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Les Six

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Les Six

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Le Groupe des Six, 1922, by Jacques-Emile Blanche. In the center, pianist Marcelle Meyer; from bottom to top: Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey; on the right: Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc, Jean Cocteau. Le Groupe des Six, 1922, by Jacques-Emile Blanche. In the center, pianist Marcelle Meyer; from bottom to top: Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey; on the right: Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc, Jean Cocteau.

Les Six is a name, inspired by The Five, given in 1920 by critic Henri Collet to a group of six composers working in Montparnasse whose music is often seen as a reaction against Wagnerism and Impressionism.



Formally the Groupe des Six members were:

Georges Auric (1899–1983)
Louis Durey (1888–1979)
Arthur Honegger (1892–1955)
Darius Milhaud (1892–1974)
Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983)

Many more were involved, notably Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau and Jean Wiéner.

Prelude: Les Nouveaux Jeunes

In 1917, when many theatres and concert halls were closed because of the war, Blaise Cendrars and the painter Moise Kisling decided to put on a concert at 6 Rue Huyghens, the studio of the painter Emile Lejeune. For this event, the walls of the studio were decorated with canvases by Picasso, Matisse, Leger, Modigliani and others. Music by Satie, Honegger, Auric and Durey was played. It was this concert that gave Erik Satie the idea of assembling a group of composers around himself to be known as Les Nouveaux Jeunes, forerunners of Les Six.

Les Six

According to Milhaud:

"[Collet] chose six names absolutely arbitrarily, those of Auric, Durey, Honegger, Poulenc, Tailleferre and me simply because we knew each other and we were pals and appeared on the same musical programmes, no matter if our temperaments and personalities weren't at all the same! Auric and Poulenc followed ideas of Cocteau, Honegger followed German Romanticism, and myself, Mediterranean lyricism! (Ivry 1996)"

But that is only one reading of how the Groupe des Six originated: other authors, like Ornella Volta, would stress the manoeuverings of Jean Cocteau to become the leader of an avant-garde group devoted to music, like the cubist and surrealist groups had srang in visual arts and literature shortly before, with Picasso, Apollinaire and Breton as their key representatives. The fact that Satie had abandoned the Nouveaux Jeunes less than a year after starting the group, was the "gift from heaven" that made it all come true for Cocteau: his 1918 publication Le Coq et l'Arlequin is said to have ticked it off.

After World War I, Jean Cocteau and Les Six began to frequent Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof), which inspired the famous ballet by Milhaud. On the bar's opening night, pianist Jean Wiéner played tunes by George Gershwin and Vincent Youmans while Cocteau and Milhaud played percussion. Among those in attendance were Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, Pablo Picasso, filmmaker René Clair, singer Jane Bathori, and Maurice Chevalier.

The Group was officially launched in January 1920 by a series of two articles by the French music critic and composer Henri Collet in the French journal "Commedia". While it seems apparent that Cocteau was behind these articles, the actual name of the Group was selected by Collet who decided to compare the Six with the Five Russians.

The group published an album of piano pieces together (the famous "Album des Six"). Five of the members also collaborated together on the music for Cocteau's work "Les Mariés de La Tour Eiffel" which was produced by the Ballets Suédois, the rival to the Ballets Russes. Cocteau had originally proposed the project to Auric, but as Auric did not finish rapidly enough to fit into the rehearsal schedule, he then divided the work up among the other members of the Les Six. Durey, who was not in Paris at the time, did not participate. The première was the occasion of a public scandal which rivaled that of "Le Sacré du Printemps" only years before. In spite of this, "Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel" was in the repertoire of the Ballets Suédois throughout the 1920s.

It is not correct to say that Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel marked "the end of the Group des Six", as Durey was present for every concert and other manifestation that marked the annversaries of the founding of the Group. Les Six did not ever cease to exist, they simply took their own individual paths that they had annonced from the beginning.

The legacy of Les Six is present even today in their surviving children, spouses and associates.

Music by Erik Satie and Les Six

  • Parade – Satie, and some noise-making instruments added by Cocteau (no direct relation with Les Six: composed and premiered before the first ideas about the Nouveaux Jeunes emerged, by people that would never formally be members of the Groupe des Six: Satie, Cocteau, Picasso, Ballets Russes)
  • (presented as a Nouveaux Jeunes production:) Second set of furniture music: Chez un 'bistrot' and Un Salon (1920) – Satie (premiered with Milhaud)
  • Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (1921) – collaboration project by Milhaud - Auric - Tailleferre - Honegger - Poulenc, on a scenario by Cocteau.
  • Mercure – Satie, and Salade – Milhaud, premiered 1924 in a production of Count Etienne de Beaumont (for these productions there was however more involvement of Ballets Russes performers, than of the Groupe des Six).
  • La Nouvelle Cythère – Tailleferre, written in 1929 for the Ballets Russes and unproduced because of Diaghilev's sudden death
  • Romance sans paroles – Durey
  • Cinq Bagatelles – Auric
  • Sonate pour violoncelle et piano – Poulenc
  • Scaramouche – Milhaud
  • Le Boeuf sur le Toit – Milhaud
  • Sonate pour violon seul – Honegger
  • Suite Burlesque – Germaine Tailleferre (composed in 1980, when only Tailleferre and Auric remained alive)

External links


  • Ivry, Benjamin (1996). Francis Poulenc. Phaidon Press Limited. ISBN 071483503X.
  • FONDATION ERIK SATIE, Le groupe des Six et ses amis: 70e anniversaire - Placard, Paris 1990 - 40 p. - ISBN 2-907523-01-5
  • Ornella Volta, Satie/Cocteau - les malentendus d'une entente: avec des lettres et des textes inédits d'Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau, Valentine Hugo et Guillaume Apollinaire - Castor Astral - 1993 - ISBN 2859202080
  • Cocteau, Jean - LE COQ ET L'ARLEQUIN: Notes Autour de la Musique - Avec un Portrait de l'Auteur et Deux Monogrammes par P. Picasso - Paris, Éditions de la Sirène - 1918
  • Roger Nichols - The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris 1917-1929 - 2002 - ISBN 0500510954

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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