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On This Day – January 7

Today we celebrate a member of Les Six, who composed music in all major genres including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet music and orchestral music. He has been described as “half bad boy, half monk” by critic Claude Rostand. Francis Poulenc, born on this day in 1899.

Born in Paris, 1899, his mother taught him to play piano and music formed a part of family life. A capable pianist, this is reflected by the domination of piano in his early compositions.

Poulenc was a member of Les Six, a group of young French and Swiss composers that included Milhaud, Auric, Durey, Honegger and Tailleferre. This group had links with Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau.

Raised a Roman Catholic, he rediscovered his faith later in life after the loss of some close friends, and a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Rocamadour. This led to compositions of a sombre and austere tone.

Some of Poulenc’s last major works were a series of compositions for woodwind instruments. He planned to write a sonata for all the wind instruments, but only lived to complete sonatas for flute, oboe and clarinet, and the Elegie for horn.

Here we are lucky, and we have two videos of Poulenc performing his own compositions. First we have Poulenc performing his Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. with Jacques Fevrier and the Orchestra National de la RTF. with Georges Pretre conducting.

Next we have Poulenc with Jean-Pierre Rampal performing the second movement of his Flute Sonata.

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