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

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

Remember ‘The Story of Babar’ ? Bet you didn’t know that Francis Poulenc wrote a score to go along with it?

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.

Watch this space for my own recording of Babar!

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