Jean Francaix (1912-1997)

Sept Dances de Les malheurs de Sophie (1935)

Jean Francaix was born into a musical family living in Le Mans. From an early age he displayed considerable ability as both a pianist and at composer. He was taught composition initially by his father and later by in Paris by Nadia Boulanger. Francaix wrote music of almost every genre. His works are urbane, witty and inventive. His instrumentation, particularly his handling of the woodwinds, is frequently described as quintessentially French. His works preserve past forms, and often contain charming and memorable melodies woven into a humorous dialogue. One critic in 1932 wrote of a work: "After so much difficult and laboured music, this is like fresh water rushing from a spring with gracious spontaneity." Others thought him anachronistic, apparently untouched by the revolution in harmony that produced atonality and serial music. Francaix was clearly aware of this. Near to his death he said of his music "My works are not considered as contemporary music, but I am not yet dead." Notwithstanding his doubts his work has won a permanent place in the French musical landscape of the twentieth century.

The ballet Les malheurs de Sophie (The Misfortunes of Sophie) was completed in 1935. It is based on a popular French 19-century children's book about a three year old tearaway whose exploits include overeating at afternoon tea, shaving off her eyebrows and cutting up and cooking her mother's pet fish.

Jean Francaix' Sept Dances de Les malheurs de Sophie was performed by the the winds of the Portobello orchestra on the 19th March 2005. The conductor was Anthony Weeden.