Francis Poulenc (b. Paris, 1899; d. Paris, 1963)
French composer Francis Poulenc was a man of contrasts. Dubbed "half monk, half delinquent" by a
critic, this moniker might be appropriate. His music is by turns sacred and profane, dreamy and
rhythmically driven, playful and prayerful.
His career as a composer started while he was in his teens. He was introduced to Stravinsky's music at
an early age. Francis knew he wanted to be a composer from the moment he heard Petroushka and The
Rite of Spring.
Largely self-taught, Poulenc proved to be a versatile and prolific composer. He wrote for various groups
of instruments (especially woodwinds), for voice, symphony orchestra, piano and harpsichord. His first
work was performed in 1917, and he composed steadily throughout his life, publishing new works up to
the time of his death in 1963.
His influences were Igor Stravinsky and Eric Satie. Poulenc was also exposed to the music of Arnold Schönberg at an early age, but did not adopt his twelve-tone row. Poulenc remained true to himself, and his compositions remained melodic throughout his career.
When still a very young man, Francis Poulenc became associated with other composers of the day who
wanted to distance themselves from German romanticism and French impressionism. Les Six, as they were called, were influenced by eclectic elements from a variety of different sources: Poulenc loved vaudeville, while friend and fellow composer Darius Milhaud loved Brazilian dance music and American jazz. Poulenc and Les Six knew how to have fun.
Francis Poulenc's years as a young composer were during an exciting time in French history. Poulenc
was associated with avant-garde artists and musicians of the 1920s and 1930s. He composed the ballet
Les Biches for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, which had its première in 1924. It was
met with great success.
In 1932, Poulenc composed the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, in D minor. Influences of
Mozart and even Indonesian gamelon music are heard throughout, suffused with rhythmic vitality and
engaging melodies. The composer himself played one of the solo piano parts at the première in Venice.
After the death of a friend in the 1930s, Poulenc returned to his Catholic faith. This profound transformation was reflected in his creative output: from masses and motets, to the Stabat Mater (1950),
the opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites (1956), and the Gloria (1959).
Alice's edition of the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos
(click on article to enlarge)
Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, in D minor (1932), was given its first-ever
performance by the Kalamazoo Symphony under the baton of Dr. Herman Felber, Jr., at Central High School Auditorium (now Chenery Auditorium), on February 22, 1959. Alice Mullen and Ruth Currie were the piano soloists. The presentation of this work went along with Felber's plan to program more modern works for Kalamazoo Symphony audiences. They loved it. Here is R.A. Patton's review in the Kalamazoo Gazette, from Monday, February 23, 1959:
(click on article to enlarge)
(click on article to enlarge)
The Kalamazoo Gazette's Women's World column reported on all the social activities in Kalamazoo.
A reception following the concert was at the home of Cameron and Irene Davis, faithful Symphony supporters and friends. Nice to know who was "pouring" for the occasion.
While working on the Poulenc Concerto, Alice and family acquired a ginger cat. They named him
"Poulenc", naturellement! This charming letter was sent to Alice's young daughters the day after the
performance. Maestro Felber may have even typed the letter himself.
Poulenc the cat says, "Two thumbs up!"
-Alice's Archivist (2/7/11)
1950s/ FELBER/ The Upjohn Company Photographs the Kalamazoo Symphony
Looking like a maestro "out of central casting", Herman Felber, Jr. was Music
Director of the Kalamazoo Symphony from 1934 to 1959. He used to board
a New York Central train in Chicago and commute to Kalamazoo for rehearsals
and concerts throughout his entire 25 seasons with the Kalamazoo Symphony.
Son of a Chicago Symphony cellist, Herman Jr. was a precocious talent on violin
and joined the Chicago Symphony string section at age 18 as its youngest member.
He studied violin and composition at the Columbia School of Music in Chicago, and
took up conducting as well. Felber served in the U.S. Navy during WWI, and con-
ducted the First Symphony Orchestra. He returned to Chicago at the end of the war
to take up the baton as Director of the WLS* Radio Orchestra. He also taught at
Lake Forest College and Northwestern University, and served as concertmaster of
The Chicago Little Symphony AND commuted to Kalamazoo to conduct the KSO!
Intense and energetic, he brought big city sensibilities to Kalamazoo, establishing a
tradition of offering ambitious programming and hiring first rate soloists. He also
featured local talent in solo performances. Alice began performing concerti with
the KSO, starting in 1957. Herman Felber encouraged Chicago musicians to come
and play in the orchestra. A number of them settled in Kalamazoo, such as Lillian
Pringle Baldauf, who established herself as an excellent cello teacher and long time
KSO member. Her husband Hans helped establish the first planetarium at the museum.
* Note to baby boomers: Yes, it's the same Chicago radio station we listened to in
the 1960s. With all the great rock and roll played then, it's hard to image the same
station having a symphony orchestra as its "house band"-- different era!
Pictured above are members of the Bass Section. Among them, on the far left, is
Otto Wimmler. Originally from Chicago, Felber invited him to come and play in
his symphony orchestra in Kalamazoo. Wimmler accepted Felber's offer. Decades
later, Otto Wimmler was granted the title of Bass Emeritus for his years of service
to the Kalamazoo Symphony.
Next to Otto is Clark den Bleyker, who was practically synonymous with the KSO
itself. He served the orchestra in countless ways and was a friend to everyone he
worked with. As personnel manager, librarian, and operations manager, he juggled
logistical problems and personnel problems and gossip with the greatest of ease.
He stood almost as tall as the bass he played, and wore a large oval signet ring with
a mysterious black stone. It was a family ring, passed down from earlier generations
of den Bleykers who were among the first Dutch settlers in Kalamazoo in the 1800s.
Above is harpist Vincent Fanelli. Upon his retirement from the Philadelphia
Orchestra, Fanelli and his wife moved to Michigan to a cottage on Gun Lake,
not far from where his family had spent their summers. When KSO founder
Leta Snow found out he was in the area, she offered him a job. He travelled to
Kalamazoo on the bus for rehearsals and concerts, and stayed at the YMCA.
A champion handball player, he convinced the staff at the "Y" to construct
several handball courts. The son of a harpist, this four foot-eleven inch man
brought with him an old world charm and sophistication. He played in the KSO
from the 1930s to the 1960s. Clark den Bleyker called him a "harp with legs".
These three 8" x 10" black and white glossies were from a 1957 photo shoot of the
Kalamazoo Symphony on stage at the Civic Theater. The pictures were taken for
the April, 1958 issue of Upjohn News Magazine, by the Photo Section of the Upjohn
Company's Mechanical Engineering Development Department.
THE LEGACY OF THE UPJOHN COMPANY
It all started with the invention of the "friable"pill that gave birth to the Upjohn
Company, whose founder Dr. W.E. Upjohn in turn fostered a tradition of giving
back to the community. He invested and re-invested in Kalamazoo to make the
quality of life better for its citizens, whom he considered to be its most precious
resource. The Upjohn Company itself became the gold standard of corporate
giving. The pharmaceutical giant knew the value of the arts as being good for
There are two excellent Opinion columns in praise of Dr. Upjohn's legacy that
were originally published in the newsprint version of the Kalamazoo Gazette.
You can now read them online at by clicking these links:
"Upjohn understood the value of investing in the arts and we're the better for it",
by James M. Marquardt, Opinion, Kalamazoo Gazette, Thursday, April 2, 2009.
"Southwest Michigan must continue Dr. Upjohn's circle of leadership", by
Heather Smith and Ron Kitchens, Opinion, Kalamazoo Gazette, Thursday,
September 9, 2010.
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