ClassicalNet interesting short article

BachCantatas bio, photos, list of works and links

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