Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Frances Poulenc

Dr. Bob Prescribes Francis Poulenc: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1932)

The New York Times music critic Harold Schonberg offers this appraisal of the music of Francis Poulenc in third edition of his book, The Lives of the Great Composers (W. W. Norton, 1997): “It seems clear that Francis Poulenc has emerged as the strongest and most individual member of Les Six [that group of six Paris-based composers arbitrarily lumped together by a Parisian journalist in 1919: Georges Auric (1899–1983), Louis Durey (1888–1979), Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), Francis Poulenc (1899–1963), and Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983)]. Nobody would have guessed it in the 1930s. The betting would have been on Milhaud or Honegger. Poulenc was considered a comic (he even had the marked facial and physical resemblance to the great French comic Fernandel).” Harold Schonberg facetiously continues: “[Poulenc was] the court jester, the sophisticate. So charming and amusing! So lightweight! So chic! As a corollary, so unimportant, au fond [basically]. To the world, Poulenc was the musical soft-shoe man, dancing away at his music-hall routines with not a care in the world, a grin perpetually plastered on his face.” Learning to Compose Lacking any formal training, in his early music Poulenc (1899-1963) fell back on what he did best, and that was write beautiful […]

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Music History Monday: Francis Poulenc: “a bit of monk and a bit of hooligan”

We mark the death on January 30, 1963 – exactly sixty years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc, in Paris.  A Parisian from head to toe, he was born in the tres chic 8th arrondisement in that magnificent city on January 7, 1899.  He died of a heart attack not far from where he’d been born, in his flat opposite the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris’ 6th arrondisement.  Before we can get down with the magnifique Monsieur Poulenc, we have an important event in rock ‘n’ roll history to mark. On January 30, 1969 – 54 years ago today – the Beatles, joined by the keyboard player Billy Preston, performed their final live concert.  The venue was unusual: a hastily constructed stage on the rooftop of their five-story Apple Corps (their record company) headquarters, at 3 Savile Row: smack dab in the middle of the fashion district in London’s tony Mayfair neighborhood.  (I cannot resist the joke: how do you get a rock band onto a roof?  You tell them the beer is on the house.) Badaboom. A couple of weeks before the rooftop concert eventually took place, Paul McCartney had suggested that the […]

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Music History Monday: Frances Poulenc: a votre santé!

We celebrate the birth – on January 7, 1899, 120 years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc. Long considered a compositional lightweight – a composer for whom (heaven forbid!) traditional tonality, attractive melody and musical charm assumed pride of compositional place – Poulenc’s music was routinely rejected by the academy and by the modernists that dominated the musical scene in the years after the end of World War II in 1945. Over the last 40 years, my personal opinion of Poulenc’s music has traversed a full 180 degrees. As a young, academy-trained composer working in the 1970s, I adopted my teachers’ various prejudices without question. Among other things, this meant that with the exception of the music of Claude Debussy and Pierre Boulez, pretty much all French music going back to the seventeenth century was considered beneath contempt, and none more so than that of the loose group of Gallic compositional confectioners known as “les six Français et M. Satie” – “The Six French [composers] and Mister Satie”: Georges Auric (1899–1983), Louis Durey (1888–1979), Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), Poulenc (1899–1963), Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983), and the group’s spiritual mentor, Erik Satie (1866-1925). We consider. One […]

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