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Photo © Christine Paillard
Françaix's natural gifts were encouraged from an early age by his family: his father, Director of the Conservatoire of Le Mans, and his mother, a teacher of singing. He was only six when he took up composing, and his first publication, in 1922, caught the attention of a composer working for the publishing house who steered the gifted boy toward a gifted teacher, Nadia Boulanger. She encouraged Françaix's career, considering the young composer to be one of the best, if not the best, of her students. Françaix himself often played his own works, to public acclaim; notably in the premier of his Concertino for Piano and Orchestra at the festival of Baden-Baden in 1932.
He was a skilled orchestrator, which was reflected in his use of tone colours. Françaix wrote pieces in many of the major large musical forms, including concerti, symphonies, opera, theatre, ballet, and works drawing on traditions that fell out of favour in the 20th century, such as the cantata. Though he often put his own modern spin on the old modes of expression, he was an avowed neoclassicist who rejected atonality and formless wanderings, and he drew from great literature of the past for his vocal settings.