Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Poulenc

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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