One of the great melodists of the twentieth century, Poulenc, was largely self-taught as a composer. He was most noted for his melodies, grace, wit, irony and sentiment. In the early 1920s he belonged to the Paris-based group of composers Les Six who led the neo-classical movement, rejecting the overstated emotion of Romanticism.
He composed music in all major genres, including art song, chamber music, oratorio, opera, ballet and orchestral music.
Poulenc’s earlier works were lighthearted but following the death of a close friend in the 1930s, Poulenc rediscovered his Roman Catholic faith and replaced neo-classicism with a new-found spiritual depth.
Poulenc also struggled with his sexuality and manic depression which I feel is evident in this Sonata.
To best understand this Sonata, I feel it is crucial to listen to a recording of Jean -Pierre Rampal playing it with Poulenc accompanying him. It is reputed to have been written for Rampal. The piano is very refined compared to many modern performances and gives great insight into his intentions for the piece.