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Erik Satie opens musical doors

Erik Satie opens musical doors

Article by Roxanne Classen and Photo image by Julia Jones

The fin-de-siècle Cabaret brought together painters, poets, actors and musicians who shared in a banquet of humor and satire through poetry, shadow puppetry and popular song. It was in this environment that the young musician Erik Satie arrived, working initially as a cabaret pianist for Le Chat Noir and then other cabaret establishments in the Montmartre district of Paris. His experiences there in collaboration with journalists, song writers and shadow theatre artists helped to shape his musical voice. Many elements of the popular cabaret are evident in Satie’s expression from its simplistic veneer with dance hall rhythms, tuneful melodies and quotations from popular song to parodies of serious art music and absurd musical instructions embedded in his scores. Satie appears simplistic yet proves to be provocative.

Satie was an eccentric perched on the fence between low and high art and was one of the earliest artists that legitimized the musical vernacular of Dance Halls and Taverns to elite listeners in the Concert Hall. His friendship and influence with French composers of serious art music included Debussy, Ravel and the group of composers known as Les Six. The liaison between Satie and these other composers of high art became a creative conduit that merged two culturally divergent worlds. Years later, in the 2nd half of the 20th century, Satie was again discovered, championed by the Father of Chance Music, John Cage and others such as Ambient Music composer Brian Eno. In today’s world the barriers between serious art and popular culture have eroded and one wonders if Satie was the first chink in the wall.

The performers and patrons who frequented the Montmartre Cabarets thrived in an artistically exciting time at the turn of the century. They embraced Satie and contributed to the development of his early musical identity. Their creative output is echoed in later works of film, absurd theatre and popular song.  Like these early patrons of the Cabaret, we are diverse artists coming together through the Chat Blanc Project to learn about Satie and about ourselves.

 

 

Théâtres d’ombres: Geneviève de Brabant

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project

During the 19th century, the medieval legend Geneviève de Brabant was a popular narrative that was retold in dramatic poems and works of theatre. Robert Schumann’s only opera, Genoveva (1848), was based on this legend. In 1859, Jacques Offenbach premiered his version in the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, a theatre he founded a few years earlier for the performance of operetta. By 1891, theatre historian Andre Cadourne reported eight different stage works based on Geneviève de Brabant in Paris alone.[1] The story tells of a young duchess who is falsely accused and exiled to the forest. She is imprisoned in a cave and awaits her execution, comforted only by a doe who befriends her. Satie’s musical version, composed for shadow theatre in 1900, is a spoof on the legend, operatic convention, and shadow theatre itself.

The work was never performed in Satie’s lifetime and Satie claimed to have lost the music while travelling on the omnibus. The score was discovered buried under a piano twenty-five years later when, after Satie’s death, his young student and ardent admirer Darius Milhaud was cleaning out Satie’s Arcueil apartment.[2] No one was ever known to have entered Satie’s home while he was alive. Judging by the abysmal state of his living quarters at the time of his death, it is understandable that he lost the score there and not on the bus. The original libretto was lost for an even longer time than the musical score. It was written by poet Contamine de Latour, Satie’s bohemian friend, who went by the alias Lord Cheminot. The knowledge of an existing text came about more recently through  detective work by Satie scholar Ornella Volta. She discovered Lord Cheminot’s original libretto amoung personal papers belonging to Count Etienne de Beaumont. In 1926, Beaumont had organized an Erik Satie festival to raise funds for the late composer’s gravestone. A variety of  Satie’s works were presented, including the premiere of Geneviève de Brabant. To prevent the program from becoming too long, they performed the music without Lord Cheminot’s libretto. In subsequent performances, Satie’s Genevieve de Brabant became associated with a completely different text, an anonymous lament known as the Cantique de Sainte Geneviève.[3]

Chat Noir Interior (1889) Drawing by Caran d'Ache

During the fin de siècle, shadow theatre became a main attraction at the Montmartre cabaret. It was originally introduced in the late 1880’s at the Chat Noir by painter Henri Rivière. In a short time, shadow theatre evolved from a simplistic production to a highly sophisticated operation with special effects and “multi tracking systems in the wings.”[4] Epic stories were presented as shadow theatre to audiences in the crowded cabaret, a precursor to the early cinema. The Chansonniers, who once owned the stage in the early cabaret, were relegated to introducing the plays and singing short numbers during the entr’actes. The Satie/Lord Cheminot shadow play is the antithesis of this extravagance. True to Satie’s style, the music is simplistic, brief and direct. Cheminot’s characters are distillations of romantic archetypes that get to the point in a comic and crude way. The operatic convention of the “chorus” is reduced to a “compact crowd” (three puppets) that sings a Can Can melody similar to the music hall number first made famous in Offenbach’s operetta Orphée aux Enfers.

Geneviève's Doe by Eva Colmers, Chat Blanc 2012

Chat Blanc is presenting an adaptation of the Satie/Lord Cheminot score since its sparceness leaves much room for interpretation. We have added our own English translations of the narration and will present all the musical numbers with the original French text. Two of Satie’s art songs have been added to our production to provide useful commentary on dramatic events. Both Elegy and Les anges (1886), with words also written by Lord Cheminot, have soulful musical settings reminiscent of Satie’s early mystical style. The prayer-like melodies in these songs appropriately reveal Geneviève’s innocence. In keeping with the Cabaret spirit, we will also incude some of Satie’s cabaret songs in the entr’actes. One can never really know what Satie truly intended for Geneviève de Brabant. Her mysterious redemption, however, has provided this company much fun and fascination.

 

1. As noted in Le Figaro, 2 Sept. 1891 in Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 252

2. Darius Milhaud, The Death of Erik Satie, trans. Donald Evans in Notes without Music (London, 1967), p. 151 quoted in Davis, Erik Satie, p. 68

3. Ornella Volta. Preface, Genevieve de Brabant, (Austria: Univeral Editions, 1989)

4. Bernard Gendron, Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club, (University of Chicago, 2002), p. 57

Caitlin Richards imagines Erik Satie

For Shadows and Light on Erik Satie, 2012

For the Chat Blanc Project, Caitlin Richards has created 20 illustrations that correspond with each of the movements in Satie’s Sports et divertissements. These images will be presented together with Satie’s music and text at Chat Blanc: Shadows and Light on Erik Satie, May 25-27, at the Campus Saint Jean Auditorium. In the following article Caitlin provides some context for interpreting these images and describes her creative process.


Portrait of Erik Satie by Caitlin Richards, 2012

 

Each image begins with an intuitive line. Portrait of Erik Satie originates from an ink spill and the line running from it becomes a horizon, abruptly cutting him into two. I try to unify his two halves with a sweep of yellow chalk, the light now peeking through the covered up windows of his room where he lived, worked, and reported to have taken in stray dogs, while keeping most humans out. His head now resembles that of a shadow of a cat. Bowler hat takes position onto his head and his fingers dangle above the keys of a piano.

 

 

The line that initiates each drawing for Sports & Divertissements carries a weight and flow that is guided by the pieces. As I work into the drawings with a variety of mark making tools, I pick out cues from Satie’s accompanying narratives, asides that bring about a fantastical, imaginative world where animals, fashion models, and pedestrians take in sports and leisurely activities throughout a cityscape undergoing social and physical transformations and revisions. The roles of women from Satie’s time increasingly move from the domestic sphere into public life and I am conscious of the shifting representations of women as these illustrations carefully consider images of women in art history, literature, and advertising leading up to this period.

The Hunt from Sports et divertissements by Caitlin Richards, 2012

I reference pin up photos and art that appears on posters, in magazines, and ads from this period and onward throughout the 20th Century while working on the figures. These women become a sort of tour guide, resurfacing throughout each image and adapting into new forms according to their setting. Anthropomorphic characters emerge in flattened out, ambiguous landscapes and architecture, mingling with the leisure class. His narratives infuse animals and objects with human traits that light up the narrative as a sort of fairy tale filled non-sense, inviting a playful and free approach to recreating the illustrations.  I use patterning and collage as devises to push and pull between abstractions and descriptive detail, leaving an open playing field for viewers and performers alike to navigate through each scene, layering in their own imagery and stories as they take in the music.

Horse Races from Sports et divertissements by Caitlin Richards, 2012

A new setting of Satie’s Sports et Divertissements

A new setting of Satie’s Sports et Divertissements

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project: Shadows and Light on Erik Satie, 2012
Illustrations by Caitlin Richards

 

Erik Satie’s Sports and Divertissements is a collection of twenty short piano pieces that depicts the popular past times of Parisian society prior to World War I. The work, commissioned by fashion magazine publisher Lucien Vogel, was published along with drawings by the popular fashion illustrator, Charles Martin. It was completed in 1914, but with the onset of WWI the publication was postponed. Reflecting changes in society and fashion following the War, a second set of illustrations was created and became the published version. You can find the score and complementary images from 1922 in the 1980 Dover edition. For our project, we are creating a new setting for Sports and Divertissements that includes 21st century images within the multi-dimensional setting that theatre can provide.

Horse Races by Caitlin Richards, 2012

 

Satie included a preface to Sports and Divertissements in which he advises one to have a light-hearted approach when reading:

This publication consists of two artistic elements: drawing. music. The drawing part is composed of lines; the musical part is represented by dots-black dots. These two parts combined-in a single volume-form a whole: an album. My advice is to leaf through this book with a kindly and smiling finger, for it is a work of imagination. Don’t look for anything else in it. [1]

Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement comes to mind here: The medium is the message. The content may be viewed as frivolous, reflecting upper-class Parisian distractions prior to the War, yet its value as a work of imagination should not be under estimated. Satie’s concise and imaginative music and prose together with Martin’s evocative illustrations present a highly crafted and thoughtful suite.

Interpreting Satie’s Prose

Satie set his words for each of the movements within the staves in his carefully scribed notation. The text is not printed consistently within the musical staves and is often placed above or below the the grand staff.  This strategic placement of text provides a complement to the musical changes in gesture and mood. Some of the text presents dialogue between characters but, for the most part, the words serve as a narrative. Often the narration seems sarcastic and helps one interpret Satie’s intended musical expression. For example, in “Le Tango, Perpétuel,” Satie features this passionate dance that was all the rage in Paris prior to WWI. His music, however, is deliberately understated and monotonous. Satie explains: “The Tango is the devil’s dance, he uses it to cool off.” [2] Here the sarcastic text and monotonous music agree and Satie’s addition of the word “Perpétuel”(never ending) to the title reveals how he felt about this popular trend.

Non-Stop Tango by Caitlin Richards, 2012

 

Chat Blanc: Presenting the Music with Text and Illustration

It is debatable whether of not Satie’s text was meant to be read out loud. As a performed work, the role of the piano neither accompanies or underscores the words. Each movement can be viewed as a soloistic work for the pianist that demands dynamically expressive contrasts and leaves little room for the text to be audible. This presents a challenge when performing the music with spoken word. From a musical perspective, the text provides effective counterpoint when it is presented with attention to careful placement and expression within the texture.

Martin’s Illustrations

The relationship between Martin’s images and Satie’s music is discussed in Mary Davis’ article, “Modernity a la Mode: Popular Culture and Avant-Gardism in Erik Satie’s Sports et divertissements.” Davis explains that Martin’s published imagery and Satie’s text and music have a different relationship than the original drawings about which the music was composed:

The parallel evolutions of fashion and illustration in the early century explicitly shaped Charles Martin’s conception in Sports et divertissements. . . [Martin’s] two versions of the drawings for Sports et divertissements, as might be expected, reflect technical and stylistic developments in fashion illustration that occurred between the eve of the war and the 1920s: while the original illustrations are whimsically realistic line drawings, the revisions follow postwar trends in their abstract, geometric style and their more elaborate presentation as pochoir prints.[3]

Charles Martin, Le Water-Chute, 1914

 

 

 

Charles Martin, Le Pique-Nique, 1922

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The existance of two different sets of illustrations for Sports and Divertissments that reflect two different epochs establishes a premise that the interpretation of this work is not limited to one time and place. The Chat Blanc Project is presenting a third interpretation of Sports and Divertissements that is nostalgic yet contemporary. Satie’s music and words will be performed together with new illustrations created by Caitlin Richards to provide an entertaining diversion that embraces both the past and present.

NOTES

  1. Erik Satie, Twenty Short Pieces for Piano (Sports Et Divertissements) illustrations by Charles Martin. New York: Dover Publications, 1980.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Davis, Mary E. “Modernity a la Mode: Popular Culture and Avant-Gardism in Erik Satie’s “Sports et divertissements” Musical Quarterly, 83.3 (1999): 445

The Intersection between Eugène Atget and Erik Satie

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project

In my previous blog I discussed the idea of Satie as a Flaneur who roams through the streets of Paris soaking up the essence of time and place. These 19th-century Parisian observers had an important role in reporting l’esprit du temps through journalism, story telling, poetry, and as in Satie’s case, through music.

Another such character was Eugène Atget (1856-1927), a contemporary of Erik Satie, who spent much of his time acutely observing the streets of Paris and recording his observations for posterity. He had studied drama and worked unsuccessfully as an actor before turning his energies toward photography. This relatively new medium had its beginnings in the mid-19th century, but the art of photographic documentation did not truly arrive until 1898 when Atget traded the stage for a camera and began his practice of archiving Paris. He marketed his photographs as “documents for artists” with the intension that his images be used to assist painters and sculptors in the creation of their own works. His photographs, primarily of architecture and empty streets, became a record of the old Paris that managed to survive Haussmann’s massive renovations during the reign of Napoléon III.

Passage Vandrezanne, Butte-aux-Cailles 1900

1898 was also the year that Erik Satie found himself in financial trouble and was forced to move from his lodgings in Montmartre to his new home in the industrial suburb of Arcueil-Cachan. Satie still made a meager living as a cabaret pianist in Montmartre, 10 kilometers from Arcueil.  So began his daily commute to and from Paris. He was known to stop at various cafés along the way where he would sit and enjoy an aperitif or sketch a musical thought in a notebook he carried in his coat pocket.[1] Satie, like Atget, recorded the world as he interpreted it, but translated through sound.

On Route

For our Chat Blanc Project, Atget’s photographs serve as a window into the world of Erik Satie. They reveal a physical environment that was shared between the two and provide the scenery for our imagining of Satie’s daily commute.


Un Coin rue de Seine, 1924

Un Coin rue de Seine, 1924

Atget typically photographed Paris in the early morning or at dawn while people were nestled in their homes, leaving the streets vacant. In these images he captured silence in dimly lit streets and alleys—the emptiness is serene. During these same hours, Satie would walk to the city and later return at the end of a long day. Satie, bombarded by the frenetic energy of Montmartre’s nightclubs, may have appreciated the long walks home in solitude. Not all segments of Satie’s route were pleasant or safe, however, and he was known to carry a hammer in his coat pocket in case he entered into any altercations. In Atget’s images, the narrow and dimly lit streets also convey a sense of danger as they entice the eye to the horizon line, yet leave one uncertain of what lies beyond.

 

Magasin, avenue des Gobelins, 1925

Atget presented a Paris in transition. The decay of an ancient regime hangs desperately to the weathered textures on doors and facades and the new trend of consumerism is reflected through confused patterns in the glass of shop windows. Atget’s photos are for the most part nostalgic and present a fragile 19th-century Paris in the face of an encroaching modern world. It was within this time and place that Satie was seeking his position in society while finding solace through meditative walks in the same streets depicted in Atget’s photographs.

 

atget_organ_grinder

Organ Grinder, 1898-1899

There are a small number of Atget’s images that feature people in their daily activities. These are the working class merchants, trades people and those less fortunate such as the ragpickers or prostitutes, who apply their trades directly on the streets. Satie was familiar with these people and the places they inhabited since he spent much time among them. Between the years 1908 and 1910 Satie became highly involved in the civic activities in his own working class community in Arcueil. He attended socialist party meetings, presented concerts, gave weekly music lessons to children, wrote reviews in the left-leaning newspaper L’Avenir d’ Arcueil-Cachan and helped to establish many civic organizations.[2]

 

Common Ground

 

There are significant connections between Atget and Satie. At first considered as naïve and lesser artists, history later views them both as significant innovators of the modernist era. Moreover, they had at least one important mutual acquaintance. The surrealist photographer Man Ray claimed to be the first to discover Atget when they were neighbors in Montparnasse. He owned a collection of Atget’s photos and managed to get a number of them published in the surrealist review, La Revolution Surrealite. Interestingly, he did not give credit to Atget and, years later, explained that Atget asked him not to name the works because he viewed them as “simply documents.”[3] Describing Atget’s technique, Man Ray said, “I think he was an artist, not a perfectionist,” and some twenty years later he described Atget as a “simple man” and “almost naïve.”[4] Similar claims of naivety have also been made with regard to Satie’s skill as a composer. At the end of the 19th-century, the emotionally and harmonically complex style of Wagner was the preferred musical taste throughout Europe. Satie’s music was brief and simplistic in comparison and suggested to many that Satie was lacking proper musical training. Years later at the age of thirty-nine, Satie would return to school to study composition at the newly founded Schola Cantorum. This decision reveals a certain amount of humility on Satie’s part since he had been working as a composer for nearly twenty years. Eventually Satie did achieve notoriety through his associations with the artistic elite in Paris. In particular, his collaboration with Jean Cocteau and the Ballet Russes lead to the famous succès de scandale of the ballet Parade in 1917. Man Ray’s friendship with Satie began later in 1921 when Satie introduced himself at an art exhibition at the Galerie Six. The two soon sojourned to a café and later that same day, Man Ray created his first Dadaist object, “The Gift.” Thus began a close friendship between Man Ray and Satie that remained until Satie’s death in 1925.

Café, avenue de la grande-Armée, 1924-1925

In 1925, Berenice Abbott, a young American artist studying in Paris, was working as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio when she first discovered Atget’s photos. She was so taken with his images that she made the decision to preserve and promote his work, a commitment that lasted her entire lifetime. She met Atget only a few times and Atget, who was in poor health, passed away within two years after her first encounter with his work.

Eugene Atget and Erik Satie never truly enjoyed financial reward for their efforts and lived most of their lives in modest conditions. Nonetheless, like many great artists, their contributions had a profound impact on future generations of artists. Today Atget is regarded as the father of modern photography[5] and Satie is viewed as one of the first great avant-garde composers of the early 20th century.


 


 

 


1. Mary Davis. Erik Satie. (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) p.79-80
2. Mary Davis. Erik Satie. (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) p. 63
3. John Szarkowski. Atget. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2000) p. 107    In contrast, Atget did not view himself as an artist. He catered to artists by providing them with images for study and referred to himself as an archivist.
4. Ibid
5. Magali Jauffret. “Atget, The Father of Modern Photography” L’Humanité in English. Helen Robertshaw, trans. 15 mar. 2012  <http://www.humaniteinenglish.com/article545.html>

Satie as Flâneur and Trois morceaux en forme de poire

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project: Shadows and Light on Erik Satie, 2012

Trois morceaux en forme de poire (Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear) is a suite for piano four hands that revisits the popular entertainment scene in Montmartre at the turn of the century. Composer Erik Satie recycled cabaret songs, dances and incidental music for theatre, works that he had created between the years 1890 to 1903. It contains not three, but seven short pieces in which Satie blended the musical flavors of  the Parisian Cafés, Cabarets and Music Halls with his uniquely mysterious and whimsical expression. It would become the first of many works in which Satie fused together serious French art music with the sounds of everyday Paris.[1]

Thirteen years later on April 18, 1916, Trois Morceaux was performed at Festival Erik Satie-Maurice Ravel, sponsored by the Société Lyre et Palette. On hearing the work Jean Cocteau was inspired to meet and later collaborate with Satie. The visionary ideas introduced in Trois Morceaux lead to the creation and Succes de Scandale of Diaghilev’s Ballet Parade.[2] Today Trois Morceaux en forme de poire represents a memory of Paris during a very unique time in history known as La Belle Epoche when the young and impoverished Satie was living the life of the bohemian flâneur.

Paris, Le Moulin Rouge, 1900

The word flâneur was derived from the french verb flâner, which means to stroll. By the nineteenth century the flâneur became more than an idle loafer. He was a connoisseur of urban culture who consciously maintained his public identity. As an “amiable storyteller,”[3] he freely shared his expertise on urban society through engaging conversation and was easily identified by his flamboyant attire at the arcades, cafés, and music halls. Eventually the flâneur expanded his audience by becoming a man of letters. His dress became less theatrical as he “cultivated deliberately understated clothing that avoided all signs of artistic extravagance and singularity.”[4] The flâneur was epitomized by famous writers the likes of Balzac and Baudelaire and depicted in numerous illustrations wearing the Dandy’s uniform that consisted of a black frock coat, top hat and walking cane.

 

It was his literary and artistic skill that allowed the flâneur to render the urban scene transparent for contemporary observers . . . The  flâneur of the 1840’s were novelists and journalists who occupied a symbolic and mediated public space made available to them by the commercial press and mass media. Behind the impeccably groomed and anonymous public facade of the flâneur, there lay concealed the private face of the professional man of letters. [5]

 

Satie embodied many characteristics of the nineteenth-century flâneur and it was the very act of being a flâneur that allowed him to gather the spirit of the time and cultivate a truly unique expression. He had a strongly established walking ritual and one may assume from the condition of his various modest living quarters, that he spent little time at home. As well, Satie was a man on the street who distinguishing himself from others through consistent dress codes and presented himself to Parisian society through open letters in the press.[6]

“Satie plays the harmonium” Charcoal drawing by Santiago Russinol,1891

 

Seen about town: From Bohemian to Bureaucrat

 

 

Satie consciously manufactured a public identity through his appearance, which went through a series of transformations during his lifetime. In the 1880‘s the young Satie first established himself as the composer of the three Gymnopedie and had become a piano player for the popular Cabarets in the district of Montmartre. He dressed the part of the dandy with long hair, top coat, frock coat and windsor tie. [7]

 

In 1895, thanks to a small inheritance, Satie traded in this garb for seven identical velvet suites and thus became famously known as the Velvet Gentleman. His Bohemian lifestyle, however, was leading him towards financial demise and he was eventually evicted from his last Montmartre apartment in 1898. He moved to the inexpensive and less desirable industrial suburb of Paris know as Arcueil-Cachan. Satie continued to work as a pianist and composer for the Cabaret and Café-Concert and walked every day on a two hour route from Arcueil to Montmartre, stopping at the various cafés along the way. In 1905 Satie enrolled as a student at the Schola Cantorum to further develop his compositional skills. At this juncture Satie again rebranded himself through his costume.

 

Not surprisingly, Satie’s dedication of purpose was reflected in a new look; he abandoned the Velvet Gentleman get–up that signaled his association with bohemians and entertainers and adopted the costume of a bourgeois functionary– a conservative three-piece suit, white shirt and tie, bowler hat and, always, an umbrella. [8]

 

Satie maintained his bourgeois functionary look, the Arcueil apartment and his walking ritual for the rest of his life. No one ever entered Satie’s cramped Arcueil apartment until after his death in 1925. In contrast to his carefully crafted public persona, this private space was extremely unkempt.

Satie as Bourgeois Functionary, Rene Clair, Relache 1924

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man of letters

 

 

Although Satie was most famous as a composer, he was also a prolific writer. He produced magazine articles, lectures and many private and public letters throughout his lifetime. His writings were acerbic, obscure and symbolic, or satirical, sarcastic and absurd. Satie’s notorious diatribes against a well known music critic revealed not only his frustration at how his music was received but also his own eccentricity through words that were witty, righteous and ridiculous. After a falling out with the Rosicrucian Sect of which he was the Mâitre de Chapelle, he founded his own church L’Eglise Metropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur. He named himself the parcier and began publishing his own Cartulaires,[9] a type of medieval styled periodical. Through this platform he attacked his most famous nemesis, music critic Henry Gautier-Villars, (also known as Willy).  The following is one of many letters addressed to Gautier-Villars[10]:

 

Erik Satie, Parcier & Maitre de Chapelle
to Monsieur Gauthier-Villars
Against the inflation of his Spirit
and for the protection of magnificent Things
Abbacy, the 2nd of the month of May of 1895

 

Sir, the sacred character of Art renders the function of the critic especially delicate; you degrade this function by the inexcusable disrespect and incompetence which you bring to its exercise. Know, by order of God, that all men of conscience condemn you for seeking to touch things that are above you, in order to tarnish them. The demonic dragon of presumption is blinding you. You have committed blasphemy by your judgement on Wagner, who is for you the Unknown and the Infinite. For my part I can calmly curse him. My dynastic melodies, my athletic art and the asceticism of My life empower Me to do so. With these words, I command you to keep your distance from My person, in sorrow, silence and painful meditation.

Erik Satie

 

 

Trois morceaux en forme de poire: Satie’s musical tour of Montmartre

The literary flâneur presented urban society to the masses through conversation and journalism. What sets Satie the flaneur apart is that he presented his commentary on the Parisian Café-concert, Cabaret, and Music Hall through music.

“From the turn of the century onward, Satie’s preoccupation with popular music was part of a larger project in which he explored ways that the melodies and harmonies of French entertainment music—including music hall tunes, sentimental waltz melodies, operetta airs, and traditional French folk songs—could be integrated with the classicist traditions of French art music. . . Satie strove to illuminate the ways in which the music of “everyday life” was linked to the high-art repertoire and to reveal the ways in which “high” and “low” music could express the quintessentially French ideals for clarity, simplicity and structural balance. [11]

 

 

 

The symmetrical organization of the pieces in Trois morceaux en forme de poire illustrate Satie’s simplicity and order. This organization also suggests a circular journey. The three main Morceaux at the centre of the collection are set within two introductory and two concluding movements. The two most exuberant movements of the entire suite are the second and third Morceau. Although Trois morceaux was not intended as a narrative, musical references and gestures locate the work to a time and place. It is easy to superimpose the Parisian landscape during la fin de siècle onto this musical canvas with Satie as flâneur leading the way.

The movements

1. Manière de Commencement (A Way of Beginning) included incidental music that Satie originally composed for the Rosicrucian play, Le Fils des étoiles.[12] The melody reveals religious origins through its chant-like delivery.  During the early 1890’s when Satie’s had become affiliated with the Rosicrucian sect, he had studied the ancient Greek modes. Exotic sounding scale passages became a signature for Satie’s mystical style and were most likely derived from certain Greek tetrachords that contained the consecutive intervals of a semitone and augmented 2nd. [13] The block chords that accompany the opening line are non metrical and lack clear harmonic direction. Soft dynamics and sustained articulations add a muted colour to this aimless beginning. The mood is suddenly interrupted with bold fortissimo chords that usher in a new attitude. At this point the music sounds conversational with two contrasting melodic ideas in dialogue. The initial group of phrases consist of sets of two repeated notes in a descending sequential pattern. This declamatory statement is followed by short scale passages. The second group of phrases are easily recognized by grace note figures. These phrases are immediately echoed. The contrasting main ideas seem to argue yet share a sense of urgency through a consistent accompaniment pattern that is rhythmically driven. The music now moves along at a brisk walking tempo before ending bluntly.

2. Prolongement du même (More of the Same) recycles Satie’s unfinished Cabaret song “Le Roi soleil de plomb” Quickly articulated block chord punctuate each beat in this lively march. The melody is clearly the focus within a homophonic texture and the melodic articulations add an energetic and direct expression. The flâneur tells an animated story!

3. The First morceau is the only movement that has no connection to past works. It is in a pensive and slow duple meter. It seems to drag along in spite of accented chords that shout out, “Hurry Up!” Imagine Satie walking  up the mountain known as Montmartre on his way to work at one of the famous Cabarets.

4. The Second morceau begins and ends with joie de vivre. It celebrates the popular music of Montmartre. This movement in ABA form is comprised of three self-contained sections. The A section, based on the Café-concert song “Imperial Napoleon,” evokes sounds and images of the Music Hall and Can Can dancers through boisterous dynamics, and the occasional syncopations that are framed within a fast duple meter. Rapid repeated notes begin phrases in anacrusis and push the melodic line forward. In the B section Satie inserted the Cabaret song Le Veuf (The Widow.) It was originally written together with Vincent Hyspa, the Chansonnier who worked most extensively with Satie. This pinnacle section within the movement and at the centre of the entire suite may be a tribute to the Cabaret and the popular Chansonnier. It is sweet and demure as it presents its melodic narrative. We then return to the Dance Hall with the boisterous A section!

5. The Third  morceau, aptly named Brutal, begins with a harsh, industrial attack. Four loud and dissonant chords are thrust in a mechanistic rhythm giving this opening a modern edge. A series of short undeveloped statements weave together a polyphonic texture. Odd ascending scale passages and melodic flourishes give this music an austere and exotic presence. The main body of the morceau presents a variety of themes in juxtaposition. This kaleidoscope of expressions might reflect the diversity Satie observed as he strolled through the Boulevard and watched the collision of old and new, horse drawn carriages and automobiles, the innocent and grotesque, low and high culture.

6. En Plus (What’s more) returns to a more contemplative sound. The plainly stated melody with even rhythm and steady tempo suggest a casual stroll.

7. Redite (Rehash) brings the entire suite  to a close with a melancholy tune. This material was once incidental music from the play “Le Boeuf Angora,”(The Angora Ox). We return to the intimate and mystical style that began the entire journey, now with a little less energy. Satie returns home and is reclusive in his private Arcueil apartment.

The redundant titles that name the exterior movements in the collection poke fun at the idea of naming musical pieces. Trois morceaux en forme de poire is not programmatic music and so titles are irrelevant. This main heading for the entire suite is nonsensical[14] and has often been explained as Satie’s jab at Debussy for “suggesting Satie develop his sense of form.”[15]. Even the Rehash at the end does not restate ideas from the earlier movements.

Reflections of a Flaneur

Satie was exploring a new artistic direction with Trois morceaux en forme de poire. He was at a crossroad in his life and, being a man of letters, he expressed his apprehension in an odd address that accompanied the original manuscript. This recommendations was written on the back on the movement titled En Plus and is an example of Satie’s obscure literary style that confesses, scolds and coaches.

I am at a prestigious turning point in the History of My Life. In this work, I express my appropriate and natural astonishment.

Believe me, despite the predispositions.

Do not play around with the unknown amulets of your ephemeral understanding: sanctify your beloved and verbal phials. God will pardon you if he sees fit from the honourable centre of the united Eternity, where everything becomes known with solemnity and conviction.  The Determined One cannot freeze; the Passionate One obliterates himself; the Irascible One has no reason to exist.

I cannot promise more, even though I have temporarily increased myself tenfold, against all precautions.

Is that not everything?

I tell myself so. [16]

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
1. Mary Davis. Erik Satie. (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) p. 107
2.. Steven Whiting. Satie the Bohemian:From Cabaret to Concert Hall (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 467. also Mary Davis. Classic Chic: Music Fashion and Modernism (UniversityCalifornia Press, 2006) pp. 94-96
3. Mary Gluck. “The Flâneur” Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Cantury Paris (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005) p. 73
4. Mary Gluck. Ibid. p. 66
5. Mary Gluck. Ibid. p. 78
6. Ornella Volta, ed. Satie Seen Through His Letters. (London: Marion Boyars, 1989) p. 11
7. Mary Davis. “Satie’s Decadent Simplicity” Moments of Change (iTunesU: Pennsylvania State University, 2009) http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/moments-of-change/id445882440
8. Mary Davis. Erik Satie.(London:Reaktion Books, 2007) p.76
9. A Cartulary was originally a medieval manuscripts that contained documents pertaining to the legal rights and privileges of the church. Feb. 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartulary>
10. Ornella Volta, ed. Satie Seen Through His Letters. (London: Marion Boyars, 1989) p. 64
11. Mary Davis. Classic Chic: Music Fashion and Modernism (University of California Press, 2006) p. 106
12. “Nearly all the pieces in [Trois morceaux en forme de poire] incorporate references to popular music works that Satie had composed at the fin-de-siècle, including segments of the incidental pieces “Dance”(1890), “Le Fils des etoiles”(1891) and “The Angora Ox”(ca. 1901) as well as the cafe-concert songs “Le Veuf”(1899),”Le Roi soleil de plumb”(ca. 1900) and “Imperial Napoleon”. Mary Davis. Classic Chic: Music Fashion and Modernism p. 106
For more detailed discussion about research on sources for Trois moreceaux en forme de poire see Steven Whiting. Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall (New York: Oxford University Press,1999) pp. 263-26813. Steven Whiting. Satie the Bohemian:From Cabaret to Concert Hall (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) pp. 120-121
14.Three pieces in the shape of a Pear may also carry a derogatory tone.The french word for pear- poire, is slang for fathead or fool. Mary Davis adds  “This argot became widespread during the bourgeois monarchy of Louis-Phillipe in the early 19th century, when caricaturists mocked the King by depicting his face as a pear shape and by 1835 the association was so entrenched that even the simplest rendering of the pear could infer the anti-royalist satire of the king as fool incarnate.” Mary Davis. Erik Satie,(London: Reaktion Books) p 71
15. Mary Davis. ibid p.71
16. 2. Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer, (Cambridge University Press, 1990) p 56

Collaboration – Photographies – Chat Blanc

chambre noire à Patrick Arès-Pilon aux armoiries Ortona - Photo Sophie Arès-Pilon

Article écrit par Patrick Arès-Pilon pour Shadows and Light Blog,


En
octobre et en novembre 2011, Caitlin et moi sommes dédiés à passer deux sessions dans mon minuscule studio crampé / chambre noire aux armoiries Ortona afin de créer des illustrations pour ce projet.   Nous nous sommes donné comme défi à créer des photographies en noir et blanc en traitant du papier photo argentique avec une chimie Ilford.  En étant une adepte de mixed media, Caitlin a créée des négatifs d’une taille de 6 cm x 6 cm sur un acétate transparent en utilisant de l’encre de Chine et des brins de matériaux éphémères.  Par la suite, nous avons inséré le négatif dans un agrandisseur LPL afin de créer une image positive de taille 8” x 10” sur un papier argentique.

Pour rendre hommage aux cabarets de Montmartre à la fin de siècle nous avons créés ces photographies intitulées Le Chat Noir et La femme au Bock :

Les photographies suivantes crées et traitées par Caitlin Siân Richards et Patrick Arès-Pilon ont été conçues en fonction du projet Chat Blanc.  Elles seront affichées clandestinement à travers la ville des Champions en mars 2012 :

Chat Blanc - Photographie crée et traité par Caitlin Siân Richards et Patrick Arès-Pilon

Chat Blanc mai 2012 - Photographie crée et traité par Caitlin Siân Richards et Patrick Arès-Pilon

Erik Satie - Photographie crée et traité par Caitlin Siân Richards et Patrick Arès-Pilon

 

mai 2012 - Photographie crée et traité par Caitlin Siân Richards et Patrick Arès-Pilon

Et bien sûr,

 

En suivant la tradition, le tous fut crée en fumant du tabac à pipe, en consommant de l’absinthe et en grignotant des biscuits à l’érable sous un éclairage exclusivement Rouge.

Cabaret Songs Reconstructed:Petit recueil des fêtes

Cabaret Songs Reconstructed:Petit recueil des fêtes

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project
French translation by Timothy Anderson

 

Vincent Hyspa was a well-known Chansonnier at the Montmartre cabarets. He began  his career at the Chat Noir where he most likely first met Erik Satie. The first known collaboration between the two artists began in December of 1891 with a shadow theatre work called Noël.¹ By 1898, Satie was working as Hyspa’s pianist, arranging Hyspa’s songs and composing music to his lyrics. Together they performed  at various cabaret venues until 1907.²

Chat Noir interior

One of their many collaborations was a collection of songs called Petit recueil des fêtes. These pieces were registered by Vincent Hyspa and Erik Satie in 1904 at the offices of SACEM and the title for this set of songs was also included in a list of Hyspa’s repertoire in the Nov. 15, 1904 illustrated journal for  Les Quat’z-Arts Cabaret. No fair copy³ of the score exists. A reconstruction, however, is available thanks to musicologist Steven Moore Whiting’s research and interpretations based on the musical material found in Satie’s sketches and drafts.4 The authentic musical documents are preserved at the Houghton Library, Harvard University and at the music department at the Biblioteque National de France.

In his book, Satie the Bohemian: from Cabaret to Concert Hall, Whiting dedicates the chapter Satie and Hyspa to the collaboration between these two artists. He describes the state of the original drafts of Petit Recueil des Fêtes that were found in Satie’s notebook. These documents include both Satie and Hyspa’s handwriting, with Hyspa’s lyrics to parts of the songs and all four of  the melodies “in  a dense tangle of sketch work”.5 Le Picador est Mort and Sorcière are two of the songs from Petit recueil des fêtes that we are planning to present between the separate acts of the Satie/Contamine de Latours shadow play, Genevieve de Brabant.

Le Picador est Mort

Le picador est mort
C’est un triste sort  
Ah! que je plains sa pauvre mere.  
Quant a la Manola-tra la la la la la    
Elle s’en consola, Car c’etait la        
La suele chose a faire
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Cabaret Songs Reconstructed

Cabaret Songs Reconstructed

Article by Roxanne Classen, French translations by Timothy Anderson

 

The set of four songs called Petit recueil des fêtes was registered by Hyspa and Satie in 1904 at the offices of SACEM. No fair copy¹ of these Cabaret songs exist today. The title for this set of songs was included in a list of Hyspa’s repertoire in the Nov. 15, 1904 illustrated journal for the Les Quat’z-Arts Cabaret. This suggests that these works were in fact performed. Satie scholar, Steven Moore Whiting, has created reconstructions of all four songs based on Satie’s sketches and drafts which are now located in the Houghton Library, Harvard University and at the music department of the Biblioteque National de France.² We are planning to present two songs from this set, Le Picador est Mort and Sorcière, between the acts of Satie’s shadow play, Genevieve de Brabant.

 

Le Picador est Mort

Le picador est mort                                           The picador is dead
C’est un triste sort                                              It is a sad affair
Ah! que je plains sa pauvre mere.                  Ah! I mourn his poor mother
Quant a la Manola-tra la la la la la              For at the manola- tra la la la la la
Elle s’en consola, Car c’etait la                       She consoles herself there (At the bar)
la suele chose a faire                                          the only thing to do


Sorcière

Incantations, évocations                                   Incantations, evocations
Noir esprit des ténebre, èbre èbre èbre         Black spirits of the shades, ades, ades, ades,
Imprécations,                                                       Imprecations
malédictions des puissances funèbres           Curses of powers funereal

 

Sur le marquis je jette un sort,                        On the marquis I cast a spell
Si le brave homme n’est pas mort.                 If the good man is not dead
Ma parole c’est qu’il a tort!                              My word, it is that he is wrong
Moi, je file comme un zèbre                              Me, I take off like a Zebra

 

NOTES

1. Written or printed material transcribed or reproduced after final corrections. “Fair Copy.” Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press 2012. Web 22 jan. 2012

2.Whiting, Stephen Moore, ed. Forward.  “Petit recueil des fêtes” Erik Satie: neuf chansons de cabaret et de caf’ conc’. Paris: Éditions Salabert, 1985.

Nonsense syllables

Nonsense Syllables

Timothy Anderson’s article for Shadows and Light originally posted Sept 8, 2011

 

Non-lexical vocables. Syllables without direct meaning. Classical singers are always coming across arias and songs with tra-la-la or hey-nonny-nonny or ton-ton-ton in them. They might express a state of mischief or drunkenness, like the tra-la-las of the Father in Humperdinck’s Hansel und Grethel or Osmin in Die Entfuhrung as dem Serail. Or they might be substituting for laughter. They are expressive without necessarily having meaning.

 

What do you do with them when you are looking at translation? As we tackle the task of producing Genevieve de Brabant in a form that will be reasonable truthful to the original yet accessible to an audience which does not have the advantage of sharing the cultural references or milieu of early 20th century Paris, we are facing several issues related to the texts. Do we perform elements in English? (Short answer: Yes) Do we try to keep the original rhyme schemes? (Short answer: Yes) Do we translate the cheeky ton-ton-ton of the choruses in Genevieve? And if so, how? They are an extension of a word which has meaning, yet they are not meaningful in themselves.

 

The shadow puppet opera is very short, so we can double the choruses of the “very compact crowd” and alternate French and English verses, which will give us the added benefit of more time for the shadow play.

 

The more we work with the text, though, the more it seems the sung elements are not the main textual problem. Both the French and our English translation seem to flow very well with the music. I foresee a problem with the narration, which is redundant in many ways – it describes the action which we are seeing, rather than adding a significant element to the story. With the richness of the visuals we are starting to see take shape, the narration might need to be re-envisioned – not in a way that changes the timing or the images, but in a way which supports the drama.

 

Recreating and Recreation: Our collaboration on Genevieve de Brabant

Recreating and Recreation: Our Collaboration on Genevieve de Brabant

Article by Eva Colmers for the Shadows and Light Blog, posted Dec 23, 2011

On Sunday, November 27, the musical performers of our Chat Blanc Project invited me to their rehearsal to specifically work with them on Genevieve de Brabant, the 20+ min shadow play which is part of our planned repertoire of cabaret and piano works by Erik Satie.

As an independent filmmaker and video artist with a strong background in shadow theatre, I am part of the visual performers for this project. While the musical performers are comprised of 1 pianist and 3 singers, my visual group has 1 visual artist, 1 projection artist and myself. At this point in the creative development, the visual performers and the musical performers work mostly separately, although we did have a few initial meetings with everyone present.

We “visual artists” do a lot of observing, comparing, researching, sketching, thinking, building and throwing out of ideas in our own private sphere before we dare to show anything to anyone. I found it, therefore, quite refreshing and stimulating to see how freely and happily the musical performers shared their songs – regardless if pieces were completely polished yet or not.

Their joy in each improved note or newly discovered nuance was obvious and their enthusiasm was contagious. Hearing them live in this rehearsal greatly invigorated my performance of the makeshift shadow puppets I brought along. When I heard the sweet, innocent voice of character Genevieve sung so beautifully by Laura, I couldn’t help but move the puppet much more gently and gracefully than I had practiced at home in my kitchen. Timothy’s high and mighty voice as the snobby MC, prompted me to explore more daring movements. Hearing the voices, we decided to add two further songs to our initial outline of the shadow play: No. 2a Genevieve’s Lament (Elegie) and No. 11a Les Anges sung by the narrator.

The musical performers also realized that seemingly simple spoken or sung phrases like “the soldiers put chains around Genevieve”, may be much trickier and timely for the puppeteer to execute. Mireille, Timothy and Roxanne, poured out great musical solutions and we explored ways to match sound appropriately with my visual puppetry action. Sometimes a phrase was repeated to give my puppets more time to complete the action. Other times, we chose to cut a too-detailed description of the action. And in true cabaret style, we decided that the invisible puppeteer behind the screen (meaning: me) might just call out “slow down” to the musicians if I can’t follow up with the sung words.

I spoke about the power of sound effects used within cinema to enhance the emotional impact. Everybody got excited but it was clear that we do not want to bring in other instruments. Musical director/accompanist Roxanne very cleverly came up with sounds produced by simply hitting, kicking or strumming her piano. After all, Satie and his Cabaret companions were masters in doing great work with a minimum of resources.

The excitement and stimulation of the collaborative spirit was palpable. There was no issue of ownership of an individual’s idea only the desire to find the best solution for everyone. Rather pumped, I am now going to work on my shadow puppets, the scenery and the staging and can’t wait to share it with my collaborators.

My personal connection with French cabaret

My personal connection with French Cabaret

Written by Mireille Rijavec for the Shadows and Light Blog, Jan 15, 2012

What could be further away from the indigenous culture of Edmonton, Alberta than French cabaret? Like many children from immigrant families, part of my world was made up of the elements of culture my parents chose to share. What I inherited from my mother’s French culture resembles little of what is often portrayed, since what was passed on to me was shaped by an individual from a particular region, class and time, and with particular tastes.

Common to many immigrant families, I grew up in an extended one with my maternal grandfather at home. I loved the parties my parents had: their French-speaking friends would come over and drink, dance, and also sing. My grandfather had a repertory of comic and salacious songs, and he often held court during these evenings. When the songs got too risqué, my sister and I were sent to bed, only to perch on top of the stairs and listen to every word. We were too young to understand all the double-entendres, but I remember those songs to this day, and I can now finally understand why they weren’t suited to our ears.

Cabaret was not limited to Paris, but I never heard if my grandfather attended any in Lyon or Marseilles where he had lived. Of course, by the early part of the 20th century, many of the made popular in the cabarets were played on the radio, where my grandfather probably found some of his repertoire. I would think that he would have had another source for those songs that couldn’t be aired in such a public forum.

A cheap and popular form of entertainment and one that was common in my mother’s family was getting together with family and friends and singing. In my impression of cabaret, before researching it for my own shows and for this project, I understood it to be a form of collective entertainment, where one person led the singing with a variety of songs from the ballad to the comic, enticing people to take turns and sing along. Banter between the host and the group was part of the entertainment. The only stipulation about the setting was that it was intimate – a person’s home would do.

Knowing now that cabaret had various formats in France, and distinct national styles, I was reassured by my experience at the Lapin Agile in Paris in 2008 that my original understanding was valid. The Lapin Agile is one of the only remaining cabarets from the early 20th century, saved from demolition by Aristide Bruant in 1913. [1]


The Lapin Agile is in a room in one of the last freestanding single-family homes in Paris. A group of singers take turns singing original and well-knows songs, accompanied by an incredibly versatile pianist. When the audience recognized the song, they would join in. There wasn’t much in the way of comic or salacious fare, but it felt once again like I was in someone’s home, enjoying people’s voices and singing songs.

What seems to be most important in cabaret is intimacy in setting and delivery, and accessibility. I am in awe of Satie’s artistry – he knew the genre well and composed real gems. I am disappointed that he wanted to put his life of cabaret behind him in order to become a serious composer, but not at all surprised that his cabaret pieces are still some of his most popular, despite his unwillingness to acknowledge them later in life. I understand the pull of wanting to be associated with the high arts, as they say in French, la musique savante – scholarly music – since I have chosen that path as well. However, this French popular music is truly like coming home to me: what is familiar, easy and most often, just plain fun.

This project, through the music of Satie, is bringing me through the experience of memory, and how that memory thread fits into a time of exploration and play in early 20th century Paris: how a very narrow part of French culture that has remained in my life is connecting me to such a compelling time in its history.


[1] Aristide de Bruant (1851-1925) was one of the great cabarets artists and owners of the early 20th century. He is best known for his performances at the cabarets Le Chat Noir and Le Mirliton.

2. Le photo is from the Lapin Agile, Frédé and his guitar, taken around the turn of the century.

 

Satie the Mystic and Gnossienne 4

Satie the Mystic and Gnossienne 4

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project
Gnossienne is a title invented by Erik Satie that names seven short pieces for solo piano.¹ The works were composed between 1889 and 1897, at a time when most of Europe was saturated with the intensely emotional and complex music of Wagner’s Romanticism.  Satie was moving in a different musical direction partially inspired by the exotic scales of a Romanian ensemble he heard at the 1889 Exhibition Universelle, the classical world of the ancient Greeks and Gnosticism. Scholars suggest that Satie had studied the ancient Greek modes before creating his own chant-like melodies.² He may have coined the word Gnossienne from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Another possible influence is the Gnostic Church, a sect of early Christianity, which was “officially re-established in France in 1890″.³  Satie soon became involved with Gnosticism through his membership with the Rosicrucian order of the church. A spiritual quality is suggested in these atmospheric works through their sparse textures and simply stated melodies that are haunting and exotic in sound. The Gnossiennes are not emotionally demonstrative but rather introverted and contemplative.

Listen: Gnossienne 4 – performed and recorded with my Zoom recorder

The 4th Gnossienne (1891) is perhaps the most meditative. It begins in the lower range with a simple D minor arpeggio slowly ascending and descending in an hypnotic fashion. The entire work uses only five chords: Dm, Cm, Bm,  Em and F# Maj. Each arpeggio consists of one chord and all of the different arpeggios maintain the same voicing (the spacing of intervals within each broken chord). Satie simply shifts from one harmony to the next, keeping the same chord shape and avoiding the tension and release created through directional voice leading typical of the romantic harmonic progressions of the day. By placing the notes of each arpeggio on the vertical axis and then playing through the series of chords as they occur in the work, one can easily recognize parallel chord voicings. This technique, called planing, is a characteristic of Debussy’s compositions. (It is interesting to note that Debussy and Satie had just become acquainted around the time Satie had composed the 4th Gnossienne.)

The work is clearly diatonic in the minor mode, yet there is no established tonal centre. Melodic phrases draw from the harmonic minor scale through a prevalent use of the descending augmented 2nd interval. Following the opening D minor arpeggios, an exotic yet plaintive melody is introduced that uses descending pitches from the upper tetrachord of A harmonic minor and then cadences together with the lower arpeggio in C minor. The phrase is repeated in response to the initial call. This antiphonal interaction, reminiscent of medieval chant, continues with each new phrase. The upper melody also recalls chant with its simple syllabic patterns presented in even eighth notes. A melismatic passage comprised of 16th notes and its antiphonal echo is the only embellishment in an otherwise direct and static expression.

The Gnossienne and the more famous three Gymnopédie pieces best exemplify Erik Satie’s early mystical style, which is the sound most people today associate with Satie. In 1891, Satie was a young Bohemian living in Montmartre, frequenting the café and playing for the Cabaret. He had also become the official composer and Chapel Master of the Rosicrucian Ordre de la Rose-Croix Catholique, du temple et du Graal. A year later after a falling out with the order, Satie began his own church, L’Eglise Métropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur (The Metropolitan Church of Art of Jesus the Conductor). Through his own publications as the Parcier of his church, he began a series of provocative escapades with the goal of changing society through art.4 One might say he was living a eccentric double life, exploring mysticism through a fascination for things exotic and exhibitionism expressed in his Bohemian prankishness and café lifestyle. In 1896 Satie closed his church (with only one member: himself!) He had recently updated his Bohemian persona by exchanging his standard attire of top hat and cloak  for seven identical velvet corduroy suites and was thus rebranded as the Velvet Gentleman.

 

NOTES

1. For a detailed explanation about the original dates and names for each of the seven Gnossienne see “Gnossiennes” in Ornella Volta’s article, Give a Dog a Bone: Some Investigations into Erik Satie. It’s complicated!

2.  Satie’s interest in Greek modes see Mary Davis, Erik Satie, p 42-43.  For specific information on  Byzantine modes and the ancient Greek scales see http://www.apostoliki-diakonia.gr/byzantine_music/en/ymnografoi/ymnografoi.asp?main=hxoi.htm

3. Mary Davis, Erik Satie, p. 61

4. Stephen Whiting, Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall. p 162-163

Satie and Sound Artists today

Satie and Sound Artists Today

Written by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project

In 2010 Susan Philipsz won Britain’s coveted Turner prize for contemporary art. Fascinating because her work does not at all appeal to our sense of sight. Instead, Philipsz creates environments that evoke memories and emotional responses through sound alone. The Turner prize was established in 1984 to acknowledge the work of Britain’s contemporary artists. Since then, the prize has been awarded to many conceptual artists, but Philipsz was the first to win for an entirely aural piece. Her sound installation, “Lowlands” was originally located under three Glasgow bridges where her singing of a Scottish traditional song, “Lowlands Away” was piped through loudspeakers. This work was later exhibited within a gallery at the Tate Britain when Philipsz became one of the four finalists for the competition.

It interests me that such a simple idea could be so provocative. Although we admire a bridge at a distance, with its unique architecture and strong emblematic presence, we rarely visit its underbelly. It is usually those in sad circumstances, the homeless or those who must meet discretely who inhabit this type of space. In “Lowlands Away” a simple folk melody sung by a solitary voice rebounds off stone arches and water and reverberates humanity. Unlike Muzak, these sounds demand your attention: this is because of the context in which they are placed. This relationship of sound and space harkens back to the works of John Cage, who introduced the element of chance in music. In his aleatoric compositions the events within the environment create the sounds and we are compelled to question our definition of music itself. Philipsz’ composition is predetermined, however the space where it is presented gives it its meaning.

Years ago Erik Satie introduced the world to the idea of Ambient music with his pieces he titled Musique d’ ameublement,  furniture music. The space where it was premiered dictated its reception. When presented at Pierre Poiret’s Galerie Barbazanges alongside an exhibition of children’s art and in between the acts of a play, Satie insited people walk about, eat and drink. Instead, the audience silently listened, conditioned by their traditions in a theatrical environment and unimpressed.

Erik Satie’s personal relationship to his own surroundings is often discussed in relation to his famous commute. Every day he walked for hours from the impoverished suburb of Arcueil to the various cafes and destinations of employment in Paris. I romantically imagined how this environment must have inspired him to create his music. In Robert Orledge’s article, “Why and where Satie composed,  I was brought to the reality of Satie’s banal surroundings.

Certainly, Satie found nothing in Arcueil to inspire him. While struggling with his opera Paul & Virginie, he again complained to Derain in September 1921 about the endless tedium of life in Arcueil; the daily routine of coming and going with nothing really interesting to nurture the original voice he was seeking. His depressing conclusions were that ignorance was bliss in bygone days and that progress was not necessarily beneficial.[1]

What this quotation does reveals is an artist’s need for an environment to inspire. In one form or another our environment’s influence is inescapable. The art we create is our biofeedback, which in turn reshapes our surroundings and us.

NOTES

1. Orledge, Robert. “Why and Where Satie composed” Satie Archives, 1996. Web. 9 Dec. 2011

Satie revisits the Cabaret in Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear

Satie Revisits the Cabaret in three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear

Written by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project

Erik Satie’s composition Three pieces in the Shape of a Pear is in fact a set of seven separate pieces that were derived primarily from his earlier works of popular music written between 1890 to 1903. This musical document is a summary of Satie’s experience in Montmartre, in which incidental dance pieces and cabaret and café-concert songs were arranged into a work for piano duet. [1.] In the original score Satie had written “Recommendations” on the reverse side of one of the movements titled “En Plus.” Although the words are quite cryptic, a crossroad is clearly evident.

 

I am at a prestigious turning point in the History of My Life. In this work, I express my appropriate and natural astonishment.

Believe me, despite the predispositions.

Do not play around with the unknown amulets of your ephemeral understanding: sanctify your beloved and verbal phials. God will pardon you if he sees fit from the honourable centre of the united Eternity, where everything becomes known with solemnity and conviction.  The Determined One cannot freeze; the Passionate One obliterates himself; the Irascible One has no reason to exist.

I cannot promise more, even though I have temporarily increased myself tenfold, against all precautions.

Is that not everything?

I tell myself so. [2]

 

Satie’s words are enigmatic. Is his recommendation a warning or blessing? We are promised nothing, yet we find his words beg to preface our creative endeavor. The Chat Blanc team is faced with the task of putting together Satie’s music, writings and life experiences in an attempt to forge a new work that is somehow modern. Together with illustrations, shadows and the music from Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear, we will begin an aural and visual journey that reflects Satie’s world at the fin de siècle. Our presentation will not be didactic. There will be no history lesson. As creators, however, we recall the past to learn how to move forward. Perhaps Satie was doing this when he rehashed his earlier cabaret songs in Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear: rummaging through his past in search of a new direction. According to Mary Davis, “the synthesis of such styles- of supposedly high and obviously vernacular art- made this a momentous composition.” [3] Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear is a model for our entire project that retraces Satie’s past while exploring our own potential for future creation. Forgive me for playing around with the unknown amulets of my ephemeral understanding. Enough of this purple patch, let us return to Satie’s past.

 

A brief history of Satie’s involvement with the Montmartre cabaret .

In 1887, a young Satie and his close friend and librettist Contamine de Latour visited the Chat Noir Cabaret.  As they entered the space they were greeted with a sign at the door demanding patrons “Be Modern.” Eventually, Satie was introduced to the Chat Noir founder and owner Rudolph Salis as “Erik Satie, gymnopédiste!” Salis certainly approved of this suitably absurd title and responded, “That’s quite a profession!” [4] By 1890, Satie moved to Montmartre and was working as the conductor of the Chat Noir orchestra. The Chat Noir was the original Artistic Cabaret formed in 1881, but by 1893, many artists and patrons of Le Chat Noir had moved elsewhere, arguing “Salis had sacrificed the ambience and idealism of the cabaret by making a public spectacle of their gatherings for his own profit.”[5] Satie soon followed his colleagues to the Auberge du Clou and then to other cabaret establishments where he worked accompanying singers and shadow theatre productions.

 

Satie poorly managed his finances and had to continually downsize his Montmartre apartments. Finally, in 1898, he moved away from Montmartre to a working class suburb 10 kilometers south of Paris.  He was in desperate financial straits when he arrived at his new “waterless, unheated flat” [6] in the Maison des Quatre Cheminées in Arcueil-Cachan.  This remote location now imposed a daily walking ritual that was two hours to and from Montmartre, where he continued to earn his living as a cabaret pianist. The isolation may have also contributed to a more private Satie. No one is known to have entered this apartment until after his death in 1925, when it was discovered in “a nightmarish condition.” [7] Satie’s move to Arcueil also coincided with the beginning of the decline of the Montmartre Cabaret. Montmartre was now a victim of its own success. Rudolph Salis died in 1897 and the closing of his original Chat Noir Cabaret soon followed. Although many imitators continued to promote their own versions of Cabaret, Montmartre was becoming an undesirable destination overrun with prostitution and other criminal activity. [8]

 

Satie’s life is rife with irony. When he moves the farthest away from Montmartre and when the popularity of the Cabaret begins to wane, Satie embarks on “his most intensive professional involvement with the Cabaret.” [9] In 1899, Vincent Hyspa, “one of Paris’s foremost Channsoniers,”[10] hired Satie as his regular pianist for his cabaret engagements. This also involved Satie as an arranger of Hyspa’ s melodies and as a composer of Cabaret and Café-Concert songs. Their working relationship lasted until 1908 and provided Satie a regular income. Eventually Satie would leave the world of the Cabaret and Café-Concert behind. From 1905 to 1908 Satie became a student at the Schola Cantorum, where he had studied counterpoint, fugue and orchestration.   In a few more years he would be discovered by the masses that now wanted to hear his early compositions. But by then, Satie had moved on.

 

 

 


NOTES

1. For a list Satie’s popular works recycled in 3 Pieces in the Shape of a Pear see Mary Davis, Classic Chic, p 106
2. Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer, p 56
3.  Mary Davis, Erik Satie, p 72
4. Contamine de Latour, Erik Satie intime: Souvenirs de jeunesse’, Comœdia, 3 Aug. 1925. quoted in Steven Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p 69
5. Steven Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p 108
6. Ibid., p 182
7. Mary Davis, Erik Satie, p 147
8. Steven Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p 178
9. Ibid., p 183
10. Steven Whiting, Erik Satie and Vincent Hyspa: Notes on Collaboration, Music and Letters, vol. 11, issue 1 Feb. 1996, p 64

Poles and Interpoles

Poles and Interpoles

Timothy Anderson’s article written for the ensemble’s blog, Shadows and Light

Roxanne and I met on the 22nd, fully intending to see if there were some way to make the inclusion of Debussy’s La Belle Au Bois Dormant more organic. The link to Satie there is through Hyspa, the poet/chansonnier/blague who also worked with Satie and performed in the cabarets.

Instead, we went back to the Trois Mélodies de 1886. These three songs are settings of texts by J.P. Contamine de Latour – the librettist of Genevieve de Brabant.

I have been wrestling with the narrator’s role in Genevieve. Given that the piece was not performed during Satie’s lifetime, there is no way of knowing if what we have is intended to be the final draft. My reservations about it are that the narrator speaks too much of what the puppets then show, as if the audience cannot be trusted to see for themselves. That structure also seems to suggest the puppets are primarily visible when there is musical accompaniment, which leads to a lurching quality in the narrative: the narrator speaks, the music starts and the puppets act, then the narrator speaks… The structure seems to be at odds with what we know of Satie and his relationship with text.

If the piece was indeed intended for puppetry, it is possible the narrator’s role was to fill time between the short acts to allow the puppeteers to switch puppets or positions: to switch one puppet pole for another.

The duration of the action is also in question. Does the puppetry only extend as far as the music? If so, there are times when the amount of work required in the scene changes must have barely seemed worthwhile.

The practice of interpolating – inserting an aria – is part of operatic tradition. Whether it was a composer trying to extend an opera by recycling an aria, or a performer bringing their favourite aria from another opera and insisting on performing it (the portmanteau aria), the practice is well-established.

If we were to interpolate two of the Trois Mélodies de 1886, the visuals would have more time to establish AND the dramatic structure would feel less shaky. I have proposed that we put the second of these songs and insert it as a lament when Genevieve learns of the death of Siffroy – a rushed moment in the libretto. The contrast with the next moment – when Golo suggests Genevieve console herself by becoming his mistress – is maintained.

Élégie – J. P. Contamine de Latour

J’ai vu décliner comme un songe,
Cruel mensonge,
Tout mon bonheur.
Au lieu de la douce espérance,
J’ai la souffrance
Et la douleur.

Autrefois ma folle jeunesse
Chantait sans cesse
L’hymne d’amour.
Mais la chimère caressée
S’est effacée
En un seul jour.

J’ai dû souffrir mon long martyre,
Sans le maudire,
Sans soupirer.
Le seul remède sur la terre
À ma misère
Est de pleurer.

My translation:

Elegy

I saw fading like a dream,
A cruel nightmare,
All my happiness.
Instead of sweet hope,
I have suffering and pain.

Formerly my mad youth
sang unceasingly
the anthem of love.
But the cherished illusion
was effaced
In a single day.

I must suffer my long martyrdom,
Without cursing it,
without sighing.
The only remedy on earth,
For my misery,
is to cry.

Genevieve’s martyrdom then turns out to be short rather than long, but she would have no way of knowing it at this point in the opera.

One of the other peculiar (from a dramatic perspective) sections of the text is the preparation for the execution. There is a wonderful processional leading to the guillotine, and then the remainder of the action is rushed through. The imbalance of throwing the attention on the procession might not be intentional. The first of these 1886 songs could be inserted as a narrator’s commentary after Genevieve has been escorted to the scaffold. Again, it would allow for greater visual exploration, but it would also further underscore the abrupt change in fortunes as the revived Siffroy is fetched by the deer. It also suggests a celestial influence in terms of the doe’s actions.
Les Anges – J.P. Contamine de Latour

Vêtus de blancs, dans l’azur clair,
Laissant déployer leurs longs voiles,
Les anges planent dans l’éther,
Lys flottants parmi les étoiles.

Les luths frissonnent sous leurs doigts,
Luths à la divine harmonie.
Comme un encens montent leurs voix,
Calmes, sous la voûte infinie.

En bas, gronde le flot amer;
La nuit partout étend ses voiles,
Les anges planent dans l’éther,
Lys flottants parmi les étoiles.

My translation:

The Angels

The Angels robed in white, in the clear blue heavens,
Letting their long veils unfurl,
The angels glide in the ether,
Lilies floating among the stars.

Lutes shiver under their fingers,
Lutes with the divine harmony.
Like an incense rise their voices,
Calm, under the infinite vault.

Below, the bitter tide rumbles;
The night over all extends its veils.
The angels glide in the ether,
Lilies floating among the stars.

The intent would not be to pretend that these songs were part of the original vision – we have no way of knowing if that would have been the case. The musical motifs which are played and replayed in the extant music for Genevieve give the opera a musical unity, but they also restrict the expansion of the work. More of the same would be monotonous.

La Belle au Bois Dormant: Notes and Lyrics

La Belle au Bois Dormant: Notes and Lyrics

Article by Roxanne Classen, French translation by Timothy Anderson

Debussy’s early work, La Belle au Bois Dormant, has a direct connection with the Montmartre Cabaret. Popular Cabaret Chansonnier, Vincent Hyspa had penned the words of Debussy’s lyrical setting of sleeping beauty. In Hyspa’s version, the story ends in a very satirical way. Rather than awaken this sleeping beauty, her prince robs from her and continues on his way. This sardonic humour is typical of the blague spirit of the Montmartre Cabarets.

“…Whether or not Satie and Debussy first met at the Auberge [du Clou], as has long been claimed, it was probably there that Satie introduced Debussy to Hyspa. In July 1890, Debussy set Hyspa’s poem ‘La Belle au bois dormant’ in a manner verging on cabaret style, given its combination of tongue-in-cheek medievalism and wry musical quotation. One suspects that ‘La Belle’ served, as much as any warnings from Satie, as an antidote to the Wagnerism cultivated (or exorcised?) in the Cinq poemes de Baudelaire.”[1]

I think we can explore similarities between La Belle au Bois Dormant and Genevieve de Brabant. Both works were created within a decade during la Fin de Siècle, (La Belle, 189o and Genevieve, most likely in 1900.) The central figures are both women in vulnerable situations and both rest or seek refuge in the forest…

 

La Belle au Bois Dormant

Des trous à son pourpoint vermeil,
Un chevalier va par la brune,
Les cheveux tout pleins de soleil,
Sous un casque couleur de lune.
Dormez toujours, dormez au bois,
L’anneau, la Belle, à votre doigt.

 

Dans la poussière des batailles,
Il a tué loyal et droit,
En frappant d’estoc et de taille,
Ainsi que frapperait un roi.
Dormez au bois, où la verveine,
Fleurit avec la marjolaine.

 

Et par les monts et par la plaine,
Monté sur son grand destrier,
Il court, il court à perdre haleine,
Et tout droit sur ses étriers.
Dormez la Belle au Bois, rêvez
Q’un prince vous épouserez.

 

Dans la forêt des lilas blancs,
Sous l’éperon d’or qui l’excite,
Son destrier perle de sang
Les lilas blancs, et va plus vite.
Dormez au bois, dormez, la Belle
Sous vos courtines de dentelle.

 

Mais il a pris l’anneau vermeil,
Le chevalier qui par la brune,
A des cheveux pleins de soleil,
Sous un casque couleur de lune.
Ne dormez plus,
La Belle au Bois,
L’anneau n’est plus à votre doigt.

 

 

And Timothy Anderson’s translation:

Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

Holes in his vermilion doublet,
A knight goes by in the dusk,
His hair very full of sun
Under a helmet the colour of the moon.
Always sleep, sleep in the wood,
The ring, Beauty, on your finger.

 

In the dust of the battles,
He killed honest and right,
By cut and thrust,
As a king would strike.
Sleep in the wood, where verbena
flowers with the marjoram.

 

And through the mountains and the plain,
Mounted on his large charger, he races,
He races breathless,
Straight ahead on his stirrups.
Sleep, Beauty in the Wood,
Dream that a prince will marry you. 

 

In the forest of white lilacs,
Under the golden spur which excites him,
The charger beads with blood the white lilacs
and goes more quickly.
Sleep in the wood, sleep, Beauty,
Under your lace curtains. 

 

But he took the vermilion ring,
The knight in the dusk,
With hair full of sun,
Under a helmet the colour of the moon.
Do not sleep any more, Beauty in the Wood,
the ring is no longer on your finger.

 

1. Steven Whitings, Erik Satie and Vincent Hyspa: Notes on collaboration, <http://www.satie-archives.com/web/article7.html>.

Chat Blanc Café recalls the Hydropaths

Chat Blanc Project Recalls the Hydropaths

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project


October, 1878, a newly formed society of poets, actors, artists, musicians and students convened for the first time at the Café de la Rive Gauche. They called themselves the Hydropaths, a name formulated by their elected president, poet Ḗmile Goudreau. This was the first of many club meetings where members took turns presenting monologues, poems and songs in an unrefined manner. The venerable show and tell, what they called a séance, was opened to the public who were astounded by aspects of fumisme and “an  incoherent performance style…[that] became a central feature of fin-de-siecle cabaret culture”. [1] These café meetings became so successful that the Hydropaths had to find a venue large enough to accommodate the increasing number of spectators and they had to increase the frequency of their gatherings from a weekly to biweekly event.

Our group has been meeting monthly rather than biweekly and we are not yet open to a live public viewing. Our private venue is small but our potential audience is drawn from voyeuristic onlookers seated in the massive arena that is the internet. Inspired by the early Hydropaths of Parisian bohemia, we are attending and presenting to each other in our own café. We opened our last meeting by introducing our newest member, Laura Jones. Together, Laura and I kick started the event with two lively movements from Satie’s La Belle Excentrique. Our group then feasted on an amazing display of images from Caitlin Richard’s haunting paintings, sketches and acetate projections, Patrick Ares-Pilon’s absurdist film footage of a Carnival character and Eva Colmer’s playful shadow puppetry. We returned to music with a reading of Geneviève de Brabant. Laura’s sweet and soulful sound was immediately recognized as the true voice of our innocent Geneviève. Timothy Anderson’s animated narration gave clarity and movement to the story line and together with Mireille Rijavec’s reading of Golo and her ridiculous sounding Siffroy added greatly to the Blague spirit of this play.

For the last segment of our café, Mireille presented two different genres of French song, each genre from a different phase of Satie’s creative development. Her first set included two works of French Mélodie, (French Art Song) from Trois Mélodies de 1916Dapheneo and Le Statue de Bronze.  This performance inspired some great discussion from our designers on how these works may be presented in our live cabaret. Last on the agenda were two of Satie’s earlier works from the Café Concert genre that were originally written for the popular Parisian singer Paulette Darty. Both La Diva de l’Empire and La Transatlanic are music hall works that reveal the stylistic influence of the American cake walk on fin de siècle Parisians. Mireille’s provocative interpretation of each of these songs helped illuminate the manipulative attitudes of two very different women. La Diva is flirtatious and sarcastic and her American contemporary in La Transatlantique gets straight to the point.

 

G. Darre caricature in Le Carillon, 1881

Unlike the Hydropath meetings, our rendezvous was very cordial. The Club des Hydropaths was primarily a poetic society that embraced theatre, song and fumiste pranks as a means to bring their work to the public’s attention. They were highly successful but lasted only a few years thanks to conflicting political and artistic agendas, unruly crowds and increasingly outrageous fumiste pranks.  One particular prank, that involved exploding fireworks in the yard next to the meeting hall, lead  the president and poet Émile Goudeau to abandon the club entirely. Although the Hydropath’s contribution to the history of French literature is not significant, they “greatly enhanced the role of shaping a public for modern poetry.”[2] Goudeau went on to befriend Rodolphe Salis, who had just opened Le Chat Noir and was intending to use the space as a café à décor, essentially a small art gallery and café.  Goudeau brought his reputation and the Hydropath’s aesthetic to Le Chat Noir, which would officially become the first and most famous Parisian Cabaret Artistique.[3]

 

NOTES

  1. Gluck, Mary. “The Decadent and the Culture of Hysteria,” Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth Century Paris. (Harvard University Press, 2005) 114
  2. Gendron, Bernard. “The Song of Montmartre”, Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular music and the Avant-Garde. (University  of Chicago Press, 2002) 43
  3. Ibid., 44

A useful label: Concert Theatre

A useful label: Concert Theatre

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project

 

I am going to borrow a definition from Michael Bawtree’s book, The New Singing Theatre: A Charter for the Music Theatre Movement to help explain what it is we are trying to do. In his chapter, “Music Theatre is New Singing Theatre” he discusses the German origin of the term Music Theatre, Musiktheatre; in French, Théâtre Musical or Théâtre Lyrique, and how this genre is different from Musical Theatre.

Within that discussion he mentions a kind of music and theatre blend that has developed within the Concert Hall tradition and not within the realm of the Theatre. He refers to this genre as Concert Theatre and presents this definition:

(i) The movement among musicians – instrumentalists, composers, conductors – which seeks to enrich and enliven the performance of concert music by bringing theatrical elements to the concert stage

(ii) Descriptive term for works on the concert stage that make use of theatrical elements. Hence we say ‘a piece of Concert Theatre” or a Concert Theatre Work’. (p 12)

This term is useful for our project, which is not a Cabaret or Musical Theatre review but rather a Concert Theatre work.  We are looking back historically at the Cabaret, Café-Concert and Concert Hall experience through the life of Erik Satie and presenting a concert of his musical works with the assistance of theatrical elements that reflect those Parisian entertainments.

Reconstructing the past: It’s a cakewalk

La Transatlantique by Caitlin Richards, mixed media on paper, 2011

Reconstructing the past: It’s a cakewalk

Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project

Three of Satie’s marches for solo piano, Le Piccadilly(1904)Légende Californienne and Imperial-Oxford(1905), have interesting origins that suggest new settings.  In the book Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall, author Stephen Whiting chronicles Satie’s early career composing and performing music for the Cabaret-Artistique, Music Hall and popular Café-Concert. In his chapter Waltz, Cakewalk, Theatre Song, Whiting examines Satie’s collaborations with poets and performers from the Café-Concert.[1] Through careful comparisons of remaining notes, sketches and manuscripts, he convincingly reveals Satie’s initial intentions for the performance of these pieces as Café-Concert songs. All three works present the cakewalk style, derived from the popular American Vaudeville dance exported to Paris around the same time that these pieces were registered. Material from Légende Californienne resurfaced 15 years later as the Grand Ritornello in the piano duet La Belle Excentrique. Le Piccadilly and Imperial Oxford are typically performed today as solo piano marches in the ragtime style. For our Cabaret, we plan to present a reconstruction of one or more of these marches as songs once presented by the popular Café-Concert performer Paulette Darty.

Le Piccadilly/La Transatlantique. This  simple march was registered at SACEM [2] by Satie in 1904 with the title La Transatlantique. It was later published by Salabert in 1975 under the title Le Piccadilly. Why? In the original autographed score Satie had scratched out the title La Transatlantique and replaced if with Le Piccadilly. Song lyrics labelled La Transatlantique have since been found among Satie’s manuscripts, which leads Whiting to think this work was originally intended for voice and piano. Futhermore, the text of La Transatlantique is easily placed within the piano march, making the argument for a reconstruction of this music through the marriage of music and text all the more convincing.

Whiting believes this piece was likely composed for Darty and that the authors of the text were Montmartre chansonniers Bonnaud and Blès. Bonnaud and Blès had also penned the words to Satie’s La Diva de l’Empire, which was written for and performed frequently by Darty. Whiting makes this connection between La Transatlantique and La Diva de l’Empire based on the manner in which both text are presented within Satie’s manuscripts.

… a curious page amongst the Satie manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Nationale (BN 10069). It is a piece of graph paper, with a song lyric titled  ‘La Transatlantique’, written in a small round hand unlike Satie’s but revised by him ( in pencil, then red ink). Satie also copied out the text of ‘Diva’ on graph paper ( an otherwise rare occurrence), which suggests that this text, too, may have stemmed from Bonnard and Bles. [3]

Transatlantique was a stereotype of the wealthy American woman who visits France in search of a husband and recognized position in society. These lyrics are peppered with the names of American cities and English exclamations as well as a heavy serving of cliché American attitude. Following is Whiting’s translation of the text found in the Satie manuscript:

In Baltimore, Chicago, New York, San Fransisco. Mississippi, Ohio, etc., you will not find a young miss who has my chic together with my fortune. My father has a trust in lard, and he earns billions. They call me Miss Dollar, oh yes, I’m evidently the great[est] heiress of all America.

All right! My dear! Very well, I’m looking for a kindly mate who’s also very swell, a gentleman in a fix, enamoured of my bucks. I’ll marry him on the spot, and pay off both his creditors and his mistresses. I’ve got the cash to buy a duchess’s coat-of-arms, her title, and her name. And into the bargain I’ll give, for nothing, my very lovely person. [4]

The music of Le Piccadilly/La Transatlantique reveals a cakewalk through its tuneful pentatonic melody accompanied by left hand stride patterns and rhythmic syncopations typical of Stephen Foster’s minstrel songs and Scott Joplin’s ragtime piano works. This American musical style was first introduced to Parisian audiences when John Phillip Sousa’s marching band performed at the Universal Expostition in 1900 and soon influenced entertainers and musicians including Erik Satie. When Satie was composing  café-concert songs for Darty, the cakewalk craze was in full bloom.

[In 1903]..the dance had risen to the uppermost crust of Parisian society. It was the featured entertainment at two grand balls at the Opéra (11 January and 21 February); and in a gala matinée at the Trocadéro to benefit retired actors, a ‘promenade de Cake-Walk’ closed a programme that had included the likes of Delina Patti, Mounet-Sully and Sarah Bernhardt (21 April). From 1903 on, American musical entertainment was a fixture in the Parisian musical landscape, including Montmartre, where the venerable watering hole Le Rat Mort featured an ‘orchestra nègre américain’ calling itself ‘Les Minstrels’ [5]

Légende Californienne and Imperial-Oxford. Satie registered these works with SACEM in 1905 and identified his friend Contamine de Latour as the author of the lyrics.

.. the bulletin of declaration dated Aug 18 1905, suggests a collaboration gone awry. In the space for designation of genre, Satie wrote ‘chanson’, and in that for parolier, he entered the name Contamine de Latour. Then,  for reasons unknown, he changed his mind. To judge from the appearance of the bulletin, he took an eraser to ink still wet and obliterated the name. Under ‘chanson’ he then squeezed the words ‘sans paroles’. [6]

Poor Contamine de Latour (alias Lord Cheminot). These songs were the last known collaboration between the two. The manuscripts contain vocal staves with melodic notation, yet no text is included. By leaving the vocal staves in tact, Satie has unintentionally invited us to join in with the obvious next step. It was the tradition among Chansonniers of the Montmartre cabarets to parody popular songs and musical themes with the addition of new text. We may answer this invitation to dance with Satie through our own contrafactum of these cakewalks.

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