Poulenc came from a rich family. His father had a large pharmaceutical business. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play the piano. The Catholic faith was important to him, as well as the
artistic life. These two influences shaped his personality. The music critic Claude Rostand said that Poulenc was "half monk and half naughty boy".
Poulenc wanted to study music at the Paris Conservatoire after his school years, but the death of both his parents changed his plans. He had lessons from
Ricardo Viñes who was a great teacher for him and helped him develop as a person. Poulenc wrote his first compositions for his teacher. He met many famous people including the composers Satie, Auric and Falla and writers such as
Apollinaire. He started to get his works performed, and Stravinsky helped him to get them published in London. He continued to compose while he was doing his
military service, and became a member of Les Six. These six composers did not all compose in the same way, but they were good friends.
Poulenc felt that he needed more lessons and he studied with Charles Koechlin. He was asked by Diaghilev to write ballet music for Les Biches. He composed his Concerto for Two Pianos and the Organ Concerto. He was very upset by the death of Raymonde Linossier who was the only woman he ever wanted to marry. Poulenc was becoming aware that he was gay. He had a lot of emotional problems with big changes of mood.
His friendship with the singer
Pierre Barnac was a great help to him professionally. Barnac was a baritone. Poulenc composed about 90 songs for him. They gave many concerts together.
Poulenc spent some periods of his life composing and other periods performing. He made a series of broadcasts on French radio. He composed a great deal of music during the 1950s. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1963.