9781631495236 198


The Life in the Songs


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One of the greatest modernist composers comes alive in this illuminating biography, a must-have for musicians and music-lovers alike.

Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) is widely acknowledged as one of the twentieth century’s most significant masters of vocal music—solo, choral and operatic—quite apart from his achievements in instrumental spheres. But what it cost him has been underestimated. In this seminal biography, which will serve as the definitive guide to the songs, Graham Johnson shows that it is in Poulenc’s extraordinary songs and seeing how they fit into his life—his hidden sexuality, addiction and all—that we discover the composer’s essential artistic being. With Jeremy Sams’s song translations, the first in over forty years, and the insight that comes from a lifetime of performing this music, Johnson provides an essential volume for singers, pianists, listeners and readers interested in the artistic milieu of modernism in the first half of the twentieth century.


"Admirably written, long-pondered and scrupulously researched… Johnson proves a marvellous guide to [Poulenc’s songs’] various qualities and the contexts in which they emerged." — Rupert Christiansen, Literary Review

"" entertaining and learned new biography... [Johnson] has unparalleled practical knowledge of the terrain... [his] real concern is the music: [he is] convinced of its complexity, depth and importance... The translations (by Jeremy Sams ) also make this a valuable compendium, not to say a triumph of copyright clearance." — Oliver Soden, The Observer

"…an absolutely indispensable listening guide to the songs themselves, yet the wealth of information it contains gives us so much more. [This] marvellous book… sends you back to listen to Poulenc's music anew, with a greatly enriched understanding both of the man and his world." — Tim Ashley, Gramophone

"...a vital new book on the songs which are here placed ingeniously in the context of the composer's life... the definitive guide to Poulenc's melodies..." — Jon Tolansky, Classical Music

"If ever such a book as this was needed, this is it. Graham Johnson's masterly study cannot be improved upon in terms of detail, musical understanding and thoroughgoing grasp of the subject. It is beautifully written, chock-full of apposite detail and is superbly illustrated... This wonderful and deeply original study will disabuse any who continue to underestimate Poulenc's genius. It is a major achievement by any benchmark... this outstanding volume deserves a place in any self-respecting musicians' library." — Musical Opinion

"And if Wagner sounds too daunting for Christmas, try Graham Johnson's Poulenc: The Life in the Songs which presents the 20th century’s most loveable composer in terms that manage to be serious but entertaining – as you'd expect from someone with Johnson's unique authority as a performer, raconteur and scholar. Joyfully enlightening." — Westminster Extra

Related to this Book

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A discussion of the life and work of French composer Francis Poulenc

Graham Johnson in conversation with theater director, translator and composer Jeremy Sams