Poulenc: The Life in the Songs

Graham Johnson. Liveright, $49.95 (608p) ISBN 978-1-63149-523-6
Pianist Johnson (Franz Schubert) delivers a lively if unconventional biography of the French pianist and composer Francis Poulenc (1899–1963). Each of the six chapters focus on a decade of Poulenc’s compositions and opens with a chronological time line of events in the composer’s life (e.g., on June 21, 1943, a 44-year-old Poulenc first performed, with violinist Ginette Neveu, his “Sonata for violin and piano” in Paris’s Salle Gaveau). Johnson then lays out a grid that includes the number and title of each piece written in the era, the date of composition, the literary source (if there is one), the key, the time signature, the tempo, the lyrics, and a description of each song. Along the way, he incorporates biographical sketches of poets and writers with whom Poulenc collaborated (Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Éluard, Jean Cocteau) and explores Poulenc’s closeted homosexuality and his ability to keep it secret by compartmentalizing his domestic life with his wife and daughter and his gay life. Poulenc emerges in this exhilarating and exhaustive study as a prolific composer attuned to the cultural and personal eddies of modern society. This astute biography will be a boon to Poulenc fans and classical music buffs alike. (June)
Reviewed on : 02/24/2020
Release date: 06/23/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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