Germaine Tailleferre, a key member of "Les Six", was described by the poet Jean Cocteau as "a Marie Laurencin for the ears".
Germaine Tailleferre, born Marcelle Taillefesse, started learning the piano at a very young age, first with her mother, then at the Paris conservatory, where she graduated in harmony, counterpoint and accompaniment. While there, she met the composers Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric and Arthur Honegger. She soon began frequenting fashionable Parisian artistic circles and mixing with Guillaume Apollinaire, Marie Laurencin, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani. In 1918, she met the composers Francis Poulenc and Louis Durey at the first concert given by "Les Nouveaux Jeunes", during which her works Jeux de plein air and Sonatina for String Quartet were performed (the latter was to become the String Quartet). It was not so much a musical collaboration as a sincere friendship, which would eventually lead to the formation of Les Six, the name given to the group by music critic Henri Collet (by analogy with The Five). The members were Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey and Francis Poulenc.
After various chamber music works, including a Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano written for the violinist Jacques Thibaud, Germaine Tailleferre composed a neo-classical ballet, Le Marchand d'oiseaux, in 1923. Two years later, Princesse de Polignac commissioned her to compose a piano concerto, which was first performed by Alfred Cortot in Philadelphia. During that same period, Germaine Tailleferre took lessons from Maurice Ravel, who encouraged her to prepare a submission for the Prix de Rome.
In 1926, she married the American artist Ralph Barton and settled with him in Manhattan, where she became friends with Charlie Chaplin. The Barton-Tailleferre couple returned to France the following year and the composer worked on the ballet La Nouvelle Cythère, scheduled for the 1929 season of the Ballets Russes. Unfortunately, Diaghilev's death meant the performance was cancelled. That year, she separated from Ralph Barton and started writing songs based on texts about the condition of women.
Following her remarriage to a French lawyer, Jean Lageat, with whom she had a daughter, Françoise, in 1931, Germaine Tailleferre continued her career as a composer, writing works such as the Suite for Chamber Orchestra, Divertissement in the Style of Louis XV, Concerto Grosso for Two Pianos, Saxophone Quartet, Eight Solo Voices and Orchestra, as well as a series of works for the cinema. During World War II, she left France with her sister and daughter to take refuge in Philadelphia. When the war was over, she returned to France and composed two new ballets, Paris-Magie and Parisiana, a Harp Sonata and a Concertina for Flute, Piano and Orchestra. In the final years of her life, Germaine Tailleferre focused more on teaching, first at the Schola Cantorum then at the École alsacienne in Paris.
Six landmark dates in the life of Germaine Tailleferre
1919: met Maurice Ravel.
1920: the group known as The Six was formed.
1937: worked with Paul Valéry on his Narcissus Cantata for soprano, baritone, women's chorus and strings.
1955: composed a series of four short operas, Du style galant au style méchant, for Radio France.
1957: began experimenting with dodecaphonic writing.
1974: published an autobiographical text, "Mémoires à l’emporte-pièce".
Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation, March 2016.