“I wish to be honest,” wrote Jean Françaix (1912-1997), “When I am composing, the finest theories are the last things that come to mind. My interest is not primarily attracted by the motorways of thought, but more the paths through the woods.” A prodigious musical talent, Françaix received his first lessons in harmony and counterpoint from Nadia Boulanger at the age of 10! Maurice Ravel was mightily impressed, and wrote to Jean’s father, “Among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity: you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility wither.” Encouraged by Ravel’s endorsement, Françaix entered the Paris Conservatoire and embarked on a career as concert pianist. Such were his talents that he received the first prize in the piano class of Isidore Philipp. He achieved international success in 1936 with the first performance of his Concertino for piano and orchestra at the chamber music festival in Baden-Baden.
Francaix and Boulanger
A reviewer wrote, “After so much problematic or labored music, this Concertino was like fresh water, rushing from a spring with the gracious spontaneity of all that is natural.” And the same gracefulness permeates much of Françaix’ music, including the Symphony in G major premiered on 9 August 1953. His accessible and attractive style has frequently led listeners and commentators to ignore the depth and originality in his music. In fact, a good many commentators have dismissed his composition “as frivolous.” The reason his musical style remained unchanged throughout his life, is because Françaix found his mature compositional voice at a very early age. Clear and sparkling orchestration supports precise neo-classical forms, and his emotions are always slightly reserved. Always ready to avoid the premeditated wrong note and boredom like a plague, Françaix famously quipped, “My music exists to give pleasure.”