Les Six

Missing image
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, Jean Wiéner; on the right: Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc, Jean Cocteau. Here pianist Jean Wiéner replaces Louis Durey who left the group in 1921.

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:

But many more were involved, notably Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau, 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 sprang 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 was named after a work 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.

Following examples like the Parade production, the group members would embark on a few collaborative projects, but after all, also because many of these collaborative projects failed for several reasons, the Groupe des Six composers proved to be a rather individualistic set, divergent in style, in the vein of what Milhaud describes above. One of the most successful of the collaborative projects, which was also the last one Satie was involved in, the Relâche/Entr'acte production, had only a limited Groupe des Six input.

The next decades the group would grow ever more disparate, some of its former members eventually losing all contact.

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)
  • 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 - Honneger - 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).
  • Romance sans paroles – Durey
  • Cinq Bagatelles – Auric
  • Sonate pour violoncelle et piano – Poulenc (see also Category of Poulenc compositions)
  • Scaramouche – Milhaud
  • Le Boeuf sur le Toit – Milhaud
  • Sonate pour violon seul – Honegger
  • Suite Burlesque – Germaine Tailleferre

Individual compositions not related to Les Six:

  • Gnossiennes – Satie (as 19th century compositions no relation with Les Six: the Nouveaux Jeunes were initiated by Satie because Ravel's original Jeunes had no interest in Satie's post-Schola compositions, which puts these 19th century compositions completely out of the picture for the Groupe des Six)
  • Trois Gymnopédies – Satie (idem as for Gnossiennes)

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 0500510954de:Groupe des Six

fr:Les Six ko:프랑스 6인조 nl:Groupe des Six ja:フランス6人組 pl:Les Six fi:Les Six


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