Michael McCooe: Composer – Poulenc

Francis Poulenc (7 January 1899 – 30 January 1963) was a French composer and pianist whose most famous compositions include melodies, solo piano works, chamber music, choral pieces, operas, ballets, and orchestral concert music.


Poulenc’s early works were renowned for their vigour and high spirit and he took influence from Erik Satie. An accomplished pianist, Poulenc had a reputation for the majority of his career for being a humorous, light-hearted composer.

His religious works were largely overlooked until the 21st Century, with many new productions of Dialogues des Carmélites and La Voix humaine worldwide, and numerous live and recorded performances of his songs and choral music.

Poulenc made his debut as a composer in 1917 with his Rapsodie nègre, a ten-minute, five-movement piece for baritone and chamber group. By the early 1920s, he was well received around Europe both as a composer and performer, particularly in Britain from his production of various compositions, from songs to chamber music and ballet.

Changing style

Poulenc developed a more serious style of composition during the 1930s, particularly from 1936 when he began working on religious works.

His career was disrupted by World War Two; in which he was called up to serve his country in 1940. After France surrendered to Germany, he spent his time with family and friends in central South France. Under Nazi rule he was in a vulnerable position, as a known homosexual, but it is thought that his music was in defiance to Germans.

Later life

Poulenc was productive when he began to compose again in the 1950s, writing a seven-song cycle setting poems by Éluard, La Fraîcheur et le feu (1950), and the Stabat Mater, in memory of the painter Christian Bérard, which premiered in 1951.

His composition of the opera Dialogues des Carmélites took up much of his time for several years in the late 1950s and was the final major work of Poulenc before his death in 1963.

You can listen to some of my favourite classical pieces on my Michael McCooe SoundCloud profile, which is updated regularly.