Francis Poulenc | reputation


The two sides to Poulenc's musical nature caused misunderstanding during his life and have continued to do so. The composer Ned Rorem observed, "He was deeply devout and uncontrollably sensual"; [166] this still leads some critics to underrate his seriousness. [123] His uncompromising adherence to melody, both in his lighter and serious works, has similarly caused some to regard him as unprogressive. Although he was not much influenced by new developments in music, Poulenc was always keenly interested in the works of younger generations of composers. Lennox Berkeley recalled, "Unlike some artists, he was genuinely interested in other people's work, and surprisingly appreciative of music very far removed from his. I remember him playing me the records of Boulez's Le marteau sans maître with which he was already familiar when that work was much less well-known than it is today." [116] Boulez did not take a reciprocal view, remarking in 2010, "There are always people who will take an easy intellectual path. Poulenc coming after Sacre [du Printemps]. It was not progress." [167] Other composers have found more merit in Poulenc's work; Stravinsky wrote to him in 1931: "You are truly good, and that is what I find again and again in your music". [168]

In his last years Poulenc observed, "if people are still interested in my music in 50 years' time it will be for my Stabat Mater rather than the Mouvements perpétuels." In a centenary tribute in The Times Gerald Larner commented that Poulenc's prediction was wrong, and that in 1999 the composer was widely celebrated for both sides of his musical character: "both the fervent Catholic and the naughty boy, for both the Gloria and Les Biches, both Les Dialogues des Carmélites and Les Mamelles de Tirésias." [123] At around the same time the writer Jessica Duchen described Poulenc as "a fizzing, bubbling mass of Gallic energy who can move you to both laughter and tears within seconds. His language speaks clearly, directly and humanely to every generation." [169]