Francis Poulenc didn’t have to depend on composition for his living—he was the heir to the fortune of the Rhône-Poulenc pharmaceutical company—but he nonetheless turned out an enormous body of work in virtually all musical forms, from song to ballet to chamber music to opera.
He also toured for many years as a professional pianist. Poulenc’s output ranges from the whimsical and witty, as in his music for The Story of Babar the Little Elephant, to the deeply religious and tragic, as in his opera Dialogues of the Carmelites, and in his personal life he showed similar contrasts. He was famously fun-loving and charming, but he also suffered from periods of the darkest depression, and in his thirties he experienced a profound religious awakening. One of the greatest of all French composers, Francis Poulenc was born in Paris on January 7, 1899, and he died in Paris in January 1963.