Sound and Visionary: Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc

Way back in 1899, famous French gay composer, Francis Poulenc was born to Emile and Jenny Poulenc. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught Francis to the piano, which in turn would begin his life-long love affair with music.

In his early career he embraced the radical Dada movement, (imagine the work of Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam without any restraints and that’s Dada art)an art form that suited Poulenc’s playful compensations as shown at the end of this blog.


During this time, Poulenc joined forces with a group of French and Swiss composers who would become known as the avant-garde group, ‘Les Six’. Together the group set about redefining musical compositions, while reacting against the impressionist and late Romantics of their time; including, composers: Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.


From the aged of eighteen, onwards, Poulenc had an extremely successful career in music, which would take him across the globe. During the years of 1921-25, Poulenc undertook his first formal training, but the majority of his learning from thereon in was self taught compensations. It has been said that he’s work was influenced by that of Stravinsky and Satie, but when one listens to his work, it is distantly his own. 

Although it has to be said being gay in 1920’s Paris wasn’t seen as particularly shocking, Poulenc was always open about his homosexuality, had a string of affairs with men but was rather taken by the painter, Richard Chanlaire to whom he dedicated  the ‘Concert champêtre’ and is quoted as saying of  Chanlaire, “You have changed my life, you are the sunshine of my thirty years, a reason for living and working”


Random fact: Poulenc’s piece, Perpetual Motion Nr. 1 was used as part of the soundtrack for Hitchcock’s gay themed film, Rope.

Poulenc’s , Perpetual Motion Nr. 1used in the film, Rope

Poulenc’s , Perpetual Motion Nr. 1used in the film, Rope

in 1936 the death of his close friend and fellow composer, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, led Poulenc to return to his Catholic faith, which interestingly did not stop him embracing his own homosexuality. However, his musical output changed dramatically where he composed both liturgical music and compositions laden with religious themes.

Pierre-Octave Ferroud,

In later life he would dedicate the one act opera, La voix humaine (The Human Voice) to his lover, Louis Gautier who was with Poulenc on the day he died of heart failure in Paris on January 30th 1963.

As well as giving a little history lesson, the Brighton Writer wrote this piece because, with Christmas but a distant memory, and those New Year shenanigans locked away as you get yourself back to the grindstone, he asks you to take a moment of time from your day to sit back and enjoy the beautiful composition from Francis Poulenc, while watching this brilliant piece of Dadaism at the same time.


Suite en 3 mouvements, FP 19 (1920)

1928 Dadaist Film

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