Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Thursday, May 18

Satie's "surreal" premiere in wartime Paris

Synopsis

On today's date in 1917, at the height of World War One, Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes presented in Paris the premiere performance of a new ballet titled "Parade."

The sets and costumes were designed by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, the ballet scenario was devised by the French poet Jean Cocteau, and the music was provided by the eccentric Parisian composer, Erik Satie, whose score included parts for various noisemakers, including a typewriter and a revolver.

In reaction to the sensuous contemporary orchestrations of Debussy and Ravel, Satie's score was austere and cleverly direct. "Parade" proved to be a very influential work, especially on younger composers like Francis Poulenc. "I was conquered," wrote Poulenc, "With all the injustice of youth, and although I idolized Debussy, I agreed to disown him a little because I was so eager for the new inspirations Satie and Picasso were bringing us."

Others in the audience, including most of the critics, trashed the whole affair as a bad joke, and some resorted to the ultimate war-time insult, dubbing Picasso, Cocteau and Satie as no better than a bunch of Germans!

Cocteau later recalled: "After a performance of 'Parade,' with a fight going on in the audience, I heard a man say to a friend: 'If I knew it was so silly, I would have taken the children along.' This was the best tribute we could have received!"

Music Played in Today's Program

Erik Satie (1866 - 1925) Parade Yuji Takahashi and Alain Planes, piano four hands Denon 7487

Additional Information

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