Francis Poulenc

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Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (January 7, 1899–January 30, 1963) was a French composer and Pianist. He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music. He is also famous for being one of the first openly gay composers in history.


As a boy, Poulenc was taught to play the piano by his mother. At age 15, he studied with Ricardo Vines, who encouraged his ambition to compose, and introduced him to Satie, Casell and others. He never studied counterpoint or orchestration, thus had little technical knowledge of music, however, he showed an instinctive grasp of musical form.

Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a group of young French and Swiss composers who also had links with Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau. They often would give concerts together, drawing much inspiration from "Paresian" folklore.

His last set of major works was a series of sonatas for woodwind instruments. Poulenc was particularly fond of woodwind instruments and planned a sonata for each other; However he only lived to complete three: One for clarinet, flute, and oboe. These are among Poulenc's most famous works and are each considered 20th century staples for their respective instruments.

Musical Style

Poulenc was an important composer of the neo-classical movement. His music, eclectic yet strongly personal in style, is essentially diatonic and melodious, embroidered with 20th Century dissonances. It has wit, elegance, depth of feeling, and a bitter-sweetness which derives from the mixtures of gaiety and manic depression.

Personal Life

Pouelnc was one of the first openly gay composers in history. This caused much turmoil throughout his life; struggling between his Roman Catholic faith and his sexuality. Poulenc, in addition to having multiple affairs with men, also had a number of relationships with women. He even fathered a daughter, Marie-Ange, in one of his relationships though some controversy exists over his actual relationship with her.

Notable Compositions

  • Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor (1932)
  • Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor (1938)
  • Flute Sonata, op. 164 (1956–7)
  • Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, op. 184 (1962)
  • Oboe Sonata, op. 185 (1962) (His last finished work)