Jean Françaix (1912-1997) was encouraged to develop his natural gifts from an early age by his family: his father, Director of the Conservatoire of Le Mans, was a musicologist, composer, and pianist, and his mother, a teacher of singing. He studied at the Conservatoire of Le Mans and then at the Paris Conservatory, and he was only six when he took up composing with a style heavily influenced by Ravel. His first publication, in 1922, caught the attention of a composer working for the publishing house who steered the gifted boy toward a gifted teacher, Nadia Boulanger. After her sister’s death in 1937, she devoted her life to conducting, playing the organ and teaching. She soon became the most celebrated teacher of musical composition in the 20th century with a list of students whose names include Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Elliot Carter, and many more. She encouraged Françaix’s career, considering the young composer to be one of the best, if not the best, of her students. Noted pianist and pedagogue Isidor Philipp also taught him. Françaix himself often played his own works, to public acclaim; notably in the premier of his Concertino for Piano and Orchestra at the festival of Baden-Baden in 1932.
He was an accomplished pianist from an early age, earning a First Prize in Piano at the Paris Conservatory, and toured throughout Europe and the U.S.. He performed notably in a duo with the French cellist Maurice Gendron, and also performed the Poulenc Two Piano Concerto with Francis Poulenc for several engagements when Jacques Février was not available. He even premiered his concerto for two pianos with his daughter in 1964.
Jean Françaix’s primary occupation was his extraordinarily active compositional career. He remained prolific throughout his life; even in 1981 he described himself as “constantly composing”, barely finishing one piece before beginning another, and continued thus until his death in 1997. He was named an Officier de la Legion d’honneur in 1991.