Happy birthday to the one and only Francis Poulenc! This French composer, born on January 7, 1899, may have been self-taught, but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
Poulenc had a knack for infusing his music with wit and humor, like in his early compositions Rapsodie Nègre, Trois Mouvements Perpétuels, and Sonata for Piano Duet. He even wrote a Surrealistic comic opera called Les Mamelles de Tirésias (aka The Breasts of Tiresias), based on a farce by Guillaume Apollinaire.
But Poulenc wasn’t just a one-trick pony. He also had a serious side, as evidenced by his religious works like the Litanies à la Vierge Noire de Rocomadour, Mass in G Major, and Stabat Mater. And let’s not forget his contributions to the French resistance movement during World War II, with his cantata Figure humaine.
Poulenc may have been a member of a group called “Les Six” (which also included Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey), but he definitely stood out with his more than 100 songs, many of which were set to poems by Apollinaire and Paul Éluard. His concerts champêtre and his keyboard works also blended elements of 18th-century French music with 20th-century harmonies.
Some of Poulenc’s other notable works include the Sextet for piano and wind quintet, Organ Concerto, and Oboe Sonata. So let’s raise a glass (or a piano) to Francis Poulenc on his birthday—here’s to many more years of his wit, humor, and beautiful compositions.