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Poulenc: A Biography Reviews

Poulenc: A Biography by Roger Nichols

Poulenc: A Biography

Roger Nichols

3.40 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 9 Apr 2020
ISBN: 9780300226508

An authoritative account of the life and work of Francis Poulenc, one of the most prolific and striking figures in twentieth-century classical music

3 stars out of 5
3 Aug 2020

"a valuable compendium, not to say a triumph of copyright clearance."

Nichols is more scholar than storyteller. He has occasional fun with the tangles of Poulenc’s liaisons, and there’s more than a whiff of Victoria Wood to the arrival of the last lover, “a 28-year-old junior executive at Citroën”. But Poulenc’s character and personal life all but disappear. His daughter is mentioned just thrice; his lover, Raymond Destouches, appears for the first time as an “ex”, discussion of the affair mainly omitted. Nichols’s most pleasing character is Paris, its cultural and political life forming a bright backdrop painted from decades of research, although he is not always adept at crowd control (31 individuals appear on page 19) and he assumes much foreknowledge, not least of the French language


4 stars out of 5
10 May 2020

"This fond and sharp-eyed biography reveals an anguished but artistically fruitful tangle of contradictions in the man"

This fond and sharp-eyed biography reveals an anguished but artistically fruitful tangle of contradictions in the man, bubbling away inside the endlessly loquacious boulevardier who was always exquisitely tailored and smelled of cologne. He was caught, says Nichols, between “faith and doubt, between hetero- and homosexuality, between popularity and profundity, between tonality and modernity, between the axioms of the haute bourgeoisie and a nostalgie de la boue [literally ‘a nostalgia for mud’, meaning a longing for degradation and low-life], this latter expressed in his affection for ‘rough trade’ or something similar”.  

3 stars out of 5
2 May 2020

"He also has a wonderful way of describing music."

After a while, because the author’s flair is infectious, one accepts that music is hogging the show. The compositions become the characters in the book, with their origins, temperaments, relationships and destinies set in the great world of performance. I don’t think anyone writes better about classical music than Nichols, his wry humour and gift for surprising connections never losing touch with scholarly erudition. But why aren’t musicologists interested in people too?