SATIE: Parade / Gymnopedies / Mercure / Relache (Jerome Kaltenbach/ Nancy Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554279)
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Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Parade; Gymnopedies;Mercure; Rel?óche
The French composer Erik Satie earned himself a contemporary reputationas an eccentric. Stravinsky later described him as the oddest person he hadever known and at the same time the most rare and constantly witty. His musicalinnovations proved immensely influential on his nearer contemporaries Debussyand Ravel, and on a younger generation of composers and artists in the yearsafter the war of 1914.
Satie was born in 1866 at Honfleur, on the coast of Normandy. His fatherwas at the time a shipping broker, while his mother was of Scottish origin.
Something of his later eccentricity seems to have been derived from hispaternal uncle, Adrien Satie, known in Honfleur as a character. The family movedto Paris but on the death of Satie's mother in 1872 he was sent back toHonfleur to the house of his grandparents. Six years later he returned toParis, where, in 1879, he entered the Conservatoire. There he proved anunsatisfactory pupil, lingering on, as a friend alleged, to avoid theobligatory five years of military service, reduced for students to one year,which, in his case, was reduced still further by illness deliberately courted.
After his discharge from the infantry, Satie had his first piecespublished by his father, who now had a small publishing business andstationer's shop. In the early 1890s he came under the influence of JosephinPeladan, self-styled S?ór Merodack of the Rose+Croix, breaking with him by 1892.
Eclectic medieval preoccupation led him to establish his own mock religion, theMetropolitan Church of the Art of Jesus the Conductor. Of this he fancifullydescribed himself as Parcier et Ma?«tre de Chapelle, the first titlesheer invention, and now published Le cartulaire, a vehicle in which hemight pontifically inveigh against those of whom he disapproved. At the sametime, paradoxically, he was involved with the bohemian cabaret of Rudolf Salisat the Chat Noir. The same years brought contact with Debussy, with whom heremained on good terms, in spite of the latter's tendency to patronise him.
In 1905, after a period earning his living as a cafe pianist, Satieenrolled at the Schola Cantorum, where his teachers included Vincent d'Indy andRoussel. Here for three years he tried to remedy his perceived technicaldefects as a composer, particularly by the study of counterpoint. It wasthrough Ravel's performance in 1911 of the Sarabandes of 1887 that theoriginal nature of Satie's genius began to be acknowledged. Still furtherpublic recognition came through his association with Jean Cocteau and hiscollaboration with Dyagilev and others. In the years after the war, thanks toCocteau, he became the centre of attention of a group of young composers, LesSix, originally known as Les nouveaux jeunes and then, in 1923, onthe prompting of Darius Milhaud, of a group that took the name l'Ecoled'Arcueil, called after the relatively remote district of Paris where Satiechose to live in stark simplicity. Here his room was barely furnished, with achair, a table and a hammock, the last heated in winter by bottles filled withhot water placed below and looking, according to Stravinsky, like some strangekind of marimba. Satie died on 1st July, 1925, after an illness of some sixmonths.
Parade was the inspiration of Cocteau. It is described as a Ballet realisteen un tableau (A Realist Ballet in One Scene). The curtain, costumes anddecor were by Picasso and the choreography by Leonid Massin and it was firstperformed at the The?ótre du Ch?ótelet on 18th May 1917 by Dyagilev's Balletsrusses, with Lydia Lopokova, Massin, Leon Woizikovsky and Nicholas Zvereff.
Cocteau's idea was to offer a stage-work that represented the principles ofCubism, and in this he succeeded. The scene is outside a fairground booth,where barkers and performers try to attract an audience. The work opens with a Choral,followed by a fugal exposition, Prelude du Rideau Rouge ('RedCurtain Prelude') and the entrance of the first Manager. The Chinese conjurordoes tricks with an egg and eats fire, with imminent danger to all around assparks scatter and have to be stamped out, the whole achieved by the use ofunusual percussive effects from flaques sonores (water noises) andlottery-wheels. The Petite fille Americaine ('The Little AmericanGirl'), which is derived from the films, imitates Charlie Chaplin, isaccompanied in a silent film episode by the sound of typewriter, shoots athief, dances to the Ragtime du paquebot, is wrecked on the Titanic andenjoys a spring morning. The Acrobats are introduced, sad clowns, as itwere, of Picasso's blue period, accompanied first by the xylophone and then bywhat the score describes as a bottle-phone. The harsh sound of a siren is heardwith the return of reminiscences of what has passed, and the show comes to anend, merely a Parade, a poor representation of the real thing, nowclosed by a short reference to the Red Curtain Prelude.
The three seminal Gymnopedies of 1888, their title suggested bythe ritual games of naked boys in ancient Greece, perhaps in a contemporaryfresco or from a reading of Flaubert's Salammb??, were later orchestratedby Debussy and Roland-Manuel and have been variously used in the theatre forballets. Here they are followed by music for the ballet Mercure, describedas Poses plastiques en trais tableaux, a collaboration with Picasso andMassin mounted at La Cigale in Paris in June 1924. The choice of subject, orrather title, was aimed at Cocteau, whose fascination with the mythologicalfigure had led him, among other things, to assume the necessary costume at amasked ball. The venture was sponsored by the Count de Beaumont, to whose wifethe score is dedicated, but now Satie and Picasso could work together withoutthe intervention of Cocteau. The ballet is intended to represent variousaspects of Mercury, as god of fertility, messenger of the gods, a cunningthief, a magician and agent of the Underworld. It was Picasso's share of thework that drew most attention, vocally from his many supporters.
The twelve scenes are preceded by a March-Overture. Night setsthe love-scene of Apollo and Venus and the lovers are surrounded by the Signsof the Zodiac. Mercury is jealous and intervenes, severing Apollo's thread oflife, but immediately bringing him to life again. In the second scene there isa waltz for the Three Graces and Mercury. The Graces bathe and Mercury stealstheir pearls and makes his escape, pursued by the angry three-headed dog thatguards the Underworld, Cerberus. The third scene brings a festival of Bacchus. Mercuryinvents new dances and discovers letters. Among the guests is Proserpine, whois carried off by Pluto, God of the Underworld, with the help of Chaos, inmusic-hall style. In music of apparent na?»vete, a disappointment to many, Satieoffers a score with popular elements, avoiding obvious illustration, althoughthe music, of course, fits the action, with Chaos offering a combination of thePolka des lettres and the Nouvelle danse that had preceded it.
Poulenc was among those who criticized the music, as his friend Auric did Rel?óche,having already offended Satie by jokingly sending him a baby's rattle witha beard that seemed to resemble him, a hint at the childishness of his recentmusic.
Rel?óche ('Theatre Closure'), a ballet instantaneiste en deux actes; unentracte cinematographique, et la queue de chien, was a collaboration withFrancis Picabia, who contributed the libretto and de