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Poulenc's "Babar the Elephant" for piano and narra

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by DLGoodman, Jul 5, 2008.

  1. DLGoodman

    DLGoodman New Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Here is a companion piece to our previous posting of Prokovief's version of "Peter and the Wolf" for piano and narrator. The narrator is again my friend Jack McCreless. Here are program notes from a recent performance:

    Francis Poulenc (1899-1963): The Story of Babar the Elephant for piano and narrator (1940) with words by Jean de Brunhof

    In 1940, Francis Poulenc was living in the countryside outside Paris, composing less tonal music that veered toward atonality. This style challenged what was considered appropriate for French concert halls. One day, his three-year-old cousin Sophie, who did not appreciate this musical style, placed her copy of “Babar the Elephant” upside down on the piano’s music stand and said, “Play this.”

    Poulenc improvised an accompaniment to each scene and Sophie was thrilled. Before long, everyone in the neighborhood came by to hear the new piece. Poulenc wrote the music down and dedicated it to his young cousins and neighbors.

    The beloved character “Babar the elephant” was created by Jean de Brunhof and his wife Cecile in 1931. The Story of Babar is the first of six Babar books that de Brunhof wrote and illustrated. Paul de Brunhof continued his father’s work after Jean’s death in 1937. Paul created a complete elephant world with Babar as king of the elephant nation. More recently there have been a Babar movie, a television series, and various Babar merchandise.

    Poulenc uses various devices to paint the scenes of Babar’s life. Slow, low piano tones suggest lumbering beasts. High staccato notes suggest the call of birds. An extended use of the sustain pedal blurs the scene, creating the mists of the jungle or the warmth of sleepy elephant dreams.
    Poulenc’s approach thus uses mostly color, rather than melody to illustrate the story. This contrasts with Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” a better-known children’s story that Jack and I performed in a previous concert, and which is already on this site. In that piece, every animal had a distinctive, sing-able theme.

    Even though the Poulenc’s themes are more challenging to hear than Prokofiev’s, there are some to listen for. Babar’s opening theme, so joyful and warm, will re-appear sadly when he remembers his mother. And the lullaby she sings as he rides on her back will reappear in loud urgency when the elephant mothers search and call for their children.

    Poulenc - Babar the elephant
     
  2. François Micol

    François Micol New Member

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    Well that was lovely, and definitely genuine Poulenc (which I enjoy). Some bits were reminiscent of his Nocturnes, and I think I even heard a quote from "L'embarquement pour Cythère".

    The narrator and you both did a great job. I wish he'd have done the narration in French, but since he always spoke very clearly, it was all good. :)
     
  3. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Wonderful playing and speaking ! I don't even mind the English :wink:
    What a genius Poulenc was !! One of the very finest French composers of all times. He has exactly the right touch for every occasion. Few composers have displayed so much humour and humanity. Prokofiev may have the better (more recognizable) tune in Peter and the Wolf, but in all other respects I think Poulenc beats him hands down.

    Your playing does him absolutely proud. As does Jack's narration. I only wished for a bit more reverb as it sounds a bit dry in places.

    Shame about these coughing people (why are they never removed from concerts ?). The kids' intermissions do not disturb however.

    A great addition to Piano Society, thanks for sharing this ! I will put this on the site shortly, using your perceptive description (thans for that, too).
     
  4. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Sure....Poulnec, rip on the avid outdoorsmen--"a cruel hunter" :?

    Mild joking aside, this is well played, well spoken, well recorded. A refreshing contrast to Peter and the Wolf. Although it does share similarities to Bambi :lol:
     
  5. tpascale

    tpascale Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I just listened to the entire recording without any small children present. Very, very well done and thoroughly enjoyable - both the music and narration. Everyone should listen to this. You might get an argument as to the better music - Peter & the Wolf vs. Babar - but as for the storyline Babar wins hands down. (I verified this with a kid.)
     
  6. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    ah yes, the reliable "kid tested, mother approved" technique
     
  7. John Robson

    John Robson New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Babar

    I thoroughly enjoyed this most professional presentation. Keep it up!
     

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