During the visit to Brive-la-Gaillarde in 1940, Poulenc sketched a little piece for the children of his cousins: Sophie, Sylvie, Benoit, Florence and Delphine Périer, Yvan, Alain, Marie-Christine and Marguerite-Marie Villotte, and their two friends Marthe Bosredon and André Lecoeur. This took the form of a musical background to Jean de Brunhoff's popular illustrated children's story about Babar, a baby elephant whose mother is killed by a huntsman. Fortunately Babar meets a kind elderly lady who dresses him in a fine suit and gives him an impressive motor-car.
However, Babar feels homesick for his forests, and is pleased when his cousins, Arthur and Celeste, find him and needs no persuasion to go home with them. Back in the forest, where the King of the Elephants has eaten a poisonous mushroom, Babar is elected to succeed as King. He marries Celeste, and the last we hear of him is thinking of a rosy future as he dreamily looks up at a marvellously star-filled sky.
Poulenc's score, to which he returned and completed in 1945, is for a narrator and a piano, so written that the individual sections offer the pianist a number of self-contained descriptive pieces, such as a LULLABY, a RÊVERIE, a GALOP, a NOCTURNE and so on. Indeed, some of Poulenc's finest piano music is found in these charmimg pages.
In 1962, Jean Françaix made an orchestral version, and BABAR has been enjoyed by children of all ages all over the world. An English translation of the text was made by Nelly Rieu.