What is Mostel's Travels of Babar?

Raphael Mostel's Travels of Babar is a new composition with multimedia. It is based on the much-loved classic book and art of the same name by Jean de Brunhoff, Le Voyage de Babar. Mostel's Babar has already been presented almost 70 times, and in five languages. The New York Times found "its charms hard to resist" and also described it as "a miniaturized history of classical music". The new full new production of the complete Travels of Babar was first presented in sold-out performances in Berlin by the Berliner Philharmoniker, where “shouts of joy… greeted…the imaginative setting"

 

    Is Mostel's Travels of Babar a concert or a show?

Mostel composed one "scene" for each illustration of Jean de Brunhoff's book — 46 in all — and then created an elaborate one-of-a-kind production around his score, including a elaborate multimedia with the original illustrations (now using the Jean de Brunhoff’s original watercolors!). The full multimedia production includes live performance of Mostel's music plus theatrical lighting and elaborate projections of the original artwork along with a reading of de Brunhoff's text. In the original chamber version the full production also includes theatrical lighting that highlights the musicians and also visually harmonizes the music-making with the multimedia.

Although it can also be presented as a concert-work, so far Raphael Mostel's Travels of Babar has always been presented with the much-acclaimed multimedia production he has created to complement the music. The effect of the elaborate multimedia — in coordination with the narrator and live musicians onstage and theatrical lighting — has been compared to a film being edited in real time.

The way Mostel has interwoven all of these elements in the full production has been met with a sense of wonder. German radio (WDR3) echoed many observers in observing the audience's concentration lasted an insanely long time!” The New Yorker magazine called it "gentle, lyrical show", while The New York Times went so far to underline the one-of-a-kind nature of Mostel's full multimedia production as to describe this non-singing show as "a new kind of digital video opera". Indeed, even though the show involves narration rather than singing, major opera institutions like the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the New York City Opera have used the full production of Mostel’s Travels of Babar as part of their education programs, as an introduction to music and to music-theater. Berlin's Musik Heute (Music Today) praised Mostel’s Travels of Babar as"extremely three-dimensional music"

     What is the length of Mostel's Travels of Babar?

When performed complete, The Travels of Babar is a full hour in length, without intermission. However, if desired, Mostel's Babar can also be divided into two separate, self-contained works based on it that each can be performed independently: Babar's Honeymoon and Babar's Return to the Land of the Elephants.

     What is the instrumentation of the original chamber version of the score?

Mostel's original scoring for eight musicians represents an orchestra in miniature:

two winds — clarinet (doubling bass clarinet) & bassoon

two brass — cornet & trombone (doubling bass trombone)

two strings — viola & 'cello

piano (doubling celesta) & percussion

This is the version the Berliner Philharmoniker chose for their world premiere of the new production.

     Is there a difference between the original version for eight musicians and the new version for orchestra?

Yes. Although the music of both versions is almost all essentially identical, the octet version is more intimate and transparent in ways that are highlighted by the theatrical lighting of the full production that complements and visually harmonizes with the multimedia. What orchestras may lack in intimacy is more than compensated by the richness and depth of sound. While the flexibility of the eight-musician version more easily allows presentation of the complete, hour-long work in the full production, orchestras may find it more practical to present one of the two shorter works that together make up the complete Travels: Babar's Honeymoon and Babar's Return To The Land of the Elephants.

The world premiere of the orchestral version of the Le Retour de Babar aux pays des Éléphants was presented by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Excerpts of the Babar’s Honeymoon for orchestra were performed by the New York Philharmonic. The US premiere of the orchestral version of the Babar's Return to the Land of the Elephants was presented by the National Symphony Orchestra at the John F Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on April 7, 2019

FAQ continues below

The full production of the original 8-musician scoring includes theatrical lighting that uses the intimacy to highlight the music-making as it is happening and harmonizes it with the visuals. Here, a viola solo in a night-time scene. Viola, Aurora Manuel, Alan R Kay, condcutor. Photo: Jay Muhlin for Source Music, Inc.

The full production of the original 8-musician scoring includes theatrical lighting that uses the intimacy to highlight the music-making as it is happening and harmonizes it with the visuals. Here, a viola solo in a night-time scene. Viola, Aurora Manuel, Alan R Kay, condcutor. Photo: Jay Muhlin for Source Music, Inc.

The full production of the orchestral version is different from that for the 8-musician version, since there are so many more performers involved. Image above is the National Symphony Orchestra, Steven Reineke, conductor, Regina Aquino, narrator. John F Kennedy Center for the Arts, Washington, D.C., April 7, 2019. Photo: Erica Bruce for Mostel.com (full size, hi-res photo available). Multimedia image: original Jean de Brunhoff watercolor, Kendra & Allan Daniel Collection. Used with permissions

The full production of the orchestral version is different from that for the 8-musician version, since there are so many more performers involved. Image above is the National Symphony Orchestra, Steven Reineke, conductor, Regina Aquino, narrator. John F Kennedy Center for the Arts, Washington, D.C., April 7, 2019. Photo: Erica Bruce for Mostel.com (full size, hi-res photo available). Multimedia image: original Jean de Brunhoff watercolor, Kendra & Allan Daniel Collection. Used with permissions

The intimacy of the chamber version allows the introduction of each of the musicians one by one at the beginning, who then demonstrate the sound of their instruments with a short passage from the score. Here, narrator Hans-Jürgen Schatz introduces violist Martin von der Nahmer in the spotlight. Also pictured: bassoonist Paul-Gregor Staka and pianist Helen Collyer. World premiere of the new full production of the complete  Babar auf Reisen,  presented by the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Kammermusiksaal of the Berlin Philharmonie. Photo: Kai Beinert

The intimacy of the chamber version allows the introduction of each of the musicians one by one at the beginning, who then demonstrate the sound of their instruments with a short passage from the score. Here, narrator Hans-Jürgen Schatz introduces violist Martin von der Nahmer in the spotlight. Also pictured: bassoonist Paul-Gregor Staka and pianist Helen Collyer. World premiere of the new full production of the complete Babar auf Reisen, presented by the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Kammermusiksaal of the Berlin Philharmonie. Photo: Kai Beinert

World premiere of the new full production of the complete  Babar auf Reisen,  presented by the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Kammermusiksaal of the Berlin Philharmonie. Stanley Dodds, conductor and Hans-Jürgen Schatz, narrator (foreground). Photo: Kai Beinert

World premiere of the new full production of the complete Babar auf Reisen, presented by the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Kammermusiksaal of the Berlin Philharmonie. Stanley Dodds, conductor and Hans-Jürgen Schatz, narrator (foreground). Photo: Kai Beinert

     What is the difference between the new production and the prior production?

The elaborate new multimedia is now in High-Definition and 16:9 ratio. The composer has obtained extremely high-resolution scans of Jean de Brunhoff's glorious original watercolors for Le Voyage de Babar from the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. These are supplemented by additional high-resolution scans of other original Jean de Brunhoff watercolors from the Morgan Library and several private collectors. The complex multimedia is now at such high-resolution, there are many details that have not been seen before in the artwork. Brief clips from archival performances with the prior, non-HD production presented by Source Music, Inc. with a number of notable narrators can be seen here

   Who was the author and artist creator of Babar, Jean de Brunhoff?

French author/artist Jean de Brunhoff (1899 - 1937) created seven books featuring the famous character he created, Babar. Crediting Jean de Brunhoff as"the father of the modern picture-book", Maurice Sendak wrote "Babar is at the very heart of my conception of what turns a picture book into a work of art. ...My favorite among Jean's books, The Travels of Babar, is full of alarming and very amusing twists of fate... dazzling, dramatic." The author of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne, introduced Babar to the English-speaking world, writing:"I salute M. de Brunhoff. I am at his feet." 

 

    What is the difference between Raphael Mostel's Babar and Francis Poulenc's Babar?

Raphael Mostel’s Travels of Babar is a completely new, independent work. In 1940, French Poulenc set Jean de Brunhoff's first book, L'histoire de Babar — which is about the childhood and adolescence of Babar, culminating with his coronation and marriage to Celeste. In contrast, Mostel's Babar uses and modernizes Jean de Brunhoff's second book — generally considered the masterpiece of the series — and also tells the subsequent story, when King Babar and Queen Celeste go off in a balloon on their honeymoon. When the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal gave the world premiere of the new version for full orchestra of Mostel's work, they took advantage of the continuity by performing both Poulenc's and Mostel's Babars on the same program. But Mostel’s work is self-contained and mostly performed independently

There are companies that merchandise Babar-related items. Have these companies helped to underwrite the presentations of Mostel’s Travels of Babar?

No. Although most presenters expect support from Babar merchandisers, so far these merchandisers, Corus Entertainment, Nelvana and The Clifford Ross Company, have only expected tribute, rather than providing support or resources for performances. Raphael Mostel’s Babar was created independently. He has also acquired all necessary rights independently too, for which he grateful acknowledges the help of Laurent de Brunhoff, the eldest son of Jean de Brunhoff

    Is Mostel's Babar related to the films and television shows with Babar characters?

No. Raphael Mostel's Travels of Babar is an independent creation based on the Jean de Brunhoff book of the same name. The existing animated films and television series are the products of Corus Entertainment, Nelvana and The Clifford Ross Company. Mostel has gained control of all rights and permissions required for presentation and promotion of his Travels of Babar world-wide and in any language. These rights include possibilities too for future recordings, as well as filming and broadcast of the full production. So — as broadcasters say — stay tuned!

FAQ continues below

Poster for Source Music, Inc. presentation of first U.S. performance of the full new production in the original 8-musician scoring, November 2 & 3, 2018. Image credit: Jean de Brunhoff original watercolor from the Collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, used with permission.

Poster for Source Music, Inc. presentation of first U.S. performance of the full new production in the original 8-musician scoring, November 2 & 3, 2018. Image credit: Jean de Brunhoff original watercolor from the Collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, used with permission.

    How did this project start?

Mr. S.T. Semba commissioned the music originally to accompany a Japanese CD release of a reading of text. Source Music, Inc. produced the recording for the Japanese CD release with the composer conducting. The original commission did not include performance and promotional rights. Separately and subsequently, the composer acquired these rights and permissions for his work, world-wide and in any language. The first performance of Mostel's Babar was mounted by Source Music, Inc. in a workshop for invited audience at Long Island University prior to the recording for the Japanese CD release. It was conducted by the composer and narrated by Jean de Brunhoff's eldest son, Laurent de Brunhoff, who himself is the author/artist of almost 50 subsequent books featuring his father's Babar character. Laurent de Brunhoff subsequently narrated the first public performance in the French of his father’s original text in the full production of Raphael Mostel’s complete Le Voyage de Babar produced by Source Music, Inc. at Florence Gould Hall of the French Institute Alliance Française in NYC.

 

   Does Mostel's Travels of Babar use the Random House book edition of The Travels of Babar?

No. Although the English-language Random House (U.S.) and Methuen (U.K.) book editions also derive from the same source — Jean de Brunhoff’s Le voyage de Babar originally published in France — there are differences. Mostel’s Travels of Babar modernizes this classic picture-book. The French of author/artist Jean de Brunhoff is of course used when performances are narrated in French. New updated translations are used in all other languages. The new translation in English was created especially for Raphael Mostel's work by noted author Phyllis Rose, who also happens to be the wife of Laurent de Brunhoff. The new Spanish translation for Mostel’s El viaje de Babar is by Marjorie Agosìn. The new German translation for Mostel’s Babar auf Reisen is by Tine Kindermann. More languages coming!

   For reviews, photos, and other info about the Berliner Philharmoniker's World Premiere of the new production please click here

   For more about Source Music, Inc. please click here