Les six

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Les six is a name, inspired by Mily Balakirev's The Five, given in 1920 by critic Henri Collet in an article titled "Les cinq Russes, les six Français et M. Satie" (Comoedia, 16 January 1920) to a group of six composers working in Montparnasse whose music is often seen as a reaction against the musical style of Richard Wagner and impressionist music.


Formally, the Groupe des six members were:

Groupe des six members
Name Born Died
Georges Auric 1899 1983
Louis Durey 1888 1979
Arthur Honegger 1892 1955
Darius Milhaud 1892 1974
Francis Poulenc 1899 1963
Germaine Tailleferre 1892 1983

Les nouveaux jeunes[edit]

In 1917, when many theatres and concert halls were closed because of World War I, Blaise Cendrars and the painter Moise Kisling decided to put on concerts at 6 Rue Huyghens, the studio of the painter Émile Lejeune. For the first of these events, the walls of the studio were decorated with canvases by Picasso, Matisse, Léger, Modigliani and others. Music by Erik Satie, Honegger, Auric and Durey was played. It was this concert that gave Satie the idea of assembling a group of composers around himself to be known as Les nouveaux jeunes, forerunners of Les six.

Les six[edit]

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 manoeuvrings of Jean Cocteau to become the leader of an avant-garde group devoted to music, like the cubist and surrealist groups had sprung in visual arts and literature shortly before, with Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire and André 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 a bar known as "La gaya" which became Le Bœuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof) when the establishment moved to larger quarters and as the famous ballet by Milhaud had been conceived at the old premises, the new bar took on the name of Milhaud's ballet.[1] On the renamed 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 'Les six' with the Five Russians.

The group published an album of piano pieces together, known as "Album des six". This was the only single work in which all six composers collaborated. Five of the members jointly composed the music for Cocteau's ballet Les mariés de la tour Eiffel, which was produced by the Ballets suédois, the rival to the Ballet 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 Les six. Durey, who was not in Paris at the time, chose not to participate. The première was the occasion of a public scandal which rivaled that of Le sacre 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.

Les mariés de la tour Eiffel did not mark "the end of the Groupe des six", as Durey was present for every concert and other manifestations that marked the anniversaries of the founding of the group. Les six did not ever cease to exist, they simply took their own individual paths that they had announced from the beginning. In 1927, Auric, Milhaud and Poulenc, along with seven other composers who were not part of Les six, jointly composed the children's ballet L'éventail de Jeanne. In 1952, Auric, Honegger, Poulenc, Tailleferre and three other composers collaborated on La guirlande de Campra.[2]

Music by 'Les six'[edit]

  • L'album des six (published 1920); solo piano music collection by the six composers and the only musical project in which they all participated
  1. Prélude (1919) by Auric
  2. Romance sans paroles, Op. 21 (1917) by Durey
  3. Sarabande, H 26 (1920) by Honegger
  4. Mazurka (1914) by Milhaud
  5. Valse en ut, FP 17 (1919) by Poulenc
  6. Pastorale (1919) by Tailleferre

See also[edit]

  • Grupo de los Ocho
  • [Robert Shapiro]] (2011). "Les Six: The French Composers and their Mentors Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie".

Peter Owen Publishers, London/Chicago. ISBN 978-0-7206-1293-6


  1. ^ Roger Stéphane, "Portrait souvenir de Jean Cocteau" (transcript of a French television interview in 1963 by the author and the subject), pp 63-67 Tallandier 1964 ISBN 2-235-01889-0
  2. ^ cocteau, satie & les six


  • Benjamin Ivry (1996). Francis Poulenc. Phaidon Press Limited. ISBN 0-7148-3503-X.
  • 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 2-85920-208-0
  • Cocteau, Jean - Le coq et l'Arelquin: 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 0-500-51095-4

External links[edit]

da:Les Six fr:Groupe des Six (musique) it:Gruppo dei Sei la:Les Six no:Les Six pcd:Groupe des Six pl:Les Six pt:Les Six fi:Les Six