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Les Six is a name, inspired by The Five, given in 1923 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 Montparnassemarker 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

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 a concert at 6 Rue Huyghens, the studio of the painter Emile Lejeune. For this event, 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

According to Milhaud:

But that is only one reading of how the Groupe des Six originated: other authors, like Ornella Volta, would stress the maneuverings of Jean Cocteau to become the leader of an avant-garde group devoted to music, like the cubist and surrealist groups had sprang 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 Boeuf 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. 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 the Six with the Five Russians.

The group published an album of piano pieces together (the famous "Album des Six"). Five of the members also collaborated on the music for Cocteau's work Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel which was produced by the Ballets Suédois, the rival to the Ballets 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, did not 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 manifestation 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.

Music by Les Six

Solo piano music collection by the six composers and the only musical project in which they all participated.
collaboration project by Milhaud - Auric - Tailleferre - Honegger - Poulenc, on a scenario by Cocteau.
  • Salade
Milhaud, premiered 1924 in a production of Count Etienne de Beaumont.
  • La Nouvelle Cythère
Tailleferre, written in 1929 for the Ballets Russes and unproduced because of Diaghilev's sudden death
  • Romance sans paroles
  • Cinq Bagatelles
Poulenc (see also Category of Poulenc compositions)
  • Sonate pour violon seul
Germaine Tailleferre

See also


  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


  • 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'ARLEQUIN: 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

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