'Babar’ to come to life Jan. 5

Everyone’s favorite literary elephant, Babar, will come to life on Jan. 5 at 2 p.m. when Greenwich Library’s Ashforth Children’s Concert Series will present Francis Poulenc’s story of Babar the elephant, for piano and narrator, with words by author Jean de Brunhof.

The concert is part of the Curiosity Concerts Series for children and will be held in the Cole Auditorium.

Musical lore has it that one day in 1940, French composer Francis Poulenc was working on his signature atonal music and his young cousin, Sophie, did not appreciate his musical style. She placed her copy of The Story of Babar the Little Elephant upside down on the piano’s music stand and said, “Play this.” Poulenc improvised an accompaniment to each scene and Sophie was thrilled.

According to Daniel Goodman, a pianist who studied physics and music at Princeton and MIT, Poulenc uses various devices to color scenes from Babar’s life. Slow, low piano tones suggest lumbering elephants; high staccato notes, the call of birds. Use of the sustain pedal blurs the scene like a jungle mist.

Poulenc’s approach, Dr. Goodman said, uses mostly timbre and tone quality, rather than melody, to illustrate the story. He encourages listeners to pay attention to Poulenc’s themes. For example, Babar’s joyful opening theme returns sadly when he remembers his mother, and his mother’s lullaby reappears loudly when the elephant mothers search for their children.

Pianist Jeewon Park will present the piece, accompanied by Benjamin Luxon as narrator. Bring your copy of Babar and follow along. The Ashforth Concert Series is designed to introduce children to classical music performance. The concert is open to the public at no charge through the support of Georgie and Henry A. Ashforth.

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