Poulenc was born in Paris in 1899. His father Émile Poulenc was a second generation director of the Poulenc, and later Rhône-Poulenc, chemical corporation. His mother, an amateur pianist, taught him to play. He was introduced to the Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes in 1914, a champion of the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, and became his pupil shortly afterwards. He was a capable pianist, and the keyboard dominated his early compositions.
In 1916 a childhood friend, Raymonde Linossier (1897–1930), introduced Poulenc to Adrienne Monnier's bookshop, the Maison des Amis des Livres. There he met avant-garde poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Paul Éluard and Louis Aragon. He later set many of their poems to music.