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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, and the determined bravery it took for his unusual talent to thrive, has always been underestimated. In this seminal biography, which will serve as the definitive guide to the songs, acclaimed collaborative pianist Graham Johnson shows that it is in Poulenc’s extraordinary songs, and seeing how they fit into his life —which included crippling guilt on account of his sexuality— that we discover Poulenc heart and soul. With Jeremy Sams’s vibrant new 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.

Author: Graham Johnson

Hardback Published 23 June 2020 576 pages

“An incredibly detailed account of the work of the French composer.... A biography of―and paean to―Francis Poulenc (1899-1963).... There are numerous gems scattered throughout... What principally emerges, however, is Poulenc’s undeniable brilliance as a pianist and composer as well as his work ethic and strength... Astonishing research and devotion will make this an enduring work of musical history and biography.”Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

“Graham Johnson has produced a superbly written and compelling book that links the life and work of a major twentieth-century composer with imagination and nuance. Owing to Johnson’s musicianship and graceful prose, readers will come away with a differentiated and inspiring sense of the man, the music, and the world of the mid-century.”Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and music director of the American Symphony Orchestra

“This book is essential for all who love Poulenc’s inimitable body of song and who cherish superb scholarship, superbly written. Where else can one find such summations of song in prose that is as enticing as the best novels? That vivid language is put in service of an account that will be the gold standard for a long time to come.”Susan Youens, author of Schubert’s Late Lieder: Beyond the Song-Cycles

“This book is an extraordinary delight.... In prose as penetrating and illuminating as it is unfailingly elegant, we could not have a better guide to the fascinating world of Francis Poulenc. But an additional treasure here is that, threaded between Graham Johnson’s lapidary paragraphs, we have all the poems Poulenc set, in dual-language versions―a gem collection of some of the greatest French poetry of the twentieth century. This is a book to dip into, to study, and to cherish.”- Stephen Hough, pianist, composer, and writer

“Johnson’s love for the man and his music shines through this remarkable book. Revelatory, and indispensable not just for musicians but also for an understanding of mid-twentieth-century French culture.”Ian Bostridge, CBE

“Graham has done it again! A wonderful and thorough biography of Poulenc. I urge all scholars and aficionados to get it!”Marilyn Horne

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