Musique à la mode: Francis poulenc’s histoire de babar and the rebirth of “lifestyle modernism”

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Francis Poulenc’s Histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant (1940–45) is among his most charming and least studied works. Based on the popular children’s book by Jean de Brunhoff, the work was composed on the eve of World War II for solo piano and narrator, and later orchestrated by Jean Françaix in 1961. It is a potent example of Lynn Garafola’s concept of “lifestyle mod-ernism,” an “art of the sophisticated commonplace” first associated with Satie’s Sports et divertissements (1914) and Parade (1917), a style that most scholars have declared defunct post-Parade. Instead, Babar can be viewed as a reflection of the continuation and expansion of the trend through its glorification of the leisure activities of the French upper class. The music combines Les Six-era frivolity with previously unrecognized allusions to music by Chopin, Satie, and Stravinsky, reflecting the composer’s longstanding approach to quotation and allusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-158
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Musicological Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2019


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