Françaix was born into a family of musicians: His father was Director of the Le Mans Conservatory and his mother a singing teacher. Immersed in music from infancy, he was just nine when he began travelling to Paris to study at the Conservatoire. At the age of 18 he won first prize for piano, and soon afterwards his first symphony was premiered. By the time he was in his early twenties Françaix had received international recognition as both a pianist and a composer – firm foundations for his career as a concert pianist, performing primarily his own works.
Françaix’s early and significant musical successes can in part be attributed to his desire to entertain, rather than challenge, his audiences. He ascribed to Debussy’s artistic philosophy of “faire plaisir” (“giving pleasure”), with his music skillfully encapsulating French wit, charm and sophistication.
Of his music, the composer wrote:
“If the work is of any value, it will need no explanation; if it is of no value, no esoteric commentary will render it any better . . . All I ask my listeners is to open their ears and be brave enough to decide whether they like my music or not. I don’t want any intermediary between me and my listeners trying to sway their judgment one way or the other. They should remember they are free human beings, not obedient automata. I want them to crush snobbery, fashion and envy with the power of common sense and to enjoy my music if it gives them pleasure; which of course I hope it does . . .
Françaix’s Wind Quintet was written in 1948 for the solo woodwind players of the Orchestre National de Paris. That it satisfies the composer’s goal of aural appeal is evidenced by its enduring popularity, yet while it is easy for listeners to digest, ensuring the work’s virtuosic repartee is suitably light-hearted presents performers with a more demanding challenge.