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L'histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant, FP129

L'histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant, FP129

1940/45; pour récitant et piano
author of text

Image details:
The title page of L’histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant (with an inscription by Pierre Bernac: ‘To Graham—in the memory of Francis Poulenc—whose music he plays so well—with my deepest gratitude—and my sincere affection, Pierre Bernac’)
This work with a spoken text by Jean de Brunhoff (1899–1937) is an inspired variation on the piano-accompanied melodrama experiments of such composers as Schumann, Liszt and Richard Strauss. It was sketched at the home of Poulenc’s friend Marthe Bosredon in Brive-la Gaillarde in the summer of 1940. According to Bernac, the children of the house, bored with Poulenc’s piano playing, placed a copy of their favourite book, Babar, on the piano stand, and said ‘Play this instead!’ The composer began to improvise on the story and the children were delighted. The work was composed more or less at the same time as Poulenc’s opéra bouffe on Apollinaire’s Les mamelles de Tirésias. The work, orchestrated in 1962 by Jean Françaix, much to Poulenc’s satisfaction, consists of twenty-two short piano pieces with spoken text in between.

Here is an overview of the twenty-two piano pieces that make up this work:

I: ‘Dans la grande forêt un petit éléphant est né’ … Très modéré, a gentle berceuse in 4/4
II: ‘Babar a grandi’ … Babar playing in the sand. Presto, 2/4
IIIa: ‘Babar se promène’ … Babar on his mother’s back. Très calme, 4/4. The same music introduces the song Le mendiant in the Chansons villageoises
IIIb: A single bar, the sound of a rifle shot
IV: ‘Le chasseur a tué la maman’ … Babar’s mother is killed by a hunter and he flees. Molto agitato, 4/4
V: ‘Au bout de quelques jours’ … Babar reaches the town and meets a kind old lady who gives him her purse. Babar says ‘Merci, Madame’. Très modéré, 3/4
VI: ‘Maintenant Babar habite chez la vieille dame’ … Energetic gymnastics with the old lady. Modéré, 4/4
VII: ‘Tous les jours il se promène en auto’ … Car music with a strident klaxon
VIII: ‘Souvent, à la fenêtre, il rêve en pensant à son enfance’ … Daydreams, and homesick music
IX: The meeting with Arthur and Céleste. The expedition to buy ‘beaux costumes’. Follement gai et tumultueux, 4/4 alla breve
X: ‘Chez le pâtissier’ … Eating cakes to an ingratiating waltz played by a palm-court orchestra. Très gai et animé, 3/8
XI: ‘Pendant ce temps, dans la grande forêt’ … The elephants searching. Lent et pesant, 4/4
XII: ‘Heureusement, en volant sur la ville, un vieux marabout’ … An old bird brings news to the elephants. Presto giocoso, 2/4
XIII: ‘Les mamans d’Arthur et de Céleste’ … Parent elephants scolding their offspring. 2/4
XIV: ‘La vieille dame reste seule’ … The old lady’s loneliness. Lent et mélancolique, 3/4
XV: ‘Ils sont partis’ … The elephants’ car journey home. Presto, 4/4
XVI: ‘Le même jour, hélas, le roi des éléphants’ … The king of the elephants out on a walk, and the eating of a poisoned mushroom. Gracieux et modéré, avec précautions, 2/2
XVII: ‘Babar devint roi’ … Fanfares for a new king. Très animé, 4/4
XVIII: ‘Babar demande aux oiseaux d’aller inviter tous les animaux à ses noces’ … The birds fly out with invitations to Babar’s wedding. Gai et très vif, 2/4
XIX: ‘Les invités commencent à arriver’ … The wedding guests arrive … the dromedary arrives with the new wedding costumes bought for the occasion. Bien calme, 4/4
XX: ‘Mariage de Babar’ … ‘Couronnement de Babar’. Très lent et pompeux, 4/4
XXI: ‘Après le mariage … tout le monde danse’ … The birds mingle with the orchestra … the party ends. À toute allure, 4/4 alla breve, music in the manner of Chansons villageoises
XXII: ‘La nuit est venue’ … The stars come out … King Babar and Queen Céleste dream of their happiness … The End. Le chant très lié et très doux, 4/4; in the style of Sanglots

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013


Poulenc: The Complete Songs
CDA68021/44CDs for the price of 3


Part 1: Babar à la forêt  Dans la grande forêt un petit éléphant est né
Track 18 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [5'11] 4CDs for the price of 3
Part 2: Babar dans la ville  Au bout de quelques jours, bien fatigué, Babar arrive
Track 19 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [11'04] 4CDs for the price of 3
Part 3: Le retour à la forêt  Ils sont partis … Les mamans n’ont pas de place
Track 20 on CDA68021/4 CD1 [12'17] 4CDs for the price of 3

Track-specific metadata for CDA68021/4 disc 1 track 19

Babar dans la ville
Recording date
September 1977
Recording venue
Studio 2, BBC Maida Vale, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Elaine Padmore
Recording engineer
Hyperion usage
  1. Poulenc: The Complete Songs (CDA68021/4)
    Disc 1 Track 19
    Release date: October 2013
    4CDs for the price of 3
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