Blaise Cendrars ‘Le Transsibérien’

Le Transsibérien LP front cover
Le Transsibérien LP back cover
Le Transsibérien side A

This disc is a rendition of two Blaise Cendrars poems, read by French actor Vicky Messica, and complete with music accompaniment and choir. The 1st one, La Prose du Transsibérien, or The Prose of the Transiberian Railroad, was written by Swiss-born poet Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) in 1913. It is an unpunctuated poem narrating a railroad trip from Paris to Siberia by a poet and a young whore named Jehanne. The poem is quite radical in its inexhaustible, all-embracing flow, mixing economics and business, politics and geography, the 1905 Russian revolution and the Russo-Japanese war, homesickness and nostalgia. The edition itself, the first French abstract illustrated book, is considered the greatest 20th century artist book in France. The edition was a meager 60 or 70 hand-painted copies, with stencils and design by Sonia Delaunay (née Terk, Ukraine, 1885-1979), self-published by Cendrars’ own Editions des Hommes Nouveaux in 1913, an imprint he created with Emil Szittya (see Wiki). In 2009, a copy changed hands at Christie’s Paris for $145,000. A complete French version of the poem can be found here, and an English version is here. Here’s how US art critic Johanna Drucker describes the book:

Comprised of four sheets glued in a four-square grid, [The Prose of the Transiberian] is most often shown hung as a wall piece to its full height of over six feet. Around, under and through the vividly colored passages of type are large, bright, dramatic watercolor decorations, created by pochoir method (painting through a stencil) to provide some unity to the edition. The sheer length of the work mimics the long stretch of the Transsiberian railroad referred to in the title. No private reading experience had ever assumed such dimensions, and the explosion of the book into a piece of this size is a dramatic conceptual as well as formal achievement.
Johanna Drucker The Century of Artists’ Books, Granary Books, NYC, USA, 1995

Vicky Messica‘s reading style is comparable to Jacques Doyen’s own poetry readings (see here), that is, dramatized renditions of poems used purely as librettos, yet the music accompaniment on this LP is arguably what makes it stand out. Composed by Jean-Pierre Limborg, it perfectly suits the hallucinatory atmosphere of the Transsibérien and the mythological grandeur of Les Pâques à New York. On the former, Limborg raises glacial, intangible sonorities from an Oberheim synthesizer. On Les Pâques, he plays both synth and piano, along a bass and drums section, for what sounds at times like a progressive rock epic improvisation à la Heldon or Pôle Records. On both tracks, the female vocals add the final touch to the surreal, louche evocations of the poems.

01 Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jeanne de France (23:40)
02 Les Pâques à New York (19:35)

Vicky Messica: voice
Jean-Pierre Limborg: Oberheim, piano
Gérard Bourdieu: drums (#2)
Jean Tachet des Combes: bass guitar (#2)
Katia Bielli, Valérie Barki, Florence Antraygues: vocals

Total time 43:15
Privately released LP, France, early 1980s


Hand-painted, parchment cover
The Prose cover
Partial view of the poem
Sonia Delaunay
Above: Sonia Delaunay with her copy
of the Prose du Transsibérien, Paris, 1950s.

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5 Responses to “Blaise Cendrars ‘Le Transsibérien’”

  1. 1 Jean Dezert July 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Wonderful ! Thank you very much ! I really like your precise explanations…

  2. 2 continuo July 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Thanks for the compliment, Jean.

  3. 4 continuo January 29, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    You’re welcome.

  4. 5 Yannis Livadas December 23, 2012 at 12:13 am

    problematic to download it here in France / any other option?

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