Sextet (Poulenc)

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Chamber music by Francis Poulenc
CatalogueFP 100
Composed1931 (1931)–32

The Sextuor (Sextet), FP 100, is a chamber music composition written by Francis Poulenc for a standard wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn) and piano. Estimates about the time of its composition range from between 1931 and 1932[1] and 1932 alone.[2] The piece was extensively revised in 1939. Performed in its entirety, it lasts for 18 minutes.[3]


The Sextet was composed at the height of Poulenc's Les Six years.[1] It was written around the same time as the cantata Le Bal Masqué[4] and the Concerto for Two Pianos.[5] Poulenc did not always find composing to be a quick process, and this work is an example of a time in which that was the case.[4]

Structure and analysis[edit]

The piece is divided into three sections:[4]

  • I. Allegro vivace
  • II. Divertissement: Andantino
  • III. Finale: Prestissimo

The first movement begins with upward scales by all instruments,[1] before transferring into an energetic beginning section with complex rhythms, jazz undertones, and an underlying line from the pianist.[4][5][3] In the middle of the movement is a slower section led in by a bassoon melody which is then repeated by the other instruments.[1][2] The original tempo returns at the end of the movement.[2]

Florent Schmitt gave the piece's premiere a negative review.

The second movement is in a "slow-fast-slow" form.[4] It has been seen as influenced by Classical period music and divertimentos[3][2] as well as a parody of Mozart's slow movements.[1] It uses a variety of textures in the woodwinds which are accompanied by piano.[2] Orrin Howard of the Los Angeles Philharmonic viewed the fast interlude as a form of musical comic relief.[5]

The finale begins with "an Offenbachian gallop"[1] and is in rondo form.[4] It has jazz and ragtime influences and has been interpreted as a satirical depiction of neoclassicism in music.[5] The finale repeats themes from the previous two movements and ends with a lyrical and solemn coda with influences from Maurice Ravel.[1][4]

Performance history and revision[edit]

The piece was premiered in 1933 with Poulenc himself playing the piano part and Marcel Moyse, Roland Lamorlette, Louis Cahuzac, Gustave Dhérin, and R. Blot on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, respectively.[4][1] The piece was not well received by traditionalists in the music community, with composer and critic Florent Schmitt of Le Temps criticizing it as wandering and vulgar. A more positive review came from André George of Les Nouvelles littéraires, who wrote that "with Poulenc, all of France comes out of the windows he opens."[1] In the composer's later life, he performed the piece with the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet, composed of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, including John de Lancie. On March 17, 1960, Poulenc entered the rehearsal in normal attire before changing into slippers which he was keeping in his case.[6]

Poulenc extensively revised the composition in August 1939 because he was dissatisfied with the original work.[1][7] He told composer and conductor Nadia Boulanger, "There were some good ideas in [the original] but the whole thing was badly put together. With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly."[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Keller, James M. (November 2013). "Notes on the Program: Sextet for Wind Quintet and Piano / Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano" (PDF). New York Philharmonic. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Grad, Aaron (2009). "Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet". Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "Debussy, Françaix, Poulenc, and Ibert". Utah Symphony. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "About This Recording: Francis Poulenc Complete Chamber Music, Volume 1". Naxos Records. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Howard, Orrin. "Sextet (Francis Poulenc)". Los Angeles Philharmonic. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  6. ^ Krummeck, Judith (March 28, 2012). "Poulenc Plays!". WBJC. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  7. ^ * Hell, Henri; Edward Lockspeiser (trans) (1959). Francis Poulenc. New York: Grove Press. p. 59. OCLC 1268174.