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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), French Composer

b. 7 January 1899
d. 30 January 1963

Composer and a member of the French group Les six. He composed solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music.
Some writers consider Poulenc one of the first openly gay composers.

Poulenc and harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.

Poulenc was born into an affluent Parisian family. His father directed the pharmaceutical company that became Rhône-Poulenc; his mother was a talented amateur pianist. At the death of his parents, Poulenc inherited the country estate "Noizay", which would be an important retreat for him as he gained fame.

From 1920, Poulenc became a member of a group of young composers dubbed "Les Six", in which the others were Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, and Louis Durey. His first great popular success was hia ballet score for Diaghilev's Bellet Russe, "Les biches" (1924). Later, there followed two commissions from the lesbian American expatriate Winnaretta Singer (known in France as Princesse Edmond de Polignac): the Concerto for Two Pianos (1932) and the Organ Concerto (1938).

Poulenc's growing recognition of his homoesexuality from the late 1920's, combined with the death in 1930 of the only woman he had ever considered marrying, contributed to a period of grave depression, and may have led also to return to the Roman Catholic Church for solace. Following a religious pilgrimage in 1936, he composed a substantial body of sacred works,including some of his most popular works: the Stabat Mater (1950) the Gloria (1959), and his operatic masterpiece, Les Dialogue de Carmelites. In the finale, one by one the nuns face the guillotine, which can be clearly heard:

This turn to religious however, did not result in any rejection of his interest in men. The surrealistic opera "Les mamelles de Tirésias" (1944) the World War II Resistance cantata "La figure humaine" (1943), and other works were dedicated to his second lover, the bisexual chauffeur Raymond Destouches. Earlier, his first lover had been the painter Richard Chanlaire, whom he met in the late twenties. Later, his lovers were Lucien Roubert, who died of pleurisy in 1955, and from 1957 his last significant lover, Louis Gautier.

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