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Francis Poulenc (Composer)

The French composer Francis Poulenc only undertook formal musical training with Charles Koechlin in 1921, by which time he had already become identified with Les Six, the six French composers of the circle of Jean Cocteau, including Honegger, Auric and Milhaud. Initially apparently light-weight in style, the death of a close friend in 1936 brought a new depth to his work, at the same time as the start of a long collaboration with the singer Pierre Bernac.

Stage Works
Poulenc won considerable success with his comic opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias, with a text by Apollinaire, written during the later days of the war and staged in Paris in 1947. The tragic opera Dialogue des Carmélites, with a libretto by Georges Bernanos dealing with the execution of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution and based on Gertrud von le Fort‘s novel Die Letzte am Schafott (The Last on the Scaffold), has entered international repertoire. Other stage works, in addition to a number of scores of incidental music and film music, include the ballet Les Biches, first staged in Monte Carlo in 1924.

Orchestral Music
Poulenc‘s orchestral music includes a suite from Les biches, a charming Concert champêtre for harpsichord and small orchestra, as well as concertos for organ, for piano and for two pianos.

Choral and Vocal Music
Poulenc made a significant and idiomatic contribution to the art of French solo song, in addition to a number of choral works. His solo songs range from settings of Apollinaire and Cocteau to settings of Ronsard. His melodrama L‘Histoire de Babar, for reciter and piano, tells the story of Babar the Elephant, the creation of Jean de Brunhoff, a simple tale for children. His church music, after his inner conversion to the Catholic religion of his childhood in 1935, is marked by a Mass setting of 1937, and, more notably, the moving Stabat mater of 1950. In 1959 came the Gloria, for solo soprano, chorus and orchestra, with a final more sombre Sept répons des ténèbres in 1961.

Chamber Music
French composers of the present century have shown a particular deftness in the handling of woodwind instruments. This ability is exemplified in Poulenc‘s sonatas for flute, for clarinet and for oboe and piano, in addition to an attractive Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano.

Piano Music
The best known of all Poulenc‘s music was at one time the three Mouvements perpétuels of 1918. There is a piano duet sonata of the same year and a number of attractive short pieces, including a neo-classical Suite after Claude Gervaise and the elegant Promenades.

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