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Le roi nu
'The naked king', a ballet in four scenes after Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Emperor's New Clothes'

'Françaix: Orchestral Music' (CDA67489)
Françaix: Orchestral Music
Scene 1 Part 1: Fanfare
Scene 1 Part 2: The dance of the three tailors in the square before the palace …
Scene 1 Part 3: The king orders them to desist
Scene 2 Part 1: The wondrous fabric is explained to the court …
Scene 2 Part 2: The fabric is brought out …
Scene 2 Part 3: General admiration
Scene 3 Part 1: The queen dances with her lover …
Scene 3 Part 2: The king is heard approaching …
Scene 3 Part 3: Interlude for the king …
Scene 3 Part 4: The garment is put on … Interlude for the queen
Scene 4 Part 1: A ball in the throne room … ‘But the king is naked!’ …
Scene 4 Part 2: Panic

Le roi nu
Françaix composed nine ballets in all. Le roi nu (‘The naked king’), a ballet in four tableaux based on Hans Christian Andersen’s well known tale The Emperor’s New Clothes, was his fourth – and, when premiered in 1936, the most successful he had yet been involved in. Shortly before his death the great impresario Serge Diaghilev had the idea of staging a ballet on this theme, and he bequeathed the idea to the dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar. Following Diaghilev’s death, Lifar became premier danseur of the Paris Opéra Ballet, whose reputation had declined since the Victorian era. By 1933 he had become its director and professor of dance, carrying on the Diaghilev tradition and staging ballet in its own right rather than as part of opera productions. Thus it was Lifar who commissioned Françaix to write the score for Le roi nu while he provided the scenario. The music was composed in 1935 and the ballet was staged at the Paris Opéra the following year, produced by Lifar, who was also the principal dancer, with a cast that included Lifar’s protégée, the ballerina Yvette Chauviré. Le roi nu is generally considered one of Lifar’s most notable productions; in it he employed archaic dance-steps and formalized postures to satirize the stupidity and obsequiousness of the royal court. In his scenario he enlarged the cast-list by creating a young queen with a secret lover. He also added a twist to Andersen’s tale: once the subterfuge of the villainous tailor has been revealed to him, the king is so impressed by his ability to pull the wool (or in this case, the lack of any wool at all) over the eyes of his subjects that he makes the tailor his new prime minister!

Despite the division into four tableaux, the action is pretty well continuous. The pompous fanfare with which the ballet begins returns at various points as a kind of ritornello, and various principal themes are ingeniously varied at different points in the action. The ‘dance of the three tailors’ before the palace immediately after the introduction already demonstrates Françaix’s vivid and witty orchestration which is a notable feature throughout, and also the strong influence of Stravinsky – the best possible model for a 1930s ballet, of course, and one strongly advocated by Françaix’s teacher Nadia Boulanger – that is palpable throughout the score. Not the least of the ballet’s delights is the mysterious and magical atmosphere conjured up as the tailor tells the king of the marvellous material, of unsurpassed fineness and delicacy, from which he proposes to make the new clothes. This foreshadows the diaphanous – one might almost say naked – orchestration, confined to a few solo instruments, when the king finally dons his imaginary attire. The celebratory ball in the throne room is in Françaix’s best opéra-bouffe manner, its louche polkas proceeding with a fine swing until the action is brought to a halt by the exclamation of a child, ‘Mais le roi est nu!’, triggering the panic-stricken (but sparkling) coda as unwelcome reality breaks in upon the Court.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2005

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67489 track 1
Scene 1 Part 1: Fanfare
Recording date
23 March 2004
Recording venue
Ulster Hall, Belfast, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Chris Hazell
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Françaix: Orchestral Music (CDA67489)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: March 2005
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