From NPR – January 30, 2013. Fifty years ago today, French composer Francis Poulenc had a massive heart attack in his Paris apartment and died. He was only 64, but he left us with an assortment of durable music that still sparkles with elegance today.
When music buffs talk about Poulenc, one quote inevitably pops up: “In Poulenc there is something of the monk and something of the rascal.” That line, by music critic Claude Rostand, is often repeated, but it’s worth a little investigation on the 50th anniversary of Poulenc’s death, as the sentiment resonates throughout his life and music.
I like to think there’s a little of Poulenc’s contradictory nature in all of us. A little of Walt Whitman’s blend of conflict and cockiness, as in these lines from Leaves of Grass:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
The idea that we “contain multitudes” is what makes life exciting. And Poulenc led a pretty exciting life, filled with contradictions. Looking back on his privileged childhood, he noted the influence of two seemingly opposite roots in his family tree — the devoutly Catholic strand from the south of France on his father’s side and the artistic, cosmopolitan strand from his mother’s Parisian background.
Poulenc wrote music that popped like corks from Champagne, pieces dizzy with the sounds of Parisian music halls and jazz. His 1932 Concerto for Two Pianos is a good example. The music pivots from a saucy dance complete with maracas to mock seriousness in the wink of an eye. Continuez.