Francis Poulenc was born in Paris, France on January 7, 1899 into a well–to–do family. His father, Emile Poulenc, was one of the directors of the pharmaceutical firm Rhone-Poulenc. Never one to be without money, Poulenc’s composing was often viewed as more of a hobby than a necessity. Poulenc never studied at the famed Paris Conservatory or any other musical institution, which later made it difficult for him to be accepted by his peers.Poulenc studied piano with Ricardo Vines and composition with Charles Koechlin, although this study was limited and Poulenc was considered to be primarily a self-taught composer. During the 1920s, Poulenc became associated with a group known as Les Six that included Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Germaine Tailleferre, and Georges Auric (the Les Six received their name after being compared to Russia’s Big Five). Although these composers did not represent a particular school of music, they favored jazz and music hall styles and opposed the romantic and formal style of previous French composers including Claude Debussy. Poulenc, himself, was inspired by Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud and Erik Satie as well as Maurice Chevalier and French vaudeville.While in his early 20’s, Poulenc began to have great success as a composer in several genres: orchestral, chamber music, ballets, concertos, film scores, and opera, as well as powerful choral and sacred music. During the 1930’s, he rediscovered his Catholic faith and began writing religious music, establishing himself as one of the great religious and choral music writers of the century. He endured the German occupation of Paris during WWII, which gave rise to his most impassioned and difficult work Figure Humaine, or The Face of Man, which was a covert work of protest. Some of his other major religious works include his Mass in G (1937), Stabat Mater (1950), and Gloria (1959). He also wrote the religious opera The Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957) and a one-act tragedy for soprano, The Human Voice (1959).
The concert I attended, entitled Poulenc:Piano and Wind, contained three pieces of music composed by Francis Poulenc: Sonata for the Clarinet and Bassoon (1922), Trio for the Piano, Oboe, and Bassoon (1926), and Sextet for the Piano, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, and Horn (1932-39). All three pieces, although different in their content and composition, contained a similar element common to most of Poulenc’s secular music. The main focus of each composition was its melody.