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Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Je me ddie cette uvre. E.S.

[I dedicate this work to myself. E.S.]
Erik Satie: dedication of Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel (1894)
Erik Satie: Music, Art
and Literature

Edited by
Caroline Potter
Kingston University, UK
Caroline Potter 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.

Caroline Potter has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988,
to be identified as the editor of this work.
Published by
Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company
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Union Road Suite 3-1
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Erik Satie : music, art and literature. (Music and literature)
1. Satie, Erik, 18661925 Criticism and interpretation.
2. Satie, Erik, 18661925 Knowledge Art. 3. Satie,
Erik, 18661925 Knowledge Literature. 4. Satie, Erik,
18661925 Friends and associates. 5. Music and
literature France History 19th century. 6. Art and
music France History 19th century. 7. Music and
literature France History 20th century. 8. Art and
music France History 20th century.
I. Series II. Potter, Caroline.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Erik Satie : music, art and literature / edited by Caroline Potter.
pages cm. (Music and literature)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4094-3421-4 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-4094-3422-1 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-4724-0277-6 (epub) 1. Satie, Erik, 18661925 Criticism and interpretation.
I. Potter, Caroline, editor.
ML410.S196E72 2013

ISBN 9781409434214(hbk)
ISBN 9781409434221(ebk PDF)
ISBN 9781472402776(ebk ePUB)

List of Figures vii

List of Musical Examples ix
Notes on Contributors xi
Preface and Acknowledgements xiii

1 Saties Personal and Musical Logic 1

Robert Orledge

2 Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 19

Ann-Marie Hanlon

3 Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 49

Grace Wai Kwan Gates

4 Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 67

Caroline Potter

5 The Only Musician with Eyes: Erik Satie and Visual Art 85
Simon Shaw-Miller

6 Exploring Interart Dialogue in Erik Saties Sports et

divertissements (1914/1922) 115
Helen Julia Minors

7 Parade: ballet raliste137

Christine Reynolds

8 Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 161

Pietro Dossena

9 History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse in the Post-war

Reception of Satie: Cage, Higgins, Beuys 183
Matthew Mendez
vi Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

10 After Satie: Howard Skempton in Conversation

with Caroline Potter 229

Appendix: Chronological Catalogue of Saties Compositions and

Research Guide to the Manuscripts 243
Robert Orledge

Select Bibliography 325

Index of Names 341
Index of Works 345
List of Figures

5.1 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Hangover (portrait of Suzanne

Valadon) (1889, Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, MA) 86
5.2 Ramn Casas, El Bohemio, Poet of Montmartre, (1891, courtesy of
Northwestern University Library) 87
5.3 Santiago Rusiol, portrait of Erik Satie at the harmonium (private
collection, 1891) 89
5.4 Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Le Bois sacr cher aux arts et aux
muses (1880, Muse des Beaux-Arts de Lyon) 91
5.5 Suzanne Valadon, Portrait of Erik Satie (1893, National Museum
of Modern Art, Pompidou Center, Paris) Oil on canvas; 41 22 cm 94
5.6 Choral inapptissant, Saties score. Typ 915.14.7700, Houghton
Library, Harvard University 101
5.7 Camel cortge, still from Ren Clair, Cinma 111

6.1 Le Bain de mer, Saties score. Typ 915.14.7700, Houghton

Library, Harvard University 128
6.2 Le Bain de mer, Martins 1914 etching. Typ 915.14.7700,
Houghton Library, Harvard University 129
6.3 Le Bain de mer, Martins 1922 pochoir print. Typ 915.14.7700,
Houghton Library, Harvard University 130

8.1 Gounod, vocal score of Le Mdecin malgr lui, from Act III 165
8.2 Satie, Le Mdecin malgr lui: BNF 9595(1), pp. 1112: from
Act III, Scene 7 166
This page has been left blank intentionally
List of Musical Examples

1.1 Satie, Adieu: first version 14

1.2 Satie, Adieu: second version 15
1.3 Satie, Adieu: final version 16

2.1 Satie, Heures sculaires et instantanes, I (Obstacles venimeux):

opening 42

3.1 The 23 horizontal notes in Ogives no. 1 52

3.2 The 23 vertical notes in the first of the Ogives, taken from the first
chord of each system 52
3.3 Perfect cube symbolism and the deviations from this in Ogives 53
3.4 Accidentals on block chords to avoid tritones in Ogives no. 4 54
3.5 Different harmonisation for the second and third systems of
Ogives no. 1 55
3.6 Example of a punctuation phrase in Prlude de la Porte hroque
du ciel 59
3.7 Punctuation phrases and a self-contained motif in Prlude de la
Porte hroque du ciel 62
3.8 The first system of Gnossienne no. 3 63
3.9 The third, fourth and fifth systems of Le fils des toiles, third act
prelude 64

4.1 Erik Satie, Trois pomes damour, 1 (Ne suis que grain de sable):
bars 58 75
4.2a Erik Satie, Le pige de Mduse, first dance (Quadrille): opening 82
4.2b Erik Satie, Le pige de Mduse, seventh dance (Quadrille):
opening 82

5.1 Satie, Vexations 95

5.2 Satie, Cinma: opening rhythmic figure 109
5.3 Satie, Cinma: Chopin Marche funbre figure 109

6.1 Satie, Le Water-chute: descending scale passage 131

6.2 Satie, Le Water-chute: opening 132
6.3 Satie, La Pche: water motif 133
x Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

7.1 A sketch for Parade from the end of August 1916 (BNF 9603(5),
p.1) 143
7.2 The original opening of Part 2 of Parade, showing semiquavers
instead of sextuplets (BNF 9603(5), p. 19) 146
7.3 Parade, tritones used as a scale (piano duet, Ed. Salabert, 1917,
p.9) 149
7.4 Parade, original introductory music: the fourth and final statement
of the theme (piano duet, Ed. Salabert, 1917, p. 3) 151

8.1 Satie, Le Mdecin malgr lui: BNF 9595(5), pp. 1617; ink 170
Notes on Contributors

Pietro Dossena is a musicologist, composer and pianist. He is the author of an

article on Saties Socrate published in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association
in 2008 and completed his PhD, focusing on sketch studies of the music of Erik
Satie, at the University of Padua in 2010. As a composer, he studied at the Milan
Conservatory and has been awarded prizes in various national and international
competitions. He has also studied at the University of Paris III and the University
of California, Santa Barbara. A passionate film lover, he has written and performed
the soundtracks of various short movies and documentaries, and also makes short
films of his own.

Grace Wai Kwan Gates is a PhD candidate at Kingston University, focusing on

piano performance issues in the music of Erik Satie. A pianist and former part-time
lecturer on the joint Kingston/SPACE degree in Hong Kong, she is a graduate of
Kingston and Surrey Universities.

Ann-Marie Hanlon has completed a PhD thesis on Erik Satie and The New
Canon: Criticism, Reception and Analysis. She graduated with an MA in Music
in 2006 (Newcastle University) and a BMus (First Class Honours) in 2004
(University College Cork). She has lectured undergraduate classes on music
history at Trinity College Dublin and Newcastle University. In 2009 two of her
works on Satie were published: an article on humour and cubist aesthetics in
the music of Erik Satie in The Musicology Review (Dublin) and a foreword to a
study score edition of Trois petites pices montes (Munich: Musikproduktion).
She is a recipient of a three-yearTravelling Studentship from the National
University of Ireland.

Matthew Mendez is an independent scholar specialising in the study of

contemporary music. A graduate of Harvard University, where he earned a
Bachelors degree in music, he also holds Masters degrees from the University
of Edinburgh and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. He is active as a
composer, having studied with Julian Anderson and Brian Ferneyhough.

Helen Julia Minors is Senior Lecturer in Music at Kingston University. She

completed her PhD on Paul Dukas at Lancaster University and is a musicologist
with interests in music at the turn of the twentieth century, especially music
theatre, music and the other arts, music and dance, and criticism in France. She
has published book chapters in Bewegungen zwischen Hren und Sehen, edited
xii Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

by Stephanie Schroedter (2012) and La musique franaise: esthtique et identit

dans le processus de transformation 18921992, edited by Pascal Terrien (2012).

Robert Orledge is Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Liverpool

and is one of the worlds leading experts on Satie. Author of Satie the Composer
(1990) and of numerous articles on Satie, and editor of Satie Remembered (1995),
he has also completed and published several unfinished works by the composer.

Caroline Potter is Reader in Music at Kingston University, London. An established

specialist in French music since Debussy, she has published books on Henri
Dutilleux and the Boulanger sisters and is co-editor, with Richard Langham Smith,
of French Music since Berlioz (2006). In April 2010 she convened a conference
Erik Satie: His Music, the Visual Arts, His Legacy hosted by Gresham College.

Christine Reynolds studied French and Spanish at Kings College, University

of London, then taught for many years. As a mature student she took a degree in
music at the University of Liverpool, also studying History of Art for two years.
She subsequently ran the north-west branch of a national music charity while
working with Professor Robert Orledge on a PhD thesis about the ballet Parade
which brought together her love of the French language, art and music.

Simon Shaw-Miller is currently Professor of History of Art at Bristol University.

He studied at the Universities of Brighton and Essex and previously held positions at
the Universities of St Andrews and Manchester. In 2005 he was made an Honorary
Research Fellow and in 2007 an Honorary Associate of the Royal Academy of
Music, London. He is the author of many works on the relationships between
music and art, including the booksThe Last Post: Music after Modernism(1993)
andVisible Deeds of Music: Art and Music from Wagner to Cage (2002).His co-
edited collection of essays Samuel Palmer Revisitedwas published in 2010 and
his new bookEye hEar: The Visual in Musicis due to be published in 2013 by

Howard Skempton is a composer, teacher, performer and adjudicator. He

studied in London with Cornelius Cardew, who helped him to discover a musical
language of great simplicity. Since then he has continued to write undeflected by
compositional trends, producing a corpus of more than 300 works many pieces
being miniatures for solo piano or accordion. He calls these pieces the central
nervous system of his work.
Preface and Acknowledgements

Erik Satie (18661925) was a quirky, innovative and enigmatic composer whose
impact has spread far beyond the musical world. As an artist active in several
spheres from cabaret to religion, from calligraphy to poetry and playwriting
and collaborator with some of the leading avant-garde figures of the day, including
Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Serge Diaghilev and Ren Clair, he is one of the few
genuinely cross-disciplinary composers. His artistic activity, during a tumultuous
time in the Parisian art world, situates him in an especially exciting period. His
friendships with Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky and others place him at the centre
of French musical life; more importantly, so does his music. His manuscripts and
correspondence testify to his talent for calligraphy, and his drawings, usually in
black or red and usually created for himself, show that he was an artist gifted in
several media.
This book originated in a Study Day, Erik Satie: His Music, the Visual Arts, His
Legacy, convened by the editor and hosted by Gresham College on 16 April 2010.
This event was greatly over-subscribed and Greshams philosophy to make their
talks accessible to a wide audience means that the papers are available online and as
podcasts on iTunes. Four of the speakers at this event are contributing chapters to the
book. The chapter authors are a mixture of well-established and emerging scholars
of French music and culture. Orledge, perhaps the worlds leading Satie expert, is an
minence grise for many younger researchers, having supervised their PhD research
(Reynolds) or provided essential advice and materials for their projects.
Much material on Satie has been published by Ornella Volta in French (e.g.
Saties complete correspondence and writings, Satie et la Danse, LYmagier
dErik Satie), though the primary aim of these works is to document his output
rather than interpret it, and little of this work has appeared in English. In 1985
selected correspondence was published in an English translation (Satie Seen
Through His Letters, trans. Michael Bullock) and selected writings by Satie were
translated by Antony Melville and published as A Mammals Notebook (1997).
The most important scholarly work has focused on music analysis and Saties
working methods (Robert Orledges Satie the Composer, 1990; Alan Gillmors
Erik Satie, 1988); the connections between his work and the Paris cabaret scene
(Steven Moore Whitings Satie the Bohemian, 1993); or a brief biographical
overview (Mary E. Davis Satie, Reaktion Critical Lives series, 2007). A recent
French book, Jean-Pierre Armengauds Erik Satie (2009) discusses Saties work
and psychological make-up.
This book explores many aspects of Saties creativity to give a full picture of
this most multi-faceted of composers. It can be roughly divided into four parts:
xiv Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Saties philosophy and psychology revealed through his music (Chapters 13);
Saties interest in and participation in artistic media other than music (Chapters
45); Saties collaborations with other artists (Chapters 68); and Saties impact
on later composers and artists (Chapters 910). Inevitably, some of Saties works
are discussed by more than one author, though each contributor offers his or her
own distinct perspective and contextualisation.
One message recurs throughout: Satie was a unique figure whose art is
immediately recognisable, whatever the medium he employed. His music can
draw equally on an unremembered past and present reality (medieval cathedrals
and cabaret songs), sometimes within the same work. Saties drawings, hundreds
of which were discovered in his filthy Arcueil room after his death, include
meticulous pen-and-ink images of imaginary castles and their floor plans (as if
he were a twelfth-century estate agent), and far more contemporary phenomena
such as airships. Parody, often in the form of what Raymond Queneau would term
exercices de style, is another recurring Satie theme. Ann-Marie Hanlons chapter
shows that musical parody was a rich source of humour, and in Chapter 4 I show
that Satie wrote poetry modelled on courtly love verse.
In one of his most intriguing works, Sports et divertissements (1914), we see
Satie playing with the frontiers of media: is this a piano work, poetry collection or
set of illustrations (by Charles Martin), or some novel combination of the three?
Both Helen Julia Minors and Simon Shaw-Miller investigate this most multi-
faceted work. His collaboration with Martin appears to have been unproblematic,
perhaps because the two artists do not seem to have contacted each other. After
working with Cocteau, Picasso, Massine and Diaghilev on Parade, Satie wrote
to his friend Valentine Gross on the topic of Socrate, for which he set Platos
words in a nineteenth-century translation by Victor Cousin. He said: Plato is a
perfect collaborator, very gentle and never importunate. A dream, you know!1 As
a rule, he found living collaborators to be difficult and argumentative, though he
got on well with Picasso. John Richardson, in the third volume of his magisterial
biography of Picasso, notes that the great painter attended Satie on his deathbed,
even changing his sheets; in Richardsons words: It is a measure of his regard for
Satie that Picasso was able to overcome his fear of illness.2
In his prefaces, Satie sometimes attempted to dictate the terms of reception of
his work. The most notorious example of this is his preface to Heures sculaires
et instantanes (1914), a triptych of short piano works with elaborate textual
commentary, one of around 60 texted piano pieces he composed in the period
191216. Here, Satie states that the performer is forbidden to read out the in-
score texts: he is communicating with the performer in a private language which

Letter of 18 January 1917; Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie: Correspondance presque
complte (Paris: IMEC, 2003), p. 277: Platon est un collaborateur parfait, trs doux &
jamais importun. Un rve, quoi!
John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Vol. 3: The Triumphant Years, 19171932
(London: Jonathan Cape, 2007), p. 275.
Preface and Acknowledgements xv

is not to be shared with the public. Or was he joking? This intimate quality of
Satie is explored by Howard Skempton in Chapter 10. Equally notorious is the
performance instruction at the head of Vexations (1893), a work whose singular
impact on the experimental artistic scene is investigated by Simon Shaw-Miller
and Matthew Mendez.
Satie is very far from being simply a farceur. It is clear that he was extremely
well read and curious about contemporary events and scientific inventions.
Christine Reynolds chapter on Parade shows that even a road name could be
a source of unexpected extra-musical inspiration: 6 rue Huyghens, in the 14th
arrondissement of Paris, was the space used by the Lyre et Palette society who
mounted events combining music, art exhibitions and poetry readings in the
mid1910s, and Reynolds demonstrates that the Dutch scientist Christiaan
Huyghens (162995) left his own mark on Parade.
The starting point of Robert Orledges chapter, Saties Musical and Personal
Logic, was a statement by Madeleine Milhaud, who knew the composer as well
as anyone could. She said that everything Satie did was logical It was logic
carried to an extreme. Look at it coldly and it makes sense. This chapter aims
to do precisely this, exploring and seeking answers in such areas as: Satie the
impoverished, uncompromising professional composer; his hypermorality; his
changes in outward persona; his religious paranoia in the 1890s and his desire for
publicity in this insecure period; his sense of humour; his habitual intransigence;
and his financial incompetence. It shows Satie as a paradoxical composer with his
roots in a medieval French past while being an iconoclast who looked to the future
in his music and ideas, yet who had a surprising lack of interest in technological
advances.Saties painstaking calligraphy suggests that much might be explained
by his being a higher-order dyslexic or imagist, alongside Pablo Picasso, Hans
Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll, all of whom he greatly admired. This led
him to view everyday objects and situations in a different way and he seems to
have been fascinated by his own creative processes, by mirror imagery, and by
a three-dimensional, architectural approach to music. The chapter ends with a
detailed analysis of the genesis of the song Adieu (1920), showing how Satie
turned a simple cafe-concert waltz into a quirky and sophisticated art song by
systematic, yet unpredictable means.
While every writer on Satie acknowledges that humour is a central facet of
his modus operandi, Ann-Marie Hanlon goes one step further, putting Satie and
the meaning of the comic in its historical and artistic context. Erik Satie was
undoubtedly the leading exponent of humour in high-art music, a predilection
which impacted significantly upon the reception of his music and his reputation
as a composer. In 191115, Satie purposely cultivated a humorist persona through
his musical compositions and journalistic writings. Highly motivated by a desire
for attention, humour also served as a critical medium though which he could
comment upon contemporary events and criticise individuals and institutions.
The backlash of Saties comic self-promotion became pronounced in the post-war
years as he moved into a more serious phase of composition and audiences and
xvi Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

critics continued to laugh at works that were not comic in intent. This chapter
explores the various types, methods of creation and functions of humour in Saties
public career, with a specific focus on the humoristic piano works. In Le rire,
Henri Bergson reveals much about Modernist attitudes to the comic and its low
status within the arts. Situated on the boundary between art and life, Bergson
considers the comic a gesture of impertinence laden with social import. Laughter
is its corrective. With reference to Bergson, this chapter further addresses the
ramifications of a comic approach on Saties reputation in Modernist discourses.
Grace Wai Kwan Gates explores some of Saties more esoteric productions
in her chapter on his Rose-Croix piano works (18914). Saties attraction to the
medieval and esoteric can be traced from his earliest characteristic work, Ogives
(1888), through his role as the founder of the Metropolitan Church of Art, and
even to his work in cabarets with fashionable imitation Gothic decor. Numerology
fascinated him, as will be demonstrated in this chapter, and Gregorian chant and
medieval illuminated manuscripts were key influences on his music and visual
art. The chapter focuses on Saties Ogives and Prlude de la Porte hroque du
ciel, both of which have no bar lines (probably for visual reasons) and eccentric
indications to the pianist. Gates, a pianist herself, concludes with a brief discussion
of the problems encountered by performers of these pieces, which may well not
have been written to be performed in public. Satie seemed to revel in opposites:
writing cabaret songs and accompanying them in public, while at the same time
writing private, esoteric works for the church of which he was the sole member.
Caroline Potters study in Chapter 4 of Satie as poet, playwright and composer
focuses on the particularly rich creative period of 191314, when his increasing
public profile and increasing confidence provoked an upsurge in creativity in
several media. While Satie wrote many songs, only one set, the tiny Trois pomes
damour (1914), features his own texts, a parody of the sixteenth-century posie
courtoise. This chapter explores the cod-medieval style of the vocal lines, the
close links between the three songs (a Satie trait), the unusual poetic form and,
most importantly, the stylistic connections between poetry and music. Saties only
extant play, Le pige de Mduse (1913), is generally viewed as a harbinger of
surrealism or Dada. The composer provided seven tiny dances to be performed on
prepared piano and to serve as accompaniment to a dancing stuffed monkey. The
mechanistic aesthetic at the heart of much of Saties music will be investigated
through these barrel-organ-like dances, an aesthetic also apparent in the behaviour
of several characters in the play. Saties art is viewed through multiple perspectives
(cultural history, textual and music analysis, style analysis) and the essential unity
of his art is highlighted.
Simon Shaw-Miller takes as his starting point Saties statement that painters
taught me the most about music; he proclaimed in a sketchbook annotation
that musical evolution was always a hundred years behind pictorial evolution.
His painstaking calligraphy and the complexity of pattern in his music (often more
apparent to the eye than the ear) show the importance of the visual dimension. But
his interest in the visual arts is more profound than just notation or presentation.
Preface and Acknowledgements xvii

In part, his musical aesthetic is founded on a perceived common ground with art.
His aim was to create an atmosphere, rather than an emotional journey; to reduce
music to a backdrop, to see it as a framed object; to flatten musical space, to reduce
its emotional colours, to celebrate repetition. This chapter provides an overview
of Saties artistic tastes, considers the significance of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the
Satiean context and outlines the importance of the visual arts in his music through
an exploration of works including Vexations, Parade, Entracte and his furniture
music. Saties impact on American composers of the twentieth century (especially
Cage, Feldman and Wolff), focusing on the crucial influence of visual artists on
their music, is also outlined.
Helen Julia Minors chapter focuses on Sports et divertissements, a multi-art
collage in which images by Charles Martin are co-presented with Saties humorist
piano miniatures published in a facsimile of his own calligraphy, superimposed
with his own narrative text. This chapter offers a fresh analysis of the multi-art
processes at play between Saties music and text which is interpreted in dialogue
with the images. How can one mediate the experience of Sports? In what ways
can we interact with the work? There are many components to interpret, from the
images to the visual presentation of both text and music. In order to appreciate the
multi-art nature of this work, we must search the piece to become aware of its many
attributes. As in Apollinaires Lettre-Ocan, water is one of many representative
issues in Sports: this chapter focuses on Le Bain de mer.
Christine Reynolds chapter on Parade, Saties collaboration for the Ballets
Russes with Cocteau, Picasso and Massine, outlines why Cocteau had the idea for
Parade in the first place, what his expectations were of Saties score and how his
work with Massine on the choreography (in the later stages) was underpinned by his
realist philosophy. He was certainly the driving force behind the idea of achieving
a new type of theatrical realism within the existing French realist tradition. When
Picasso came along, Cocteaus basic ideas were considerably enhanced, not, to
begin with at least, overturned in any way. In fact, Picassos designs for the Red
Curtain and the decor underpinned Cocteaus original ideas of inside/outside the
fairground tent (another aspect of the realist philosophy). It was not until late in
the preparations for Parade that some of the ideas close to Cocteaus heart were
omitted, though not through any fault of Picasso. Yet Picassos input dramatically
changed the course of Saties music in a cubist (i.e. realist) way, as well as forcing
a new type of choreography because of the cumbersome costumes/carcasses that
the Managers had to wear. In spite of his disappointment that Parade had not
followed all his ideas, Cocteau was nevertheless very proud of having instigated
what he saw as the beginnings of a new French realism.
The major works of Saties final creative years (19234) are all collaborations;
these are explored by Pietro Dossena, who focuses initially on Saties recitatives
for an opra comique by Charles Gounod, Le Mdecin malgr lui (1858),
commissioned by Diaghilev. Although this work has seldom been investigated,
it is the longest composition Satie finished during his last years and shows the
composer dealing with both stylistic and dramaturgical issues that would have an
xviii Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

influence on his later production. First, the chapter recalls the origin of Diaghilevs
commission and Saties reaction to it, and then focuses on Saties problems
dealing with music by another composer. His final stylistic solution envisaged
a compromise between Satie and Gounods musical languages: a case study
(including a plausible reconstruction of meetings between Satie and Diaghilev)
investigates the genesis of a short passage of the opera (from Act 3, Scene 7).
The recitatives for Le Mdecin malgr lui influenced Saties approach to the
1924 ballets Mercure and Relche. Gounods opera, with its traditional division into
separate numbers, invited a very meticulous organisation of the work on Saties
part: he divided his scnes nouvelles into nine numbers, and prepared preliminary
rhythmic and tonal plans before drafting the score. The following year he would
apply similar procedures to Mercure and Relche, for which he wrote detailed
structural and tonal plans. The dramaturgical suppleness of numbers allowed Satie
to provide an effective musical counterpart to Picassos ironically detached poses
plastiques (Mercure) and to Cendrars and Picabias striking ballet instantaniste
(Relche). It should be noted that neither Parade (191617, 1919) nor Socrate
(191718) were planned as a series of short numbers, each set in a specific tonality:
the music-hall swiftness of Mercure and Relche owes more to the light-hearted
number opera Genevive de Brabant (18991900) and to musical miniatures such as
Sports et divertissements; but the concern for tonal centres and neoclassical lightness
are likely to have been directly suggested by the Gounod pastiche.
Erik Satie is typically viewed as musics first anti-art figure, the composer
who did the most to unburden the medium of the heavy spiritual commitments it
had accrued in the wake of Wagnerisms rise and the theorisation of Kunst-religion.
First gaining currency during the 1910s, this interpretation was fundamental to
the post-war revival of interest in Saties work among experimental practitioners,
for whom the elder Frenchman was alleged to have provided a straightforwardly
protoDadaist precedent. Yet this interpretation was always a selective, equivocal
one, for by necessity it completely ignores the formative role that the esoteric
Christian, Rosicrucian circles of 1890s Montmartre played on Saties artistic
development. Many accounts consider the ahistorical, amnesiac qualities of
Saties work to be symptoms of his agnostic musical critique, yet these qualities
could just as easily be traced back to the millenarianism of his pre-Arcueil milieu.
Indeed, when we consider the social and ideological exigencies motivating many
of the key figures of the post-war Satie revival, taking Saties spirituality seriously
would seem a task particularly worthy of our attention. Matthew Mendezs chapter
does just that, examining the role the notion of healing through spirituality
played in the work of some of Saties most loyal disciples, namely John Cage,
Joseph Beuys and, to a lesser extent, Dick Higgins. For these individuals, the
Satie legacy was by no means flippantly anti-idealist, but rather suggested that, by
way of a homeopathic, characteristically Rosicrucian procedure, forgetting could
serve as a reprieve from the loss of belief and meaning seemingly characteristic
of modernity. However, whether this strategy could ever actually overcome these
maladies remains an uncertain question.
Preface and Acknowledgements xix

The British composer Howard Skempton, a lifelong Satie admirer, explains

Saties continuing importance to composers in Chapter 10. This chapter originated
in a conversation with the editor which took place in Kingston on Friday 17
February 2012, and like all the best conversations, it ranged far beyond the initial
remit of the chapter. Skempton focuses on Saties impact on English experimental
composers (including himself), but also gives penetrating insights into Saties
psychology and offers a novel explanation of the title of Trois morceaux en forme
de poire. Adventurous readers may wish to begin this book with Skemptons
overview of Saties personality.
The book ends with a comprehensive guide to research and catalogue of Saties
works compiled by Robert Orledge; it is an updated and considerably expanded
version of the catalogue published in his Satie the Composer (1990).
I would like to thank Gresham College and the Institute of Musical Research,
especially Barbara Anderson, Dawn Fulks, Katharine Ellis and John Irving, for
their financial and logistical support of the research day which was the starting
point of this book. Roy Howat, Emily Kilpatrick, Jane Manning, Paul Archbold,
James Nye and Michael Parsons, as well as several students from the Royal
Academy of Music, also contributed greatly to the success of this event. For
assistance during the production of this book, I would like to thank John Ferguson,
Leonardo Liccini, Caroline Rae and everyone at Ashgate, especially Heidi Bishop,
Laura Macy and Jon Lloyd.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the enormous contribution Robert
Orledge has made to this book and to thank all the authors for their patience and
unswerving commitment to this project. Simon Shaw-Millers and Helen Julia
Minors help with illustrations was much appreciated. All Satie scholars owe a
debt to Ornella Volta, whose numerous publications are cited frequently in this
book; the collection of the Fondation Erik Satie is now housed in the Institut
Mmoires de ldition contemporaine (IMEC), lAbbaye dArdenne (http://www. All translations from French sources have been
made by the chapter authors unless otherwise indicated.

 Caroline Potter
 Surbiton, 2013
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Chapter 1
Saties Personal and Musical Logic
Robert Orledge

Over the past quarter of a century, I feel I have come to know the strange
phenomenon that is Erik Satie quite well through my research. The sad thing
is that if I had been alive at the same time as he was and had known as much
about him then, I dont think I would have wanted to meet him. At his least
attractive, he was a sponging, irascible alcoholic who refused to speak to his
supportive brother Conrad for over seven years, supposedly because he would
not have a drink with him after their fathers funeral in December 1903. Conrad
undoubtedly feared beginning what would have been an extended binge at his
expense, laced (in that period) with religious paranoia. And Satie, it has to
be said, often appeared to cut off his nose to spite his face, here putting filial
love above present-day reality. Before Satie returned to learning at the Schola
Cantorum in 1905, he felt particularly insecure and uncertain of his musical
direction. And even after graduating there as a composer of proven competence
in 1912 after his courses with Albert Roussel and Vincent dIndy, he imagined
personal slights where none were intended and usually remained intransigent
towards their supposed perpetrators for long periods of time.
Thus, as late as February 1924, he severed relations with Auric and Poulenc
when he discovered about the backstage goings-on at Diaghilevs Monte Carlo
opera season the previous month, and their association with his lifelong enemy,
Louis Laloy (who had omitted Saties name from the official programme, even
as the composer of the new recitatives for Gounods Le Mdecin malgr lui).
Whereas he had congratulated Poulenc for his success with Les Biches on 11
January, he told Milhaud a few weeks later that the ballet was the lowest of the
low and that Aurics Les Fcheux had lost all its charm due to the lassitude of
its author.1 And he refused to see either composer on his deathbed the following
year, even if he remained devoted to Milhaud, perhaps because he never criticised
him behind his back.
On a smaller scale, a similar thing happened to Henri Sauguet when he
was summoned to turn pages for Satie as he accompanied Jane Mortier in a
performance of Socrate at the Salle Gaveau on 20 June 1923. Although Satie
disliked playing in public, Sauguet says he played well but in a very studied

Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie: Correspondance presque complte (Paris: IMEC,
2003), p. 585. Letter of 5 February 1924: Les Biches sont au-dessous de tout; les Fcheux
ont perdu tout leur charme, grce la veulerie de leur auteur.
2 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

manner, in this instance rigid, with his pince-nez set for battle.2 Being
spaciously printed, the La Sirne edition had lots of pages and, according
to Sauguet, Satie kept wanting him to turn too early, keeping up a low, yet
undoubtedly audible commentary as follows: Turn No, not immediately
come on lets go No! Well, what are you waiting for? Nows the time!3
After the (applauded) performance, Satie furiously turned on Sauguet, crying:
You are a cretin, worse than Durey.4 The mild-mannered Sauguet, although it
was not his fault, valued Saties friendship and help in his career, and apologised
by letter for his apparent shortcomings. And, for once, Satie apologised two days
later himself and subsequently introduced Sauguet to Diaghilev. This might seem
a fit of pique brought on by nervousness, but the logical explanation is that Satie
wanted to be at one of Diaghilevs rare revivals of Parade on the same night and
was anxious to get through Socrate so that he could get there in time, perhaps
even just to take his onstage applause at the end. Whether he speeded up Socrate
in the process Sauguet does not say, and the fact that he gave the performance
testifies to the importance he attached to his latest compositions. But he wrote
twice to Diaghilev on the day before the concert reminding him to reserve a box
for himself and his friends and to tell Ernest Ansermet (the conductor) to take
the ballet a bit faster, especially the Prlude du Rideau rouge, as he had found
his interpretation Flabby and too slow (presumably at the final rehearsal).5 So
he had an artistic as well as a personal reason to get to the Thtre des Champs-
Elyses that evening.
In the light of the Poulenc-Auric-Laloy incident cited above, it can be seen
that Satie was, in reality, hypermoral. His tempestuous affair with Suzanne
Valadon, which lasted between 14 January and 20 June 1893, probably made
him thus, especially as she then went straight off with a banker, Paul Mousis,
whom she later married. His only known relationship found Satie calling on the
police for protection and composing the nine Danses Gothiques in March to
restore his peace of mind and the greater tranquillity of my soul.6 As he told
the wife of his brother Conrad, who asked in 1912 why he had never married:

Henri Sauguet, Quelques extraits des souvenirs, in Pierre Ancelin (ed.), Henri
Sauguet: Lhomme et luvre, Revue musicale 3613 (1983), p. 243: Il jouait bien, dune
faon trs applique, raide, le lorgnon en Bataille.
Ancelin (ed.), Henri Sauguet, p. 243: Tournez Non, pas tout de suite allez-y
allons Non! Eh bien quattendez-vous? Alors cest maintenant!
Ibid. Louis Durey was a member of Les Six, with whom Satie had fallen out earlier
because of his admiration for Ravel: Vous tes un veau, pire que Durey.
See Volta (ed.), Correspondance, pp. 5424: Ctait mou & trop lent. Satie
preferred the interpretatations of Flix Delgrange. The second Diaghilev letter (p. 544) also
shows that he did not like Cocteaus extraneous noises in Parade: We have before us a
likeable maniac (Nous avons devant nous un aimable maniaque).
Neuvaine pour le plus grand calme et la forte tranquillit de mon me (see BNF
MS 10048), composed between 21 and 23 March 1893.
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 3

Quite simply, the fear of being horribly cuckolded And I would have
deserved it: I am a man that women do not understand. The same day, he added
to his then friend, Roland-Manuel: Besides, men dont understand me any
better. Some of them, I should say.7 Yet Satie enjoyed the company of young
women, christening Germaine Tailleferre his soft and gentle daughter.8 He
also preferred women pianists to men, telling Henri-Pierre Roch that he would
like one as his accomplice to perform Parade with him in America finding
female pianists [like Marcelle Meyer] decidedly more intelligent than men
[like Ricardo Vies]. He also wanted Roch to find me a female virtuoso with
enormous malice for his piano solos!9 After 1911, he contented himself with
visiting his early interpreter, Paulette Darty (now Mme Edouard Dreyfuss), on
Sunday afternoons at her luxurious country chateau in Luzarches, where Jacques
Gurin remembers Paulette sitting on a folding-stool and casting a line into the
stream on the estate. Satie, in quiet and genuine admiration, stood behind her,
commenting on her successes.10 A first-rate free lunch was also a good logical
reason to be there, and in this case his devotion never wavered, even if Paulette
now resembled a plump mother hen.
Despite his somewhat suspicious enthusiasm for the activities of salt-of-the-
earth characters like working-class truck drivers, Satie disapproved strongly of
the homosexual circle he found himself drawn into through his later commissions,
as we have seen. He disliked Cocteau, kicking him under the table at dinner
parties, and subsequently wrote libellous articles and letters waging war against
Omoplates and Homognes like Poulenc and Auric (in Aurics case erroneously).
He envisaged all sorts of homosexual and drug-taking activities in Monte Carlo
in 1924, as well as despising the arrivisme of his previous protgs from Les Six.
And he had already distanced himself from this group in 1923, transferring his
allegiance to Sauguet and his Ecole dArcueil in his desire to maintain his position
as godfather of the most extreme avant-garde. Another gripe was that both Poulenc
and Auric came from wealthy backgrounds, and for this reason (alone it would
seem) he did not admire the music of Lord Berners. He told his young Belgian

See Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 175. Letters of 14 September 1912: La peur
dtre horriblement cocu, tout simplement Et ce serait mrit: je suis un homme que
les femmes ne comprennent pas./Les hommes ne me comprennent pas mieux, du reste.
Quelques-uns, devrais-je dire.
Ma douce & gentille fille, as he dedicated her piano duet copy of Parade.
Letter of 1 December 1918 in Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 347. Sadly, the
American tour Roch and Satie planned never came off. It was to have included Socrate,
his uvre matresse, as its climax, performed by four sopranos (two high and two
mezzo): les femmes pianistes dcidment plus intelligentes que les hommes./me trouver
une virtuose dune norme malice.
Jacques Gurin, Erik Satie. Un Dimanche Luzarches, LOptimiste 2 (JuneJuly
1992), p. 8: Paulette parfois prend un pliant et, assise au bord du ruisseau, lance une ligne.
Satie debout derrire elle, commente les coups heureux. Il est docile, il ladmire vraiment.
4 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

friend E.L.T. Mesens in 1921 that his fellow eccentric was a professional amateur.
He hasnt understood.11
Many aspects of Saties strange personal logic, which sometimes ventured
towards the paranoid, stemmed from his own position as an impoverished,
uncompromising professional composer. As such, he never took on any other form
of paid employment and survived ignominiously on the generosity of friends like
Dukas, Milhaud, or his brother Conrad. In the summer months, when his wealthier
acquaintances were sunning themselves on the Riviera, matters often became
desperate. This was especially true during the war, and his celebrated letter to
Valentine Gross in August 1918 shows things at their nadir. For once, he admitted
that I loathe this beggars life I shit on Art: it has cut me up too often.12
And this was shortly after his substantial commissions for Parade and Socrate,
for Satie was also financially incompetent. When he had money, he spent it almost
immediately. Besides being over-generous to his friends, it also explains the many
new umbrellas, handkerchiefs, shirts and wing collars found in his otherwise filthy
Arcueil apartment after his death. The logic behind these was that Satie was making
provision for future periods of poverty and the preservation of his carefully controlled
public images. The same logic undoubtedly applied to his prodigious appetite, for
his brother Conrad testified that he can eat 150 oysters13 at one sitting, and Mme
Geng, the proprietress of an Arcueil caf, describes a meal in 1905 when she and her
husband, and principally Satie, consumed enough mussels for 20 people.14
From a home that no one was ever allowed to enter (apart from the stray dogs
he took pity on, for he loved animals) and which had no running water or heating,
Satie managed to emerge immaculate each day, emerging into the world as an actor
steps out from the wings, as Roger Shattuck so eloquently observed.15 Madeleine
Milhaud, who apprehensively packed his suitcase for his final departure to the
Hpital Saint Joseph in February 1925, was shocked to discover how little he had.
As she recalled:

Quoted in E.L.T. Mesens, Le souvenir dErik Satie, Revue musicale 214 (June
1952), p. 150: Cest un amateur-professionnel. Il na pas compris.
Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 334. Letter of 23 August 1918: Cette vie de
mendigot me rpugne Jemmerde lArt: je lui dois trop de rasoireries. At this point,
Satie even considered a paid job, and Gross contacted a Monsieur Lebey, who proposed that
Satie create a new teaching course. Satie proposed The Modern Aesthetic, but the plan
never came to fruition. He had also briefly considered taking a position in April 1892 (see
Volta (ed.), Correspondance, pp. 2930).
From notes taken after a walk around Montmartre with his brother on 30 September
1914, now in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas: Il peut
manger 150 hutres.
See the letter to Louis Lemonnier of 13 November 1905 in Volta (ed.),
Correspondance, p. 120. According to Conrad, Satie could also consume an omelette made
of 30 eggs at a single sitting!
Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years (London: Faber, 1959), p. 142.
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 5

I asked Braque, the painter, who was a big, tall man, to stand between the bed
and the suitcase, and so I was able to pack because Satie couldnt see. Then,
when we arrived at the hospital, the nun who was supposed to take care of Satie
asked for the soap, and I had to tell her that he didnt have any, because in fact he
never washed with soap. He scrubbed his skin very carefully with pumice stone
and his skin was as soft as it can be. It seems that the ancient Chinese did that,
at least thats what he said.16

Later, Madeleine had to collect his laundry from his concierge in Arcueil and
Satie blew up again because there were only ninety-eight handkerchiefs when it
seemed that he had given ninety-nine or a hundred to the laundry.17
The process of impoverished deception and everyday continuity began with
the famous seven identical dun-coloured velvet corduroy suits. Satie purchased
these at La Belle Jardinire department store in 1895, either from a small legacy or,
more likely, with the assistance of the wealthy Le Monnier brothers from his native
Honfleur. With these he created his second persona as The Velvet Gentleman and
he was anxious that all his suits should all be preserved in as near-identical a
condition as possible. The clue as to how he achieved this comes from the painter
and art historian Francis Jourdain, who asked Satie to join him one evening for the
dress rehearsal of the melodrama The Fatal Card: He was wearing a hat, coat and
shoes of velvet corduroy, and he asked me to let him go back home and change.
He returned wearing a suit and an overcoat identical to those he had taken off, only
with the velvet in very slightly better condition.18 And protecting his umbrellas
under his coat when it rained is explained both by his desire to keep them new and
by the fact that Satie loved rain but hated sunshine. He told his brother Conrad that
the sun was his personal enemy, [it was] brutal and said bad things about him19
and in Verrires the owner of a wine shop would always say to his wife, whenever
the weather looked bad: Today, it will rain all day; doubtless we shall see the
gentleman of Arcueil. At noon, Satie would appear with his umbrella.20 Besides,
carrying umbrellas at all times was a family trait, as his friends discovered at his

Interview with Roger Nichols in Paris, 9 December 1993. Cited in Robert Orledge,
Satie Remembered (London: Faber, 1995), p. 212.
Interview with Roger Nichols, cited in Orledge, Satie Remembered, p. 213.
Francis Jourdain, N en 76 (Paris: Les Editions du Pavillon, 1951), p. 245 (translated
by Roger Nichols in Orledge, Satie Remembered, p. 39): Etant coiff, vtu et chauss de
velours ctes, il me demande de lui donner le temps de rentrer se changer. Il revient vtu
dun complet et dun pardessus identiques ceux quil avait quitts, mais dun velours un
tout petit peu plus fin.
Conversation of 21 October 1914, now in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research
Ccnter in Austin, Texas: Son ennemi personnel, brutal, dit du mal de lui.
Pierre-Daniel Templier (trans. E. and D. French), Erik Satie (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 1969), p. 57: A Verrires, une certaine poque de sa vie, un marchand de vins disait
sa femme, lorsque le temps tait couvert: Aujourdhui, cest leau pour la journe, nous
6 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

funeral. And they also fitted with his final persona as an anonymous professional
notary, which he adopted around the time he entered the Schola Cantorum. This
persona also allowed him to go straight from the bars he loved around the Gare
St Lazare (like Chez Graff) or Montparnasse (like Le Lion or La Rotonde) to the
high society events that he was increasingly invited to after the succs de scandale
of Parade in 1917.
As with his earlier frequented bars in Arcueil and Montmartre, he did much of
his composing there. Pierre de Massot says that he wrote much of Parade in Le
Lion in 191617,21 though he wrote his articles and copied out his neat scores in
Arcueil. How a score like Relche remained immaculate amidst the accumulated
detritus of a quarter of a century remains a mystery. But Satie never composed
in restaurants, because eating was a far more important activity, and he preferred
simple and substantial dishes cooked well. No one ever saw him drunk, though his
capacity for alcohol of all types and for mixing his drinks was legendary. His one
lament was that the bars are full of people quite happy to offer you a drink. But
none of them ever thinks of lining your stomach with a sandwich.22
Some aspects of Saties logic, however, require more explanation. Whilst
he was a musical iconoclast, he had no interest in modern innovations like
recording, or the telephone and the radio. Recordings during his lifetime were
rare and he had nothing to do with the first one in 1912.23 As to recording his
own piano music, as Debussy and Faur did, he was probably never asked,
and he would have been even more nervous about doing so than they were.
He is only known to have listened to the Radiola24 once (which he called the
smaphore auditif),25 when he heard a broadcast by Milhaud at the apartment
of his friends, the Henriquets, at 7.30 pm on Monday 3 March 1924. Similarly,
he only ever mentions using the telephone once, when he rang the Comtesse
de Beaumont on 22 March 1922.26 He asked friends to take the phone off the
hook when he visited them, and presumably he only rang the Comtesse because
she was a wealthy patron and because he was excited about the new concept
of choreography he had devised with Andr Derain, in which the movements
were to come before the music rather than deriving from it. But this logical
concept was sadly never put into practice, even in the tiny private divertissement

verrons sans doute le monsieur dArcueil. A lheure du djeuner, Satie apparaissait avec
sa parapluie.
Pierre de Massot, Quelques propos et souvenirs sur Erik Satie, Revue musicale
214 (June 1952), pp. 1256.
Ren Lanser, Notes et souvenirs Erik Satie, Matin dAnvers (9 July 1925): On
trouve dans tous les bars des gens disposs vous offrir un verre. Aucun ne songera vous
lester dun sandwich.
The song La Diva de lEmpire, recorded for Path by Adeline Lanthenay.
An early name for the radio in France.
See the letter to Milhaud of 3 March 1924 in Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 596.
Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 475.
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 7

La Statue retrouve produced for the Comtesse by Cocteau, Picasso, Satie and
Massine the following year, when Massine was the last to join the team.
In passing, Satie did not even trust the post and put letters and packets whose
content he was uncertain of unopened into one of his two grand pianos, perhaps
fearing an unpleasant surprise or even a bomb. This happened with the Christmas
gift that Milhauds mother sent him in 1922. On 19 December, he told Milhaud
that: I have received a package signed G. Milhaud and coming from the Colonial
Exhibition in Marseilles. This package has not yet been opened. What is it?27
It turned out to be chestnut fondants, for which Satie thanked her in his usual,
charming manner on New Years Eve.
While Satie wrote for the future and lived very much in the present, his roots
were in the past in plainsong, Gothic architecture and the history of medieval
France. Such paradoxes abound in his strangely logical world, and what the
inventor of the prepared piano (for Le Pige de Mduse), total chromaticism
(Vexations), minimalism (Gymnopdies), and the first coordinated film score
(Entracte) was most concerned about was the exteriorisation of his musical
thought in print. Hence the barless, but regularly metered piano pieces of 1913,
without repeated clefs, and with those wonderful but mostly irrelevant comments
to amuse the performer that had begun with the Gnossiennes in 1890.28 The
music appeared bizarre to the public (who mostly didnt buy it), but it was
utterly logical for Satie to want his music to look as striking as literary or artistic
publications, and to want to combine music, poetry and art as he did in the Sports
et divertissements of 1914. In this instance, Stravinsky refused the fee offered by
Lucien Vogel because it was too small, whereas Satie rejected it because it was
too large. Illogical? No, because Satie was in awe of Stravinsky and would never
have imagined him to be so mercenary. And his bizarre texts and programme
notes for Le Guide du concert, which begin with a true statement and then launch
into whimsy, arose from the same desire to amuse and be different, with a self-
deprecation that begins with the 3me Gymnopdie which is now to be found
underneath every piano, as he told readers of Le Chat Noir journal in 1889.29
A typical example of an explanation by Satie can be found in his preface to the
Sports et divertissements in 1914 (cited in Chapter 5, p. 101).

Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 508: Jai reu un paquet sign G. Milhaud &
venant de Marseille (Exposition Coloniale). Ce paquet nest pas encore ouvert. Quest-ce?
Perhaps the classic example of this is the last of the Heures sculaires et instantanes
of July 1914, entitled Affolements granitiques (Granitic distractions). The Harvard
sketches (b ms Mus 193 (39)) show this regularly barred in 3/4 time with the ending notated
in F major. All the fake chromaticism was added later for publication.
Le Chat Noir VIII/369 (9 February 1889), at the end of an advertisement for the
Ogives: Sa Troisime Gymnopdie, actuellement sous tous les pianos. This had been
printed privately in red ink with Gothic titles by Satie in November 1888 and was available
from his father Alfreds music store at 66 boulevard Magenta.
8 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Saties concern for the aesthetic marriage of music and prose led him to
invent all lower case type for uspud in 1892, for which he made his own musical
woodblocks, which had sudden changes of clef and stave to distance Stupid
people30 from his score, an attitude that persisted throughout his career. Similarly,
he invented punctuation form in Rosicrucian works like the Prlude du Nazaren,
in which recurring cadences of various lengths act as commas or full stops in the
repetitive cells from which the music is constructed.
On another level, the absence of any coordination between music and stage in
all of his early theatre works arose not from Saties inability to match their often
violent, exotic or esoteric action in musical terms, but from a desire that the piece
should itself be self-sufficient and should not fall into the Wagnerian tradition of
descriptive, hyperexpressive music which he despised. Besides, an anonymous
though stylistically identifiable score could be used for other occasions. The same
concern for self-sufficiency amid theatrical chaos can be found as late as the final
ballet Relche, in which Satie fashioned the two halves around Ren Clairs film to
be precisely proportioned mirror images of each other.31 This was even more true
of Parade, in which everything originally revolved around the central Steamboat
Ragtime, everything was at the same pulse, and yet the work has no definitive
form there being different endings for the concert hall and the stage.
Another aspect of Saties Rose+Croix music that seems weird and illogical
until you know the reasoning behind it springs from his desire for publicity during
this early period of relative obscurity. This was his aim in challenging (and actually
arranging) a duel with Eugne Bertrand (then the director of the Paris Opra),
as it seemed to be the only way to persuade him even to look at his score for
uspud in December 1892. Publicity also accounts for his hilarious performances
of uspud with harmonium at the Auberge du Clou, because he knew full well that
a composer like Debussy would nevertheless be able to understand the seriousness
of purpose behind the scenic backcloth of the music. And in the Rose+Croix
piece Fte donne par des Chevaliers Normands, Satie, with what he saw as his
limited technical means at the time, set out to prove that a viable piece could be
constructed from a simple musical system based on intervals, though this was the
only occasion (of many) in which the sensitive composer did not take over from
the logician during the construction process.32
If we turn now towards Saties writings and drawings, we find that they
are, without exception, meticulously neat and painstaking. Only the musical
sketchbooks reveal signs of untidiness and what was surely at times the white
heat of inspiration. This can be at least partially explained by a theory first put
to me by Sarah Nichols. This includes Satie in a group of distinguished creators

See copy no. 16 (of 100) of the large uspud brochure (Paris, 1892), p. 8, now in the
private collection of Johny Fritz, Luxembourg: pour lloignement des Stupides.
See Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1990), p. 180.
See ibid., pp. 1869.
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 9

alongside Picasso, Lewis Carroll and Hans Christian Andersen, all of whom were
higher-order dyslexics or imagists and all of whom Satie admired. Typically,
his exceptional intelligence and different logical approach made him frequently
frustrated with what he saw as the inadequacies of others (especially music critics),
and this led to frequent explosions. He was as fascinated with his own thought
processes as Lewis Carroll was, and he too explored them deliberately. Similarly,
he only made progress with Parade after the like-minded Picasso joined the team
and gave him ideas he could work with (unlike Cocteau). So, with Satie, periods
of elated bonhomie (often exacerbated by drink and little food) alternated with
others of almost embarrassing shyness and timidity (hence his often-repeated and
rather feeble jokes at society gatherings). He was anti-authoritarian and very much
in favour of the young, seeing himself as coming into this world very young in a
very old age. Underneath he was sensitive to others yet volatile whenever he felt
himself threatened.
Most importantly, he seems to have conceptualised his ideas, which made
the two-dimensional concept of writing extremely laborious (it took him a good
twenty minutes to write a six-line postcard, according to Jean Winer).33 As
such, he masked his shortcomings in his slow and conscious calligraphy, which
means that the many little drawings he made of everything from spaceships to
advertisements for medieval sorcerers must have happily filled many lonely hours
in a run-down industrial backwater like Arcueil. At the same time, the higher-order
dyslexia would have given him a spatial approach to music (which explains his
fascination with Cubism and sculpture) and made him attracted to transformational
thinking, magic and the potentials of formal mirroring. A particular case of this is
the original concept of the Gymnopdies with the first two as a mirroring pair. Both
were constructed in two halves and the first originally had a four-bar introduction
and no balancing coda, whereas the second had a coda and no introduction. And
in the first there are only four bars that vary between the two balancing halves,
whilst in the second it was the melody in the first half that Satie revised. However,
the rule of three took precedence in the end, with Satie adding an introduction to
the Second Gymnopdie for its later publication in 1895 to make it seem like the
others. On this rule of three, incidentally, Satie said of the Aperus dsagrables
in 1913 that before I compose a piece, I walk round it several times, accompanied
by myself,34 and if the second and third pieces in a set were as good as the first, it
was the absolutely new form he had invented that was good in itself.35 This was

Jean Winer, Un grand musicien, Arts 1/25 (20 July 1945), p. 4: il faut vingt
bonnes minutes pour rdiger un pneumatique de six lignes.
At the end of a publicity document for his publisher Eugne-Louis Demets, cited in
Ornella Volta (ed.), Satie Ecrits (Paris: Le Champ Libre, 1981), p. 143: Avant dcrire une
uvre, jen fais plusieurs fois le tour, en compagnie de moi-mme.
Reported by Paul Collaer in La musique moderne (Brussels: Editions Meddens,
1963), p. 136: Jai invent une forme absolument nouveau si [les autres pices] sont
encore bonnes, cest que la forme que jai imagine est bonne en elle-mme.
10 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

rather like viewing the same sculpture by his friend Brancusi from three different
angles, and shows a truly three-dimensional, almost architectural approach to
Satie was obsessed with making lists (like Marcel Proust) as much as with
devising compositional systems and numerology (like Schoenberg and Berg),
and these lists would have struck him as funny in their fantastical concepts. Like
many higher-order dyslexics, his frustration with early learning led to reports of
idleness and lack of progress at the Paris Conservatoire in the 1880s, where he was
good at dictation but poor at sight-reading. In fact, the edition of Mendelssohn36
that he practised from shows him to have been more interested in working out
a definitive form of his signature on the cover than in the virtually pristine
piano pieces themselves. His dislike of playing or even discussing his music in
public follows on from his early experiences. While the spelling difficulties we
normally associate with dyslexia were more the province of his friend Debussy,
this hypothesis explains so much that it deserves serious credence in Saties case
and is in no way meant to be condescending. Besides, his ability to see things
differently from others made him a connoisseur of modern art. He considered his
friend Andr Derain (who had an equally scurrilous sense of humour) to be the
greatest painter of the Fauvist period. After 1912, it was his encouragement that
kept Derain going when he thought his career was over, and he told friends that it
was Satie who saved me as a painter.37 Equally, Picassos mistress from 1904 to
1912, Fernande Olivier, said that The only person that I heard argue clearly and
sensibly about Cubism was Erik Satie,38 and in a fast-changing world of multiple
-isms riddled with charlatans, Saties uncanny ability to spot the good from the bad
could have made him a fortune.
As far as important innovative ideas were concerned, Saties logic proved
faultless with the benefit of hindsight. He was the first to see the overwhelming
need for French music to remain French in the face of the obsession with late
Beethoven and Wagnerism in nineteenth-century Paris. He never shared Debussys
love-hate relationship with the master of Bayreuth, and though he was bowled
over by Debussys achievement in Pellas et Mlisande, he felt he had prepared
the way by warning him near the outset of their long friendship in the early 1890s
that we need our own music without sauerkraut if possible. Why not make use
of the representational methods of Claude Monet, Czanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and
so on? Why not make a musical transposition of them? Nothing simpler. Are they

Now in the collection of James Fuld in New York. The Peters Edition dates from
c. 1881.
Related by Satie to Robert Caby from his hospital bed in 1925 and passed on to me
in an interview in September 1987.
Ornella Volta, LYmagier dErik Satie (Paris: Editions Van de Velde, 1979), p. 65:
Lunique personne que jai entendue raisonner clairement et simplement du cubisme ce
fut Erik Satie.
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 11

not expressions too?39 Satie himself flirted briefly with so-called Impressionism
in The Dreamy Fish in 1901, but soon discovered it was not his province. But
the pared-down new modern fugue, which he perfected while at the Schola
Cantorum, was. Typical examples of these, with their repetitive subjects, loose
episodes and lack of obvious contrapuntal tricks, can be found in En habit de
cheval (1911), which, perhaps unsurprisingly by now, refers to what the horse,
rather than the rider, was wearing. Also to emerge around the time of Socrate was
Saties compositional aesthetic, in which he distils the essence of his restrained
and logical art. The key elements are as follows:

A melody does not imply its harmony, any more than a landscape implies its

Do not forget that the melody is the Idea, the outline; as much as it is the form
and the subject matter of the work. The harmony is an illumination, an exhibition
of the object, its reflection.

One cannot criticise the craft of an artist if it follows a plan. If there is form and
a new style of writing, there is a new craft.

The Idea can do without Art.

Let us mistrust Art: it is often nothing but Virtuosity.40

And after all, Satie was a man of ideas, a creative spirit whose influence and example
lives on in the present century and has proved more lasting than the concept of
serialism, which he anticipated in Vexations in 1893 but wisely did not pursue.
There were many good sides to Saties character too, another being his love of
children, whom he took on country outings at his own expense in Arcueil around
1910 and taught about pitch using local drainpipes as examples. But children were

Claude Debussy, written 1525 August 1922 in Arceuil for Vanity Fair, but
never published. Cited in Volta, Ecrits, p. 69: Nous devions une musique nous sans
choucroute, si possible./Pourquoi ne pas se servir des moyens reprsentatifs que nous
exposaient Claude Monet, Czanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.? Pourquoi ne pas transposer
musicalement ces moyens? Rien de plus simple. Ne sont-ce pas des expressions?
From BNF MS 9611, entitled Subject Matter (Idea) and Craftsmanship
(Construction) (La Matire (Ide) et la Main duvre (Couture)). See Orledge, Satie the
Composer, pp. 689 for the full text: Une mlodie na pas son harmonie, pas plus quun
paysage na sa couleurNoubliez pas que la mlodie est lIde, le contour, ainsi quelle
est la forme & la matire dune uvre. Lharmonie, elle, est un clairage, une exposition de
lobjet, son reflet./On ne peut pas critiquer le mtier dun artiste que si celui-ci continue
un systme. Sil y a forme & criture nouvelle. Il y a mtier nouveau./LIde peut se
passer de lArt./Mfions-nous de lArt: il nest souvent que de la Virtuosit.
12 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

very different from adults, and when the adult world discovered him (through
Ravel championing his music at the Socit Musicale Indpendante in 1911),
he was, illogically, not pleased. However, his explanation to his newly forgiven
brother Conrad on 17 January reveals that he felt confused by the enthusiastic
reception for his early works by the young opponents of Vincent dIndy, who
found his recent music dull. Now the fruits of his supposed ignorance, which had
led him to enrol at dIndys Schola Cantorum, were being acclaimed! Satie found
this total nonsense,41 even if he soon realised that it would create a demand for
his subsequent compositions. For that is where his true interest always lay. In the
same letter he also denounced his cabaret work as more stupid and dirty than
anything. But now, at last, he was able to give it up, and it is ironic that he soon
fell out with his then admired benefactor Ravel initially because he wanted his
new young protg, Roland-Manuel, to take lessons with his old teacher, Albert
Roussel, whereas Roland-Manuel preferred the more celebrated Ravel.
On the subject of changing views by the usually intransigent Satie, one can
also cite the case of Alfredo Casella. In a rare example of frankly expressed
musical opinion in 1918, Satie agreed with Henry Prunires in saying that in his
music the form is generally lacking in sincerity and he switches too easily from the
style of Faur to the style of Stravinsky. Even so, Satie found Prunires indulgent
and thought he might have added that he is always lacking in intelligence. Is it
intelligent to depict Latin visions with Slavic means; to confuse the sky of Italy
with the sky of Russia; to dress Romans as Cossacks? Thats what our dear Casella
does.42 Above all, Satie would have disliked the absence of an authentic Italian
voice in the Casella works he must have heard and, as we have seen, he was an
unqualified admirer of Stravinsky. He also saw Casella as a poor pianist as well
as a jack-of-all-trades (for he hated pastiche), probably because he had accepted
an official post as professor of piano in Rome in 1915. Later, however, when
Casellas style became more neoclassical and Italian in the 1920s, and he began to
champion young Italian composers, Satie changed his views (no doubt assisted by
Casella conducting a performance of Socrate). He then supported him in getting a
commission from Rolf de Mars Ballets Sudois with the folk-inspired La Giara
in 1924, and this was performed shortly before his own ballet Relche at the
Thtre des Champs-Elyses, where its success pleased Satie very much.
Before I give a detailed example of Saties musical logic at work, I should like
to cite two evaluations of Satie that tell us more about his logic and reinforce some

Letter to Conrad Satie of 17 January 1911, cited in Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p.
145: Cest ny rien comprendre Cest plus bte et plus sale que nature.
Letter of 3 April 1918, cited in Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 324: Chez lui la
forme manque gnralement de sincrit quil pass trop facilement du style de Faur au
style de Strawinsky vous pourriez ajouter que toujours il manqu dintelligence. Est-ce
intelligence de dpeindre des visions latines avec des moyens slaves; de confondre le ciel
de lItalie avec le ciel de Russie; dhabiller les Romaines en Cosaques? Cest ce que fait
notre cher Casella.
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 13

of my earlier observations. The first comes from Francis Picabia, with whom he
collaborated on Relche, his final instantaniste ballet in 1924:

Saties case is extraordinary Hes a mischievous and cunning old artist. At

least, thats how he thinks of himself. Myself, I think the opposite! Hes a very
susceptible man, arrogant, a real sad child, but one who is sometimes made
optimistic by alcohol. But hes a good friend, and I like him a lot.43

The second comes from Madeleine Milhaud, who knew him well and could still
imitate Saties chuckle with his hand to his mouth to perfection at the age of 100:

He was a most lovable person: unpredictable, with a certain charm. His way
of speaking was very spontaneous the complete opposite of his writing
Satie never told a dirty story; I never met anyone so polite. But he could be
very violent. As Cocteau said: Satie with never blows up without a reason.
Everything Satie did was logical, based on the fact that he was very sensitive and
could be hurt by the slightest thing. It was logic carried to an extreme. Look at it
coldly and it makes sense. He had no feeling for the mores of his time. He was
extremely proud and he never showed his poverty to anyone. Poverty entered
my room one day, he said, like a miserable little girl with [large] green eyes.44

Saties musical logic, which reveals a process of self-discovery with many

experimental blind alleys, is traced through numerous detailed examples in my
book Satie the Composer.45 In this chapter I should like to concentrate only on
the year 1920, and pp. 717 of Satie the Composer show how two very different

From a letter to Andr Breton of 17 February 1922, just after Bretons trial for
anti-Dadaism at the Closerie des Lilas restaurant, at which Satie presided. He remained
faithful to this movement and had no time for the automatic writing and dream visions of the
Surrealists, led by Breton, whose quarrel came to a public head at the premiere of Mercure
in 1924. Cited in Michel Sanouillet, Dada Paris (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1965),
p.516: Le cas Satie est extraordinaire Cest un vieil artiste malin et roublard. Cest du
moins ce quil pense de lui; moi je pense le contraire! Cest un homme trs susceptible,
orgueilleux, un vritable enfant triste, mais que lalcool rend par moment optimiste. Cest
un bon ami que jaime beaucoup.
From an interview with Roger Nichols at the Exeter Festival on 4 June 1987. The
quote about poverty comes from the same letter to his brother Conrad of 17 January 1911,
cited in Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 146. Cocteaus other bon mot about Satie was
that composition for him was rather a process of decomposition his approach being so
analytical and painstaking.
Pietro Dossena has also undertaken further detailed genetic analyses focusing on
key passages in Saties compositions. His valuable discoveries about Le Mdecin malgr
lui can be seen in Chapter 8 and his article A la recherche du vrai Socrate in the Journal
of the Royal Musical Association 133/1 (2008), pp. 131. He has also carried out extensive
research into the Sports et divertissements and the Messe des pauvres.
14 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Example 1.1 Satie, Adieu: first version

pieces emerged that autumn. The first is the Elgie for his lifelong friend Debussy,
which began as a series of parallel fifths, bitonally exploiting the ambiguity
between E and F minor as it unfolded chromatically, whilst never clearly
asserting either key. This is followed by no less than 28 trials for the seemingly
straightforward start of the Marche Franco-Lunaire from La Belle Excentrique,
which show how Satie was anxious to make a really striking, chic and Parisian
initial impression in his final years. And in passing, Saties afterthoughts were
invariably his happiest inspirations. Like the strange, disembodied ending of
Socrate, that seems to go on revolving into infinite space, but also comes back
to the bass F sharp on which it began who would have thought that Satie only
added this at the proof stage and that several of his earlier trials resolved the
long monotone passages (on A and B) telling of Socrates death, neatly onto C?
The tiny song Adieu, the last of the Quatre petites mlodies, composed to
words by Raymond Radiguet in NovemberDecember 1920, offers an excellent
additional example. Its original title in Les Joues en feu (Lettres dun Alphabet)
was Mouchoir and in the poem, an ageing Admiral is reassured that he will not
lose face by waving his old handkerchief. How else does one get rid of the flies
of the past?
One might well wonder why 16 bars of music lasting only 35 seconds
occupied Satie for almost two months until one studies the four pages of sketches
that begin the notebook known as BNF MS 9674. Satie began by creating a
rather staid rhythm on a monotone that was, frankly, at odds with Radiguets
amusing mini-poem (Ex. 1.1).
This led to his first attempt at a melody, beginning with the descending scale
Satie was to use much more effectively to end the final version (compare Exx.
1.1 and 1.3). But it would have taken him some time to realise this. You can also
see the first ideas for harmonisation in bars 1012, at the point Satie knew would
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 15

Example 1.2 Satie, Adieu: second version

ultimately mark the turning point and climax of the song from his initial immersion
in the poem (which, like Debussy, he almost certainly learned by heart first). The
interesting thing is that his bassline in bar 11 is reversed in the final version in bar
10, and the rising figure in the upper part was to become a unifying feature of the
final accompaniment. But both of these discoveries would again have taken some
time to emerge.
16 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Example 1.3 Satie, Adieu: final version

Then Satie made a second, more flexible monotone rhythmic setting over the
first, which he erased, but which still remains visible in the manuscript. This was
more responsive to Radiguets poem and shortened the song, which he first set as
bars 314 in the final version, changing the first two lines from descending scales
to palindromes (see Ex. 1.2).
This seemingly tiny change was important, both because it gave the voice its
own initial identity and because it still linked in with the rising accompaniment
as an echo across bars 34. Lastly, Satie added a brief introduction and balancing
coda, making what started out as a caf-concert waltz into a quirky and
sophisticated art song.
Then, sometime before the fair copy reached publication by the Editions de
La Sirne in 1922, Satie added the bass octaves to the coda, added the pause and
slow up in bars 1213 and moved the Elargir marking from bar 12 to bar 15 to
emphasise the coda (cf. Exx. 1.2 and 1.3).
This had the added benefit of balancing the introduction in which the treble
octaves were initially pitched an octave lower (see Ex. 1.2). The miraculous thing,
Saties Personal and Musical Logic 17

of course, is that once Satie had established the nature of the accompaniment in
his first draft and decided on the final format of the song in his second, producing
the quirky harmonies in the third seems to have occurred quite easily, with only
two (though significant) second thoughts in bars 7 and 10 (Ex. 1.2). So Satie ended
up with a meticulously balanced 16-bar song in a 6 + 4 + 6 format with which
he was finally satisfied in December 1920. The process of creation may seem
laborious for a mature and experienced composer, but the process of conscious
self-discovery and the painstaking logic behind it are both fascinating and typical
of Satie the composer.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 2
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic
Ann-Marie Hanlon


The Prince of Humorists, thats Erik Satie.1

In early Modernist France, Erik Satie was the leading exponent of humour in
high-art music and, consequently, was regarded as one of the most controversial
composers of his time. His idiosyncratic style of musical humour reached its zenith
in a series of humoristic piano suites composed between 1912 and 1915, where
humour is generally considered to be the defining feature.2 The persistent use of
humour in his writings and compositions of this period certainly distinguished Satie
from his peers and gained him notoriety during his short public career; however,
the consequences of this humoristic approach resulted in a reluctance or refusal
on the part of most music critics to take his aesthetic and ideological contributions
to musical discourses seriously. Saties reception was strongly influenced by the
humanist-Romantic perception of the comic that dominated French society at this
time: in music in particular, humour was viewed as a subversive form of expression
and intellectual resistance. Even the most supportive critics related their concern
that humour functioned as a significant barrier to engagement with Saties music. In
1913 Roland-Manuel wrote that these astounding fantasies definitively create an
insurmountable partition between the public and him.3 The barrier to engagement
with Saties music was inextricably linked to the concept of the musical canon and
its ideological opposition to humour. The purpose of this chapter is twofold: first,
to comprehend the nature of this barrier and, second, through an understanding of
how humour operates, to address the need for new methodologies in overcoming
the barrier it presents. Part I addresses the ideologically opposed relationship
between humour and the canon in contemporary discourses. In his humoristic

Ren Chalupt, Le Pige de Mduse, Comdie Lyrique par M. Erik Satie,
LOccident: Architecture, Sculpture, Peintre, Musique, Posie 139 (June 1914), pp. 2456,
at p. 246: Le Prince des Humoristes cest M. Erik Satie.
The humorous Sonatine bureaucratique (1917) is often included in this category
because of the aesthetic similarities it demonstrates with these earlier works.
Alexis Roland-Manuel, Silhouettes dArtistes: Erik Satie, LEcho musical (Revue
Mensuelle Illustr), 5 April 1913, pp. 13, at p. 2: Ces ahurissantes fantaisies crent
dfinitivement entre le public et lui linfranchissable cloison.
20 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

period Satie participated in a unique way in contemporary musical debates as

a counter-hegemonic commentator on contemporary ideas of canon. In setting
the context for the reception of Saties humour and in establishing the primary
ideological concerns that his humoristic works presented, this discussion is
primarily informed by Henri Bergsons essays on laughter. Part II is concerned
with how we can overcome this barrier, a legacy of the canon in Saties time
that continues to affect how we approach humour in his music today. In this
section a variety of methodological approaches specific to the study of parody and
irony are introduced and explored through direct engagement with Saties music.
Saties pivotal role as an avatar of musical modernism will never be adequately
acknowledged or valued unless the issue of humour in his music and the truly
revolutionary role it played in his contribution to those discourses is understood.
Since 1911, critics have been engaged in identifying the possible sources
and influences of Saties humour; however, this approach has been limited in its
ability to reveal much of the meaning of the comic. The origins of Saties humour
are not a primary concern in this study, but rather how it is created and, perhaps
more importantly, why he chose this expressive medium: what critical function
did humour serve in his writings and compositions and how did this affect his
reception? Satie utilised many types of humour in his works, including irony,
satire and parody. Yet, regardless of the type of humour employed, they all shared
a common critical function in the expression of his personal ideologies, and his
adoption of humour was ultimately subversive in intent. Comprehension of the
ideological motivations that lay behind his explicit use of humour in music is vital
in understanding his intellectual participation in Modernist discourses. Therefore,
this study of the comic also considers the affective (the ethos of humour) and
formal (structural techniques, humour as structure) dimensions of Saties music.
Humour can function on structural, aesthetic and ideological levels, and these
elements often overlap in creating comic meaning. The following discussion
introduces theories that allow us to analyse these three roles of humour in music
and suggests ways in which we can begin to broach the barrier that humour a
very complex and culturally specific construct presents in studies of Satie.
Scholarly engagement with humour has been hindered by an uncertainty
surrounding possible methodological approaches and the lack of a music-specific
vocabulary for dealing with this subject. Categorisations of humorous styles and
techniques in music remain largely undefined, except in reference to the study
of specific discourses or individual composers. The vague and often inadequate
terminology that surrounds discussions of Saties humour requires clarification.
Many of the terms we associate with Satie, such as humoristique and fantaisiste,
were first attributed to him in the French musical press in response to the humoristic
works, and the historicity of these terms must be addressed. Terminology we
perhaps take for granted, such as parody and irony, is frequently confused or
badly defined in discussions of music. This study focuses specifically on two
forms of humour associated with Satie that are commonly defined in terms of
negative intent: irony, which judges, and parody, which mocks. These definitions
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 21

imply that humour only operates in a negative or destructive manner, when this is
certainly not the case. The issues surrounding the terminology of humour must be
negotiated when establishing a context for the analysis of the humoristic works.
Humour serves a range of functions in society, from the maintenance of the status
quo to its deconstruction; however, it is not a universal language and its range of
meanings is socially, historically and culturally specific. In the words of Bergson:
To understand laughter, we must put it back into its natural environment, which
is society, and above all we must determine the utility of its function, which is a
social one Laughter must answer to certain requirements of life in common.
It must have a social signification.4 All interpretations of humour are dependent
upon an awareness of context and in the case of Satie, we have to reconstruct this
context on account of our historical, cultural and social distance from our subject.

Part I: Humour and Context

The Canon

In the humoristic period, and periodically throughout the rest of his life, Satie
participated in the discourses of canon formation in a directly confrontational
manner and employed humour as a rhetorical expressive device. He repeatedly
challenged and ridiculed the ideologies of canon in his music and music journalism.
Alenka Zupani observes that comedy materializes and gives a body to what can
otherwise appear as an unspeakable, infinite Mystery of the other scene.5 The
materialism of humour means that it possesses a particular ability to challenge
or even attack symbolic structures such as the canon. Humour can transform
an abstract normative (such as the canon) into a concrete, visible subject, and
remove it from its comfortable hegemonic position: humour can radicalise the
norm. As is often the case with hegemonic ideologies, they are rarely noted by the
general public: it is those who cannot identify with or fit into the normative that
are most motivated to participate in counter-hegemonic forms of discourse. Saties
ideological and aesthetic attacks on the musical canon were designed to destabilise
its power, a highly subversive act. The maintenance of the musical canon requires
cultural reinforcement and music criticism is the primary site where the heated
debate on Saties canonicity occurred. Through an analysis of the sources of
music reception, the tensions between the hegemonic (legitimate) discourses
and counter-discourses of Satie are rendered visible. Humour emerged as the most
pervasive problem identified by the critics: it exerted a profound impact upon the
formation of his public reputation and, subsequently, his author-function.

Cited in Simon Critchley, On Humour (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 4.
Alenka Zupani, The Odd One In: On Comedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
2008), p. 210.
22 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Concerns and criteria of canon extend beyond musical matters to include the
composers public and private activities, behaviour and even personality.6 This
is particularly evident in the reception of Satie, as anecdotal references to his
humorous behaviour are used to create a particular reputation. Reception is closely
linked to the construction of reputation and two images of Satie are presented in
the critical press ad infinitum during the humoristic period: Satie the humorist
and precursor. His self-promotion as a humorist largely undermined any possible
prestige associated with the latter image. Citron notes: To be a professional
composer is to be taken seriously in ones own time and possibly in the future.
It involves reputation, authority and the circulation of a name within culture.7
Saties penchant for humour was a significant contributory factor in achieving
his exclusion from the French musical canon. The following discussion examines
the reasons why humour was considered so polemical at this time and seeks to
understand why many of the problems early critics encountered in addressing
Saties humour persist today.

Bergson and the Contemporary Context

Humour has been a concern of many influential philosophers from ancient to

modern times. In order to contextualise the wider contemporary debate surrounding
humour in music in Saties tine, Henri Bergsons series of three critical essays on
the meaning of the comic are insightful in their elaboration of a priori attitudes
towards humour in art.8 In early Modernist France, Bergson was regarded as
an extremely influential philosophical thinker, so much so that Etienne Gilson
has described the first third of the twentieth century as the age of Bergson.9 In
Le Rire (Laughter), Bergson contemplates the social, moral and ideological
roles and functions of humour in society, and in doing so provides an invaluable
insight into contemporary thought on this subject. Many of the societal and artistic
debates concerning humour found in Laughter are reflected in the reception of
Saties humour.
Bergson states that through these essays he endeavours to contribute to a
better understanding of the real nature of art and the general relation between art

Katherine Bergeron, Prologue: Disciplining Music, in Katherine Bergeron and
Philip V. Bohlman (eds), Disciplining Music: Musicology and its Canons (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 19, at p. 1.
Marcia J. Citron, Gender and the Musical Canon (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 2000), p. 80.
These essays reached a wide audience through their initial publication in La Revue
de Paris in January, February and March 1900.
Etienne Gilson, in R.C. Grogin, The Bergsonian Controversy in France 19001914
(Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1988), p. 207. Bergsons bi-weekly public lectures
at the Collge de France in Paris attracted a cult following and the 400-seat lecture room
could not accommodate the masses who turned up to hear him speak.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 23

and life.10 He argues that laughter functions as a sort of social gesture; therefore,
humour plays an important critical role as it can indicate a slight revolt on the
surface of social life.11 Critics overlooked the critical function that humour played
in Saties music, particularly the challenge it presented to the contemporary ideals
of canon. Bergson observes that the comic can serve a dual function in society: it
can be used to attack the status quo or to discipline (to humiliate or silence) the
dissenter.12 The corrective role of laughter is fulfilled by the professional comic
or, in Saties case, the professional critic. His humorous attacks on the norm were
responded to in kind by the music critics, who often used irony and sarcasm as
rhetorical strategies to target and publicly admonish him.
In the third essay, The Comic in Character, Bergson betrays his ideological
sympathy with elitist Romantic notions of high art through his use of the comic/
serious binary opposition. He discusses high art in spiritual and moral terms, and
outlines why the comic is a lesser form of expression that can never be considered

So we were probably right in saying that comedy lies midway between art and
life. It is not disinterested as genuine art is. By organising laughter, comedy
accepts social life as a natural environment, it even obeys an impulse of social
life. And in this respect it turns its back upon art, which is a breaking away from
society and a return to pure nature.13

Saties humoristic works depended upon the existence of the everyday within
his art, particularly through musical borrowings, and he made few attempts to
conceal these elements. In his 1916 biography, Roland-Manuel appropriates
Bergsons definition of the comic formula of laughter in the defence of the popular
features of Saties humoristic music: This rupture of equilibrium, this mechanical
encrusted on the living as Henri Bergson excellently said these grimaces, these
disarticulations precisely constitute the everyday practices of the circus, that must
be considered as superior aesthetic entertainment.14 Bergson would certainly not
have approved of Roland-Manuels assessment of Saties superior music.

Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, trans. Cloudesley
Brereton and Fred Rothwell (Rockville: Arc Manor, 2008), p. 64.
Ibid., p. 94.
Ibid., p. 17.
Ibid., p. 81, emphasis added.
Alexis Roland-Manuel, Erik Satie. Causerie faite la Socit Lyre et Palette, le
18 Avril 1916 (Paris: Roberge, 1916), p. 6. A copy of this publication that Roland-Manuel
inscribed for Satie resides in the Music Department of the Bibliothque Nationale de
France, (8Vm Pice 463). Cette rupture dquilibre, ce Mcanique plaqu sur du vivant
comme la dit excellemment Henri Bergson ces grimaces, ces dsarticulations constituent
justement les procds ordinaires du Cirque, quil faut considrer comme le divertissement
esthtique suprieur.
24 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

The materiality of humour contests many Modernist expectations and

assumptions of high art inherited from nineteenth-century Romanticism: the
artwork should be unique, original and elevated above the realm of the everyday.
Humour, by its nature, is only achievable through the inclusion of an everyday
element within the comic formula, a point of reference discernible to the audience
or listener. Bergson emphasises the relationship between the comic and the
everyday, noting that comedy depicts characters we have already come across and
shall meet with again. It takes note of similarities. It aims at placing types before
our eyes. It even creates new types if necessary. In this respect it forms a contrast
to all the arts.15 In his view, this is why the comic can never belong in the domain
of high art, an opinion shared by most music critics in early twentieth-century
France. In a talk given in Brussels in April 1921, Auric stresses the anti-Romantic
nature of Saties humour: Lets not be surprised if [the majority] placed Satie
straight away, and for too long, in the domain of humour a very small domain
evidently for the hearts that only beat when listening to Fervaal or lEtranger.16
The term small in this context is synonymous with insignificant.
Humour opposes the pure aesthetic which canonic or legitimate art of this period
was expected to demonstrate. Bergson notes that the comic lies in opposition to
formal refinement: It partakes rather of the unsprightly [sic] than of the unsightly,
of rigidness rather than of ugliness.17 The feature of rigidity is particularly
noticeable in the humoristic works, which are characterised by their mechanical
repetition and insisting rhythms. The comic also denies the spiritual experience
of high art as it invokes a response of laughter rather than respectful silence. The
audiences reaction to Saties humoristic works presented a direct challenge to
concert etiquette, and the sacred space of the concert hall was desecrated through
laughter in the eyes of many critics. Bourdieu repeats Bergsons sentiments later
in the twentieth century and clarifies that laughter is not the domain of aesthetes,
but rather resides in the realm of the popular aesthetic.18
In discussions of taste and laughter in the early twentieth century, laughter
was considered an unacceptable form of expression in the high-art scene. In 1911
the composer-critic Jean Hur wrote an article reporting his recent experiences
during an evening at a caf-concert in Paris, where he regretted that laughter
in the concert hall was unthinkable.19 In a discussion of humour he outlines the
stereotyped differences between la mauvaise musique and la bonne musique,

Bergson, Laughter, p. 72.
Georges Auric, Le Rle du prophte. A typed copy of this talk can be found in
the Satie Archives, IMEC, lAbbaye dArdenne: SAT 40.2, Galerie Georges, Brussels 12
avril 1921. Ne nous tonnons pas si elle situa aussitt, et pour trop longtemps, Satie dans
le domaine de lhumour un tout petit domaine videmment pour des curs qui ne battent
quen coutant Fervaal ou lEtranger.
Bergson, Laughter, p. 21, emphasis in original.
Bourdieu, Distinction (London and New York: Routledge Classics [1984] 2010), p. 26.
Jean Hur, LArt au Caf-Concert, Revue musicale SIM (October 1911), pp. 634.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 25

and laments that the critics of officialdom have never had the curiosity to
examine, to consider, the reasons why bad music is loved, by those we call the
vulgar: the vulgar composed indistinctly of factory workers, of the bourgeois,
of the people of the world.20 Two years following this article, Satie would bring
laughter to the high-art concert hall. The humoristic works baffled critics, yet were
adored by contemporary audiences. At many of the premieres, they were given
an encore on account of the audiences reaction to them: finally, the Vritables
prludes flasques (pour un chien), by Erik Satie, that merited the honour of an
encore.21 In December 1913 Auric recalls the reception of the humoristic works
in concert halls during that year:

Besides the friendly public, not those envious colleagues of prejudiced sectarians,
but the audience of sincere amateurs always shows the greatest enthusiasm for
the humoristic music of Erik Satie. The Prludes flasques, played at the Socit
Nationale by Ricardo Vies, were encored, at the Socit indpendante they
were received less favourably and finally, at the Salle Pleyel, Mme Jeanne
Mortier found herself obliged to perform the dEdriophthalma of the Embryons
desschs twice to the joyous admiration of an enthusiastic hall.22

This popular reaction was a reason why star virtuoso pianists of the day chose to
incorporate these works into their repertoire, yet it impacted detrimentally upon
Saties critical reception. Auric notes that Saties humorist self-promotion severely
damaged his reputation: Satie finds himself condemned It is in good spirit to
punish the smooth talk of this clown.23
Bergson explains that society is suspicious of comic individuals because of their
non-conformist character: separatist tendencies, that incline to swerve from the
common centre round which society gravitates: in short, because it is the sign of

Ibid., p. 63: Or, nous navons jamais la curiosit dexaminer, de peser, les raisons
qui font aimer la mauvaise musique par ceux que nous appelons le vulgaire: le vulgaire
compos, indistinctement, douvriers, de bourgeois, de gens du monde.
Ren Chalupt, Socit Nationale de Musique in La Phalange 82 (20 April 1913),
p. 383: enfin, des Vritables prludes flasques (pour un chien), de M. Erik Satie, qui
mritrent les honneurs du bis.
Georges Auric, Erik Satie: Musicien Humoriste, Revue franaise de musique, 410
December 1913, pp. 13842, at p. 142: Dailleurs le public, non pas celui des confrres
envieux des sectaires partiaux, mais le public des amateurs sincres marque toujours le
plus grand enthousiasme pour la musique humoristique de M. Satie. Les Prludes flasques,
jous la Socit Nationale par M. Ricardo Vies, ont t bisss, la Socit indpendante,
accueilles avec moins de faveur, et, tout dernirement Mme Jeanne Mortier sest vue
oblige, salle Pleyel, doffrir deux fois de suite lEmbryons dessche [sic.] dEdroiphtalma
ladmiration joyeuse dune salle enthousiasme.
Ibid., p. 141: M. Satie sentend condamner il est de bon ton de chtier ce
boniment de clown.
26 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

an eccentricity.24 If a comic gesture is made, society responds with a gesture that

reveals its attitude towards the comic, yet it refrains from direct intervention if an
immediate threat is not perceived. Saties humoristic works were interpreted as a
direct threat on account of their popularity and he was reprimanded for his actions.25
Bergson expresses his belief in the necessity of rules in society and declares that its
members have a moral responsibility to supervise and control the comic:

Were man to give way to the impulse of his natural feelings, were there neither
social nor moral law, these outbursts of violent feeling would be the ordinary
rule in life. But utility demands that these outbursts should be foreseen and
averted. Man must live in society, and consequently submit to rules.26

This statement on the relationship between the comic and society strongly parallels
the normative drive in musical circles at that time to discipline and control
composers, such as Satie, who challenged the rules of the canon. Bohlman
notes that: Canon and discipline are ineluctably bound, even though they are
not the same the canon is the performative, discipline is the performance.27
Disciplining can be performed in many ways, from a refusal to publish certain
works, finance concerts and provide patronage to particular individuals, to the
expulsion of pupils who do not uphold standards set within institutions. Perhaps
the harshest form of discipline for a composer is to be ignored completely, and
in this regard, the public sources of formal reception in the music and general
press constitute the primary domain within which the disciplining of Saties music
occurred. This form of discipline, which mostly coincided with Saties non-official
career in the Parisian cabarets, characterised his career before 1911 and persisted
in many of the influential journalistic publications until the controversial premiere
of Parade in 1917, when critics could no longer ignore such a noisy amateur who
appeared to display no regard for the serious ethos of the canon.

Saties Self-promotion

Throughout his career, Saties reputation as a humorist was largely constructed

by the composer himself and the humoristic phase coincided with the beginning
of his irony-laden career in music journalism.28 Satie intensively promoted

Bergson, Laughter, p. 17.
Saties involvement with the Dada movement was also perceived as a serious threat.
Consequently, the most vitriolic attacks on Satie during his career were directed at Relche.
Bergson, Laughter, p. 76.
Philip Bohlman, Epilogue: Music and Its Canons, in Katherine Bergeron and
Philip V. Bohlman (eds), Disciplining Music, pp. 2012.
In 1889 he introduced himself as the sphinx-man, the wooden-headed composer.
This humoristic advert appeared in Le Chat Noir VIII/369 (9 February 1889); see Ornella
Volta (ed.), Correspondance presque complte (Paris: Editions dIMEC, 2000), p. 788.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 27

his anti-establishment and humorist reputation from 1912 to 1914 through

the publication of a series of fragments under the heading Mmoires dun
Amnsique and in the programme notes for the humoristic works that appear
in the Guide du Concert. His journalistic endeavours differed considerably
from the serious style of music criticism in vogue at that time. Inspired by
nationalist concerns, music criticism was the prominent medium within which
debates concerning the nature of French music were contested and resolved.
Satie utilised his journalistic writings to engage in this debate; however, the
veil of irony in which his opinions were expressed meant that his contributions
were not taken seriously. In these forays into music journalism, the targets of his
humour are clear: here he employs humour as a tool for critiquing the criteria
of the canon, and more specifically those criteria that he is failing to meet. In an
atmosphere of intense and serious debate, his use of humour in journalism and
in music was the ultimate anarchist statement that would result in his dismissal
from artistic and intellectual discourses on music.
This period of Saties public career coincided with a transitional period in the
French music press that witnessed a gradual shift from a hermeneutic to a more
formalist style of criticism.29 The advent of musical modernism necessitated
programme notes, which were frequently published in the Guide du Concert
and in other musical publications. Critics often relied heavily on these notes
and tended to quote from them extensively in reviews of new music. The aim
of these brief notes was to facilitate understanding and inadvertently encourage
musical discussion and analysis. Saties writings, however, served to confuse
rather than provide clarification to those readers who wished to understand his
idiosyncratic music. The Guide notes in particular left readers in no doubt of
his subversive status as he consistently insulted the critics and audiences in
advance of premieres (if his words are taken literally).
On 5 April 1913, Satie used the Guide du Concert to advertise a new departure
in composition that would come to be known as his humoristic works.30 In
this introduction Satie does not elaborate on the aesthetic innovations they
represent, but focuses instead on their anti-Romantic features of brevity and

For a more detailed account of the changes occurring in music criticism and the
impact of Modernism on approaches to musical discourses in this period and the changes
occurring in music criticism, see Dirdre Donnellon, Debussy, Satie and the Parisian
Critical Press (18901925), unpublished PhD thesis, University of Liverpool, January
2000, p. 23.
Saties humorous concert notes appear in the Guide du Concert on the following
dates: 29 March 1913 (Vritables prludes flasques); 31 May 1913 (Descriptions
automatiques); and 10 January 1914 (Chapitres tourns en tous sens). Notes on Embryons
desschs were never published, but appear on the cover of the notebook in which this work
was sketched (BN9590).
28 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

The Vritables Prludes Flasques (pour un chien) open a series of pianistic

works: Descriptions Automatiques, Embryons Desschs, Chapitres tourns
en tous sens and Vieux Sequins et Vieilles Cuirasses. In them I devote myself
to the sweet joys of fantasy. Those who will not understand are requested by
me to observe the most respectful silence and to show an attitude of complete
submission and inferiority. That is their true role.31

The term humoristic was first applied to Satie by the composer-critic Paul
Martineau in a review of a performance of Vritables prludes flasques (pour un
chien).32 In this period this term was not imbued with any aesthetic significance:
Martineau simply uses it as a substitute adjective for humorous or funny. In
December of the same year Auric mentions how much the public love the
humoristic music of Satie.33 Satie appropriates the term in only one context of
which we are currently aware: a biography for his music publisher Demets in
December 1913, where he states that the precious composer explains here his
humoristic works.34
It must be noted that a disparity is evident between the works considered
humoristic in Satie scholarship in general and those described as humoristic
by Satie himself. In the Guide notes and in his biography for Demets, Satie lists
six humoristic works that he considers part of this series: Vritables prludes
flasques (pour un chien), Embryons desschs, Descriptions automatiques,
Croquis et agaceries dun gros bonhomme en bois, and he states that the Chapitres
tourns en tous sens and the Vieux Sequins et Vieilles Cuirasses will follow, and
will complete this curious series, so graciously original.35 He never repeats the
term humoristic in another context; however, he persistently emphasises the term
fantaisie to describe his works of this period in general, perhaps indicating other
contemporary works that are similar in conception to his humoristic series. For
instance, on the manuscript for Le Pige de Mduse, he writes that this is a play

Emphasis added. Erik Satie, Guide du Concert, 29 March 1913, 3756: Les
Vritables Prludes Flasques ouvrent une srie duvres pianistiques: Les Descriptions
Automatiques, Les Embryons Desschs, Les Chapitres tourns en tous sens et Les
Vieux Sequins. Je my livre aux joies douces de la fantaisie. Ceux qui ne comprendront pas
sont pris par moi, dobserver le plus respectueux silence et de faire montre dune attitude
toute de soumission, toute dinfriorit. Cest l leur vritable rle.
Paul Martineau, Review, Le Monde musical, 30 May 1913, p. 167: Ils sont trs
humoristiques ces Prludes, mais cependant le titre et les sous-titres en constituent encore
la plus heureuse trouvaille.
Georges Auric, Erik Satie: Musicien Humoriste, p. 142.
Erik Satie, Erik Satie, Bulletin des Editions Musicales, (Agence Musicale E.
Demets), December 1913, p. 42, reproduced in Ornella Volta (ed.), Ecrits (Paris: Editions
Champ-Libre 1981), p. 142.
Ibid., p. 142: Les Chapitres tourns en tous sens, et les Vieux Sequins et Vieilles
Cuirasses vont suivre, vont complter cette curieuse srie, si gracieusement originale.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 29

of pure fantasy, and in the foreword to Sports et divertissements, he states that it

is a work of fantasy. It should not be seen as anything else.36. Whiting explains that
the term fantaisiste was a catch-all designation for a wide variety of cabaret and
music-hall humorists and prior to Satie this term had never been applied to the
domain of concert music.37 Speaking in the third person, Satie identifies himself
as a fantaisiste in 1913: He classifies himself among the fantaisistes, who are
good decent people according to him.38 From 1911 onwards, critics frequently
use this term in their descriptions of Satie. An early article by Calvocoressi
describes Satie as a grand fantaisiste, who has an exacerbated sense of deadpan
humour.39 Auric names Satie the Prince of Fantasy in an article of 1917.40 In his
biography Roland-Manuel similarly emphasises this image of Satie as a fantasiste
in his personality and in his art:

The personality of Erik Satie is like a mocking elf, it conceals itself and escapes
you even when you believe you have grasped it: it escapes you because at its
truest core is the nature of deception: the creation of fantasies A fantasiste,
that is what Erik Satie is in his art, in his life and in his writings; a number of his
productions acquire their full value when one knows them as having issued
from the most insane Muse that ever was, and here is the reason why serious
censors and austere critics did not know how to do justice to this music.41

Before the launch of his public high-art career by Ravel in January 1911, Satie
spent nearly 20 years working as an arranger and accompanist in many famous
cabarets in Paris. In the pre-war years, music critics initially overlook his time

Fantaisie can be translated as fantasy or imagination. In this context, fantasy
is the more appropriate translation.
Steven Moore Whiting, Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 397.
Ibid., p. 142: [M. Erik Satie] Passe pour le plus trange musicien de notre temps.
Il se classifie lui-mme parmi les fantaisistes qui sont, selon lui, de bonnes gens bien
M.D. Calvocoressi, M. Erik Satie, Musica 103 (April 1911), pp. 656, at p. 65:
Cest un grand fantaisiste, qui, chaque fois que je rappelle dessein, il a le sens exacerb
de lhumour froid.
Georges Auric, Bibliographie: Musique, Le Courrier musical (March 1917), pp.
12930, at p. 130.
Alexis Roland-Manuel, Silhouettes dArtistes: Erik Satie, LEcho musical (Revue
Mensuelle Illustr), 5 April 1913, pp. 13, at p. 1: La personnalit dErik Satie est comme
un farfadet moqueur, elle se drobe et vous chappe alors mme que vous croyez le saisir:
elle vous chappe parce que son plus rel fondement est de nature dcevoir: la fantaisie
Fantaisiste, Erik Satie lest dans son art, dans sa vie et dans sa littrature; nombre de ses
productions prennent toute leur valeur quand on les sait issues de la Muse la plus folle
qui fut jamais, et voici la raison pour laquelle les censeurs graves et les critiques austres ne
sauraient rendre justice cette musique.
30 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

in the cabaret, yet they frequently invoke language associated with this milieu in
both a positive and negative manner to describe his new humorous approach to
composition. Whilst the descriptors fantaisiste and humoristic were also employed
by Satie in the self-promotion of his new musical style, the term fumiste was
exclusively used by critics. In the first major critical article on Satie in the music
press, Jules Ecorcheville relates that he was an ironist and fumiste in his youth.42
The term fumiste has many connotations, though it is typically employed as a
derogatory term to describe an individual who is frivolous, lazy, a joker or a liar.
Cabaret humour is often described as fumiste, a term that has evident subversive
and lowbrow connotations. Fumisme is often associated with Alfred Jarry, one of
the many writers cited as a possible comic influence upon Satie. In a study of Jarry,
Jill Fell claims that the function of the fumistes was to counteract the pomposity
and hypocrisy which they perceived as characterizing so much of society and they
did so through a sceptical-humorous approach to their subjects.43
The transgressive connotations of the terms humoristic, fantaisiste and
fumiste influenced later critical arguments surrounding the premiere of Parade. In
the aftermath of Saties self-promotion as a humorist, many critics were unsure of
how to deal with Satie: should he be taken seriously or should he be dismissed as a
joker? Paul Collaers insistence that Parade is not a case of fumisterie contrasts
with Poueighs view that in this work it is unclear where the futurists and cubists
stop and the fumistes and puffistes start.44 Collaer voices the fear that maybe one
will laugh, if I speak seriously of this music.
The incorporation of humorous elements in Saties music dates back to his
early career as a pianist and songwriter in Montmartre in the late 1880s.45 In his
lifetime, the association of the comic with the everyday connoted a distinctly
lowbrow art form and his associations with this musical milieu also contributed

Jules Ecorcheville, Erik Satie, Revue musicale SIM (15 March 1911), pp. 2932,
at p. 29.
Jill Fell, Alfred Jarry: An Imagination in Revolt (Cranberry, NJ: Rosemont, 2005),
p. 54.
Paul Collaer, Musique, La Flamme, 25 December 19191 January 1920, 3: Je ne
comprends pas quon ait parl de fumisterie propos de la Parade dErik Satie Peut-tre
sourira-t-on, si je parle du srieux de cette musique. Octave Sr [pseudonym for Jean
Poueigh], Le Cubisme et la Musique, La Rampe: Revue Hebdomadaire des spectacles,
24 May 1917, p. 1: Je ne conclurais donc pas et ne rclamerai point avec le pote de la
musique avant toute chose, ne sachant pas o les futuristes et les cubistes sarrtent, et o
commencent les fumistes et les puffistes. Puffiste was a term used to describe a charlatan,
an individual accused of false advertisement through trickery and jokes.
The three Gnossiennes of 1890 contain the first instance of Saties unusual
playing directions with instructions such as sur la langue (on the tip of the tongue),
postulez en vous-mme (seek within yourself) and sans orgueil (without pride).
These cryptic and humorous annotations developed into an integral artistic feature of his
humoristic piano works (191215). He continued this practice in his piano compositions
until the Nocturnes of 1919.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 31

to his non-professional status. Jean Marnold is particularly incensed at the overt

quotation of the military song La casquette du Pre Bugeaud in Vieux sequins et
vieilles cuirasses. Marnold invokes Saties associations with the Chat Noir cabaret
in order to dismiss the work: Rodolphe Satie probably dedicated this masterwork
to the memory of Erik Salis who without doubt, in his grave, was dumbfounded
by this unexpected homage.46
Saties reputation as a comic composer was further promoted in the first six
fragments of Mmoires dun Amnsique (Memoires of an Amnesiac).47 While
these articles are certainly not Saties real-life memoirs, they do reflect his
opinions on various issues pertinent to canon formation and the expectations
of a professional composer. Satie used this platform to respond to and dismiss
criticisms directed at him in the music press by mocking the criteria and methods
with which critics assessed art music. The choice of his targets correlates strongly
with his biographical experiences: humour was the medium through which he
publicly he voiced his opposition to musical institutions, particularly those with
which he was once affiliated. He felt that institutions were responsible for stifling
musical creativity and he disagreed with the increasing institutionalisation of
music through academic honours and their promotion of historical genres and
In response to his categorisation as a musical amateur in the music press and
his consequent rejection as a composer with official status, Satie wrote What
I am. In this fragment, he sarcastically explains that he is not a composer, but a
phonometer (a person who measures the intensity of sound). Volta believes that
this statement was a direct response to Octave Srs description of Satie as a
clumsy, but subtle technician, author of new, sometimes exquisite, often bizarre,
sonorities.48 In Perfect Entourage humour is critically employed to mock the
religious-like veneration of canonised works and composers. In music criticism
at this time, religious imagery and terminology appear consistently. Satie lists the
glorious works of art that surround him in life: a magnificent fake Rembrandt,
a canvas of unquestioned beauty, the delightful Portrait attributed to an unknown

Jean Marnold, Musique, 3rd Festival Montjoie!, Mercure de France, 16 April
1918, pp. 50915, at pp. 51314: Probablement M. Rodolphe Satie ddia-t-il ce chef-
duvre la mmoire dErik Salis qui, dans sa tombe, cet hommage inespr, en resta
comme deux rondes de flan, sans doute aucun. Rodolphe Salis was the director of Le Chat
Noir cabaret, where Satie was employed for a period.
Six fragments of the Mmoires appeared in the Revue musicale SIM between
1912 and 1914: What I Am (15 April 1912, p. 69), Perfect Entourage (JulyAugust
1912, p. 83), My Three Candidatures (November 1912, p. 70), Theatrical Things (15
January 1913, p. 69), The Musicians Day (15 February 1913, p. 69) and Intelligence and
Musicality Among Animals (1 February 1914, p. 69).
Volta (ed.), Correspondance, p. 1035: Erik Satie, technicien maladroit mais
subtil, auteur de sonorits neuves, parfois exquises, souvent bizarres. Octave Sr was a
pseudonym for Saties adversary, the critic Jean Poueigh.
32 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

artist, my copy of Teniers.49 He then claims that all these masterly works
are overshadowed by a fake Beethoven manuscript, a sublime apocryphal
symphony by the master bought by me, religiously, ten years ago. In My Three
Candidatures Satie expresses his disregard for institutions and the individuals
who run them: Though I am not very conservative, I had the impression that the
Precious Members of the Acadmie des Beaux-Arts were treating my person with
a degree of pig-headedness and wilfulness that bordered on calculated obstinacy.50
This fragment must have been a significant anti-establishment statement for Satie
as he felt the need to inform the public of his unhappy relations with the Acadmie.
In Intelligence and Musicality Among Animals Satie ironically criticises the
restrictive nature of musical education in language previously used against him. In
doing so, he also highlights the generic and unimaginative writing style of many
critics who ascribe a few adjectives to a work or a performer rather than engaging
in direct discussion of the musical elements. He apes the style of a music critic to
present the ironic dilemma faced by the nightingale, perhaps a metaphor for Satie
himself, evoking opinions previously directed at his musical talent and lack of
formal education:

As for the nightingale which is endlessly referred to, its musical knowledge is
enough to make the most ignorant listener shrug his shoulders. Not only is its
voice not trained, but it knows nothing about keys, or pitch, or mode, or rhythm.
It may well be gifted. Quite possibly; in fact, quite certainly. But one can say
firmly that its artistic development is not on a par with its natural gifts, and that
the voice it is so proud of, is only a very inferior instrument which in itself is

Vladimir Janklvitch coined the term ironic conformism to describe the way in
which Satie ironically appropriates the language or style of a discourse in order to
subvert it.52 This comic technique, however, could more accurately be described
as a parody operating in an ironic mode, a genre commonly used in political
and philosophical debates. For example, Nietzsche condemns Christianity by
appropriating the language and imagery of a Christian sermon to parodic effect: I

Translation in Ornella Volta (ed.), A Mammals Notebook: Collected Writings of
Erik Satie, trans. Antony Melville (London: Atlas Press, 1996), pp. 1012.
Ibid., p. 102.
Translation in ibid., p. 105.
Vladimir Janklvitch, LIronie (Paris: Albin Michel, 1957), Chapter II, pp. 6780.
Janklvitchs concept of ironic conformism is discussed in further detail by Henri Bhar
in an essay on Dada and Surrealist theatre and by Hlne Politis in an essay on Saties
writings: Henri Bhar, Erik Satie ou le conformisme ironique, in Etude sur le Thtre
Dada et Surraliste: Les Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), pp. 1015; and Hlne Politis,
Sermons Humoristiques, in Ecrits pour Vladimir Janklvitch (Paris: Flammarion, 1978),
pp. 82105.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 33

call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion,
the one great instinct of revenge for which no means are too venomous, too
underhand and too petty I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.53
Foucault would later copy Nietzsches style and this led Deleuze to consider his
work capable of provoking unexpected laughter.54 Rather than interpret these
fragments as an attack on the ideologies of officialdom, Satie was simply viewed
as a funny and entertaining eccentric, and certainly not an individual to be taken

Part II: Overcoming the Barriers

A misunderstanding exists between the public and him of which I was a victim
myself. He is considered a false original. One does not want to admit that he is
a humorist, a pioneer, nor ever imagine that before him, no composer had the
audacity or was capable of writing scientifically bouffe music. The moment
one deigns to make the effort to adopt this idea and to seriously listen to his
seriously-written art nouveau, one will quickly recognise the enormous intrinsic
value of his compositions.55

Comic Techniques

Humour dates surprisingly quickly and is a very culturally specific form of

expression: the phrase you had to be there rings particularly true for many
of Saties humoristic works, which require the recognition of historically and
culturally specific references or codes for the realisation of humorous intent. In
fact, very little of the musical humour in Saties instrumental music is instantly
interpreted as such, especially by the non-French listener. Interpreting humour is
reliant upon the existence of a shared discursive community, or communities,
between the producer and the receiver of the humour.56 The most accessible

Quoted in Lisa Downing, The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 14.
Antoine Bans, Les Concerts: Festival Erik Satie, Le Figaro, 9 June 1923, p.
4: Il existe entre le public et lui un malentendu dont je fus victime moi-mme. On le
considre comme un faux original. On ne veut pas admettre que cest un humoriste, un
novateur, ni songer que jamais, avant lui, aucun compositeur neut laudace ou ne fut
capable dcrire une musique scientifiquement bouffe. Ds que lon daignera se donner
la peine dadopter cette ide et dcouter srieusement son art nouveau srieusement crit,
on constatera vite lnorme valeur intrinsque de ses compositions. The term art nouveau
is a play on words in this context.
Linda Hutcheon, Ironys Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony (London and
New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 91. Hutcheon explains that in the definition of discursive
34 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

and overt examples of humour within Saties works for a twenty-first-century

listener are those where he plays with conventions or works of the historical
musical canon. In such pieces, he manipulates instantly recognisable contextual
musical codes for comic purpose: the extremely exaggerated codas that conclude
the first and third movements of Embryons desschs, the surprising arrival of
the siren in the early minutes of Parade, the inane conversation between the
clarinet in B-flat and the bassoon followed by a comically brief and clumsy
tuba solo in Jeux de Gargantua in Trois petites pices montes.57 The humour
in these examples is evident to listeners who are familiar with the history of
legitimised musical culture and its conventions, those who share this particular
discursive community with Satie.
In the introduction to Comedy in Music: A Bibliographical Resource Guide
(2001), Arias outlines 20 principal techniques of comic music utilised to achieve
comic effect.58 The range of comic techniques available to composers certainly
exceeds this number (repetition and exaggeration are two notable omissions) and
many of the techniques mentioned overlap significantly; however, it does provide
a helpful checklist for initial musical investigation. Outlined in the following
list are six general categories into which comic techniques in music could be
considered, incorporating those in Arias list and others from non-musicological
studies in humour. Many of these techniques appear in Saties music, yet they are
also fundamental rhetorical components of non-humorous musical works: context
is paramount in the recognition and interpretation of musical humour:

communities, or the similar idea of a socio-rhetorical discourse community, we all belong

to many overlapping (and sometimes even conflicting) communities or collectives. This
overlapping is the condition that makes irony possible, even though the sharing will
inevitably always be partial, incomplete, fragmentary; nevertheless, something does
manage to get shared enough, that is, to make irony happen (pp. 923).
Satie inserts the playing direction niaisement (inanely) at the start of this brief
section. Similarly, in Le pige de Mduse, he incorporates the trombone into the score for
comic effect. According to Michael Struck-Scholen: Satie certainly did not use instruments
like trombone or percussion for any good instrumental reason but either out of a simple
desire to shock people by combining instruments which were not socially acceptable or
else just because they happened to be available at music parties so that he could employ
them for his surrealistic brainwaves, as for example, with the musical wallpaper (musique
dameublement). Michael Struck-Schloen, Zwischen Moebelmusik und Zwoelftonkonzert:
Die Posaune im Kammerensemble am Beginn der Neuen Musik (19131934), in Melos:
Vierteljahresschrift fr zeitgenssiche Musik (Schott, 1986), pp. 810, at pp. 910.
Enrique Alberto Arias, Comedy in Music: A Historical Bibliographical Resource
Guide (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), pp. 35. The most significant academic
work on humour in music has mostly appeared since 2000 and, consequently, this guide is
already dated.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 35

1. Explicit reference to the comic: setting music to a comic text; alluding to

a well-known comic character; performing the work in an overtly comic
2. The employment of comic sub-genres, such as satire or parody, and the
use of comic modes such as irony.
3. Musical surprise: the juxtaposition of incongruous syntactical elements;
exaggeration; repetition; unusual effects of texture, dynamics, rhythms
and melodic design; unexpected or distant modulations, sudden switches
from diatonic to non-diatonic tonalities, the harmonisation of diatonic
melodies with a non-diatonic accompaniment; the use of chance.
4. Comic labelling: the use of comic titles; comic genre designations (e.g.
opera buffa, opra comique, scherzo (which means joke)).
5. Alterations/additions to the musical score: visually curious notation;
the use of soggetto cavato (the substitution of solmization syllables for
letters in notation);60 the addition of texts to instrumental works; tempo
instructions that indicate mood and style in addition to pace.
6. The existence of the double:61 the use of programmatic musical description;
reference or allusion to a particular style, genre, structure or convention;
quotations of extant musical material; inversion;62 the reproduction of
sonorous or visual effects in a precise or allegorical fashion.63

Repetition is a prominent feature of many of Saties works and is a compositional

technique he privileged over development. Repetition is a ubiquitous technique
in comedy, and arguably comedy is not possible without repetition as it must
place something we know before our eyes. Zupani relates that repetition is

Satie explicitly refers to comic characters in the titles of three of his pieces: Lewis
Carrolls Mad Hatter in Le chapelier (1916) and Franois Rabelais comic giants Pantagruel
and Gargantua in the first and third movements of Trois petites pices montes.
Arias, Comedy in Music, p. 5.
Zupani, in The Odd One In, refers to this technique, a structural comic device, as
the theme of the double. She notes (p. 89) that it is [often] the very condition of comedy
that these doubles do not meet directly, and that they do not know about each others
existence. Bergson describes the same technique as reciprocal inference of series: a
situation is invariably comic when it belongs simultaneously to two altogether independent
series of events and is capable of being interpreted in two entirely different meanings at the
same time. Bergson, Laughter, pp. 4950.
Inversion is a technique described by Bergson that describes a situation where the
roles of characters in a situation are reversed in order to create a comic scene. In music this
may happen when the traditional sequences of a composition are inverted for example, a
coda occurs at the start of a piece.
For example, in movement I of Embryons desschs, the sound of laughter and
purring are depicted aurally in the music which coincides with the text Vous me chtouillez
and Petit ronron moqueur. See the analysis of parody in Embryons desschs later in this
36 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

comic because it keeps insisting.64 Nietzsche and Deleuze have studied the
phenomenon of repetition and both share the belief that repetition is impossible
it is in fact the difference itself that is repeated. In his critical reception,
Saties use of repetition is generally viewed negatively, a sign of his alleged
inability to develop material: his lack of musical form was often compared to
developments in Cubist art of the period. In a 1917 article on Cubism and music,
Jean Poueigh notes the correlation between the aesthetic features of Saties
music and that of the Cubists and Futurists: A purely sensorial art no longer
allowing form, breaking up the line and where all emotion would be banished,
was beginning to be born. The time for unleashing the futurists and cubists had
come.65 This view contrasts strongly with Deleuzian ontology, where repetition
is viewed positively: The motor of repetition is not some kind of negativity (we
do not repeat because we fail), but the affirmation of difference itself.66 In music
Satie often accentuates this difference in the accompanying text (which is never
repeated) through humour. Repetition is a comic technique with an ideological
edge: it counters Romantic expectations of development in his musical language.
In dealing with techniques that can be employed in humorous and non-humorous
music, the analyst must question the ontology of the technique in question in
addition to its structural function. This approach permits further interpretation
on a pragmatic level where the humour is perceived and the intentionality of the
humorist and author is recognised.

Comic Structure

In 1913 Auric described the way in which Saties comic titles led many to
assume that the humoristic works lacked structure: Many of those who scorn
the spiritual little masterworks with zany titles warmly applaud the most boring
of sonatas. In one case they praise a traditional form, by virtue of the title,
whereas in the other case a grotesque title conceals a very logical plan from
their ears.67 Satie uses various structural forms or approaches throughout the
humoristic works, though one particular approach often attracts the attention
of analysts: the juxtaposition of seemingly incongruous musical units. In

Zupani, The Odd One In, pp. 1534.
Octave Sr, Le Cubisme et la Musique, La Rampe: Revue Hebdomadaire des
spectacles, 24 May 1917, p. 1: Un art purement sensoriel nadmettant plus la forme,
brisant le trait, et do se verrait bannie toute motion, tendait natre. Le moment tait
venu du dchanement des futuristes et cubistes. See also Paul Bertrand, Musique pure
et Musique dramatique, Le Mnestrel, 17 June 1921, pp. 24951.
Zupani, The Odd One In, p. 172.
George Auric, Erik Satie: Musicien Humoriste, p. 141: Beaucoup de ceux
qui mprisent les spirituels petits chefs-duvre aux titres cocasses applaudissent
chaleureusement la plus ennuyeuse des sonates. Ici ils louent, grce au titre, une forme
traditionnelle, tandis que l un titre grotesque dissimule leurs oreilles un plan trs logique.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 37

structuralist terminology, this feature has been described as motivic assemblage

or a synthesis where disparate elements are combined to make a whole.68 In a
discussion of Sur un casque, Whiting states that: Satie seems to have resorted
to his earlier technique of stringing together unrelated snippets without any
logical pattern of recurrence (save the return of the initial motif at the end).69
Analysis of the structure of humour, rather than musical structure, permits us to
engage with a very particular form of musical unity based upon the temporal and
sequential way in which jokes and comedy are structured.
Zupani distinguishes between jokes and comedy according to how they
work structurally and temporally. Jokes are not structurally characterised through
a temporal unfolding, but rather in the instant at which the point de capiton
appears.70 The point de capiton (or quilting moment) is the point at which a
duality or split in what might have previously seemed to be a homogeneous
narrative [appears], and produces a short circuit between the two series. Comedy
by contrast operates in a completely different way: here, comedy is constructed
through a series of comic sequences in which Zupani observes an unusual
feature of unity in comedy that resonates strongly with Saties synthetic style:
continuity is established through discontinuity. As Zupani notes:

A comic sequence does not leave the surprising, erratic object-sense to die
away in the air; rather, it picks it up as a new starting point, a new cue to build
with. In this respect, comedy is a paradoxical continuity that builds, constructs
(almost exclusively) with discontinuity; discontinuity (the erratic object-sense)
is the very stuff of comic continuity. Comedy has a marvelous way of starting
on one track and continuing on the other, as if this were completely natural.71

Therefore, a series of consecutive jokes without an inner connection does not

qualify as comedy. On a meta-structural level, the analysis of comic sequences
in Saties music may facilitate new interpretations of musical structure and unity,
especially when the musical, textual and visual aspects of the humoristic scores
are treated as an integrated part of the comic experience. In order to identify the
presence of comic sequences, this inner connection must be revealed, a criterion
that can only be satisfied through the identification of interlinked Master-Signifiers
within the comic sequence.72 Zupani believes that once the Master-Signifiers73
have been identified, the usually antagonistic play between them will elucidate

See Orledges discussion of Motivic construction in Satie the Composer, pp. 1647;
and Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 367.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 367.
Zupani, The Odd One In, p. 146.
Ibid., p. 137.
Ibid., p. 177.
Zupani lists (p. 177) the following examples of Master-Signifiers: combinations,
redoublings, symmetrical and asymmetrical repetitions, irresistibly returning obstruction.
38 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

the comic structure, or the process within the work.74 An analysis of the comic
techniques mentioned above could assist in identifying the Master-Signifiers that
mark or highlight the points of continuity through discontinuity within Saties
work. These Master-Signifiers can also function as markers of irony that alert the
interpreter to the expectation or presence of irony.


The interpretation of irony or parody within music cannot occur solely through
engagement with music on a structural level. Hutcheon explains that it is very
difficult to separate pragmatic strategies from formal structures when talking
of irony or parody: the one entails the other.75 For instance, parody cannot be
defined on the basis of the existence of musical borrowing, quotation or allusion:
a parodic intent must be recognised. Similarly, ironic intent must be detected prior
to interpreting ironic meaning: the standard semantic definition of antiphrasis
(the opposite of what is said) is insufficient in describing how irony operates;
it excludes the politico-ideological dimension of the medium and provides little
assistance to an analyst of music seeking methodologies for engaging with irony.
As a comic mode, irony can be used in conjunction with many variants of humour
for example, satire and parody. Satie displayed a particular penchant for infusing
irony into his musical parodies.
Irony is the term most frequently associated with Saties humour, yet it is
typically referenced without qualification. All occurrences of irony are structured
in such a way as to judge a norm through mocking or contradicting reality with the
presentation of an aberration of that reality. The receiver recognises irony through
an initial reaction to what was just said (for example, shocked confusion) and is
alerted to the realisation that he or she must interpret the ironic meaning. Purely
structural definitions ignore ironys affective function, what is commonly referred
to as ironys bite or edge. It is in this edge that we recognise the political and
ideological workings of irony. It also explains why Satie was attracted to ironic
humour in his writings and music: But it is ironys edge that appears to be what gives
certain forms of humour its status as a survival skill, a tool for acknowledging
complexity, a means of exposing or subverting oppressive hegemonic ideologies,
and an art for affirming life in the face of objective troubles.76
The interpretation of humour is highly individualistic and its reception is
dependent upon how it resonates with individual politics. Therefore, irony has
the ability to elicit a range of interpretations and emotional responses. An ironic
statement can elicit both positive and negative interpretations: while one critic
may recognise irony as playful or humorous, another may interpret the same

Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art
Forms (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985, 2000), p. 34.
Hutcheon, Ironys Edge, p. 26.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 39

example as irresponsible or trivialising. The existence of ironys edge in Saties

music explains the various and diverse ways in which critics reacted to his
humorous works. For example, one critic interprets his irony as playful, while
another considers it aggressive:

[Playful:] The irony is hidden behind so much seriousness, the joke is so lame,
the capricious wandering off on tangents so unexpected that an ordinary audience
would be disorientated and would only see smoke and mirrors.77

[Aggressive:] He hypocritically uses the stylistic devices of this sentimental

wholesome gaiety, then having evoked a tenderness that becomes charming, the
instant we are well and truly seduced he wrings its neck.78

Indeed, many critics recognise the humorous intent but clearly state that they do
not find this form of humour either funny or appropriate. Rudhyar Chennevire
describes Saties musical irony as the vitality of impotence.79 Jean Poueigh also
finds fault with his ironic form of expression:

These little stories or reflections commenting on the Prludes flasques and other
Embryons desschs are not always funny. And if the text is removed, nothing
hilarious remains any more Fundamentally, this absence of humour has to be
intentional and has to stem from the superior irony of Erik Satie.80

Wayne Booth outlines five markers of irony that we can directly apply to analyses
of humour in Saties music:

(1) straightforward hints or warnings presented in the authorial voice (titles,

epigraphs, direct statements); (2) violations of shared knowledge (deliberate

Ren Chalupt, Le Pige de Mduse, Comdie Lyrique par M. Erik Satie,
LOccident: Architecture, Sculpture, Peintre, Musique, Posie 139 (June 1914), pp. 345
6, at p. 346: Lironie se dissimule sous tant de srieux, la blague est si froide, les dtours
capricieux si inattendus, quun public ordinaire serait dconcert et ny verrait que du
Roland-Manuel, Erik Satie, p. 7: Il emploie hypocritement les artifices de cette
gat sentimentale de bon aloi, puis, ayant voqu une tendresse qui va devenir charmante,
il lui tord le cou dans linstant quelle nous sduit pour de bon.
Rudhyar D. Chennevire, Frederick H. Martens (trans.), Erik Satie and the Music
of Irony, The Musical Quarterly 5/4 (October 1919), pp. 46978, at p. 473.
Octave Sr [Jean Poueigh], Le Cubisme et la Musique, La Rampe: Revue
Hebdomadaire des spectacles, 24 May 1917, p. 1: Ces petites histoires ou rflexions
commentant les Prludes flasques et autres Embryons desschs, ne sont pas toujours
drles. Et si lon enlve le texte, il ne reste plus rien dhilare Au fond, cette absence
dhumour doit tre voulue et provenir de lironie suprieure de M. Erik Satie.
40 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

errors of fact, judgment); (3) contradictions within the work (internal

cancellations); (4) clashes of style; (5) conflicts of belief (between our own and
that which we might suspect the author of holding).81

Irony has many types which are not defined in relation to Saties use of this mode.
Many of its types are primarily defined on a structural level, for example general,
dramatic, verbal and situational irony. An awareness of how these various types
are defined, in conjunction with the list of markers and comic techniques, enables
the analyst to identify and interpret them in Saties music. Verbal, situational and
dramatic irony are the three most prevalent types of irony found in Saties music
and/or writings.
Verbal irony operates through written or spoken language and it is considered
extremely rare in music, as this type relies primarily upon words to indicate the
presence of a secondary ironic meaning that contradicts the directly stated reality.82
In most instances of irony in Saties music, text in conjunction with the music
highlights or reinforces the ironic intent. In the humoristic scores, the presence
of various layers of text may perhaps facilitate this type. Verbal irony is very
common in Saties writings, particularly in his responses to criticisms of his music
or non-professional behaviour:

I dont like jokes, nor anything resembling them. What is a joke supposed to
prove? The great Histories of the World tell very few good ones Proof: It thus
appears, on the delightful summits of Reason, that Joking is only an inferior Art
which should not be taught, which can never aspire to glory, whatever ones

Situational irony is often interpreted when a listener projects norms onto music that
leads them to read the real situation as an ironic, deformed version of itself. Many
characteristics of music facilitate situational irony and Satie takes full advantage of
this type in the humoristic works. He frequently lulls the listener into considering
certain musical elements stable and then uses irony to undermine musical norms
and consequently listener expectations. The judgement that accompanies irony is
usually easy to discern when Satie marries irony and parody. In dHolothurie and
de Podophthalma in Embryons desschs, he subjects a revered musical form to
the comic technique of exaggeration in order to create situational irony. An ironic

Wayne Booth, A Rhetoric of Irony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974),
pp. 5376, quoted in Hutcheon, Ironys Edge, p. 151.
For an introductory discussion of types of irony in music, see Eddy Zemach and
Tamara Balter, The Structure of Irony and How it Functions in Music, in Kathleen Stock
(ed.), Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning, and Work (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2007), pp. 178206. This discussion focuses on defining irony in structural terms.
Translated in Nigel Wilkins (ed.), The Writings of Erik Satie (London: Eulenberg,
1980), p. 78.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 41

musical surprise concludes the two movements: exaggerated bombast codas that
are completely unnecessary and contrast sharply with the overall mood, rhythm and
style of the pieces. These codas severely disrupt the overall flow of the music. The
texts Grandiose and De votre mieux in dHolothurie, and Cadence oblige (de
lAuteur) in de Podophthalma mark the presence of irony for listeners and performers
at the beginning of the codas. In the humoristic works, Saties ironic treatment of
sonata form, chorale and fugue structures, cadences and codas performs a distinctly
ideological function. Satie constantly felt compelled to assert his independence from
schools and masters in his music and his writings. In appropriating and subverting
easily recognisable structures, he sometimes makes the convention seem absurd,
though this was not necessarily his aim. Nevertheless, critics interpreted this practice
as absurd: the product of a joker, not an intellectual composer.
Dramatic irony occurs when the protagonist does not comprehend the situation
in which they find themselves, while the audience does. In Obstacles venimeux,
the first movement of Heures sculaires et instantanes (1914), the protagonist
(the music) projects a reality completely at odds with the reality projected in the
text (Ex. 2.1 shows the opening phrase). The musics cheerful mood is oblivious
to the desolate and surreal reality projected in the text:

This vast part of the world is inhabited by one single man: a negro. He is so bored
he could die of laughing To help him think the negro holds his cerebellum
in his right hand with the fingers apart. From afar, he looks like a distinguished
physiologist. Four anonymous serpents enthral him, hanging suspended from
the coat tails of his uniform which is distorted with a combination of grief and

The playing direction Noirtre (blackish) appears on the score in the place
usually reserved for tempo indications, setting the mood for the accompanying
text. In contrast, the music proceeds in a lighthearted, almost frivolous fashion.
The opening left-hand melody is strictly diatonic, based upon the first five notes
of the B-flat major scale. The dissonant accompanying chords add playful colour
to the melody rather than creating a black mood upon their sounding on the
rhythmic off-beats. Satie invokes a distinctly humorous cabaret feel throughout
this movement that lies in stark contrast to the text and creates a fine example of
dramatic irony.
Heures sculaires illustrates a salient fact concerning irony: it is not always
humorous. The nineteenth-century construct of Romantic irony, for instance, is
not considered a comic mode: consequently, it has become a common theme in
musical discourses on Romanticism without causing any ideological anxiety.85

Volta (ed.), A Mammals Notebook, p. 41.
Brown describes romantic irony as follows: Romantic irony was less a mode of
humour than an acknowledgement of a gap between means and ends The category of the
grotesque encapsulated the fundamental Romantic dichotomy, namely the gap between the
42 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Example 2.1 Satie, Heures sculaires et instantanes, I (Obstacles venimeux):


Irony is a comic mode, but it is also a rhetorical strategy that can operate outside
comedy. Therefore, we must ensure that we consider the pragmatic ethos of
irony in the analyses of ironic meaning. Saties enduring reputation as a humorist
composer means we may sometimes presuppose the existence of humour when in
fact there is none.


In musicological discourse, the term parody is traditionally associated with two

distinct forms of musical practice, yet neither of them is applicable in Saties case:
the Renaissance practice of imitation (the term parodic technique is commonly
associated with the mass in this period) and the use of musical borrowings,
quotations or allusions in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century opera parodies.86
Prior to the nineteenth century, parody was widely considered a valid compositional
technique, but in a Romantic milieu that valued originality, the transcendental and

spiritual aspirations of man and his physical limitations; it was a point of dramatic rupture
between the material and the spiritual realms. Julie A. Brown, Bartok and the Grotesque:
Studies in Modernity, the Body and Contradiction in Music (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), p. 10.
See Michael Kennedy and Joyce Bourne (eds), The Concise Oxford Dictionary
of Music, 4th edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 545; Michael Tilmouth
and Richard Sherr, Parody (i), Grove Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.
gmo&pos=2&_start=1#firsthit; and Elisabeth Cook and Stanley Sadie, Parody (iii),
Grove Music Online,
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 43

the sublime, parody was devalued and was no longer considered welcome in high-
art music. Definitions of parody in music dictionaries tend to stress the technique
of one composer parodying the work of another and emphasise the ridiculing
intent of post-Renaissance musical parody. This trend describes the treatment of
parody in Saties humoristic works. Parodic musical examples that fall outside
the confines of this narrow focus are largely ignored and musical parody in the
twentieth century is only mentioned in passing, in spite of its prevalence in
musical modernism and post-modernism. Many attempts at defining parody in
music are deficient as they do not account for the cultural and historical specificity
of musical parody. In modernism, parody served a very particular function in the
conscious ideological and aesthetic movement away from Romanticism.
Satie displayed a particular preference for parody in the articulation of
his new ideological and aesthetic direction in the humoristic works. Whiting
notes that Saties sketches prove that, for Satie parodistic quotation was the
inspiration, not the decoration, of his humoristic work.87 These works allowed
him to directly challenge traditional Romantic notions of genius, transcendence
and originality through borrowing and the non-discrete incorporation of elements
of the everyday into his music. In his parodic borrowing of high-art sources, Satie
highlights the historical, cultural and social distance between his music and that
of the Romantics. His use of parody also challenged the traditional canonic idea
of lineage, an evolutionary concept that dominates discourses on music history:
parody is used to express a rupture with that past rather than a continuation. In
place of accepting tradition, tradition itself becomes contextual, the subject of
a cultural critique. Saties musical parody often serves to historicise: he places
music within the history of music. He appropriated humour as a tool to assist
him in reflecting upon the constitution of his art. In an article on irony in Saties
humoristic works, Rudhyar Chennevire notes that the humoristic pieces pose
many questions that extend beyond the individual works themselves and this
clearly bothers the author:

Does this music represent no more than a strictly individual pose, a clowns
grimace before lifes eternal verities? May this music in short be called music?
Has ridicule any right to the name? These numerous interrogation marks which
Saties compositions call forth lead us far beyond the mere personality of their
author. The question takes on a wider scope and touches on the values of music

Simon Denith notes that in culture wars, parody can be employed as one of the
weapons in the struggle of the social and political direction of the arts. Parody
can become the vehicle for the critique of a whole aesthetic, and the substitution

Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 390.
Rudhyar D. Chennevire, Erik Satie and the Music of Irony, Musical Quarterly
5/4 (1919), pp. 4723.
44 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

of another in its place.89 Satie used parody to this end in many of his humoristic
works, though his aesthetic contribution to musical Modernism in this period was
largely overlooked or dismissed by critics on account of its humorous frame. His
use of parody was interpreted as anti-academic and therefore anti-professional.
Only a handful of contemporary commentators noted that Satie had indeed created
a new genre of piano music with these works and only one critic recognised it as
an inter-art genre: however, none of them took his innovations seriously.
In a similar manner to irony, recognising and understanding parody is dependent
upon particular linguistic, rhetorical and ideological competencies. Parody is a
doubled-voice discourse where we encounter both a precursor voice and the
parodic authors attitude towards the precursor text or the discourse within which
that text was created.90 Parody cannot operate without borrowing, a significant
feature of the humoristic works up to 1914. Borrowing is not always parodic:
it can only be considered parody when the textual doubling of parody (unlike
pastiche, allusion, quotation, and so on) functions to mark difference: parody is
transformative in its relation to other texts.91 Interpreting parody depends upon
recognition of the referent text and the analysts historical distance can act as a
barrier in this process. In this respect, the analysis of parody requires in-depth
historical investigation in order to identify the instances of borrowing. Substantial
musicological work has identified musical borrowings, allusions and references in
the humoristic piano works, a significant advantage for scholars interested in the
interpretation of Saties humour.
Parody is a form of imitation characterised by ironic inversion and critical
difference from the original parodied text. The presence of irony is responsible for
the range of ethos of which parody is capable: parody does not operate solely in
a ridiculing mode. Saties intentionality can only be reconstructed if we can first
identify the targets of his parody and second establish the nature and direction
(the ethos) of this parody. Identifying the target of parody is crucially important in
understanding the nature of the ideological attack it poses.
Denith classifies two primary types of parody: specific and general. In specific
parody, the target is a specific precursor text, whereas general parody aims at a
whole body of texts or kind of discourse.92 Examples of both types abound in the
humoristic suites and there are many instances where the two types occur in one
piece. Satie also composed composite parodies where he borrowed from sources
that were initially based on other referent texts. This form of textual layering presents
added layers of interpretive complexity. Composite parodies have been identified

Simon Denith, Parody (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 34.
Denith coins the terms hypertext to designate the parodic work and hypotext
to indicate the referent or precursor text; however, theorists generally employ the terms
precursor or referent text and parodic text/work.
Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody, p. 38.
Denith, Parody, p. 7.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 45

in Vieux sequins et vieilles cuirasses (1913) and Le chapelier (1916).93 In many

cases of borrowing in the humoristic period the precursor texts are already highly
programmatic and intertextual, particularly as so many of them derive from song and
opera sources. Satie was not averse to subjecting his own work to parodic treatment.
Trois morceaux en forme de poire (1903) is an interesting example of ironic parody
in a serious mode from his early career and, more specifically, it is an example
of self-parody. This work marked the conclusion of an early aesthetic approach to
composition which Orledge describes as a period where Satie was searching for a
new direction.94 Hutcheon explains that self-parody is not just an artists way of
disowning earlier mannerisms by externalizations It is a way of creating a form
out of the questioning of the very act of aesthetic production.95 Whiting describes
Trois morceaux as a kind of stylistic rsum: the self-borrowing in this work dated
back to 1890.96 Shortly after this abrupt conclusion to a style he had been pursuing
for 13 years, Satie returned to music education at the Schola Cantorum at the age of
39 in his search for a new aesthetic direction.
Denith distinguishes two ways in which the referent text is appropriated within
the parodic text: parody with glancing parodic allusions is signified through
the borrowing of a phrase or fragment, whereas fully-developed formal parody
incorporates the entire borrowed text. Satie makes extensive use of the first type
throughout the humoristic works. Sonatine bureaucratique is the only instance
of formal parody identified so far in Saties work. Denith notes that the raison
dtre of formal parody is its relation to its precursor text or parodied mode.97
Through an analysis of Saties compositional processes as revealed in his extant
notebooks, Orledge reveals that Clementis Sonatina in C (Op. 36 No. 1) acts as a
pre-established formal plan.98 Satie then reworks Clementis piece with the aim
of destroying many of the elements that situate it historically: the use of Alberti
bass, regular periodisation, diatonicism (Satie incorporates instances of bitonality)
and traditional development which he avoids through musical repetition in order
to make the piece comply with his non-developmental approach to composition.
Whiting notes that Clementi and Satie seem continually to interrupt each other
usually with a shift in register or change in dynamic or both.99 Satie uses
various forms of musical surprise in order to subvert Classical principles through
situational irony in this piece.
The musical canon is frequently singled out by Satie as a target for parodic
treatment. He attacks Romantic, Baroque and Classical discourses on music
through the subversion of respected forms and conventions specific to high-art

See Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 390; Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 21.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 3.
Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody, p. 10.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 268.
Denith, Parody, p. 7.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, pp. 278.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, 487.
46 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

music of these periods, including periodisation and the harmonic treatment of

cadences and codas. Bergson notes that codified forms, conventions or rituals
(ceremonies) can all act as comic templates: any form or formula is a ready-
made frame into which the comic element may be fitted.100 In doing so, Satie
also attacks the system of music education that teaches these conventions and,
consequently, upholds their value or cultural authority. He eschews traditional
harmonic development and completely rejects Romantic sentimentalism. Music
was arguably the most institutionalised art in Paris in the Modernist period and
Satie felt that musical progress was stinted by the officialdom that surrounded
it. This may have led him to seek compositional inspiration in artistic and literary
sources he considered free from such control.
Satie frequently borrowed from the work of masters of the canon in his
parodies. This attack was not personal; rather, it was directed at the more general
discourses and practices in which they participated (dead or alive). Satie stated that
there are very few true poets in the history of music, the remainder of composers
are the followers of schools, pundits who imitate the poets.101 In many cases
of borrowing from canonic sources, particularly in his quotations from piano
works, Satie generally holds the composer of the precursor text in question in high
esteem. For instance, the borrowing of a fragment from Chopins Sonata in B-flat
minor (Op. 35) in the second movement of Embryons desschs is frequently
identified as a parody of the original work, but it is more likely that this borrowing
is an example of general parody. It could be argued that Saties intent was not to
ridicule Chopins work: in fact, Satie was an admirer of the composer, referring
to him as a poet, the definitive piano composer.102 Saties misattribution of
the borrowing as Citation de la clbre mazurka de SCHUBERT could perhaps
indicate that the target is more likely Romanticism itself: neither the identity of
the author nor the genre in question appear important. Satie may have chosen to
parody this particular Chopin work on account of its explicit emotional sentiment,
since it is an outstanding example of musical pathos and the Romantic concept of
In the parodic codas of dHolothurie and de Podophthalma, and in
borrowing from Chopin in dEdriophthalma, Satie promoted the dissolution
of sentiment in high-art music in Embryons desschs. In Laughter Bergson
highlights the absence of feeling which usually accompanies laughter: laughter
has no greater foe than emotion.104 This lack of feeling directly contradicts
Romantic sentimentalism. In dEdriophthalma Satie employs a number of

Bergson Laughter, p. 28.
Translated in Wilkins, The Writings of Erik Satie, p. 84.
Donnellon, Debussy, Satie and the Parisian Critical Press, p. 232.
Empfindungen is a concept initially proposed by Kant in the nineteenth century to
describe the ability of music to overwhelm the listener through an emotional reaction to the
music: it is the human response to an encounter with the sublime.
Bergson, Laughter, p. 10.
Satie and the Meaning of the Comic 47

overtly humorous and parodic gestures to evoke a sense of bathos, the antithesis of
pathos, a quality rarely found in high-art music on account of its associations with
insincere sentiment and triviality of style. Bergson explains that parody is often
achieved through the transposition of the solemn into the familiar. In this context,
parody is viewed as a species of degradation, a symbolic demotion of the original
text where parody affects the physical dimension of the original text and its moral
value.105 Saties sole intention was not the irreverent humorous treatment of a
masterwork; rather, it was to create cultural distance and propose a new modern
sensibility devoid of Romantic sentimentalism. The lack of sentimentality of
humour made it a perfect anti-Romantic gesture.
It is evident that the ideological critiques and the targets of humour stated
explicitly in Saties writings on music coincide with those found in his music. The
incorporation of structural and pragmatic approaches have enormous potential
for exploring the ways in which these works contributed to Modernist discourses
on aesthetics and ideology in music. The invaluable historical investigative work
primarily conducted by Volta, Whiting, Gillmor and Orledge facilitates a new
departure point for scholars today.


I wish my adversaries knew me better than they do. Sometimes they pass me off
as a madman. They may be mistaken.106 (Erik Satie)

Satie might yet be vindicated in his wish. The growing field of humour studies
across a broad range of disciplines within the humanities has resulted in a recent re-
evaluation of the reception of humour in academic discourse. The area of humour
as a cultural expression in music has, however, remained relatively unexplored.
Due to its Modernist association with the trivial, it was not considered a subject
worthy of musicological attention and, by default, this viewpoint also applied to
the largely humorous music of Satie. Occasional examples of humour exist in the
work of many canonic composers; however, unlike Satie, these composers rarely
posed a significant challenge to the status quo. Saties direct confrontation with
the great tradition of high-art music and his refusal to conform to contemporary
expectations of a serious Modernist composer damaged his reputation
considerably. In overcoming the legacy of the canon in Satie studies, scholars
are obliged to look beyond the discipline of musicology in order to find suitable
methodologies and terminologies with which to analyse humour. Formalist
approaches only consider the music itself, and the limitations of this analytical
approach meant that much of the critical meaning inherent in Saties work was lost
from discourses surrounding him during the twentieth century. Instead, Satie was

Ibid., p. 61.
Wilkins, The Writings of Erik Satie, p. 99.
48 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

portrayed simply as a joker, a composer who wrote little of real importance.107

The ideologically laden discourses of canon formation in the French music press
in Saties lifetime prepared the conditions for the posthumous reception of his
work in musicology. At the time of his death in 1925, critics had succeeded in
removing nearly all cultural authority from Satie the composer. Only a handful of
fellow artistic non-conformists remained committed to the defence of his name
and its associations.
Satie admired many of the masters of Western art music, but his ironic and
parodic treatment of the great high-art tradition of music led many to perceive
that this was not the case. At a time when Schoenberg was writing himself into the
great tradition, Satie was writing himself out of it. Rather than situating his music
and aesthetics within this tradition, a criterion for entry to the musical canon, Satie
opposed the normative discourses of the period. His refusal to engage with or show
respect for the arbiters of culture in his time condemned his work and any chance
that it would be taken seriously. His protestations were decidedly premature in
an environment where the comic was considered a second-class expressive form.

Anon., Obituary: Erik Satie, The Musical Times 66/990 (1 August 1925), p. 749.
Chapter 3
Saties Rose-Croix
Piano Works
Grace Wai Kwan Gates


Saties compositions can be categorised into the Rose-Croix pieces (18914),

cabaret pieces, humoristic pieces with subtexts (191216) and later works (post-
1916) that involved collaboration with different disciplines, such as the ballets
Parade (1917) and Relche (1924). Although these pieces are all different in
style, Saties fingerprints are always present. We can see reference in his later
works to his interest in esoteric Rosicrucianism and to the parodistic cabaret
songs he composed in his Montmartre years in collaboration with Vincent Hyspa.
This chapter will focus in detail on the piano works Ogives (1888), Le fils des
toiles (1892) and Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel (1894). These pieces are
chosen to illustrate the unique compositional style of Satie, namely Rosicrucian
symbolism and his extreme minimalist style of scoring the piece. Performance
issues that arise from the lack of conventional performance directions provided
on the score will be discussed.

Rosicrucianism and Symbolism

Rosicrucianism originated in late medieval Germany with Christian Rosenkreuz.

This theology was first practised in Germany and soon after spread towards
Europe. Believers who practised the Ancient Mystic Order Rosae Crucis and
the Rosicrucian Order studied the ancient mystical, philosophical and religious
doctrines and applied such doctrines to modern life in order to seek out their inner
wisdom.1 Satie was attracted to this cult, as proven by the titles of his piano pieces
such as Premire pense Rose-Croix (1891) and Sonneries de la Rose-Croix (1891).
In 1892, Satie was named as Chapel master to the Rose+Croix by Sr Pladan,
who founded the Tiers Ordre esthtique de la Rose + Croix catholique du Temple

The Rosicrucian Order:
50 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

et du Graal.2 Between 1892 and 1893, Satie composed music for Pladan during
the Soires de la Rose+Croix in the Symbolist painting salon.3
Symbolism was an international artistic trend which originated in France
and was part of a nineteenth-century movement in which art became infused
with mysticism. Pladan himself described the movement: just as Religion has
made itself into art in order to speak to the masses, so Art must make itself into
a religion in order to speak to the minority.4 As Pladan was a Rosicrucian, it
makes sense that the religion he implied in here is mysticism and the Rose-Croix
Order. In practical terms, Symbolism refers to the systematic use of symbols or
pictorial conventions to express an allegorical meaning, which is clearly present
in Rose-Croix theology. According to Thomas D. Worrel, the very core symbol
of our Society is the rose flower attached to the centre of a cross. He further
explains: The cross symbolizes the meeting at right angles of horizontals and
perpendiculars. Forces going in quite opposite directions but meeting at a central
point, a common ground. It can symbolize the union of opposites and the dualism
in nature. It can be the outstretched archetypal man with the infinite possibilities of
growth being immortal. It represents eternal life.5 While the rose at the centre of a
cross is at once a symbol of purity and a symbol of passion, heavenly perfection
and earthly passion; virginity and fertility; death and life,6 it has also been a
symbol for silence and secrecy.7
Satie both showed an interest in the occult and was influenced by the Symbolist
movement. Examining his Rose-Croix piano pieces, Symbolism is implicit in the
set of Ogives and Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel. Explicitly, Satie on several
occasions gave positive comments on paintings by the Symbolist painter Puvis
de Chavannes. These comments mainly focused on the painters technique and
the overall atmosphere that he generated. He wanted to realize in music what
Puvis de Chavannes has succeeded in doing in painting, notably to attain extreme
simplification in art. To say in two words what a Spanish orator could express
in long eloquent phrases.8 Ogives and Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel
demonstrate well the application of symbolism and mysticism to Saties earlier
pieces. Combining the observation from the above pieces with Puvis de Chavannes

Ornella Volta (ed.), Satie Seen Through His Letters, trans. Michael Bullock (London:
Marion Boyars, 1994), p. 53.
Ornella Volta, A Mammals Notebook, trans. Antony Melville (London: Atlas Press,
1996), p. 13.
Volta (ed.), Satie Seen Through His Letters, p. 54.
Thomas D. Worrel, A Brief Study of the Rose Cross Symbol, http://www.sricf-ca.
Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1990), p. 207.
Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 51

painting technique, answers can be derived for the performance practice of Saties
Rose-Croix piano pieces.

Ogives (Symbolism and Mysticism)

Composed in 1886, the set of Ogives recorded the beginning of the infiltration of
symbolism and esotericism in Saties compositions. Although, strictly speaking,
Ogives was not part of his Rose-Croix piano pieces, this set of piano works could
be seen as the predecessors of them. The esoteric nature of these short pieces was
revealed by the title, as, according to Conrad Satie, it was while contemplating
the ogives of this church (Notre Dame de Paris) for days on end that the composer
conceived Ogives.9 Architecturally, an ogive is a diagonal vaulting rib or a pointed
arch which was one of the common characteristics of Gothic architecture that
originated in twelfth-century France and could often be found in cathedrals. Being
chosen with deliberation, the ogive symbolised the medieval and esoteric world
in which Satie was interested, and the title Ogives revealed the mystic nature of
this set of piano pieces. An advertisement for the Ogives, which was believed to
have been written by Satie himself, appeared in Journal du Chat Noir (9 February
1889), the house newspaper of the cabaret: The indefatigable Erik-Satie, the
sphinx-man, the composer with a head of wood, announces the appearance of a
new musical work of which from henceforth he speaks most highly. It is a suite
of melodies conceived in the mystic-liturgical genre that the author idolizes, and
suggestively titled Les Ogives.10

The Musical Structure of Ogives

Worrel wrote that: Numerologically, the cross is sometimes represented by the

number four. Within our own teachings: No.4 is the Mystic number, and indicates
the operative influence of the four elements. Under this number, or the geometrical
square, Pythagoras communicated the Ineffable Name of God to his chosen
disciples.11 Satie must have read about the significance of the number four in
religious and mystical terms and decided to bring this mystic number to the set
of Ogives, beginning with the decision of having four self-contained pieces to
form the set. The next decision that Satie made in relation to the number four is
the number of systems required. Each of the Ogives religiously consists of four
systems with the main melody neatly written out in the first system, followed by
its harmonisation in the next three systems.

Volta (ed.), Satie Seen Through His Letters, p. 56.
Cited in Steven Moore Whiting, Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert
Hall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 92.
Worrel, A Brief Study of the Rose Cross Symbol.
52 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Another intriguing finding related to the cross symbol is the representation of

the perfect cube. Worrel mentioned that the traditional Rosicrucian symbol is a
cross of six squares whereon is a red rose of five petals the cross of six squares
is also the unfolded cube of six faces. The perfect cube has been used to represent
the Holy of Holies since Old Testament times.12 In the case of the Ogives,
Satie attempted to apply the equilateral characteristics of a perfect cube through
composing the melodies and harmonies in such a way that both the horizontal and
vertical sides of the piece shared the same number of notes.
In the case of the first of the Ogives, 23 notes were used in the single melodic
line, which represents the horizontal side of the perfect cube (Ex. 3.1).

Example 3.1 The 23 horizontal notes in Ogives no. 1

When we examine the first and last chords of all four systems, which represent
the vertical sides of the perfect cube, there are precisely 23 notes altogether. Ex.
3.2 shows the first chord of each system.

Example 3.2 The 23 vertical notes in the first of the Ogives, taken from the first
chord of each system

The third and fourth Ogives show slight deviations from the perfect cube
compositional plan. In the third of the Ogives, although the first and last chords of
all four systems still add up to 23 notes each, the horizontal melody only consists
of 20 notes. In the fourth of the Ogives, the first chord of all four systems adds
up to 24 notes, which is one note too many compared to the 23 notes of the other
three sides. The diagram in Ex. 3.3 sums up the perfect cube symbolism of all
four Ogives and also the occasional deviation.
Despite the slight deviation from the symbolic perfect cube in the third and
fourth of the Ogives, the above finding certainly supports the assumption that
symbolism and mysticism were part of the main ingredients of these four Ogives.

Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 53

Example 3.3 Perfect cube symbolism and the deviations from this in Ogives

It is worth noticing that such slight deviations from a rule are commonplace
in Saties composition and with its suggestive title, the delivery of the mystic
atmosphere is no doubt central to all the Ogives. As an interesting side issue, as if
by coincidence, the number 23 that Satie was obsessed with in each of the Ogives
is also the composers age in years at the time of composition. Could this be a
simple joke or Saties skilful representation of himself as the perfect cube which
symbolised the Holy of Holies?

The Music of Ogives

Having examined the musical structure of Ogives, which showed Saties

comprehensive symbolic plan, the music of Ogives will be discussed, including
melody, harmonisation, tempo and rhythm choices. All these aspects illustrate
Saties detailed planning in order to bring out the mystical quality of the piece.
The melodies in the Ogives are very simple. Unlike any other pieces that he
composed, each of the Ogives introduced the main melody in the first system
which was then repeated three times with identical harmonisation in the second
and fourth systems. The same chords were used in the third system, although
in different chord positions, for example, changing from root position to first
inversion. The melody is short as we have seen, it has 23 notes, except the third
of the Ogives which has only 20 notes. When the melodies were harmonised, the
unexpected accidentals pushed the melodies to sound more and more modal. It is
in fact quite logical for Satie to introduce modes in the Ogives as they fit nicely
with the whole medieval esoteric setting of the piece. On another note, the melody
was mostly restricted to stepwise motion, reminiscent of Gregorian chant which
Satie had learned with his first piano teacher, Monsieur Vinot.13
In all four Ogives, Satie harmonised the main melodies solely with block
chords, which provided a still, solemn and solid character. Since the entire
piece was full of block chords, visually, they resembled building blocks in
architecture. In this case, these vertical blocks were reaching for the ceilings

Olof Hjer, liner note to Erik Satie: The Complete Piano Music volume 1. 1996.
CD. Swedish Society Discofil, SCD 1070.
54 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

of the solemn cathedral (Conrad Satie suggested Notre Dame in Paris) with its
imposing pointed arches (ogives).
As early as the medieval period, the augmented fourth or the diminished
fifth intervals were considered as the Devils intervals and they were forbidden
in music composition. However, tritones were extensively used in the late
nineteenth century and composers welcomed the dissonant sound generated by
the tritone. Interestingly, in the Ogives, Satie added all necessary accidentals
to the harmonised chords so that the formation of tritones was prevented. Such
execution was coherent with no exception, as not even one dissonant chord can
be found in all four of the Ogives. Surely, the medieval belief of the association
of the tritone with the Devil is the reason behind Saties consistent avoidance of
the dissonant chords, simply because it would be inappropriate for such chords
to exist in this piece which symbolised Notre Dame Cathedral. Below is an
example of the harmonised chords with accidentals to avoid tritones. Ex. 3.4
is taken from the third system of the fourth of the Ogives. It is shown that the
second and sixth chords both have the B-flat accidentals so that the B diminished
chord was avoided and replaced by the more pleasing B-flat major chord. The
same arrangement was applied to chords 14 and 18 of the next phrase. Satie
noticed the B-flat accidental would then turn chord 21 to an E diminished chord
and therefore he carefully applied a natural to this chord to avoid any tritones.

Example 3.4 Accidentals on block chords to avoid tritones in Ogives no. 4

In order to create a tranquil atmosphere, Satie chose Trs lent as the

designated tempo for all four Ogives. The stillness of these pieces is further
enhanced by the choice of longer-duration rhythmic values. Only semibreves,
minims, crotchets and quavers are used, with crotchets being the most frequent
choice. The very slow tempo offered ample time for the block chords to ring
(with the use of sustained pedal). As a result, the combination of the slow tempo,
simple single-line melody and block chords produced sonorities mimicking the
sound of church bells.
Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 55

In the Ogives, inconsistencies tend to appear in relation to the number three.

For instance, the harmonisation of the main melody in the third system of each of
the Ogives is different from the second and the fourth systems. Ex. 3.5 shows that
by comparing the two different harmonisations in the second and the third system
of the first of the Ogives, it is clear that the second system has parallel chords with
a thick texture (the treble clef and bass clef chords total eight notes, a chord of four
notes in each clef), whereas the chords of the third system are mostly in contrary
motion, a striking visual contrast.

Example 3.5 Different harmonisation for the second and third systems of
Ogives no. 1

Finally, it is also striking that the third system of the third of the Ogives has
piano as the dynamic marking which has broken the consistent pattern of dynamic
markings p-ff-pp-ff (one dynamic marking per system) in the rest of the Ogives.
In the case of Satie, interdisciplinary study is crucial in order to understand
his compositional thoughts and to derive assumptions on how to perform his
pieces, which often contain very limited performance directions. Satie made the
powerful statement: It was painters who taught me the most about music.14 More
specifically, the following comment was his anti-Wagnerian advice to Debussy in
1891 after seeing Puvis de Chavannes painting: There is no need for the orchestra
to grimace when a character comes onstage. Do the trees in the scenery grimace?
What we must do is create a musical scenery, a musical atmosphere in which the
characters move and talk. No couplets, no leitmotiv, but aim at creating an
atmosphere that suggests Puvis de Chavannes.15
Puvis de Chavannes (182498) was a Symbolist painter and the foremost
French mural painter of the second half of the nineteenth century; his
monumental paintings in Europe are found in venues including the Panthon and

Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 205.
Elliot Schwartz and Barney Childs (eds), Contemporary Composers on
Contemporary Music (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc., 1967), p. 32.
56 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

the Sorbonne in Paris. Symbolism in art infused with mysticism, which was no
doubt one of the reasons why Satie was particularly interested in de Chavannes.
Having said that, there was another characteristic in de Chavannes painting
which Satie appreciated the extreme simplification, as he mentioned in the
early 1890s quoted on p. 55 above.
Striving for simplification in art, a concept which Satie was inspired to
achieve in his musical works, the French painter chose to be faithful to the two-
dimensionality of wall painting and respectfully reduced reflection in his paintings
in order to preserve the images surface legibility. To give a more practical
description, Puvis de Chavannes emphasised two-dimensional wall art painting by
nearly eliminating chiaroscuro (high contrast) and produced figurations in which
flat shapes and colours were dominant. This resulted in figures that lacked gravity,
weight and volume. Colours were increasingly whitened and an opaque medium
with a matte finish was the final device to rid the overall painting of reflection and
preserve the two-dimensional nature of his art in the simplest form.16
Another interesting yet simple method that helped Puvis de Chavannes to
achieve simplification in art was the limitation of pigments used in each work.
He kept a simple range of colours for each painting and used them consistently.
During the application of the limited pigments, he maintained the principle of
simplicity by applying the paint with just one or two layers. Understandably, in
order to avoid any reflection of the images, no glazes were observed in his murals.
It was only very rarely that his murals revealed a third layer among one of the
numerous cross-sections taken for examination. The textures of his paint clearly
differed as thick dry impastos and thin, lean layers that revealed the coarse texture
of the canvas. Puvis was also content to have some areas of canvas uncovered,
especially outlining figures and trees, which often revealed what appears to be a
charcoal underdrawing.17
For Satie to repeatedly discuss Puvis work shows how much he respected the
French painters art. By examining Saties Ogives, we can see numerous examples
of the painters traits favoured by him, focusing on the principle of simplicity.
First, it could be said that the two-dimensional characteristic was prominent in the
Ogives. Despite the abstract nature of music which cannot be seen and touched
like visual arts, Satie achieved the images surface legibility well by making
clever choices in terms of the melody and harmony of the Ogives. Introducing a
single-line melody which is followed by a block chord harmonisation created a
simpler aural experience for both performers and audiences, as one would only
concentrate on the two-dimensional characteristic of the piece, i.e. the main
melody and its straightforward harmonisation. The heterophonic texture ruled
out a compositional style that involves layers of melodic lines, such as two-part
inventions or compositions in fugal style. The contrapuntal musical texture, which

Dan Duhrkoop, Empty Easel,
Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 57

Satie had avoided in the Ogives, often adds more depth to the music because apart
from tracing the main melody and the harmonies straightforwardly; details from
the different musical layers could be balanced by being more in the background
or foreground, which inevitably add another dimension to the music. This would
result in the opposite style to what Satie strived for the two-dimensional
characteristics and the principle of simplicity.
The simple 23-note melodic line in each of the Ogives (except the third piece)
perfectly illustrates Saties comment that: To say in two words what a Spanish
orator could only express in long eloquent phrases.18 Satie obviously found the
one-line melody sufficient for his purposes and he quite happily repeated the same
melody three more times with only two different chordal harmonisations.
Colour in music is generally understood to refer to tone colour (timbre) and
harmonic colour. The use of dissonance adds harmonic colour to a piece of music.
For instance, a chain of major chords followed by a dissonant chord would instantly
change the harmonic colour of the piece and such a device is lacking in the Ogives.
The limited range of harmonic colours in these four pieces seems to be responding to
one of Puvis de Chavannes painting techniques, which was to keep a simple range of
colours for each painting and use them consistently. The textures of his paint clearly
differed as thick dry impastos and thin, lean layers that revealed the coarse texture of
the canvas.19 In the case of Ogives, the simple range of colours could be interpreted
as the simple range of harmonic colours which Satie has chosen only major and
minor triad chords could be found in all four Ogives. Referring back to Ex. 3.5, Satie
harmonised the second and third crotchet notes of the main melody in the first of the
Ogives with two different chords. Simply altering the note from G to F sharp, Satie
achieved a subtle change of harmony from a G-major tonic chord in first inversion to a
B-minor root position tonic chord. His carefully chosen and confined music materials
reveals his attempt to deliver Puvis de Chavanness limited pigments principle in the
Ogives. As for the thick dry impastos and thin, lean layers, Satie offered his best
musical substitute by composing those consistent thick chordal harmonisation and
the thin single line melodies throughout the Ogives.
The lack of gravitational pull towards the tonic and dominant in Ogives is
something worth noting, as this is a fundamental idea for him that led him to
compose pieces like Vexations (1893) which created a new experience in the way
in which music was perceived. Instead of relying on developing musical ideas
and being driven by the tonic and dominant gravitational pull, the piece relied
on repetition. Completely opposite to the harmonic language of Ogives, Satie
composed Vexations with a huge number of tritones and none of these tritones
were to be resolved. With the lack of gravitational pull, this compositional style
could be a direct response to another of Puvis de Chavannes painting techniques:
his desire to eliminate the gravity and weight of figures. As Russell Clement
commented of the French painters works: To maintain the two-dimensionality

Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 207.
58 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

demanded by wall paintings, Puvis nearly eliminated chiaroscuro (visual art

terminology for high contrast) and produced figurations in which flat shapes and
colours were dominant. Figures lost gravity, weight, and volume.20 The block
chord harmonisation in the Ogives seemed to be purely there for the pillar effect:
that is, to symbolise the vertical line of the cross, the ogive and the cathedral
structure. In no sense was Satie trying to work out chord progressions based on
the principles of the traditional tonic-dominant harmonic gravitational pull that
was crucial to all common practice music. As a result, this work has no goal to
head towards, no exposition, development and recapitulation, no drama and,
most importantly, when examining the musical ideas within the structure of the
piece, the beginning, the middle and the end of the piece are all the same. The
piece provides a musical journey that mocks ones perception of time.

Performing the Rose-Croix Piano Works

Ironically, while other composers of the later nineteenth century were busy
exploiting new possibilities with piano composition and performance, none of
this mattered for Satie, especially in his Rose-Croix pieces. Prlude de la Porte
hroque du ciel is a good example of how Satie rid pianists of the chance to
express themselves. There is no opportunity to perform with a dramatic dynamic
range, nor are there any virtuosic passages to impress audiences. The urge to
perform a piece with romantic expressive gestures has therefore been suppressed.
The peculiar musical setting with the absence of bar lines, time signatures, key
signatures, articulation and dynamic markings and phrase marks provokes performers
into thinking about Saties performance intentions. This unconventional scoring
method is further mystified by eccentric indications like Superstitieusement,
Avec dfrence, Trs sincrement silencieux, En une timide pit, Eviter
toute exaltation sacrilge, Sans orgueil and Obligeamment. These descriptions
seem to depict different moods or atmospheres rather than being, strictly speaking,
performance indications. As Saties friend Contamine de Latour stated: Satie
decided one day, with great jubilation, to replace the standard tempo marks (lent,
grave, etc.) with his own made-up expressions (without pride, with amazement,
even whiter if possible, etc.) which addressed the pianists feelings rather than
his or her technique.21 After knowing that the descriptions were to address the
pianists feelings, was it Saties intention to have those feelings delivered to
audiences during a public performance or were they purely discreet emotional
journeys for performers themselves to undertake? Despite the unclear aims of
these descriptions on the score, researchers including Orledge and Gowers have

Russell T. Clement, Four French Symbolists: A Sourcebook on Pierre Puvis de
Chavannes, Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon, and Maurice Denis (Westport: Greenwood
Press, 1996), p. 32.
Volta, A Mammals Notebook, p. 169.
Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 59

provided detailed musical analysis on these Rose-Croix pieces. The analytical

results have proven to be useful in understanding Saties performance practice,
which is an area that needs to be explored in more detail. Prlude de la Porte
hroque du ciel will provide a case study on performance practice in Saties piano
Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel was a prelude to Jules Bois esoteric
drama. Bois had eclectic interests in fields such as psychology, spiritualism,
occultism, theosophy, astronomy and metaphysics.22 This drama casts a poet who
is sent forth by Christ on a dangerous mission to supplant the Virgin Mary by the
Cult of Isis, a central figure in ancient Egyptian religion. Although the prelude
was written for a mystic drama, Orledge wrote that: The occult never penetrated
beneath the surface of his Rose-Croix music. Apart from being slow, hieratic and
ritualistic, it is in no way descriptive of the plays associated with it, for it has its
own independent and purely musical logic.23 Harmonically, Prlude de la Porte
hroque du ciel is formed of consecutive unresolved seventh chords. Despite the
lack of phrase marks in this prelude, the logical musical patterns led Patrick Gowers
to regard these consecutive unresolved seventh chords as jigsaw-like motifs and
the preludes structure as mosaic structure. The descriptions of jigsaw-like
motifs and mosaic structure were tailor-made for the musical content because
these motifs were not to be expanded or developed: they were simply organized
within Saties small-scale piano works. Gowers also devised the term punctuation
form24 for this prelude, which means that recurring jigsaw-like motifs punctuate
the piece and gave it its form and structure. The punctuation phrase shown below
(Ex. 3.6) first appeared at the twelfth crotchet beat and it reappears in seven other
places, either at the same pitch, transposed or slightly varied. On two occasions,
this punctuation phrase only had three crotchet beats, half the length of the original
phrase. Its consistent rhythmic pattern provides a unifying agent for the Prlude,
which could sound disorganised and arbitrary without it.

Example 3.6 Example of a punctuation phrase in Prlude de la Porte hroque

du ciel

Henri Antoine Jules Bois Collection, Biographical Note, http://library.binghamton.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 44.
Patrick Gowers, Saties Rose-Croix Music (18911895), Proceedings of the
Royal Musical Association 92 (19656), pp. 125.
60 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Gowers punctuation form analysis suggests that Prlude de la Porte hroque

du ciel is another example of Saties preference for the filtration of other arts
into his music; this time, Satie turned to prose and poems for inspiration. The
poetic influence was not an impulse experiment but a reflection of his surrounding
stimulation, as during the Rose-Croix period, he was heavily involved with the
cabaret, an environment in which his compositional style was nurtured alongside
musicians, painters, poets and satirists.
Gowers suggested that the way to listen to this prelude was to let the
punctuation phrases slip by almost unnoticed and concentrate on the chain,
thinking of it as far as possible as a whole, rather than as sections divided by
a response in the manner of a litany.25 Gowers idea of prose-like structure
leads to the following assumption: if one is to listen to the prelude as if it were
prose, it would make sense for the performer to interpret the music in the manner
of reciting prose. In order to understand what Satie, from the angle of a poet,
might have in mind on how this piece should be played, it is useful to consider
the nature of the French language. The French pronounce each syllable with
approximately equal strength and to maintain for each vowel its full quality,26
unlike English poems, which emphasise strongly the stressed syllables and
reduce the vowels of unstressed syllables. Philip Ball mentioned that French
songs tend to have a rather regular pulse, as in French, the durations of adjacent
vowels are more similar than in English.27 As a result, a few hypotheses on
performance issues can be drawn for Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel and
the suggested performance practice can also be applied to other Rose-Croix
pieces with similar musical characteristics.
Orledge commented that this Rose-Croix work is slow, hieratic and
ritualistic and a slow tempo dominates all of his Rose-Croix pieces. For
instance, in all three Sonneries de la Rose+Croix, uspud and Danses gothiques,
the tempo marking is Lent. In the odd case like Le fils des toiles, despite having
modr as the tempo description, the metronome marking of crotchet 5460
would still be considered nowadays to be a slow rather than a moderate tempo.
As a result, a slow tempo choice, together with the rather monotonous choice
of rhythmic patterns (only crotchets and quavers with no dotted rhythms) for
this prelude, resembles the equal strength syllables and full quality vowels
in the French language. This slow tempo is also agreeable to the description
calme et profondment doux at the beginning of the prelude, which indicates a
serene atmosphere.28 The description calme hence implied a slow tempo choice

Ibid., p. 19.
Bernard Tranel, The Sounds of French: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1987), p. 35.
Philip Ball, The Music Instinct (London: Bodley Head, 2010), p. 360.
It appears that there is no connection between this tempo indication and that given
by Debussy at the head of La cathdrale engloutie Doux et profondment calme
though the coincidence is striking.
Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 61

regardless of whether it came with or without the added tempo term lent for
further justification. Examples can be found in Saties works LInitiation (1892),
the second act prelude of Le fils de toiles and Danses gothiques.
The application of pedal, if any, would be for legato effect on each block
chord in order to create a smoother sound, similar to how one speaks and how
poets recite poems in a fluent manner. Lavish use of pedal that creates blurry
harmonies or grand sonority would seem undesirable after understanding Saties
attempt to create the mosaic structure where each jigsaw-like motive was self-
contained and clear harmonies are crucial. Besides, using sustained pedals to
help build a grander sound for the sake of achieving the ebbs and flows of the
music are totally irrelevant simply because such ebbs and flows were not present
in the mosaic structure pieces. Phrases sound lyrical, like spoken sentences,
even though they are the combination of several self-contained jigsaw pieces
which could be rearranged and joined with other pieces in a quasi-random
manner. This is quite similar to the case of Ogives, as the start, middle and end
of each piece has no major difference in character. For this prelude, a single
motif could appear at the start, in the middle or the end of a phrase. In Ex.
3.7, the second, third and seventh systems are selected to illustrate how Satie
ingeniously organised a chosen motif to expose its self-contained nature within
the punctuation structure. Punctuation phrases appear twice at the beginning
of the second system and at the eighth crotchet beat of the third system. Motif X
is introduced midway between the two punctuation phrases, and it reappears in
the seventh system, following another punctuation phrase and therefore marking
the start of a new phrase.
Whether the arrangement of these motives was a random act or a conscious
compositional process, it seems as if Satie would like the motives to be heard
in a subtle manner; Gowers suggested the performer should let the punctuation
phrases slip by almost unnoticed.29 If that is indeed the case, there is no reason
to highlight, at any point, the transition from motif to motif. In order to achieve
this, any expressive use of the pedal and agogics that would disturb the subtlety
of the punctuation phrases is to be avoided.
Another interesting musical element that possibly relates to the practice of
reciting prose was Saties choice of rests. Throughout the piece, only crotchet
rests and quaver rests were used. Under closer examination, when there is a
pause in the discourse, this rest is consistently a quaver long. A quaver rest also
appears after every punctuation phrase (see Ex. 3.7). It is logical to think that
these quaver rests provide the short silence that symbolise one taking a breath
in between long sentences or at the end of a full sentence. If this assumption is
true, the quaver rest could be played with a small amount of rubato without the
need to stick to its actual rhythmic value.
In terms of the application of dynamic markings in all Rose-Croix pieces,
it appears that Satie had given specific dynamic markings to some but not all

Gowers, Saties Rose-Croix Music (18911895), p. 19.
62 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Example 3.7 Punctuation phrases and a self-contained motif in Prlude de la

Porte hroque du ciel

pieces. The presence of precise dynamic markings in pieces like Premire pense
Rose+Croix, Sonneries de la Rose+Croix, Le fils des toiles and uspud means the
absence of dynamic markings in Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel and Danses
gothiques was deliberate and should not therefore be seen as a hint from Satie to
allow performers to improvise the range of dynamics within the piece. The written
music should be performed with the most plain and unvaried dynamic level. As
different dynamic levels works in relation to each other, the choice of a particular
dynamic level for the Rose-Croix pieces would vary between performers. Using
Prlude de la Porte hroque du ciel as an example, the determining factors would
be the performers own perception of Calme et profondment doux as well as
practical performance issues, for instance, the size and the acoustic facilities of the
performance venue and the instrument itself.
Ogives was the first of Saties piano works to lack a time signature and bar
lines. Such unconventional choices of musical presentation were frequently found
in the Rose-Croix piano pieces and later compositions up until 1915. It is not
entirely clear why Satie decided that some pieces should have a time signature
and bar lines and others should not. For instance, the collection published by
Salabert as Carnet desquisses et de croquis (18991913) consists of 15 short
pieces and among these, only Songeries vers Jack and Arrire have no bar
Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 63

Example 3.8 The first system of Gnossienne no. 3

lines and time signatures. Similarly, among the 12 chorales30 that he composed
in 1906, only the tenth and eleventh chorale shared such characteristics. After the
12 chorales, Satie reverted to composing pieces with time signatures and bar lines
until 1913, when he changed his mind again for Le pige de Mduse (1913), Sports
et divertissements (1914), Les trois valses distingues du Prcieux dgot (1914)
and Avant-dernires penses (1915).
The unique style of scoring in the Ogives can be seen as Saties early attempt
to advertise himself as a controversial and pioneering composer, a person who
refused to follow the mainstream and who perceived his surroundings with a
different pair of eyes. Still eye-catching for todays performers, the lack of essential
performance directions and the odd performance descriptions as substitutions
had no doubt attracted the attention of publishers and musicians at the time. This
unique style had a positive effect on his career as a composer and it was certainly
a style favoured by Satie, as proven by his adoption of such a scoring style again
in his later compositional years. From the viewpoint of a composer, creating music
without bar lines and time signatures instantly provides a much freer approach to
the setting of a phrase and the total length of consecutive phrases. Such practice
could be seen as Satie questioning the long tradition of composing with time
signatures and bar lines. Were time signatures and bar lines really necessary for
every single piece of music composition? he might have asked himself. I would
like to explore phrases with irregular length, and why should I be hindered by
the traditional bar lines and time signatures which only interrupted my thinking?
Or, similarly, he might have thought, for example, in the case of the famous
Gnossienne no. 3 (1890): Werent the semibreves obvious enough to show my
intention of the quadruple time signature?
No matter what Satie had in mind when he chose to rid his compositions of bar
lines and time signatures, the visual outcome was impressive. From a performers
point of view, it is no doubt that the absence of bar lines offers a more free-flowing
perception of the melodies. Counting regular beats within a bar consciously or
subconsciously would no longer be the case and performers could focus purely
on the musical flow. The visual perception thus becomes more similar to the aural
perception as the music can be scanned without the bar lines separating each phrase

Satie did not give the title Douze petits chorals. The title was an editorial addition
by Salabert.
64 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Example 3.9 The third, fourth and fifth systems of Le fils des toiles, third act

into different measures. For the first time, the visual experience of a performer
closely resembled his aural experience, i.e. to be able to perform and listen to a
piece of music without being reminded of every first beat of the bar. Consequently,
the music score itself became a piece of visual art.
However, the pieces with no bar lines and time signatures were not at all
musically chaotic. In fact, Satie designed his own unifying agent so that the
pieces worked coherently. First of all, instead of creating varied rhythmic patterns
in these pieces, the rhythmic variety was rather limited. In most cases, only two
different rhythmic values were included for the majority of the piece, for example,
crotchets and quavers or crotchets and minims. An exceptional case is the third
prelude of Le fils des toiles, which has the most diverse rhythmic values from
semiquavers and quavers to crotchets, minims, triplets and dotted rhythms. It
might sound chaotic having to include all these different rhythmic patterns without
the presence of bar lines and time signatures, but Satie intentionally arranged the
different rhythmic patterns in groups, so that there was a chain of crotchet block
chords followed by a chain of semiquaver rhythms. Ex. 3.9 shows how these
blocks of different rhythmic groups work perfectly alongside each other.
The change from one rhythmic group to another resembles the change of
background scenery of the esoteric drama as the prelude was supposed to be
composed for Pladans mystic play, though it is unknown whether the piece
referred directly to the play. These different blocks of rhythmic patterns could also
be some kind of mosaic structure in a bigger scheme.
Saties Rose-Croix Piano Works 65

In his pieces with limited rhythmic variety but phrases of irregular lengths,
Satie organised his musical ideas still without the need of bar lines and time
signatures with consistent phrase markings throughout the entire piece. Examples
can be found in Danses de travers (1897) and Pices froides (1897). Other works
without bar lines and time signatures have only block chords and no phrase marks,
such as the two Prludes du Nazaren (1892, originally conceived as a single
piece) and Vexations (1893).31 Poking a bit of fun, these pieces could be seen as
puzzle games designed by Satie since the lack of performance direction among
these mazes of block chords would no doubt prompt musicians (and quite likely
musicologists) to work out his musical logic in order to perform these pieces with
full understanding.
Since the way in which Satie composed was unique, it is not helpful to turn to
composers or performers of his time hoping to obtain guidance on how to perform
his pieces. Satie made this situation even more difficult by not leaving any
recorded performances of his own works, though this was common practice for
composer/performers of his era such as Debussy, Poulenc, Elgar, Rachmaninoff
and Stravinsky.32 Despite this unfavourable situation, Saties musical logic was
never random and it has allowed music researchers to gradually discover his
ultimate intentions. New ideas lie beneath Saties consecutive block chords
compositions: todays performers understand this new concept of music with
a timeless quality which does not necessarily have strong forward momentum
and, as a result, listeners and performers can experience music that resembles
a frozen time space. With this logic in mind, it makes perfect sense to avoid
expressive gestures like agogic accents and rubato, which are only effective
when a sense of musical progression is present. Evenness in the articulation of
the block chords is vital and performers should prepare themselves to be fully
submerged in the still and tranquil musical atmosphere and not be tempted with
the common twentieth-century French piano performance practice that Satie
seems to have deliberately avoided.
Similarly, performers should be aware that Saties stripping of all performance
directions does not mean that there is a lack of feeling or expression in his
music. For Satie, boredom was mysterious and profound33 and through his
piano pieces, he managed to explore this feeling, which was not a sentiment that
his contemporaries aimed to include in their music. Boredom is a powerful yet
frustrating emotion and for pieces that involve such high level of repetition, Satie
managed to turn this negative emotion into something positive and artistic, as in

The Prludes du Nazaren and Vexations have been thoroughly researched by
Robert Orledge with detailed findings in Satie the Composer and his article Understanding
Saties Vexations, Music & Letters 79/3 (August 1998), pp. 38695.
Robert Philip, Early Recordings and Musical Style: Changing Tastes in Instrumental
Performance, 19001950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 1.
Cited in Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie Montmartre (Paris: Muse de Montmartre,
66 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

well-known Vexations, which has inspired many composers from the twentieth
century onwards, including John Cage.34 As Orledge puts it, repetition and
objectivity were to be encouraged not despised.35 Satie demonstrated this belief
perfectly through pieces like Ogives and Vexations, and numerous pieces which
have repetitive accompaniment and rhythmic patterns, such as the accompaniments
of Gymnopdies (1888), Gnossiennes (1890) and Pices froides (1897). Outside
his musical world, Satie did not fail to impress himself or the public with his
interest in boredom and repetition by obsessively purchasing handkerchiefs,
umbrellas and seven identical velvet suits, which gained him the nickname The
Velvet Gentleman.

See Chapter 9 in this book by Matthew Mendez for detail on this topic.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 207.
Chapter 4
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer
Caroline Potter

Erik Saties creativity exploded in several different directions around 191214.

His manuscripts and correspondence testify to his talent for calligraphy, and his
drawings, usually in black or red and usually created for himself, show that he was
an artist gifted in several media. The poet Suzanne Kra wrote that our composer
[Satie] was also seen as a poet,1 though while Satie wrote many songs, only one
set, the tiny Trois pomes damour (1914), features his own texts. Steven Moore
Whiting believes that his increasing success as a composer gave him confidence
to work in other media: In Saties case, it was finding the route to glory in 1911
[when Ravel promoted his music] that enabled him to try out paths beyond the
realm of musical composition; journalism from 1912 on, theatrical comedy in
1913, lyric poetry in 1914, and public lectures (causeries) from 1916 on.2
Satie is well known for the in-score texts accompanying some of his piano
pieces from the Vritables prludes flasques (1912) onwards, just before his
excursion into poetry and playwriting. These texts provide further evidence of
his need in this period to enhance his music with other artistic forms. While these
texts are sometimes absurd, or comments directed to the performer, or both, the
elaborate commentaries of Heures sculaires et instantanes (1914) are more
like prose poems which feature echoes of French poets, including Verlaine and
Hugo, and allude to contemporary events. From 1912, his occasional journalism
found regular outlets in Lil de veau, a short-lived journal published by his friend
Roland-Manuel,3 and the more established Revue musicale S.I.M. Gaston Picard,
the co-editor of Lil de veau, recalled the style of the journal followed: No
particular trends. Imagination an imagination which I would describe as literary.
A humour for which our collaborator le bon matre Erik Satie set the tone.4

Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie: Correspondance presque complte (Paris: Fayard,
2003), p. 929: notre compositeur [Satie] tait peru, aussi, comme un pote. Satie sent a
letter to Suzanne Kra on 31 July 1917 (p. 295): Jai lu avec attention vos pomes. Ils me
plaisent infiniment. Suzanne Kra was the daughter of the publisher Simon Kra and the
translator of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (pp. 9289).
Steven Moore Whiting, Satie the Bohemian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 442.
Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1990), p. 213. The journal ceased publication after the May 1912 number.
Gaston Picard, Quelle enqute serait plus intressante?, Belles-Lettres 626
(December 1924), pp. 1767: Pas de tendance. De la fantaisie une fantaisie que
68 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Given Saties extensive literary interests and his desire to control the
appearance of his music, it is surprising that only one vocal work features his
own texts. Perhaps the topic of the Trois pomes damour is unexpected, as Satie,
as far as we know, had little direct experience of romantic relationships. His only
documented affair (with the painter Suzanne Valadon) lasted, according to him,
from 14 January until 20 June 1893; reports that he may have had another brief
relationship in 1914, with the poet Henriette Sauret, are as yet unconfirmed.
The songs were composed, according to the manuscripts, on 20 November, 25
November and 2 December 1914,5 and were originally headed Musique de M.
Erik Satie (sur des paroles magiques de lui-mme). Robert Orledge discovered
Saties original preface to these songs in a sketchbook; the following does not
appear in the published version:

These poems do not discuss the love of Glory, the love of Lucre, the love of
Commerce or of Geography. No. These poems are poems of the love of Love;
they are simple and devout pages wherein are reflected all the tenderness of a
virtuous man, very proper in his ways. You can listen to them without fear. They
are three in number: the first has as its title: Love Poem No. 1; the title of the
second is a little less glorious: Love Poem No. 3; as to the third poem, its title
is more modest still: Love Poem No. 2. I am going to sing them to you myself,
with a single vocal cord, in the same way as was customary in ancient times, at
the court of our good old kings of the 12th, of the 12th arrondissement.6

(Satie subsequently decided against this quixotic 1, 3, 2 numbering.) The Trois

pomes damour have a fake medieval flavour, hence the otherwise obscure
reference to the 12th [century]; the love expressed in these songs is an idealised,
courtly love, though not without some surprising contemporary twists. Satie was
interested in all things Gothic particularly drawings of castles and suits of armour,
calligraphy and architecture. This interest dates back at least as far as his first

jappellerai livresque. Un humour dont notre collaborateur le bon matre Erik Satie donnait
le ton.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, pp. 2089.
Translation in Robert Orledge, Saties Approach to Composition in His Later Years
(191324), Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 111 (19845), p. 159. Original in
the Bibliothque nationale de France, MS 9615 (1), p. 1: Ces pomes ne traitent pas de lamour
de la Gloire, de lamour du Lucre, de lamour du Commerce ou de celui de la Gographie.
Non. Ces pomes sont des pomes damour ... de lAmour; ce sont des pages btes et simples
o se voit toute la tendresse dun homme vertueux, trs convenables dans ses manires. Vous
pouvez les couter sans crainte. Ils sont au nombre de trois: le premier a comme titre: Pome
dAmour No. 1; le titre du deuxime est un peu moins glorieux: Pome dAmour No. 3; quant
au troisime pome, son titre est plus modeste encore: Pome dAmour No. 2. Je vais vous
les chanter moi-mme, sur une seule corde vocale, ainsi que cela se pratiquait, dans lancien
temps, la Cour de nos bons vieux rois du XIIe, du XIIe arrondissement.
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 69

significant work, the four Ogives for piano (1888)7 and the nine (3x3) Danses
gothiques (1893). Steven Moore Whiting refers to the stagey medievalism of the
Montmartre caf scene in the 1890s, a scene into which Satie fit perfectly,8 though
he moved away from this obsession after the 1890s. Satie was employed at this
time as a pianist at the Chat Noir cabaret, a venue which produced its own journal,
edited during its heyday by Alphonse Allais, Saties fellow Honfleur native. The
proprietor of the Chat Noir, Rodolphe Salis, contributed short stories in cod-
medieval style, with authentic antique spelling, to the Chat Noir journal; the most
interesting things about these stories by far were the elaborate illustrations which
echo Saties Gothic doodlings. It is curious to see Saties interest in the medieval
being revived more than 30 years later, seemingly out of the blue, with the Trois
pomes damour. One could speculate that his connection with Henriette Sauret,
a poet whose work was published in Lil de veau, may have triggered these love
poems. On a less romantic level, she was the dedicatee of Saties Observations
dun imbcile (Moi), a text published in Lil de veau in February 1912. The
following number of the magazine (MarchApril 1912) featured a prose poem by
Sauret with the Satiean title Le Froid on p. 82.9
The three songs form a rhyming set for several reasons. First, as in many of
his piano works including the Gymnopdies, Satie created a group of three pieces
which are deliberately similar in mood and texture like viewing a sculpture from
three different angles, as he said of his Gymnopdies. He was not at all concerned
about providing variety within a set of pieces. Second, the predominance of
conjunct quaver movement, intentionally reminiscent of the regular, flowing
rhythm of Gregorian chant, in the vocal line is common to all three songs and is
another quasi-medieval feature. Leaps wider than a second are rare and therefore
attract attention (e.g. line 4 of song 1, Pour plaire son amante, features an
octave leap from the first to the second word). Saties reference to a single vocal
cord no doubt refers to the limited vocal range of the songs, which remain in the
speech register throughout. Third, Satie avoids the first person singular pronoun
(Ne suis que grain de sable, Suis chauve de naissance) for archaic effect and
also to further position the narrator as a self-effacing supplicant. In October 1892
Debussy famously described Satie as a gentle medieval musician lost in this
century,10 words which seem to anticipate this work.

See Chapter 3 of this book.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 419.
Saurets engagement was announced in the Journal des dbats politiques et
littraires, on p. 2 of the number dated 2 October 1912: M. Andr Lvy, dit Arnyvelde,
homme de lettres, avec Mlle Henriette Sauret, femme de lettres, fille du gnral de division
Cited in Robert Orledge, Satie, Koechlin and the ballet Uspud, Music & Letters
64/1 (1987), p. 27. In footnote 4 on the same page, Orledge mentions that Debussy wrote
these words (in red ink) as a dedication to Satie on a copy of Debussys own Cinq pomes
de Baudelaire.
70 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Most importantly, the poetic form of each poem is identical and all the rhymes
are identical. Satie uses a simple ABA form in all three poems, repeating (or
almost repeating) the opening two lines to round off each. Satie employs lines
with seven syllables or, more precisely, six syllables plus a mute e at the end
of each line, which should be pronounced in poetry or classical song, but should
traditionally not be a stressed syllable. However, Satie perversely abandons
the quaver movement of the rest of the song for the final syllable of each line,
stretching the mute e syllables out to a crotchet length and no doubt poking fun
at the usual stress patterns of spoken French by underlining the weak syllable.
Saties interest in numerology and hidden musical systems of various sorts is well
documented, not least by Robert Orledge, and this use of an obsessive rhyme
scheme, adherence to which is more important than the meaning of the words, is
therefore closely connected with his compositional practice.
The three poems are shown below:

Ne suis que grain de sable,
Toujours frais et taimable.
Qui boit, qui rit, qui chante
Pour plaire son amante
Tout doux, ma chre, belle
Aimez votre amant frle:
Il nest que grain de sable
Toujours frais et taimable.
[I am but a grain of sand/Always fresh and kind to you./Who drinks, who laughs, who
sings/To please his lover/Gently, my dear, lovely one/Love your fragile lover;/He is
but a grain of sand/Always fresh and kind to you.]

Suis chauve de naissance,
Par pure biensance,
Je nai plus confiance
En ma jeune vaillance.
Pourquoi cette arrogance
De la si belle Hortence?
Trs chauve de naissance,
Le suis par biensance.
[Ive been bald since I was born/By pure decorum,/I no longer trust/In my youthful
gallantry./Why this arrogance/Of the so lovely Hortense?/Very bald since I was
born,/I am by decorum.]

Ta parure est secrte,
douce luronnette.
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 71

Ma belle guillerette
Fume la cigarette
Ferai-je sa conqute
Que je voudrais complte?
Ta parure est secrte,
douce luronnette.
[Your finery is concealed,/Oh gentle little strapping girl./My lovely cheerful one/
Smokes a cigarette/Will I make conquest of/She whom I want to complete?/Your
finery is concealed,/Oh gentle little strapping girl.]

The manuscripts feature prefaces to each song which are not reproduced in the
published edition of the songs. Exceptionally for Satie, these are romantic, heart-
on-sleeve expressions of feeling which have no apparent ironic or satirical edge.
Before the first song, Satie writes: The poet dares to make a discreet declaration
of love to his beloved, a pale vow. The latter listens to him coldly, on the tip
of her lips.11 There is a similar flowery statement prefacing the second song,
Suis chauve de naissance: Here, the poet expresses his utter devotion, his utter
thoughtfulness. He is uncertain of his own power and shows great anguish.12
Finally, the third song is preceded by: The Poet, in the grip of vertigo, seems to be
mad with love. His heart bursts in his stomach; his eyelids tremble like leaves.13
As we will see, these florid sentiments are rarely reflected in the music.
The poems suggest an ironically witty courtly love, a topic which again
evokes the medieval period. Many commentators have wondered whether the
narrator is Satie himself considering lines such as Suis chauve de naissance
though he was not bald at the time that he wrote these songs. In any event,
the narrator positions himself as a humble petitioner, presenting himself as a
grain of sand (Ne suis que grain de sable) who seeks only to please his lover.
The lady in question is named as la si belle Hortence in the second song
a suitably old-fashioned name (and old-fashioned spelling), evoking a France
in medieval times. Christopher Dawson believes that this poem combines the
pretentiousness of the prcieux dgot (whose three waltzes has been written
a few months earlier) with a thematic incongruity caused by the constraints of
rhyme to create a similar effect of conflict and parody, later noting that the
theme subservient to rhyme anticipates Dadaist poetry.14

Le pote ose faire, son amante, une discrte dclaration, un ple aveu. Celle-ci
lcoute froidement, du bout des lvres.
Le pote exprime ici toute sa dvotion, tout son recueillement. Il doute de son
pouvoir personnel; & monte une norme angoisse.
Le Pote, pris de vertige, semble fou damour. Son cur clate dans son ventre; ses
paupires tremblent comme des feuilles.
Christopher Dawson, Erik Satie Viewed as a Writer: With Special Reference to His
Texts from 1900 to 1925, unpublished DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 1993, p. 110.
72 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

The distinct similarity of each song could be connected to the rhetorical

device of anaphora (Christopher Dawson notes it with reference to his writing
style, but the phenomenon is also applicable to his music). The Cambridge Guide
to Literature in English defines anaphora as the rhetorical device of repeating
the first word or words of successive sentences or clauses; in the Trois pomes
damour, as we have noted, the first two lines of each poem are repeated at the
end and, in addition, all rhymes are identical. In Dawsons words, it would
appear for him anaphora was a source not only of aesthetic balance but also of
thematic precision, allowing the reader to extract the essence of his thoughts
from a series of similar statements in much the same way as an audience may
deduce the essence of a gymnopdie from a series of musical examples. Saties
use of this technique is, according to Dawson, a further example of the classical
nature of his art.15 This strong internal similarity in each poem, together with
the use of regular rhythm in the vocal line, gives a mechanistic effect which is
typical of Satie. The use of mechanical-type devices in a set of love songs could
be seen as an ironic distancing from the feelings involved, and the overall effect
is dehumanising and depersonalising.
The mute e ending lends itself to the use of diminutives, often with comic
effect. Steven Moore Whiting has documented Saties extensive borrowings
from popular song, showing that he used various songs by others as a basis
for parodies. It is evident that he was similarly reliant on the works of others
for much of his literary output, including many of the in-text commentaries
of his piano works. For the Trois pomes damour, Satie is indebted to Pierre
de Ronsards (152485) famous poem son me, beginning Amelette
Ronsardelette, Mignonnelette, doucelette, Tres-chre hostesse de mon corps.
This poem was memorably set by Ravel in 19234 featuring open fifths in the
largely one-handed piano part a part Ravel said facilitated playing the piano
and smoking at the same time.
Three verses were published in an article on Saties writings by Nigel Wilkins
in 197516 that are also based on identical rhymes at the end of each of their six
lines. Wilkins indicates that Satie is the author of these lines, while Steven Moore
Whiting suggests that his cabaret collaborator Vincent Hyspa may well be the
author. Whoever the true author is, these verses have much in common with the
texts of Trois pomes damour, not least because the rhyme scheme is here more
important than the logical meaning of the verses:

Ibid., p. 217.
Nigel Wilkins, The Writings of Erik Satie: Miscellaneous Fragments, Music &
Letters 56/34 (1975), p. 303. See also Steven Moore Whiting, Erik Satie and Vincent
Hyspa: Notes on a Collaboration, Music & Letters 77/1 (February 1996), pp. 6491; the
reference to these verses can be found on pp. 789. Whiting notes that the text was written
in 1904 and that Satie sketched a song, Les fantmes, setting these three verses (now
housed in the Bibliothque nationale de France, BN 9599).
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 73

1. Voici Messire Printemps/Le plus beau des temps/Cest ce temps charmant/Si

cher aux enfants/Jamais autre temps/Ne plat autant. [Here is Mister Spring/The
most beautiful time/Its this charming time/Which children love/No other time/
Pleases as much]

2. Cest le temps des pquerettes/De mille fleurettes/De mille bleuettes/Et des

alouettes/Des petites btes/Des maux de ttes. [Its the time of daisies/Of a
thousand little flowers/Of a thousand cornflowers/And larks/Of little creatures/
Of headaches]

3. On voit des petites coteaux/Des petits ruisseaux/Des petits roseaux/Des

petits oiseaux/Et des arbrisseaux/Des vermisseaux. [We can see little hills/Little
streams/Little reeds/Little birds/And shrubby trees/Little earthworms]

While these short verses are undated, the second and third have much in common
with the Trois pomes damour texts in the use of diminutives, some invented,
at the end of each line, and the almost free association of words based on this
rhyming syllable. The first of these verses is more conventional in content, its only
Satiean characteristic being its obsession with the notion of time. The unexpected
conclusion which undermines both the second and third verses is reminiscent
of the prose poems in Heures sculaires et instantanes, as are the Verlaine-like
references to an idealised Nature in all three verses. However, the mood created
is ultimately far from Verlaines heure exquise, ending as it does in a headache.
Peter Dayan draws attention to the second line of the last of the Trois pomes
damour (repeated as the final line): douce luronette. In Dayans words,
a luronne is a woman with an approach to love which aligns itself with
the stereotypically masculine rather than the stereotypically feminine, being
enterprising rather than modest. But the adjective douce undermines that
alignment.17 Harraps French-English Dictionary defines une luronne as a
strapping, beefy woman. I assume, therefore, that a luronette is a small version
of the same. Dayans analysis of the poems highlights the ambiguity of gender
roles, the narrator (presumably male) often being portrayed as a modest creature
and the one adjective applied to the narrator himself (chauve) has a feminine
ending,18 though this adjective does not exist in any other form. However, we
should remember that the roles in Socrate, set by Satie in 191718, are male
characters which, in the first performance, were sung by a single female voice:
there is therefore no gendered connection between voice and character. The gender
of the singer was a secondary consideration for Satie, and while the dedicatee
of the three songs is Henri Fabert (who gave the first performance with Satie on
2 April 1916), the composer made a neat copy for the soprano Jane Bathori, a

Peter Dayan, Erik Saties Poetry, Modern Language Review 103 (2008), pp. 409
23, at p. 420.
Dayan, Erik Saties Poetry, p. 419.
74 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

frequent collaborator.19 Orledge mentions that the vocal line of the first song (Ne
suis que grain de sable) was originally pitched an octave higher20 and I wonder
whether Satie abandoned this in order to keep the vocal range within the speech
An odd feature of the poems is the shift from the second person singular to
plural and back again in the first and third songs (the second song avoids these
pronouns altogether). In the first song, the pronoun jolts from the suggestion of
tu in Toujours frais et taimable (lines 2 and 8) to Aimez votre amant frle
(line 6). While ton amant frle would have worked in this poetic form, Satie
perhaps wanted to avoid the assonance of ton amant, or he liked the shivering
repeated r sounds of votre and frle in the same line, highlighting the
apparent fragility of the narrator. Or perhaps he wanted to show that the narrator
is nervous and uncertain how to address his beloved. Incidentally, toujours
frais et taimable is also a phonetic pun. Et aimable is correct French, but
the hiatus between et and aimable may have been considered awkward by
Satie; while et taimable is more euphonious, it incorrectly suggests that the
words used are est aimable (in which case a liaison between the two words
would be correct), creating ambiguity to the ears of French speakers. By the
final poem, the narrator is happy to say Ta parure est secrte (lines 1 and 7),
no doubt partly because Votre parure would have involved an extra syllable,
ruining the poetic form.
The brevity of the poems echoes contemporary poetry by Saties friend
Apollinaire, though this is also a stylistic characteristic of Satie as a composer,
and as a writer he is fond of the aphorism: the unity of style of Saties oeuvre is
striking. The piano parts are unusual, not least because their relationship with the
vocal line seems non-existent on the surface, but in fact the pianist shadows the
singers Gregorian chant-like melodic material in inner parts. Satie made a rare
and fascinating (and completely serious) statement about his beliefs as a composer
in a sketchbook for Socrate in 1917 which illuminates his harmonic practice in the
Trois pomes damour:

A melody does not imply its harmony, any more than a landscape implies
its colour. The harmonic character of a melody is infinite for a melody is an
expression within the overall Expression.

Do not forget that the melody is the Idea, the outline; at the same time as being
the form and the subject matter of the work. The harmony is an illumination, an
explanation of the subject, its reflection.21

Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 309.
Orledge, Saties Approach to Composition, p. 159.
Robert Orledges translation, cited in Orledge, Saties Approach to Composition,
p. 157. Original in BN ms. 9611(4), p. 3 and cited in Wilkins, The Writings of Erik Satie,
p. 301: Une mlodie na pas son harmonie, pas plus quun paysage na sa couleur. La
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 75

Example 4.1 Erik Satie, Trois pomes damour, 1 (Ne suis que grain de sable):
bars 58

Any bar of the Trois pomes damour could be chosen as an example of the half-
concealed interrelationship between the vocal and piano parts; the second half of
Ne suis que grain de sable is as clear an example as any (Example 4.1).
Here, selected notes from the vocal line appear in the piano part, though the
vocal line jumps from one voice to another in the piano and does not usually act as
an obvious cue for the singer. Orledge notes that even before Satie wrote his article
on subject matter and craftsmanship [partly quoted above], he was clearly adhering
to its principles in practice.22 The piano parts are sometimes chordal in texture and
sometimes more varied, and there are many seemingly random registral changes
and elaborations of the rhythm which prevent this being a simple accompaniment
and show that the melody does not imply its harmony in a straightforward
manner. Steven Moore Whiting notes that Satie conveys a modal flavour by de-
emphasising leading notes and avoiding V-I progressions in accompaniments that
are, for him, unusually triadic and euphonious; this alone lays a patina of antiquity
on these settings.23 The music therefore uses conventional tonal vocabulary, but
its syntax is skewed.
Robert Orledge, in his detailed study of the manuscripts of the songs,
comments: Much was changed en route to the printed version, most noticeably
in the excision of the humorous preface, epigraphs and characteristic private
directions to both singer and pianist, as well as a loud inflated ritournelle for
the first song, which itself went through both an amusing cadential version and
a slightly more appropriate revision before being cut altogether.24 Ta parure est
secrte is the strangest of all; according to Orledge, manuscript evidence shows
that the odd decorative flourishes in the piano part were added at a very late stage
in composition. What these flourishes signify is unclear: could their decorative

situation harmonique dune mlodie est infinie, car une mlodie est une expression dans
lExpression Noubliez pas que que la mlodie est lIde, le contour; ainsi quelle est
la forme et la matire dune uvre. Lharmonie, elle, est une clairage, une exposition de
lobjet, son reflet.
Orledge, Saties Approach to Composition, p. 163.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 419.
Orledge, Saties Approach to Composition, pp. 1519.
76 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

style echo the word parure? Could this be a flamboyant romantic song
gesture disconnected from its appropriate musical context, which deliberately
disrupts the chant-like rhythmic and melodic style in the rest of the songs? The
manuscript also shows a flowery, romantic epigraph to this song: Le pote, pris
de vertige, semble fou damour. Avec tendresse son cur clate dans son ventre;
ses paupires tremblent comme des feuilles.25 This could be compared to Saties
use of several different linguistic registers in one article or other text.
In FebruaryMarch 1913, Satie wrote his only known play, Le pige de
Mduse (translated by Nigel Wilkins as Baron Medusas Trap), adding seven
short dances by June of that year.26 It is described on the title page as Comdie
lyrique en un acte deM. ERIK SATIE avec musique du danse du mme
monsieur. Typically, Satie was reluctant to offer any serious analysis of his
work, commenting in the published preface: This is a work of fantasy not
realistic. A joke. Dont read anything else into it. The role of Baron Mduse
is a sort of portrait Its even my portrait a portrait of my whole body.27
While this upfront reference to the name character being a portrait of himself
appears most uncharacteristic of Satie, when Pierre Bertin played the role in the
public premiere in 1921 in the presence of the author, Satie was very angry that
Bertin appropriated many of his mannerisms. Some of the Barons gestures seem
calculated to deliberately distance the character from his creator: for instance, at
the end of Act 1, we see Mduse on the phone (Satie hated new technology, even
refusing to use a telephone).
It is a very short play in nine brief scenes, which is around 25 minutes
long in performance, and it features seven tiny musical interludes which were
originally written for a piano with a sheet of paper inserted between the strings
to create a percussive effect the first known example of a prepared piano.
The characters are: Baron Mduse, described as being very rich, with a private
income; Polycarpe, his servant; Frisette, his daughter; Astolfo, her fianc; and
Jonas, who does not have a speaking role but is referred to several times. Jonas is
a stuffed monkey who performs dances accompanied by the musical interludes.
One possible source for the monkey may be La Fontaines fable The Monkey
and the Leopard, which features the monkey as the star of the show who can
speak, dance and perform magic tricks. This monkey, the fable makes clear, is
a creature who may not have the surface attraction of the leopard, but has many
other talents which more than make up for his unprepossessing appearance.
(Incidentally, La Fontaines monkey arrived into town in appropriately Satiean
transport: three boats.) We shall see that a more specifically musical source
may have had a more crucial impact on Satie in this simian context.

Ibid., p. 162.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 297.
Cest ici une pice de fantaisie sans ralit. Une boutade. Ny voyez pas autre
chose. Le rle du baronMduse est une faon de portrait Cest mme mon portrait
un portrait en pied.
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 77

The names of the plays characters have varied origins: Polycarpe is the
patron saint of noise;28 Frisette has a typically feminine fluffy Molire-type
name; Astolfos name has an Italian ring to it; and while the name Mduse
evidently echoes the Greek mythical character with multiple heads (who was,
of course, female), there is no reference to Greek myth in the play.29 Works
based on classical subjects have been commonplace in French culture since the
seventeenth century, and perhaps Satie wanted to toy with readers expectations
that his play might be a grand Classical affair. Whether he knew that his friend
Paul Dukas was wrestling with a ballet scenario entitled Le sang de Mduse
during 191213 is unknown and why Dukas abandoned his project, which
survives as an extremely detailed scenario with no music, is also a mystery.
What provoked Satie to write a play at this stage in his life is unclear. In
1898, he wrote a five-act play in collaboration with Jules Dpaquit (with whom
he also wrote Jack in the Box), and Ornella Volta has suggested that Le pige
de Mduse may be a condensed version of this play, which is now lost.30 In
1892, he and his close friend Contamine de Latour collaborated on the ballet
uspud, and at the turn of the century Satie wrote music for a marionette opera,
Genevive de Brabant (18991900), and two unfinished works, The Angora
Ox and The Dreamy Fish (both c. 1901) to texts by the same friend, though
there is no evidence that the composer contributed to the texts. Satie would have
studied French classical literature at school, and in 1923 he wrote recitatives for
Gounods opera based on Molires play LeMdecin malgr lui, as we shall see
in Chapter 8 of this book.
Saties article Choses de thtre, published in the Revue musicale S.I.M. on
15 January 1913, gives more clues about his revived theatrical interest. Here,
he mentions a plan to write a theatrical work featuring a master, a servant and a
skeleton monkey which can be animated,31 which sounds like an initial sketch
for Le pige de Mduse. The following undated fragmentary text (now in the
Woods-Bliss Collection at the Houghton Library, Harvard University and not
previously available in English) may also have been an early draft of some ideas
used in the play:

For a moment, everyone thinks hes going to play the game with the cork, using
the one from the carafe.

Dawson points out that Cocteau refers to Polycarpe in his polemic Le coq et
lArlequin, which praises Saties musical style as a suitable one for young French musicians
to follow (Dawson, Erik Satie Viewed as a Writer, p. 129). Cocteaus book was written in
191617 therefore a few years after Saties play.
Dawson believes (Erik Satie Viewed as a Writer, p. 128) that the name may be an
oblique reference to Saties wish to petrify time in his music.
Dawson, Erik Satie Viewed as a Writer, p. 123.
Article reprinted in Ornella Volta (ed.), Satie Ecrits, (Paris: Champ Libre, 1977),
p. 71.
78 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

The door opens: the Gentleman and Lady enter without noticing the bear. They
appear to think that people are playing a party game not an amusing one, either.

They are surprised to see everyone climbing everything that is climbable. They
have come to ask the young ladys hand in marriage for their son and they
move towards the Lady, greet her and compliment her.

He has come to flirt with the young lady, because he intends to marry her himself.

Completely overwhelmed, the Lady tries to explain the situation to everyone.

As soon as they see the bear, the poor people, deeply scared, immediately
clamber on all the furniture and stick themselves on the ceiling. The panic is at
its height. When will this all end?

But the Bear Tamer has moved towards the window and opened it. He reappears
with a barrel organ.

This animal doesnt recognise his master any more.

Straight away, the bear dances, even having the cheek to smile.32

This story is scribbled in a notebook of sketches for Saties pantomime Jack in

the Box (1899), a work based on a lost text by his friend Jules Dpaquit; whether
the tale of the bear and the barrel organ is related to this text, and whether the
author of the text is Satie, Dpaquit or a combination of the two is tantalisingly
unclear. Another undated fragment (reproduced by Volta immediately below this
story) comes from a different source but has topics in common with it: The servant

Reprinted in ibid., p. 151: Pendant un instant, tous simaginent quil va jouer au
bouchon avec celui de la carafe.
La porte souvre: le Gentleman et la Lady pntrent sans remarquer lours. Ils ont lair
de croire que lon joue un jeu de socit peu amusant, du reste.
Ils sont surpris de voir toute la compagnie grimpe sur tout ce qui est grimpable. Ils
viennent demander la main de la jeune fille pour leur fils et se dirigent vers la Dame, la
saluent et lui font des compliments.
Il est venu flirter avec la jeune fille car il a lintention de lpouser lui-mme.
Compltement ahurie, la Dame essaie de leur expliquer la situation.
Ds quils voient lours, les pauvres gens, pris dune frousse intense, escaladent aussitt
tous les meubles et vont saccrocher au plafond. La panique est son comble. Quand tout
cela finira-t-il?
Mais le Montreur dOurs a pu gagner la fentre et louvrir. Il rapparat avec un orgue
de Barberie.
Cet animal ne reconnat plus son bon Matre.
Lours danse immdiatement, ayant mme le culot de sourire.
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 79

considers that the bear looks strangely like M. Thiers. He does not hesitate to draw
attention to himself by his bestiality.33 Several elements of these strange bitty tales
a bourgeois home in which people behave far from conventionally, a marriage
proposal, a dancing animal, a servant are shared with Le pige de Mduse.
Saties prose writings show some similarities with the work of the humorist
Alphonse Allais (who was also from Honfleur), and Roger Shattuck, in his
influential The Banquet Years, places Satie in the context of other artists associated
with the absurd Apollinaire, Le Douanier Rousseau and, most significantly,
Alfred Jarry, whose Ubu Roi (premiered in 1896) Satie must have known.
Specific connections between Ubu Roi and Le pige de Mduse include the use of
childlike, nave elements, the inclusion of a puppet and the external appearance
of conformity combined with the absurd. Although these artists in different media
may appear to have little in common, they share a desire to portray real life in all its
ridiculous variety, rather than the idealised heroes of the eighteenth-century play
and novel. Saties Le pige de Mduse, whose title may suggest a Greek, heroic
theme, takes this move away from idealism a step further: this is not a traditional
five-act classical drama, but a short and absurd play. Le pige de Mduse was
first performed privately in January 1914 at the home of the composer Roland-
Manuels parents: Roland-Manuel himself played the role of Mduse, his fiance
Suzanne Roux was Frisette, and his half-brother Jean Dreyfus danced Jonas. Satie
played the prepared piano. For the public premiere on 24 May 1921 in the Thtre
Michel, Satie orchestrated the dances for a small ensemble of clarinet, trumpet,
trombone, percussion, violin, cello and double bass; the ensemble was conducted
by Darius Milhaud.34
Le pige de Mduse has been viewed by many critics as a harbinger of
surrealism or Dada; Nigel Wilkins described the play as a Dada drama.35 The
expression used by the literary critic Henri Bhar, borrowing from Vladimir
Janklvitch, to describe the behaviour of the characters is ironic conformity.36
On the surface, the play appears to be a portrait of typical bourgeois behaviour
(compare with Molire), the main plotline being Astolfos visit to his prospective

Ibid., p. 151: Le domestique trouve que lours ressemble curieusement M.
Thiers. Il ne tarde pas se signaler par sa bestialit. M. Thiers is a reference to Adolphe
Thiers (17971877), French Prime Minister under King Louis-Philippe in 1836 and later
the Head of State who suppressed the Paris Commune in 1871. He never became President.
His political views were therefore the opposite of the left-wing Satie; the composer no
doubt also poked fun at him because he was notoriously short and ugly. Volta mentions in
the second (1981) edition of the Ecrits that a bear (called Caviar) was a star attraction at the
Nouveau Cirque in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, pp. 2978.
Wilkins, The Writings of Erik Satie, p. 239.
See Vladimir Janklvitch, LIronie (Paris: Albin Michel, 1957), pp. 6780; and
Henri Bhar, Erik Satie ou le conformisme ironique, in Etude sur le Thtre Dada et
Surraliste: Les Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), pp. 1015.
80 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

father-in-law, Mduse, to ask for his daughters hand in marriage. In Christopher

Dawsons words: Erik Saties concern with communication has its basis not in the
problem of existence, but in Mans tendency to conform. For him, this tendency
was most evident in the bourgeois, whose rigid lifestyle and lack of imagination
he would mock in his article La Journe du musicien.37 This connection is all
the more convincing because La Journe du musicien (where Satie outlines his
wholly fictitious daily routine, including riding a horse around his grounds)
was written at the same time as Le pige de Mduse. The inclusion of a stuffed
dancing monkey, who comes to life between the parodistic bourgeois scenes, is the
most obvious example of surrealist incongruity in the play. Satie, though, was an
animal lover (dogs were the only living things that penetrated his tiny and filthy
flat in Arcueil) and he wrote an article entitled LIntelligence et la Musicalit chez
les Animaux a year after La Journe du musicien. Here, he praises the natural
talents of animals and birds for example, homing pigeons are not instructed for
their task in the rudiments of geography38 and university education is described,
in comparison to this form of learning, as nulle.
The social status of Mduse is, on the surface, established. He is independently
wealthy and can afford a servant, though Polycarpe does not behave as a social
inferior quite the reverse. He addresses his master as tu and at his first
entrance in Scene i, he is dressed in superb livery and says he has to go out
this evening to a billiards match attended by Napoleon! The servant constantly
berates his master, creating humour in an inversion of the traditional relationship
(and perhaps stressing Saties left-wing credentials). But even this relationship is
rather more complex than it appears. In Scene viii, Mduse says I am handing in
my resignation as a member of the Union, and Polycarpe responds You dont
have the right. At the end of the tiny scene, Polycarpe is diminished Mduse
asserts his right to resign, threatens to shoot Polycarpe and tells him to hide in the
cellar. The stage directions at the end of the scene read: Exit Polycarpe. Hard to
believe he is the same man. In the final scene of the play in which, following
theatrical tradition for once, all the characters are together on stage for the first
time Mduse sets a trap for Astolfo, hence the title of the work. He asks his
future son-in-law: Savez-vous danser sur un il? ... sur lil gauche? (Do you
know how to dance on an eye on the left eye?); Astolfo initially replies with
a question mark, and then admits he does not. This was the correct response and
Mduse welcomes him into the family. Not everything in this most peculiar play
fails to make sense
Satie draws the only female character, Frisette, in one dimension only; she is
presented purely as the daughter of one character and the future fiance of another.
In fact, Mduse refers to her in Scene ii as ma fille de lait, suggesting that he is

Dawson, Erik Satie Viewed as a Writer, p. 148.
Article originally published in La revue musicale SIM (1 February 1914, p. 69) and
reprinted in Volta (ed.), Satie Ecrits, pp. 234; les pigeons voyageurs ne sont nullement
prpars, leur mission, par un usage de la gographie.
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 81

Frisettes wet nurse! As he goes on to say: Oh, thats some story. I wont recount
it to you; you wouldnt understand anything Neither do I, actually.39 There
is more gender-bending confusion in the following scene, where Frisette first
appears and Mduse asks her: So, you want to marry? You dont want to remain
a bachelor?40 Even Frisettes name suggests fluffy frivolity. While the name
places her in Molires era, her verbal interjections (in Scene iii, these are mostly
repetitions of Oui, papa) recall none other than Yniold, Golauds son, who has
a small but irritating role in Pellas et Mlisande, which of course is best known
in the setting by Saties friend Debussy. It is possible, therefore, that Frisettes
repetitive language is not just mechanistic but also a private joke between Satie
and his more celebrated friend. While Satie was certainly no proto-feminist, I
would be wary of reading too much into his portrayal of this cardboard female
character. His Trois pomes damour and Socrate show that he had little consistent
interest in traditional gender roles, and Frisette is really no more and no less a
stereotype compared to the other characters in his play.
The musical interludes in Le pige de Mduse are arranged as follows:

Scene i Dance i (Quadrille)

Scene ii Dance ii (Valse)
Scene iii, Scene iv Dance iii [untitled, Pas vite]
Scene v, Scene vi Dance iv (Mazurka)
Scene vii Dance v [untitled, Un peu vif]
Scene viii Dance vi (Polka)
Scene ix Dance vii (Quadrille)

This shows a symmetrical arrangement of musical numbers: the first and final
dances are Quadrilles. Andrew Lamb, writing in the New Grove, notes that: The
music of the quadrille was made up of lively, rhythmic themes of rigid eight- or
sixteen-bar lengths, the sections being much repeated within a figure; traditionally,
quadrilles have several named sections, and generally the music was in 2/4, and
was usually adapted from popular songs or stage works.41 However, it will come
as no surprise to learn that Saties Quadrilles are short and completely unrelated in
tempo, rhythm and even their implied time signature, though bar lines are absent
in all of the dances (Examples 4.2a and 4.2b show the opening of each Quadrille).
The third and fifth dances are untitled, a Mazurka appears in between, the
first Quadrille is followed by a Valse and the final Quadrille is preceded by a
Polka. The bewildering variety of national dance types evoked by Saties titles

Oh! cest toute une histoire. Je ne vous la raconterai pas: vous ny comprendriez
rien Moi non plus, du reste.
Alors, tu veux te marier? Tu ne veux pas rester vieux garon?
Andrew Lamb, Quadrille, in Deane Root (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of
Music Online,
82 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Example 4.2a Erik Satie, Le pige de Mduse, first dance (Quadrille): opening

Example 4.2b Erik Satie, Le pige de Mduse, seventh dance (Quadrille):


add further to the absurdity of the play and move it away from any specific time
or place; we have already noted that the variety of nationalities evoked by the
characters names adds to this effect. There is nothing remotely Polish or Austrian
about any of the characters or situations, though for the Polka, Jonas the monkey
is directed to slap his thighs and scratch himself with a potato.
All the dances are mechanistic, matching the artificiality of the dancing stuffed
monkey, and Satie favours a brisk triple time or a march-like rhythm, though no bar
lines are shown on the score. The mechanical aesthetic matches the behaviour of
other characters in the play too, not least Frisette, and links the play to other Satie
works, including the Trois pomes damour, which similarly distance any feelings
behind a repetitive and occasionally ridiculous regularity. Like Molire, Satie finds
humour in mechanistic behaviour and his clockwork humour is underlined by
Jonas the monkey, who is the only real mechanical being in the play.
One is again reminded of the text fragment (quoted above) featuring a bear
dancing to his masters barrel organ. Satie may well have intended his piano
interludes to evoke this mechanical instrument, not least because a jerky dancing
puppet monkey (or bear) often accompanies a barrel organ, though a more likely
source of inspiration could be the barrel piano (tingelary). The barrel piano is
operated with a hand crank; it was often seen on British streets in the first half
of the twentieth century and the operator was frequently an ex-serviceman who
Satie as Poet, Playwright and Composer 83

had been injured in the war. Unlike the barrel organ, the barrel piano has an
acoustic sound as it has strings and hammers. The coin-operated barrel piano
sometimes with additional instruments such as the xylophone, bells or drums
was popular on mainland Europe and was often seen in cafs. Saties deformed
piano sound in his Pige de Mduse interludes matches the low-rent sound of
the barrel piano and could well explain why he chose to prepare his piano. And
perhaps he saw himself as the animal trainer, as he played the piano at the first
The humorous commentaries on the score are twofold; in Ex. 4.2a and other
dances, the instructions in roman type are directed to the choreographer, and those
in italics to the pianist. This extends Saties practice in his humoristic piano pieces,
where there are several amusing directions to the pianist which are, traditionally,
not supposed to be read out loud. Interestingly, the directions to the pianist in the
Trois pomes damour were, as we have seen, excised from the published version,
perhaps to distance these songs from a musical or presentational style that no
longer interested Satie.
The First Quadrille features the instructions to the performer: Mettez-vous
dans lombre Ne sortez pas de votre ombre. Soyez convenable, sil vous plat:
un singe vous regarde (Put yourself in the shade Do not come out of your
shadow. Behave yourself, please: a monkey is watching you). These put the
pianist firmly in the background, while the monkey, who dances avec gentillesse
Il devient fou, ou en a lair (sweetly He goes crazy, or it looks as if he has)
is the centre of attention and the one who expresses the music. The relationship
between the two protagonists is precisely that of organ grinder and performer, with
the pianist being simply a poker-faced operator of an instrument who appears to
be subservient to the monkey. In the Mazurka, the performer is asked to Riez sans
quon le sache (Laugh, without anyone knowing) while Le singe pense autre
chose (The monkey is thinking of something else); in the fifth dance, the pianist
is told Ne prenez pas un air dsagrable (Do not look disagreeable), and in the
sixth (Polka) Dansez intrieurement (Dance inwardly).
As in his collection of short piano pieces Sports et divertissements (1914) and
the piano accompaniments to his Trois pomes damour, Satie favours abrupt
registral and textural changes in his piano writing. The Italian writer Tomasi di
Lampedusa considers that this is surrealist music, though as Ornella Volta rightly
points out, the self-proclaimed leader of the surrealists, Andr Breton, knew
nothing about music and positively disliked it.42
It is also interesting to note some links between Le pige de Mduse and texts
by other authors set by Satie. Notably, the final song in Ludions (to very short
poems by Lon-Paul Fargue), La grenouille amricaine, concludes with the line
avec ses lunettes dor (with his golden glasses), an expression which appears
in the first scene of the play (mes lunettes dor). As Fargue wrote his nonsense

Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie: Le pige de Mduse (Paris: Le Castor Astral, 1988),
pp. 578.
84 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

poems especially for Satie, it is likely that he was familiar with the play and
possible that he was inspired by the composers own writings.
In the words of Henri Bhar: Anticipating the Dada movement by several
years, Satie illustrates one of its key themes: the questioning of meaning. His
language is constantly ridiculous, always changing register, turned upside down,
creating confusion.43 For instance, the trap question set by Mduse to Astolfo
features the expression danser sur un il, creating humour with a reference to
a body part at the opposite end from the expected one the term for pirouette
is danser sur un pied (dance on a foot). Similarly, the dances are not always
connected with their titles, feature frequent registral or rhythmic jolts, and their
length is not always specified (several of the dances can be repeated to fit in with
the monkeys actions if required). Saties musical and poetic languages are quirky
and innovative the work of a creator who is always recognisable, no matter what
medium he employs.

Henri Bhar, Le thtre dada et surraliste (Paris: Gallimard, 1979), p. 138:
En prcdant le mouvement Dada de plusieurs annes, Satie illustre lun de ses thmes
fondamentaux, qui est la mise en cause du langage. Il utilise une langue constamment
cocasse, toute enruptures de ton, en coq--lne, en confusions.
Chapter 5
The Only Musician with Eyes: Erik Satie
and Visual Art
Simon Shaw-Miller

Why shouldnt we make use of the methods employed by Claude Monet, Czanne,
Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.? Nothing simpler. Arent they just expressions? (Erik Satie,
c. 1892)1

The quotation given above was the advice from the 30-year-old Erik Satie to his
26-year-old colleague Claude Debussy: to make (French) music, why not use the
techniques of (French) painters? As always with Saties writings, we should not
take the seemingly simple statement at face value or, rather, we should take it at
face value, but it is not the simple statement that it might first appear to be. The
quotation needs to be seen in the context of his arguments for a national French
music, to be promoted in the face of Wagners continuing aesthetic dominance.
In order to escape the rule of German musical sensibilities, Satie here suggests
that French painters provide the most appropriate models for French composers.
He appears to suggest that this is possible because at root art and music are just
expressions, but expressions of what?
Satie is far from a conventional or romantic composer concerned with the
expression of subjective emotions, so what is expressed here is not clear. Perhaps
it is modernity, or a version of it. It is certainly art; Satie wrote of Stravinsky
in a passage that mixes ornithology with art: Stravinsky is a magnificent bird
and Im a fish. Stravinsky isnt modern: hes a painter who uses violent colours,
but his subjects are always classical and sometimes legendary. He went on: It
was nonsense to compare birds and fishes.2 In short, Satie was modern and, like
Stravinsky, he too made art, albeit different from that of the Great Russian. Saties
musical ambitions were simply artistic; he aspired to the condition of art. More
than most, he was aware of the importance of image for music, both in the various

Rollo Myers,Erik Satie (London: Dennis Dobson Ltd, 1948), pp. 334. In 1922
Satie published this recalled conversation from c. 1892 in an article on Debussy for Vanity
Fair which is reproduced in Ornella Volta (ed.), Ecrits (Paris: Editions Champ Libre, 1981),
p. 69: Pourquoi ne pas se servir des moyens reprsentatifs que nous exposaient Claude
Monet, Czanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.? Pourquoi ne pas transposer musicalement ces
moyens? Rien de plus simple. Ne sont-ce pas des expressions?
Ornella Volta, Satie Seen Through His Letters (New York: Marion Boyars, 1989),
p. 143.
86 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Figure 5.1 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Hangover (portrait of Suzanne

Valadon) (1889, Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, MA)

personae he so carefully cultivated throughout his life and also in the way his
music was put before the public, in concert (in the fullest sense) and notation. He
developed a holistic aesthetic, one that joined his art and life, and one that sought
collaborations between the arts and between artists.
As the opening quotation makes clear, for Satie, art and music are fundamentally
analogous. This chapter will explore some of the ways in which Saties art and
ideas manifest this comparative aesthetic.
There are many ways in which Satie is connected to visual art. At the most
practical level, he socialised, formed friendships and collaborated with artists,
including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky),
Ignacio Zuloaga y Zabaleta, Constantin Brancusi, Marcellin Desboutin, Antoine de
La Rochefoucauld (artist and financial backer of the Rose+Croix), AndrDerain,
Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara and, of course, Suzanne Valadon,
whose vexatious love affair with Satie provoked a lasting resonance.
Saties early occupation as a pianist in the clubs and cabarets of Montmartre
bought him into close contact with artists and writers rather than with composers.
Cabarets, it should be emphasised, were important fin de sicle sites of multimedia
The Only Musician with Eyes 87

Figure 5.2 Ramn Casas, El Bohemio, Poet of Montmartre (1891, courtesy

of Northwestern University Library)
88 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

artistic experimentation, not least in the Auberge du Clou, a cabaret artistique

in which Satie worked as the piano accompanist to shadow-puppet productions
under the direction of the Catalan artist Miguel Utrillo (Miguel Utrillo y Molins).3
Utrillo attracted into this circle artists from the Barcelona-based modernismo
movement such as Ramon Casas (18661932), whose 1891 portrait of Satie was
chosen by the Spanish committee for the 1900 Exposition Universelle; Santiago
Rusiol (y Prats) (18611931), a painter and later writer; and Enrique Clarasso
(18571941). Satie wrote a work entitled Nol in December 1892 for the first of
Utrillos shadow-puppet theatre pieces to a text by Vincent Hyspa (both lost),
and most substantially the Christian ballet in three acts, which might possibly
have been intended as a shadow theatre piece, which gloried in the nonsense title
uspud. It was probably composed a little earlier than Nol and consists of blocks
of music with interspersed narration. If it was performed at Auberge du Clou as a
shadow play, Satie probably played it on the harmonium, as in Rusiols portrait
of the composer, with the narrative passages read out between the musical
sections. It was written in collaboration with Contamine de Latour4 and was
conceived during the height of Saties involvement in Rosicrucian ideas.5 It was
produced as a limited deluxe edition, with all the text innovatively written in
lower case, score extracts and a cover with a medallion design depicting Latour
and Satie in profile by Suzanne Valadon, with whom the composer had begun an
affair in January 1893. This is an early example of Saties concern for the visual
presentation of his musical ideas and is an issue to which I shall return.
In explaining Saties aesthetic position in the 1890s, Rusiol relates the composers
approach to that of painting, as Satie did himself in the opening quotation. Rusiol

Miguel (18621934) was also possibly the father of Suzanne Valadons son,
the artist Maurice; see Jeanine Warnod, Suzanne Valadon (New York: Crown, 1981).
Speculation exists that Maurice was the offspring of a liaison with an equally young
amateur painter named Boissy, or with the well-established painter Puvis de Chavannes,
or even with Renoir or Degas. In 1891 a Spanish artist, Miguel Utrillo y Molins, signed
a legal document acknowledging paternity, although there still remain questions as to
whether he was in fact the childs father. According to Diego Rivera, as recounted by
Ruth Bakwin in her memoir, Rivera apocryphally recalled that after Maurice was born
illegitimately to Suzanne Valadon, she went to Renoir, for whom she had modelled nine
months previously. Renoir looked at the baby and said: He cant be mine, the color is
terrible! Next she went to Degas, for whom she had also modelled. He said: He cant
be mine, the form is terrible! At a caf, Valadon saw an artist she knew named Utrillo,
to whom she spilled her woes. The man told her to call the baby Utrillo: I would be glad
to put my name to the work of either Renoir or Degas! (H.M. Sheets, Parting with the
Family van Gogh, New York Times, 22 April 2006).
His given name was Jos Maria Vicente Ferrer Francisco de Paula Patricio Manuel
Contamine. He was born 10 months before Satie and died 10 months after him.
Satie hoped to see it produced at the Opra, but when the Opra director Eugne
Bertrand failed to respond to Saties suggestion, the composer challenged him to a duel!
The Only Musician with Eyes 89

Figure 5.3 Santiago Rusiol, portrait of Erik Satie at the harmonium

(private collection, 1891)

correlates Satie with the contemporary painter (and Rusiols teacher) Pierre Puvis
de Chavannes (182498). He wrote in the newspaper La Vanguardia that Satie:

directs his efforts towards realizing in music what Puvis de Chavannes has
achieved in painting, that is to simplify his art in order to raise it to the ultimate
expression of plainness and economy, to say in a few words what a Spanish
orator would not express in elegant phrases, and to pervade his musical work in
a certain sober indefiniteness that would allow the listener to follow inwardly
90 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

according to the state of his soul, the path traced out for him, a straight path
carpeted with harmony and full of feeling.6

In a way related to Saties own cross-art analogies, Puvis referred his art to that
of music. In making a remark about the relationship of drawing to colour, he said:
The cartoon is the libretto the colour is the music.7 And Maurice Denis picked
this up in his description of Puvis work: Exhibition of sketches by Puvis de
Chavannes. One must not feel ones way around on a large surface: fix and specify
the main lines and colourings. Great importance of the melodic line in decoration
For colour, be concerned especially with the general harmony.8
Both Puvis and Satie were anti-Wagnerian (I will say more on this in relation
to Satie below). Puvis remarked, after having been bored to stupefaction by a
performance of Die Walkre: It almost amounts to ingratitude, for a number of
people, through their extreme goodwill towards myself, have coupled my name
with that of Wagner. And throughout my life I have had a horror of things obscure
or hazy! Judge from that.9
A bond can also be perceived in Puvis and Saties shared attitude towards the
cultural establishment: a certain distance, but by no means an outright rejection.
Puvis, for example, after having gained considerable success, at the time of the
Universal Exposition of 1867 received the cross of the Legion of Honour, being
made first an officer, and then commander in 1889. But while he had shown in the
official Salon from 1859, he had also resigned twice, in 1872 and 1881, before
becoming one of the moving spirits behind the secession to the Socit Nationale
des Beaux-Arts in 1890, acting as its president from the following year up to his
death. Satie likewise produced work both inside and outside the establishment,
first as the laziest student in the [Paris] Conservatoire, according to his piano
teacher Emile Descombes,10 and later in 1905 as a 39-year-old student at the
Schola Cantorum in Paris, while continuing to work in cabarets. He studied at the
Schola Cantorum between 1905 and 1908 because of his interest in counterpoint,
and this, together with a concern for medieval aesthetics (in Debussys words, a
gentle medieval musician lost in this century11) as filtered through the Rosicrucian
Order, make him as anti-Romantic as Puvis, whose depiction of an ancient world
in flattered perspective, with simplified forms and modeling and limited pastel

Ornella Volta, Erik Satie Montmartre (Paris: Muse Montmartre, 1982), pp. 89.
L. Bndite, Puvis de Chavannes, Art et Dcoration (November 1898), p. 151.
M. Denis, Journal 1 (March 1899) p. 152, quoted in R.J. Wattenmaker, Puvis de
Chavannes and the Modern Tradition (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1975), p. 12.
Cited in ibid., p. 3.
Emile Descombes (18291912), a pianist and follower of Chopin; teacher, in
addition to Satie of Maurice Ravel, Reynaldo Hahn and Alfred Cortot among others.
Robert Orledge, Satie, Erik in Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians, vol. 22 (London: Macmillan, 2001), p. 313.
The Only Musician with Eyes 91

Figure 5.4 Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Le Bois sacr cher aux arts et aux
muses (1880, Muse des Beaux-Arts de Lyon)

palette, provoke a similar sense of stasis, plainness and careful simple composition,
all echoed in Saties non-developmental musical language.
Both Puvis and Satie were attracted to classical subjects and titles; Satie was
even referred to as the Greek musician by Rusiol and his circle. Like Satie,
Puvis aspired in his work to emotional reduction and control, and influenced the
symbolists with his concern for the deferral of emotive impact. By this I mean
that the symbolic content of the works becomes an indirect vehicle for revelation:
Puvis major works do not aim to immediately provoke an emotional response
or meaning; rather, it is through the reading of them, and an understanding of
their symbolic content, that meaning is generated. Puvis art exhibits an aesthetic
marked by simplicity in boldness of composition, schematic drawing often in
profile, silhouettes or full frontal, a limited palette of earth-dominated colours,
shallow relief and general lack of pictorial depth, a matt aspect to the surface, a
general simplification and neutrality of subject, and antique figures representing
types rather than individuals. Robert Goldwater characterised it well (in words not
inappropriate to Satie):

Almost alone among the painters of the middle of the nineteenth century, Puvis
foreshadowed a major development of the twentieth: the simplification and
reduction of the means of the artist His was really a restriction of the means
employed, and however short the distance he traveled, his direction was the
92 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

direction of later art. That this was often felt without being understood does not
detract from its importance.12

As with Satie, we have an aesthetic move towards objectivity as opposed to

emotive subjectivity, and an objectivity achieved by the employment of art
as object, as token or, more extremely, as totem. This is an aesthetic impulse
that connects the sensibilities of symbolism to cubism, neoclassicism and the
rappel lordre which followed the First World War. Saties music, in Daniel
Albrights words, doesnt develop, doesnt cue emotions, but just lies there,
furnishing the ear. Saties music has a disconcertingly high specific gravity, a
strange leadenness; filled with fatuous and illegible mood-indications, it resists
semantic construction, remains on its private Franco-lunar planet.13 From the
Gymnopdies (1888), Satie emphasises perspective rather than progress. As
Roger Shattuck has put it, Satie takes one musical idea and regards it briefly
from three different directions. He varies the notes in the melody but not its
general shape, the chords in the accompaniment but not the dominant shape.14
This is a radical departure from Wagnerian musical priorities; a concern with
nuanced variation rather than development, colour and repetition rather than
continuous harmonic development. To return us to the opening quotation, Saties
work could therefore be construed to employ painterly methods, to be post-
impressionist, cubically constructed, perhaps even to be Dada in its refusal to
adhere semantically. But these are issues to which I shall return.

Paris to New York

On another level of inter-art aesthetic, and with the same indirect panache as his
comment to Debussy, Satie elsewhere insisted that painters taught me the
most about music15 and proclaimed in a sketchbook annotation that musical
evolution was always a hundred years behind pictorial evolution.16 Such
statements, and his frequenting of artists lofts, studios, bars and salons, link
him to other, later cultural figures, like those of the New York School of artists
and musicians in the 1950s.

Robert Goldwater, Puvis de Chavannes: Some Reasons for a Reputation, Art
Bulletin xxviii (March 1946), pp. 3343, at pp. 412.
Daniel Albright, Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature and
Other Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), pp. 1923.
Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France,
1885 to World War 1 (New York: Vintage, 1968) p. 141.
Volta, Erik Satie Montmartre, p. 8.
See Volta (ed.), Ecrits, p. 158; see also Ornella Volta (ed.), A Mammals Notebook:
Collected Writings of Erik Satie, trans. Antony Melville (London: Atlas Press, 1996), p.
The Only Musician with Eyes 93

The composer Morton Feldman, who was prominent among the New York
School, made a statement that ends almost identically to Saties: If you understand
Mondrian then you understand me too. In the beginning I have nothing, in the end
I have everything just like Mondrian instead of having everything to start with
and nothing in the end I think the big problem is that I have learnt more from
painters than I have from composers.17 Feldman, perhaps more than any other
composer, consistently explains his own music and musical interests in terms of
the visual arts.18 Although I do not have space to develop it here, it should be
noted that Feldmans mature musical aesthetic likewise has much in common with
Saties reductive approach. As Peter Dickinson put it, [Feldmans] humanity in
renouncing the grandiose is comparable to Webern or Satie,19 and Feldman was
attracted to the clear purity of Saties piano music.20 But Feldmans colleague,
John Cage, was the musician with an especially close rapport, both personally
and aesthetically, to visual art and artists, and who was also, not incidentally,
responsible for the renaissance of interest in Saties work.
In 1963 Cage organised what was probably the premire of Saties Vexations
exactly 70 years after it was composed in 1893.21 Its composition marked the end
of Saties short but intense affair with the trapeze artist, artists model and painter,
Suzanne Valadon.22 The affair was only a little longer than the piece, lasting about
six months (from 14 January to 20 June 1893). The work, while consisting of only
a 13-bar motif, is to be repeated, according to the instructions at its head, 840 times
(Example 5.1).

Morton Feldman, Middelburg Lecture, 2 July 1985 (original in German, see H.-K.
Metzger and R. Riehn (eds), Musik-Konzepte, Die Reihe ber Komponisten, 48/49, Morton
Feldman (May 1986), pp. 256; and R. Mrchen (ed.), Morton Feldman in Middelburg:
Words on Music: Lectures and Conversations, vols. 1 and 2 (Cologne: MusikTexte, 2007).
See, for example, the catalogue Vertical Thoughts: Morton Feldman and the Visual
Arts (Irish Museum of Modern Art, July 2010).
Peter Dickinson, Feldman Explains Himself, Music and Musicians (July 1966),
pp. 223. In a note, Dickinson adds that Feldman particularly admires Saties Socrate as a
kind of white music and regrets the fact that the work is more discussed than performed.
See Chris Villars (ed.), Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews and Lectures 19641987
(London: Hyphen Press, 2006), p. 20.
See Vertical Thoughts p. 10; and Chapter 10 of the present book.
For comments on the issue of the first performance of Vexations, see Gavin Bryars,
Vexations and its Performers, Contact 26 (Spring 1983), pp. 1220. It was more recently
performed at Kings Place, London, on Saturday 1 May 2010, starting at 7.00 pm. It is also
interesting to note that Cage knew of the work before he considered performing it. It existed
for him as an interesting idea, before he thought it would make interesting musical sounds,
betraying an important shift in sensibilities.
The composition that marked the beginning of their affair was a song entitled
Bonjour, Biqui, Bonjour (1893), illustrated with a drawing of Valadon by Satie (Biqui
was Saties nickname for her).
94 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Figure 5.5 Suzanne Valadon, Portrait of Erik Satie (1893, National Museum
of Modern Art, Pompidou Center, Paris) Oil on canvas; 41 22 cm
The Only Musician with Eyes 95

Example 5.1 Satie, Vexations

Cage staged this (probably first) performance in September 1963, in the Pocket
Theater, New York, with 12 players (10 and 2 substitutes) who played continuously
for 18 hours and 40 minutes.23 One of them, the composer Christian Wolff, wrote:

The performance of Vexations is hard to forget. Im often telling people about

it. Two things in particular stick in my mind. The first was the effect of the
music on the players. Aside from agreeing to the mechanics of sitting on stage,
playing, staying on to count repetitions for the following pianist, all according
to schedule, the pianists had neither rehearsal together nor had any discussion
about the playing. As the first cycle of pianists went round the playing was
quite diverse, a variety quite extreme, from the most sober and cautious to the
willful and effusive of personalities was revealed. Musically the effect seemed
disturbing. But after another round the more expansive players began to subside,
the more restrained to relax, and by the third round or so the personalities and

The performers were: John Cage, David Tudor, Christian Wolff, Philip Corner,
Viola Farber, Robert Wood, MacRae Cook, John Cale, David Del Tredici, James Tenney,
Howard Klein (the New York Times reviewer who was asked to play in the course of the
event) and Joshua Rifkin.
96 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

playing techniques of the pianists had been almost completely subsumed by the
music. The music simply took over. At first a kind of passive object, it became
the guiding force. As the night wore on we got weary, or rather just sleepy, and
the beautiful state of suspension of self now became risky. Alertness had to be
redoubled not to miss repetitions or notes. An element of comedy now that
solidarity and easiness were evidently there joined us. The other thing I recall
was the question of how Satie came to write this piece. Had he written it, and
then decided why not do it 800-odd times over, or had he thought, if a piece
were to be repeated so many times, what kind of piece should it be, and then set
out to write Vexations? We decided on the latter, because of the extraordinary
durability of the music.24

This work betrays an unusual conception of time, longer than Feldmans late
works and requiring a mode of address and reception that gives new meaning to
the expression longue dure. Such a radical approach is paralleled in the aesthetic
of a composer in Cages circle at the time of the performance of Vexations, La
Monte Young. Some of Youngs extended duration works are conceived as having
no beginning and no end, existing between performances, which themselves can
last days.25 Saties piece can take differing amounts of time, depending on the
tempo adopted, but is usually between 12 and 24 hours in duration.
Robert Orledge has drawn attention to Saties use, in Vexations, of a particular
enharmonic notation which, for example, spells chords 13 and 33 differently,
even though they are the same-sounding pitches on the piano.26 This disparity
between sound and look points to the importance for Satie of notation as a form
of visual communication between composer and performer; maybe in part an
ironic consequence of his own short-sightedness? This concern with the look of
his music is not unique to this piece, as we have seen in relation to uspud; in fact,
I would argue that it is fundamental to Saties aesthetic, which is visually, as well
as sonorically, inflected.

Notes and Words

The witty communications to the performer that start with the Gnossiennes in 1890
but which litter almost all his works are infamous, what Albright calls fatuous and
illegible mood-indications, but may not be as fatuous as they first appear.27 A list

Bryars, Vexations and its Performers, pp. 1220.
For example, see the website of the Dream House sound and light environment
Robert Orledge, Understanding Saties Vexations, Music & Letters 79/3 (1998),
pp. 38695.
In conversation with the author and pianist Roy Howat, he remarked that while
most of Saties performance indications cannot be taken literally, sometimes they evoke a
The Only Musician with Eyes 97

of them is collected in Ornella Voltas edition of Saties writings and arranged

alphabetically, ranging from a bit hot and a bit rococo but slow via laugh
without anyone knowing, flat on the floor, like a nightingale with toothache,
obligingly, pale and priest-like and put yourself in the shade to (a favourite
of mine, in a piano piece) with your head between your hands, concluding
with no shine and you see.28 Indications that speak around the music, offering
synaesthetic, theatrical and poetically precise possibilities and guidance; this last
listed one, You see, emphasises the significance of looking. They signify for the
first time an important shift in performer-composer relations. They (to quote from
the first Gnossienne) ask the interpreter to [apply or] postulate within yourself
(postulez en vous-mme); they represent conceptual complexity and silent
questing rather than indicating technical language and manual virtuosity: open
your head (ouvrez la tte),29 be visible for a moment.

Embryons desschs

This inclusion of texts often goes beyond performance directions or titles and
sometimes modulates into narratives or commentaries, as in the Embryons
desschs (Desiccated Embryos) of 1913, a witty, three-part piano work that is
a mini-disquisition on crustaceans. For example, dEdriophthalma, the second
movement, has the following commentary at the head of the page: Crustaceans
with sessile eyes, that is to say, stalkless and immobile. Being naturally very
sad, these crustaceans live in seclusion from the world, in holes pierced through
the cliffs. Marked sombre, the music is a parody of the third movement of
Chopins monumental Piano Sonata no. 2, Op. 35, the Funeral March, here
reducing Chopins eight- or nine-minute movement to a couple of minutes: an
ironic commentary on the very sad disposition of the lonely Edriophthalma.
It is a compressed variation on the shape of Chopins piece, maintaining the
same ABA form, with the march (Chopin has B-flat minor) and a contrasting
more lyrical central section (Chopins Lento is in D-flat major), followed by
a recapitulation of the opening march theme. This is not the only time that
Satie made reference to this sonata by Chopin, as I shall discuss in relation to
Cinma. As the movement progresses, various passages have additional text
written between the treble and bass staves: They are all together. Oh how sad! A
responsible father starts to speak. They all start weeping (quote from the famous
mazurka of Schubert). Poor creatures! (slow down) How well he spoke! Big

creative sort of metaphor thats useful, or even distract the performer from doing something
well-intentioned or meaningful that Satie foresees and doesnt want. But its also possible
that on some occasions hes just amusing the reader en passant. Im not sure they like
anything to do with the man can be tied down in any definable way (January 2012).
Volta (ed.), A Mammals Notebook, pp. 469.
From the third Gnossienne.
98 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

groan (very slow). The dynamic is predominantly marked between p and pp,
with no clefs after the first line and no bar lines. It opens with broken open fifth
chords, answered by a descending scale passage in a dotted-quaver-semi-quaver
rhythm, related to the Chopin, with a steady crotchet pulse in the left hand. As
it modulates into the lyrical middle section, it is marked by the text after a
famous mazurka by Schubert, an explicit parody of the lento middle section
of the Chopin movement, with the same arpeggiated left-hand accompaniment,
melodic descending scale and rhythmic outline in the right hand. It would be
wrong, in my view, to regard this or any of Saties texts as extra-musical. The
text, music and presentation to the eye are integral to the whole conception, a
melopoetic, witty and intimate conversation between composer and interpreter.
Such texts are usually considered to be for the eyes of the performer only.
In the preface to his piano suite Heures sculaires et instantanes (1914), Satie
forbade anyone to read the text aloud during the performance and mockingly
added that: Ignorance of my instructions will bring my righteous indignation
against the audacious culprit. No exceptions will be allowed.30 However, this
only appears to refer to this piece and the instruction was never repeated. It is
always dangerous to take Saties comments, which were often ironic or jocular,
at face value; why should this one be an exception? Whether spoken, conveyed
in some other form to the audience or just kept for the silent entertainment or
instruction of the interpreter, the texts should not be seen as extra-musical. They
are as necessary to a full appreciation of the music as tempo or dynamics are.
Both this work and Sonatine bureaucratique, for example (and they are only
examples of a wider tendency), have a melopoetic integration that tells a tale,
evokes imagery and possesses poetry. They also contain references to wider piano
repertoire and other musics, both in the text and the notation, which together
constitute a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. As Mary Davis has
pointed out, such texts bring to mind the contemporary poetry of Guillaume
Apollinaire in their use of vernacular language and celebration of the everyday,
and the delight in linguistic play that was referred to at the time as blague.31 But
while such play may be initially a private communication between interpreter
and composer, it is this refusal by Satie to limit music to just the notes that
constitutes one of his most significant contributions to music and cultural history.
The imaginative titles of Saties works, as well as the notation and performance
indications, were often painstakingly rendered in his own beautiful calligraphy.
Allied to these semantic and graphic aids are more subtle shifts in notational
practice, such as the removal of bar lines first evidenced in his 1886 song Sylvie,32

Je dfends de lire, haute voix, le texte, durant le temps de lexcution musicale.
Tout manquement cette observation entranerait ma juste indignation contre loutrecuidant.
Il ne sera accord aucun passe-droit.
Mary Davis, Erik Satie (London: Reaktion, 2007), pp. 856.
Sylvie is one of the Trois mlodies to words by J.P. Contamine de Latour (Elgie,
Les anges, Sylvie), op. 20, composed in 1886 (published in 1968 by Salabert).
The Only Musician with Eyes 99

but almost ubiquitous thereafter. The elimination of bars not only has the effect
of suppressing the overt role of meter, but also has the powerful visual effect of
opening the musical gesture, allowing for a fluid and more visually expressive
disposition. And, not least, the complexity of musical pattern in some of his
works is often more evident to the eye than to the ear: a manifestation of his
obsessive delight in numerology.33 In short, Satie manipulated, to great visual
effect, compositional complexes in which text, notation and image work in
concert to communicate musical information.
Yet Saties interest in the visual is more profound than just notation or
presentation. In part his musical aesthetic is founded on a perceived common
ground with art. His aim, to recall earlier comments on Puvis, was to create an
atmosphere, rather than an emotional journey; to reduce music to a backdrop
(musique dameublement); to see music as a framed object; to flatten musical
space; to reduce its emotional colours; to celebrate repetition. In the extreme case
of Vexations it additionally opened up musical time to the condition of objectivity,
where a piece could display its many sides in slowly revolving patterns, not
unlike a cubist composition.

Satie and the Gesamtkunstwerk

Perhaps the most important way in which Satie is connected to the visual is via a
synthetic impulse. This drive is to be seen in opposition to an aesthetic of purity
and the perception of musicality as pure form in short, an opposition to the
concept of absolute music. This desire he shares with his negative counterpart,
the German composer Richard Wagner. In the quotation with which I opened
this chapter, Satie is at pains to explain to Debussy why it was necessary for
French composers to free themselves from the Wagnerian adventure. However,
this should not be confused with a simple anti-Wagnerian stance; his position is
more complicated than that. Elsewhere he is concerned to emphasise that he was
not opposed to Wagner. He is reported to have said in conversation with Debussy
that we have had enough of Wagner. Quite beautiful; but not of our stock
We should make musical scenery, create a musical climate where the personages
move and speak not in couplets, not in leitmotifs: but by the use of a certain
atmosphere of Puvis de Chavannes.34 He was opposed to Wagnerians rather
than Wagner. In an article on Stravinsky in which he explains that Stravinsky
had done much to set free contemporary Musical Thinking which had very
great need of it, poor thing Satie continues:

See Courtney S. Adams, Erik Satie and Golden Section Analysis, Music & Letters
77 (1996), pp. 24252.
Cocteau, cited in Robert Orledge (ed.), Satie Remembered (London: Faber, 1995),
pp. 456. Cocteau adds: Remember, at the period Im speaking of Puvis de Chavannes was
a dangerous artist, mocked by the right.
100 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

I am pleased to have recognized this, having suffered so much from Wagnerian

oppression I mean, the oppression of Wagnerians. For in those days, Wagners
genius was miserably worshipped by Mediocrity & Ignorance together,
followed by a sheep-like crowd.

Oh can you imagine how difficult it was to be a Wagnerian! even joking: one
only had to say aloud Oh, Oh How lovely! to be taken for an expert or
an imbecile.35

It is easy to over-state the opposition between Satie and Wagner, a pairing one
writer has referred to as the David and Goliath of music.36 But there is, of
course, a profound opposition between Saties mature aesthetic and Wagners
overarching artistic ambition. However, they are also linked by a joint impulse, a
concern that music should be more than simply sound. Just as the look of music
was highly significant for Satie, and some of his most important works were
produced in collaboration with writers or visual artists (unlike Wagner, whose
stage works were less cooperatively conceived), Wagners conception of the
Gesamtkunstwerk was opposed to the idea of absolute music, the philosophical
aspiration to an aesthetic of pure musical sound. For Wagner, the future of the
arts lay in their joining together (albeit under the banner of music). The future
was to be sought in a return to the Greek ideal of artistic synthesis, where poetry,
theatre and music are conjoined in a spectacle of tragic drama. Satie (like Puvis),
as we have seen, was also drawn to the Greeks, but whereas for him this produced
a poised musical stasis, Wagner aspired to carry all before him on a tsunami of
emotional power. Wagners music is ever thrusting, forward moving, unsettled
and longing for emotional release or closure.
It is Wagners ability to narrate music of such coiled tension that makes it
both irresistible and dangerous. While Satie shares Wagners concern to expand
musics purview from the reductively sonoric, his aesthetic was not one of such
emotively vaulting ambition; on the contrary, Saties music is anti-teleological
(as Leonard Meyer has put it in relation to Cage).37 The sonorities seem to exist
for their own sake; they are not always moving forward to climax and release.
They have, in this sense, the quality of musical objects rather than grand musical

Satie from a manuscript, on 10 sheets of paper written on one side, numbered 1
to 10, in a school exercise book, reproduced in Volta (ed.), A Mammals Notebook, p. 119.
Published in the magazine Vanity Fair as Igor Stravinsky: A Tribute to the great Russian
Composer by an Eminent French Confrre (February 1923), p. 39.
Lothar Klein, Twentieth Century Analysis: Essays in Miniature, Music Educators
Journal 53 (December 1966), pp. 256.
Leonard Meyer, Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Patterns and Predictions in Twentieth-
Century Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), p. 73.
The Only Musician with Eyes 101

Figure 5.6 Choral inapptissant, Saties score. Typ 915.14.7700, Houghton

Library, Harvard University

Sports et divertissements

One of Saties most arresting and integrated musical objects is his score of
Sports et divertissements (Sports and Recreations) composed in 1914. This is a
combined work of poetry/text, music and image, a collection of 21 miniatures
for piano. Each piece is very short, none more than four lines long, on such
sports as fishing, hunting, yachting, golf, the races, sledging, and tennis,
and such recreations as blind mans buff, swinging, commedia dellarte,
serenading, bathing, carnival, puss in the corner,38 picnics, a water slide, the

According to L.M.F. Child (The Girls Own Book (1833, Massachusetts, USA, p.
28), Puss in the Corner is a very simple game but a very lively and amusing one. In each
corner of the room or by four trees which form nearly a square, a little girl is stationed,
another one stands in the centre who is called the Puss. At the words Puss, puss in the
corner they all start and run to change corners, and at the same time the one in the middle
runs to take possession of the corner before the others can reach it. If she succeeds in getting
102 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

tango, fireworks and flirting. Each contains Saties own beautiful calligraphic
notation in black ink on red staves (no bar lines), together with his stylised,
irreverent textual narratives.
The work is prefaced by Satie, advising us to leaf through with a kindly
and smiling finger and Dont look for anything else here; in other words, this
is a work simply to delight, but is none the less for that. His comments are an
admonishment to signify the danger of separating music from image and text.
All elements are to be consumed together. To underscore this point, the preface
concludes with an Unappetizing Chorale, which he notes was composed in the
morning, before breakfast. He writes:

For the shriveled up and stupid I have written a serious and proper chorale.
I have put into it all I know of boredom.
I dedicate this chorale to all those who do not like me.
I withdraw.

He withdraws from dry music to make way for the joining of image, text and
music; the composer stands to one side to make way for the work. The pure
music of the chorale is there to give those shriveled up and stupid who look
for something else an exercise to occupy them. It is marked Grave with the
indication grim and cantankerous underneath.
Although finished in 1914, the publication of the work was interrupted by the
war, finally coming out in 1922. It was produced as a limited edition folio of
loose-leaved manuscripts with separate illustrations.39 It measures approximately
43 cm (or 17 in) square and is bound in a decorative red print, celebrating love,
the greatest of all games. The whole folio allows for an arresting display of the
manuscript and accompanying image. The design and illustrations are by the
graphic artist Charles Martin (18841934), who worked for fashion journals such
as Vogue and Gazette de Bon Ton (whose owner, Lucien Vogel, commissioned the
work) and as a ballet and theatre designer.40 On returning from the war, Martin set
about reworking his original illustrations to make them more current. While his
first images had reflected contemporary fashion before the war, to publish in the
1920s with such illustrations would have been decidedly out of vogue. His new
images partook of a more contemporary mode and a somewhat angular version of
the current Art Deco graphic style.

to the corner first, the one who is left out is obliged to become the puss. If A and B undertake
to exchange corners and A gets into Bs corner but puss gets into As then B must stand in
the centre. In order to avoid confusion and knocking each other down it is well to agree in
what direction you will run before the race begins. If a little girl remains puss after three or
four times going round the room they sometimes agree that she shall pay a forfeit.
In a limited edition of 225.
He studied at the Montpellier Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Acadmie Julien and the
Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris 190810.
The Only Musician with Eyes 103

The original illustrations were black-and-white line drawings that had quite
closely mimicked Saties text. For example, the piece on sea bathing entitled Le
Bain de mer has the following text through the musical notation: The sea is
wide, Madame. In any case, it is pretty deep. Do not sit on the bottom. It is very
damp. Here come some nice old waves. They are full of water. You are completely
soaked! Yes, Sir (see Example 6.1 on p. 128). Martins 1914 image shows a
woman drooping, or perhaps sheltering, in a mans arms, while behind him a large
wave, which has already upturned another figure, is about to engulf them. Saties
music (about 30 seconds in duration) has a left-hand, wave-like arpeggiated figure
accompanying a scalar melody, until a gently rocking figure in thirds is itself
interrupted by a slower cadence on You are completely soaked! Yes, Sir (see
Example 6.2 on p. 129).
The 1920s image, on the other hand, instead shows a sunny day and radiating sun
over a much calmer sea (see Example 6.3 on p. 130). The woman is now diving from
a board into the sea, while a boat and another figure swims by, the arch of her diving
body echoed in the bent arm of the swimmer. Unlike its predecessor, this image has
no clearly identifiable central characters to which the text might relate; it is a more
unified and abstracted composition. Many of Saties texts deliberately confuse the
subject position, referring to them in the second person so as to signify both the
figure in the image and the performer, the viewer and the object: You have a lovely
white dress, It is very curious you will see, shall we play, etc. These Art Deco
images utilise pochoir, a refined stencil technique, which allows the combination
of strong colour without any muddying or loss of clarity and enhances the two-
dimensionality of the images. The physical restrictions of the page work for both
Satie and Martin, framing, objectifying and containing their work, and while the
Gesamtkunst quality of this manuscript stands out, it is, I would claim, but the high
point of a more general concern Satie had for the look of his art.
The most obvious way in which Saties art extends beyond the purely sonoric is in
his collaborations with artists on his larger-scale works and in his connection to the art
movements of cubism and Dada. For the sake of economy, I shall consider Cubism in
relation to Parade and Dada in relation to Entracte, while making no specific claim
that the former can be contained within the rubric of cubism any more than the latter
can within Dada. I shall conclude with some thoughts on Furniture music.

Parade and Cubism

Parade is in many ways a riposte to Wagners Gesamtkunstwerk, as perhaps is

Sports et divertissements, yet both can be said to maintain the totalising, synthetic
impulse, if in rather different ways. The desire to blend and mix in modernism is
as powerful as its counterpoint, the desire to purify and specialise. In his essay of
1864, The Painter of Modern Life, Charles Baudelaire provided a foundational
definition: By modernity I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the
half of art whose other half is the eternal and immutable This transitory, fugitive
104 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

element, whose metamorphoses are so rapid, must on no account be despised or

dispensed with.41 It is this side of modernity that Satie celebrated. What Saties art
shows is the desire to celebrate the everyday, the ephemeral, the popular, the mix
of fashion, popular song and joke, and the modernism of the cabaret. This makes
his art no less significant than its abstract and hermetic modernist cousin, but it
perhaps makes it more French and less German, or at least less Wagnerian. In his
larger-scale theatre works such as Parade, we find, rather than one bermensch,
one director, a collaboration between artist, poet, choreographer and composer;
rather than folk myth, we have a one-act scenario based on the circus; instead of
leitmotif, we have popular musical references and a range of everyday noises. The
effect of the work is again greater than the sum of its parts.
Parade was to be the only new work offered in the 1917 season by Diaghilevs
Ballets Russes, and it brought together the talents of Jean Cocteau, who wrote
the scenario, with Diaghilevs new lead dancer Lonide Massine, who was
responsible for the choreography, and Pablo Picasso, who designed both the
dcor and the costumes. It was quite different from the standard Ballets Russes
fare of oriental spectacle. Described by its creators as a one-act ballet-raliste,
Parade was a literal sidestep into the world of sideshows, the parade of the
title being the pre-performance opportunity for acts to attract an audience for the
main show. The storyline is simple: a French and an American manager introduce
three acts, a Chinese magician, two acrobats and a little American girl (evocative
of a Hollywood starlet),42 in the hope of enticing the audience inside to see the
whole show. There is also a third manager in the guise of a two-man pantomime
horse, as the original idea of having a black manager riding a horse proved too
troublesome to realise. It is a performance that represents an absent performance,
one that is never seen, and no tickets are sold; it is a form of theatrical deferral.
Apollinaire declared in a programme note, published before the first performance,
that the piece was so clear and simple that it seems to reflect the marvellously
lucid spirit of France; it was esprit nouveau, a kind of surrealism (the first time
the word was used). Its newness, for him, lay precisely in its combination of the
arts; a synthetic art form that sort to reconcile contradictory elements (and here he
linked it to cubism): here consummately achieved for the first time, that alliance
between painting and dance, between the plastic and mimetic arts, that is herald of
a more comprehensive art to come.43
Some of those contradictory elements were manifest in the costumes, in that
Picassos 10-foot high costume designs for the two managers (American and French),
which make movement very limited, are the opposite of what was expected in a ballet

See Charles Harrison, Paul Wood and Jason Gaiger (eds), Art in Theory, 1815
1900: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998), p. 497.
See Christine Reynolds, Chapter 7 of this book.
See Guillaume Apollinaire, Programme for Parade, 18 May 1917, in Vassiliki
Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman and Olga Taxidou (eds), Modernism: An Anthology of Sources
and Documents (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), pp. 21213.
The Only Musician with Eyes 105

costume. They are costume as sculpture, early examples perhaps of kinetic sculpture.
Picasso may well have been ironically referring to the way in which cubism had
already migrated into the popular music hall. He played an active role in the traffic
between popular culture and art, and was a voracious consumer and refashioner of
the iconography of contemporary life. The movement between popular imagery and
art was at this time a ubiquitous, if contested, series of mutual exchanges.44 And this
movement between popular culture and art is as evident in Saties music as it is in
Picassos designs. Apart from the references to popular music found in Saties score
the most obvious being Saties paraphrase of That Mysterious Rag by Irving
Berlin in his Steamship Ragtime for the Little American Girl45 there is another
related element of the music that can be linked to cubism, and that is in Saties use
of found sounds such as the typewriter, the revolver and sirens.
These found sounds probably originated at Cocteaus suggestion. Cocteaus
handwriting occurs throughout Saties original score, indicating places where
aural and verbal enhancements were to take place, such as the flaques sonores
or sound puddles,46 the revolver shots from Westerns as Cocteaus note puts
it (coups de revolver des films du Far West), and 20 typewriters.47 It appears
that Cocteaus original conception was to have Saties score as a musical
backdrop to a more contemporary soundscape: he wrote on the first page of
Saties handwritten score: The music for Parade is not presented as a work in
itself but is designed to serve as background for placing in relief the primary
subject of sounds and scenic noises.48 Cocteaus aspiration in proposing such
sounds was to provide a more coherent narrative, more theatrical than balletic,
that eventuated in, for example, the American Girls connection to the sinking
of the Titanic (using a ships siren, Morse code sounds, etc.). Cocteau himself
suggested that: These imitated noises of waves, typewriters, revolvers, sirens

See Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik, High and Low: Modern Art and Popular
Culture (New York: MOMA, 1990).
Although he never stated his use of That Mysterious Rag, it is more than a simple
borrowing. It is rather a recomposition that maintains the rhythmic outline but reharmonises
and reorganises; as Mary Davis has put it, he presents it in reverse order, beginning with
24 bars that correspond to the original chorus, moving on to sixteen bars based on Berlins
verse, and ending with eight bars that paraphrase Berlins introduction. In each of these
sections, Satie also alters the original melodies, following a formula that turns rising
passages into descending ones, stepwise patterns into skips, and repeated notes into distinct
and different pitches. In combination with his advanced harmonic scheme for the piece,
these melodic changes obscure the original tune, masking the model so thoroughly that
Saties use of Berlins music escaped critical notice until 1961 (Davis, Satie, p. 112). See
also Nancy Perloff, Art and the Everyday: Popular Entertainment and the Circle of Erik
Satie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).
See Satie, Parade: Ballet Raliste (Partition dorchestre), (Paris: Editions Salabert,
1917) p. 20 (4 before fig. 9)
Saties score, Frederick R. Koch Foundation, p. 12, for example.
Ibid, p. 1.
106 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

or aeroplanes, are, in music, of the same character as the bits of newspapers,

painted wood-grain, and other everyday objects the cubist painters employ
frequently in their pictures, in order to localize objects and masses in nature.49
The use of collage techniques helps to construct a complex interplay between
the popular, the artistic and the everyday. This play is fundamental to the avant-
gardes dialogue with modern life; the tension in modernity between celebration
and disparagement of popular culture. In these first few decades of the twentieth
century, the terms of exchange are fairly fluid, but by the middle of the century,
positions had tended to polarise.50
However, when Cocteau says the score imitated these everyday sounds, he is
wrong. To imitate would be more akin to what Messiaen does with birdsong or
Beethoven with a thunderstorm. What Satie did in the final score was simply to
employ these sounds or noises as part of the musical soundscape; they are musical
sound. They are closer to what the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo claimed was
necessary in his 1913 manifesto The Art of Noises:

Every manifestation of life is accompanied by noise. Noise is thus familiar to

our ear and has the power of immediately recalling life itself. Sound, estranged
from life, always musical, something in itself, an occasional not a necessary
element, has become for our ear what for the eye is a too familiar sight. Noise
instead, arriving confused and irregular from the irregular confusion of life,
is never revealed to us entirely and always holds innumerable surprises. We
are certain, then, that by selecting, coordinating, and controlling all the noises,
we will enrich mankind with a new and unsuspected pleasure of the senses.51

In some ways, Satie is even more radical than Russolo, for Russolo designed
musical instruments specifically to play noises, his intonarumori, whereas Satie
used the noises themselves. Again, it is not until John Cage that we get these
extraneous sounds as sounds in themselves and consequently as music. What
happens here is what happens in cubist painting: a radical interruption in the
etiquette of representation.
These found sounds or objects stand both for themselves and also as
representations. The roulette wheel, for example (fig. 6 in the published score),52
sounds both like a roulette wheel, a representation of chance and as a percussive
effect. The pistol shots (just before fig. 22) interrupt, surprise and shock, sounding
as gun fire, but again also as part of the percussive texture of the piece, and in the

Original published in Vanity Fair, 1917; cited in Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 224.
See Clement Greenberg, Avant-Garde and Kitsch, Partisan Review 6/5 (1939),
pp. 3449.
Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noises, trans. Barclay Brown (New York: Pendragon
Press, 1986), pp. 2330.
Paris: Editions Salabert, 1917 (p. 17).
The Only Musician with Eyes 107

first full performance, the effect must have been even more marked and surprising.53
Satie himself seems to have been somewhat equivocal about the role of these noise
elements, although his acceptance and employment of them says much about his
perceptive critical sensibility; he wrote on 19 June 1923 to Diaghilev that: I dont
much like the noises made by Jean [Cocteau]. Theres nothing to be done about
that: we have before us a charming maniac. As Georges Auric (in some ways
Saties mouthpiece at this time) put it, the music of Parade submits humbly to
present-day reality, which stifles the song of the nightingale beneath the rumble of
tramcars.54 It is in this cubist sense that the ballet is raliste.
At a technical level, it is possible to regard Saties concern with juxtaposed
music blocks the unmodulated transitions between styles as analogous to
cubism in its sudden shifts of perspective, while it also recalls the way in which
music-hall entertainment constantly and abruptly juxtaposes different materials.
Parody is another element, as is the simple melody with ostinato accompaniment
of popular song. It has a clear structure: three central movements, one devoted
to each character, with a chorale and prelude introduction (as with Sports, it
begins with a Schola Cantorum unappetising chorale, this time followed by a
short fugato). It ends with a finale and short coda which balance the two-part
introduction: the coda is based on the fugato subject from the prelude.
As a Gesamtkunstwerk, Parade may be more coincidence, or artistic
coexistence, than unified synthesis. But this fragmentation and parallelism is
central to its aesthetic and does not make it any less Gesamt than productions by
Wagner. As a work it is more, in total, than the sum of its parts, and therefore I
would argue that the contribution of all the participants was of equal significance.55
Parade was as radical and as far-reaching in its (different) modernity as that earlier
Ballets Russes cause clbre, The Rite of Spring.56
Although Satie later fell out with Cocteau, and the poor reception of
Parade resulted in a famous lawsuit (and short-term imprisonment for Satie),57
the composer remained interested in Picassos work for the rest of his life. He

Some of the noises were suppressed in the 1917 premiere and were later restored
in the 1921 revival. See Deborah Menaker Rothschild, Picassos Parade: From Street to
Stage (London: Sothebys Publications, 1991), p. 88.
See Volta (ed.), Satie Seen Through His Letters, p. 126; Diaghilevs letter quoted
after p. 128.
Here I differ from Orledges view that Cocteau was a less significant collaborator
(see Orledge, Satie the Composer, pp. 2245).
The Rite had its premiere in Paris on 29 May 1913. It too was a collaborative effort:
choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, music by Igor Stravinsky and sets, costumes and scenario
by Nicholas Roerich.
This was due to his quarrel with the critic Jean Poueigh, whom Satie (in)famously
referred to in a letter: What I know is you are an ass-hole and, dare I say so an unmusical
ass-hole (Volta, Satie Seen Through His Letters, p. 132). The critic sued and Satie was
sentenced to eight days in jail.
108 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

compared the artists return to classicism following the war to his own move to
classical simplicity, with a modern sensibility (in Socrate, for example), which
he claimed he owed to his Cubist friends. Bless them.58
Satie went on to develop a number of other significant works following the
short run of Parade in 1917 and its revival in 1921. In 1924 the Parade team
of Satie, Massine and Picasso (minus Cocteau) were reunited by the impresario
Etienne de Beaumont for a new ballet entitled Les Aventures de Mercure. With no
real scenario this time, Satie composed directly from Picassos drawings as they
emerged. He described this project:

You can imagine the marvellous contribution of Picasso, which I have attempted
to translate musically. My aim has been to make music an integral part, so to
speak, with the actions and gestures of the people who move about in this simple
exercise. You can see poses like them in any fairground. The spectacle is related
quite simply to the music hall, without stylization, or any rapport with things
artistic. In other respects, I always return to the sub-title Pose plastique, which
I find magnificent.59

Entracte, Cinma and Dada

Perhaps the most modern incarnation of the Wagnerian impulse to the

Gesamtkunstwerk is to be found in cinema. Here there is a unity of sight and sound,
which, with the advent of synchronised sound in 1927, two years after Saties death,
produced a technical synchronicity and control over the audio and visual that was
not possible on the stage. Entracte (Interval) is the film at the centre (during the
interval) of the ballet Relche and Saties music for this film is called Cinma. It was
to be his last major score. Like Parade, the ballet can be characterised as a form of
deferral, inasmuch as the title of the ballet (Relche) is the conventional billboard
notice indicating that the theatre in question is closed.60 Although the cinematic
interlude is set between the first and second acts, it is not incidental; it is in fact
longer than the first act and is about the same length as the second.
The ballet Relche survives in a number of versions and is particularly innovative
for its incorporation of film. It originally had a section of the film at the beginning; a
slow-motion sequence showing Satie and Picabia jumping on the roof of the Thtre
des Champs-Elyses and then firing a cannon towards the audience. Picabia, together
with the poet Blaise Cendrars, were the devisers of the scenario. The ballet company
was the Ballets Sudois and featured two soloists, cast as a fashionable woman and
a man in a wheelchair, a male chorus and a fireman who wandered about smoking

Ibid., p. 152.
Davis, Satie, p. 133.
Ironically the main dancer, Jean Brlin, fell ill just before the first performance, so
the premiere was postponed; the theatre really was relche!
The Only Musician with Eyes 109

and pouring water from buckets. The film, although integral to the conception of the
whole project, is also freestanding and will be dealt with here in isolation from the
ballet as a special example of artistic synthesis.
Saties score Cinma for Ren Clairs film Entracte ideally utilises what I
have been calling his musical block structure technique, which consists primarily
of short repeated units of music which here are a musical analogy for editing
between shots (the film consists of 346 enumerated images). The most distinctive
of these musical fragments is the dotted rhythmic combination (Example 5.2).

Example 5.2 Satie, Cinma: opening rhythmic figure

This eight-bar (with anacrusis) rhythmic figure opens the score and recurs
throughout the film (eight times in total).61 It is closely related to the rhythmic
motif made more explicit a little later (between figs. 11 and 12), which is headed
Marche funbre and is a quote from Chopins Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor,
Op. 35 (referred to in Embryons desschs as that famous mazurka by Schubert!)

Example 5.3 Satie, Cinma: Chopin Marche funbre figure

The Chopin march was, even by this time, such a standard cue for accompanying
funerals and deaths in silent films that it was virtually a clich.62 Satie transposes it
down a semitone to the key of A minor, with a plain scalar melody on the horn and

8x8 = a simple example of Saties numerological approach.
It was first played at Chopins own burial at Pre Lachaise cemetery in Paris in
1849, in an arrangement by Napolon Henri Reber. It was also orchestrated by Elgar and
Stokowski and later used at the funeral of such different figures as John F. Kennedy and
Leonid Brezhnev. Chopins funeral march has antecedents in Rossinis march to the scaffold
from his opera La gazza ladra and possibly Beethovens Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat op.
26, and even negatively in Berliozs Symphonie funbre et triomphale. As Kramer has put
it, Chopins many models suggest that he was productively engaged with the funeral march
as a genre, a social medium with broad implications (see Lawrence Kramer, Interpreting
Music (Berkeley: University of California Press), 2010, p. 121).
110 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

gong beats. He then repeats it in D minor, with a clashing oboe melody a semitone
apart. The crotchet, dotted quaver, semiquaver, minim motif is repeated in various
harmonies with added trumpet melody until a new cue is reached at fig. 13. Satie is
using a species of found sonoric object, one that both represents itself as a formal
unifying device and an outside musical object. The rhythm of this quotation
permeates the music: the opening fragment appears in exact repeats 58 times in
the course of the piano score, together with other dotted-rhythm figures, which can
clearly be heard to relate to the Chopin motif.63 This found musical object, like all
such collaged objects, signifies a number of things simultaneously: itself as a
formal musical pattern, the sonata by Chopin as a quotation, a reference to silent
film music in general and so on. Satie organised the score into 40 double-barlined
sections that allow for them to be repeated ad lib to fit the film, given its different
possible running times. The use of music in such units or motifs is especially
effective in film, because its non-developmental nature ensures a stable foundation
on which the visuals can rest. Even the most fragmented of images can appear
relatively contiguous if accompanied by music that maintains similarity. Saties
score Cinma allows precisely that.
Ren Clairs film, which was shot entirely on location in Paris in June 1924,
can be considered as having two parts: the first is essentially non-narrative and
the second follows the narrative of the funeral cortge. The film opens with a
90-second sequence featuring Satie and Picabia and an animated cannon which
was originally intended to be shown before the curtain rose. It continues with a
disorientating sequence of images of Parisian rooftops, dolls with inflatable heads,
a ballet dancer seen from below, lights, boxing gloves, Paris by day and night,
animated matchsticks on a mans head, a chess game played by Marcel Duchamp
and Man Ray interrupted by a shower of water washing their game away, a paper
boat superimposed on the roof tops, the revelation that the dancer has a beard and
pince-nez, upside-down faces, a coconut apparently suspended on a jet of water,
a marksman (the principal male dancer of Relche, Jean Brlin) aiming first at us
and then the coconut,64 which is then proliferated by multiple exposure and finally
shot open, to reveal a pigeon that flies off to land on the marksmans hat. In turn,
the marksman is shot by Picabia and falls off the building. Following an image of
the sun, the rest of the film unfolds in a fragmentary way the eccentric progress
of a prancing funeral procession (that of the marksman), complete with a hearse
pulled by a camel. The hearse breaks free and is then chased, with increasing speed,
by the procession. This part of the music, as I have mentioned, begins with the

See Cinma, Entracte symphonique de Relche, the piano reduction for four
hands by Darius Milhaud published by Rouart-Lerolle, Paris, in 1926. The score is not
included in Relche, being written under the separate heading of Cinma.
Could this be a pun on Cocteau? If so, it would not be the first time: in the Dada
journal Z published in March 1920 (the first and last issue, edited by Paul Derme), we find
Auric Satie with the Cocteau nut (a pun on Erik Satie, coconut and the expression la
noix not up to much). See Volta (ed.), Satie Seen Through His Letters, p. 175.
The Only Musician with Eyes 111

Figure 5.7 Camel cortge, still from Ren Clair, Entracte

Chopin quotation and continues with expandable repeat zones, thus offering a neat
solution to image-sound synchronisation at this stage in cinema history. The hearse
chase features the chromatic cues between figs. XX and XXIV, when the coffin falls
off the hearse into a field. Brlin emerges from it, magically makes the mourners
disappear (the music figs. XXIV to XXV) and finally disappears himself. The word
fin appears on the screen as the musical Cinma rhythmic figure is repeated, only
to have Brlin jump through the screen to land on the ground and to be kicked back
through the screen as the film rewinds to restore the word fin.
The director Ren Clair was self-evidently interested in the emerging formal syntax
of cinema as a kinetic medium, opposing it to photography, and thus emphasised
camera effects and movement. There are consequently very few stationary shots in
the whole film and scenes are generally quite short. Saties music therefore provides
continuity against which these changes can occur without too much confusion: the
overall impression of movement and speed remain, but without the perplexity that
could have resulted had the music not remained simple and repetitive.
The Dadaists, many of whom have cameo appearances in the film (Picabia, Man
Ray, Duchamp), shared with Clair an interest in ontological artistic questions. Film
provided them with a method of investigation and juxtaposition that they were fast
to exploit. The film consists of an array of visual enquiries: watching people run in
slow motion; watching things happen in reverse; from underneath; watching people
disappear. The films montaged nature conforms to the Dadaist view that real sensual
experience should not be mediated by logic. At the very end of the film, where the
funeral procession has been speeded up, Saties music heightens the impression of
speed; this mutual enhancement is an example of the way Entracte realises the idea
I mapped out earlier of a synthetic aesthetic impulse.
112 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Furniture Music

I shall conclude with a coda on what is probably Saties most Dadaist conception.
It is an idea that also underlines important aspects of Saties aesthetic as far from
the concept of absolute music. Furniture music (musique dameublement) is in
tune with Dadas interest in ontological issues in that it is music that questions its
identity as music (if we partly define music as sound that requires a listening mode
of address). Here music functions much as many film directors would prefer as
atmospheric background, music that is not directly heard; rather, it is just felt or
experienced, part of the mise-en-scne. Satie was concerned to provide music for
those environments when focused listening was not possible or appropriate:65 sons
industriels or bespoke sonic wallpaper. On 8 March 1920, during another entracte,
this time between the acts of a play by Max Jacob, Ruffian toujours, truand jamais, in
the Galerie Barbazanges, Satie, with the support of Milhaud, performed utilitarian
music or musique dameublement, which was not to be listened to. Including short
quotes from composers he did not much like (Ambroise Thomas and Saint-Sans),
he set five musicians around the hall. He thus allowed the music to occupy space
outside the confines of the stage as a focus for attention, as Milhaud recalled:
In order that the music might seem to come from all sides at once, we posted the
clarinets in three different corners of the theatre, the pianist in the fourth, and the
trombone in a box on the first floor. The music had no visual focus to help dissipate
musical attention. He did not, however, achieve his desired aim. Although invited to
walk about, eat, drink, the audience remained seated. Milhaud recalled: It was no
use Satie shouting: Talk, for heavens sake! Move around! Dont listen! They kept
quiet. They listened. The whole thing went wrong.66
Disinterestedness has a complex philosophical pedigree and is not an issue
I have space to discuss here. For Satie, it was appropriate only for especially
composed works whose aim was to be a furnishing divertissement:

Which do you prefer:

Music or Ham? It seems this is a question one should ask oneself when the hors
doeuvres arrive. In many places sweet and excellent silence has been replaced
by bad music. It is thought smart by most people to hear falsely pretty things,
and listen to silly, vaguely churchy ritornellos, while they drink beer or try on
a pair of trousers; to appear to appreciate the sonorous tribute of basses and
bassoons, and other ugly pipes, while thinking of nothing at all. Peuh! All this

See, for example, on the migration of music into the retail sector, L.L. Tyler,
Commerce and Poetry Hand in Hand: Music in the American Department Stores, 1880
1930, Journal of the American Musicological Society 45/1 (Spring 1992), pp. 75120. See
also Michael B. Miller, The Bon March: Bourgeois Culture and the Department Store,
18691920 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).
Darius Milhaud, Lettre de Darius Milhaud, Revue musicale 214 (June 1952), p. 153.
The Only Musician with Eyes 113

is pretty painful for a man of my age The remedy? Heavy taxes; terrible
vexations; severe repression. Cruel torture, even. Should people be allowed just
to go ahead and make our poor life ugly?67

We have heard Saties vexations already.

As I said at the outset, it has not been my purpose in this chapter to simply
survey Saties visual art connections, but rather to raise ideas around which Satie
and the visual might be seen to orbit, to integrate the visual into his aesthetic, to
appreciate thereby Man Rays view that Satie was the only musician who had
eyes68 and to show he is to be better understood if we look as carefully as he did.

Satie, A Simple Question (unpublished text), reprinted in Volta (ed.), A Mammals
Notebook, pp. 1056.
Cited in Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 240.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 6
Exploring Interart Dialogue in Erik Saties
Sports et divertissements (1914/1922)
Helen Julia Minors

Sports et divertissements is representative of the interdisciplinary innovations

of French artistic culture at the start of the twentieth century due to its merging
of music, poetry, calligraphy, etchings and pochoir prints. This multi-art collage
album was commissioned by Lucien Vogel (18861954):1 it co-presents images
by Charles Martin (18841934) alongside piano miniatures by Erik Satie which
are superimposed with Saties own descriptive poetic text. Both music and text
are written in Saties calligraphy and presented in facsimile. A chorale supplies a
musical preamble on the same page as Satie summarises the nature of the piece
in a prose preface: This publication consists of two artistic elements: drawing,
music. The drawing part is composed of lines witty lines; the musical part is
represented by dots black dots.2 The staves are emphasised because of their

I am very grateful to Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Assistant Curator in the Printing
and Graphics Department, and Mary Haegert, Department of Public Services, Houghton
Library, Harvard University. Both have been very generous with their time in answering my
various questions. I should also like to thank Ray Heigemeir from Stanford Music Library,
Stanford University, for his assistance in answering questions about La Pche (1914).
Moreover, thanks are due to the staff at the Dpartement de la musique, Bibliothque
nationale de France for their assistance in accessing Saties sketchbooks. The early stages
of this chapter were presented in two parts at the study day Nostalgia and Innovation
in Twentieth-Century French Music, Lancaster University, 89 May 2009, in association
with the Royal Musical Association, and at the International Conference on Music Since
1900 (ICMSN) at Keele University, 25 July 2009. Thanks to Deborah Mawer and Nick
Reyland for providing me with these opportunities. I am also grateful to Davinia Caddy for
discussing some of these ideas with me in the early stages, to Adam Greig for reading an
early draft of this piece and for making some welcome suggestions, and to Grant OSullivan
for preparing the music examples.
Lucien Vogel was the publisher of Gazette de bon ton founded in 1912 and was the
founder of Vu in 1928. He worked previously as editor for Art et dcoration, which ran
from 1897 to 1939.
Sports et divertissements (Paris: Lucien Vogel, 1922), Copy no. 9, housed at the
Houghton Library, from the collection of Philip Hofer, class of 1921, Department of Printing
and Graphic Arts, Harvard University, Typ. 915.14.7700 PF. This copy includes only the
1922 version of La Pche and two versions of Le Pique-nique from 1914. The 1922 images
116 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

unusual red colour. Significantly, Satie does not refer to his prose poetry, perhaps
identifying cohesion between music and text. He warns the reader: Dont look
for anything else in it.3 In his seemingly flippant attitude, as commented upon by
Steven Moore Whiting, he plays with words, using oxymorons, aphorisms and
unusual word combinations in a take it or leave it attitude, as is evident in this
preface.4 The visual emphasis of the piece alongside this warning is paradoxical.
Saties aim to confuse5 the reader is taken here as an invitation to examine the
piece in a fashion which is contrary to the preface.
Sports defies a single classifying label or genre home because of its
pluralistic nature. Its multiple visual identities, with images produced in both
1914 and 1922, alongside a visually important score reside in a work of 20
parts which each depict a different leisure scene. The various artistic media and
their application within this album warrant exploration in light of its interart
approach: spanning pre- and post-First World War France, the images do not
simply accompany the music or vice versa; rather, each of the images, music
and texts is presented as if it were operating in another medium.6 In other
words, music is presented as visual art to be viewed, visual art is presented as a
musical score to be performed, poetry is presented as part of the musical score
on the staves, though not as a libretto, and all this is presented in the form of a
limited edition art album. Equality is assumed between the different elements,
each contributing to produce the work.
This chapter offers a fresh analysis of the multi-art processes at play between
Saties music and text which is interpreted in dialogue with Martins images. There
are many components to interpret and questions regarding how Satie related to the
1914 images, let alone the reproduced 1922 images. In order to appreciate the
interart nature of this work, the spectator must search the piece to become aware
of its many attributes. In what way can one, and might one, mediate the interart
experience of Sports et divertissements? How can such mediation encompass the

along with Saties scores are reproduced in Erik Satie, Sports et divertissements, Twenty
Short Pieces for Piano, trans. Stanley Applebaum (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.,
1982): Cette publication est constitue de deux lments artistiques: dessin, musique. La
partie dessin est figure par des traits des traits desprits; la partie musicale est reprsente
par des points des points noirs.
Ibid., preface: que lon ny voie pas autre chose.
Steven Moore Whiting, Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 443.
Erik Satie (1920), in Ornella Volta (ed.), Ecrits (Paris: Editions Champ-Libre, 1977;
revised edn 1981), p. 45: Je me suis toujours efforc de drouter les suiveurs, par la forme
et par le fond, chaque nouvelle uvre. Translated in Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 142: I have always striven to confuse
would-be followers by both the form and the background of each new work.
Peter Dayan, Art as Music, Music as Poetry, Poetry as Art, from Whistler to
Stravinsky and Beyond (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), p. 3.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 117

various artistic elements? Due to the visual emphasis of the work, presented as a
large musical score which can be rested on the piano stand, for performance at the
piano, there is an invitation to enquire how a performer, spectator or researcher
may interact with the work. Notions of an imagined experience and a process of
conceptual mapping are set up in order to examine how we receive this multi-
dimensional work as a piece in the form of a collage-album.

Primary Source: Sports et divertissements (1914 and 1922)

Sports et divertissements was not published until after the First World War.
Ornella Volta has charted the gestation of this work: Martins original images
were completed in 1914 and Satie completed his last score, Le Golf, on 20 May
1914, as dated on the manuscript. Due to the outbreak of the First World War, the
manuscript was not printed and the Vogel firm closed. Vogel sold the manuscript
to the publisher, Maynial, only to purchase the manuscript back from Maynial
six years later. Fashions had changed, however, as epitomised by Coco Chanels
black cocktail dresses, and cultural activities had progressed in the interim. As
a result, Martin chose to recreate his illustrations to tailor his drawings for the
post-war milieu.7 Three versions of the album exist. First, the original conception
was Martins 1914 illustrations with the facsimile of Saties music, to which
the spectator may find Saties text-music-image correspondence, at least to the
activities if intentionally not to the image, as it is not certain whether Satie saw
Martins images before composing his 20 scenes. Indeed, the multifarious nature
of the work may profit from separate creative stimuli, though Orledge proposes
that the level of narrative comparison between music, text and image in Le Golf
suggests at least one exception.8 Second, a version contains Martins 1922 images,
as he reconceived the album alongside the same facsimile of Saties music.
Third, and in keeping with Vogels publishing house, an exclusive limited edition
numbered version was published: this comprises 10 copies containing with both
the 1914 and 1922 images. Some have two versions of Le pique-nique from 1914;
some do not have the 1914 version of La Pche. Copy number 9, housed in the
Houghton Library at Harvard University, includes both examples of the former
and is lacking the latter.9 The colophon outlines the numbered series:

The creation of this album is outlined in Ornella Volta, Give a Dog a Bone: Some
Investigations into Erik Satie, trans. Todd Niquette,
articl10.html, originally published as Le rideau se lve sur un os, Revue Internationale de
la Musique Franaise 8/23 (1987).
Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 214.
The printing invoice is reproduced in Volta, Give a Dog a Bone. Since then we have
these following editions. Rouart-Lerolle created a new edition: Score only, black and white,
plus Martins title logo 1926. Re-released 1964 by Musique Contemporaine (Salabert). 1962
Dover Publications: Saties score and Martins 1922 illustrations in black and white with
118 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

10 reserved examples for the Librairie Maynial, containing a series of 20 plates

designed the first time by Charles Martin and engraved on copper in 1914,
numbered from 1 to 10 and 215 examples numbered 11 to 225. It has been
drawn, besides, 675 ordinary examples containing music and a single plate on
the frontispiece, numbered from 226 to 900.10

The plates of copy no. 9 are 39 cm high by 43 cm wide: this size would enable a
clear perspective of the images and music for a chamber performance. The limited
publication, large format and skilled presentation of Sports et divertissements was
usual for Vogels Gazette de bon ton, for which Martin worked as an illustrator.
Many of the artists used a pochoir, a stencil, to form the basis of the image which
was then hand-coloured on handmade paper.11 The artisan skills made the magazine
distinctive from its outset in 1912.12
Martins 1914 images are etchings (not line drawings are noted by Davis),13
printed in brown tinted ink. They focus on the people and their clothing, usually
situated in the front centre of the images, with the leisure activity in the background.
A realistic tone is set, with accurate proportions. The ladies wear long dresses,
high collars and occasionally hats. La Pche is a good illustrative example of
this realistic yet minimal style. The woman stands elegantly clothed, while the
man kneels in order to bag the fish which has been caught. The 1922 adaptation

the cover illustration of Le Tango in colour, with English translation by Stanley Applebaum.
Martins cameos are missing from this edition. A commercially available version with the
original 1914 as well as the 1922 images is not available. However, the 1914 etchings
were reproduced in Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie: A Mammals Notebook (London: Atlas
Press, 1996), pp. 2540. Stanford University Library houses a version including only the
1914 images; Princeton University Library houses a copy including the pochoir plates and
the Getty Research Institute houses one of the reserved 10 copies, measuring 40 cm by 44
cm. Heidi Nitze Collection, in New York, houses copy 7, as used by Orledge, Satie the
Composer, p. 214.
Satie, Sports, Harvard University, Typ. 915.14.7700. The printing information can
be found on the back of sheet 62 (the sheets are unnumbered, but progress in a loose fashion,
in the same title order as that commonly published): 10 exemplaires, rserves la libraire
Maynial, contenant une suite des vingt planches de Charles Martin dessines une premire
fois et graves sur cuivre en 1914, numrotes de l 10 et 25 exemplaires, numrotes de 11
225. Il a t tir, en outre, 675 exemplaires ordinaires contenant la musique et une seule
planche en frontispice, numrotes de 226 900.
For more details regarding this artistic process, see Alison Levie, French Art Deco
Fashion: In Pochoir Prints from the 1920s (London: Schiffer Publishing, 1998).
Many of the images have since been used on posters, postcards and other
memorabilia. There are a number of websites which reproduce images from Gazette, many
from art dealers. A detailed list of the images is shown at
Thanks to Caroline Duroselle-Melish at the Houghton Library, personal
communication (20 July 2009).
Exploring Interart Dialogue 119

supplements a secondary message of courtship to the title, in that we see a couple

resting by the water, the woman sat within the arm of the gentleman. The 1922
images contrast with the first as they are pochoir prints. Compliant with the
advances made in the Gazette, these pochoirs are colourful, with plenty of pastel
shades. Though the people tend to be centred in the image, they are integrated into
the artistic space, shown to be interacting with their environment and not simply
each other. La Pche in Martins second version is far more detailed: the water is
textured in pale and dark blue strips. Cubist-inspired shapes and multiple shades of
one colour contribute to a visual depth. The visual detail incorporates two French
flags in the top-right-hand side of the image, affirming a nationalistic arena.
Other primary source evidence can be found in Saties notebooks housed at
the Bibliothque nationale de France.14 Orledge usefully provides a detailed index
outlining the content of these books.15 The alterations in text and music illustrate the
care and attention Satie took in both art forms. Significantly, he does not cue the text
precisely to the music: it is not presented as a text to be sung, spoken or performed
in any specific way. Rather, it is written above, beneath and through the staves. The
detailed workings include a much-adapted text to introduce the chorale: an entire
paragraph, written in note form, is crossed out, in which Satie removes an apology:

For those who are not satisfied [with] the descent in the dissent of the bass voice
which we do not hear, especially when they descend below the plain serious (old
style). Im sorry. Please let me present to you, not in the form of genuflection, to
all choirs a chorale of all humility.16

The differences between the drafts and the final version are illustrative of other text
changes which occur throughout the volume: conditional sentences, explanations
and representational descriptions are often removed in preference of a text which
affirms the situation.
These notebooks emphasise Saties visual interest as he not only sketches ideas
and revises sections, but also drafts a version which is almost complete. Care is taken
with the spacing of the music on the page: although the facsimile contains music
without bar lines, Saties sketches and drafts are carefully barred: for example, Le

Erik Satie, Sports et divertissements pour piano. Musique dErik Satie: brouillons
et esquisses, Ms. Autogr. (1914) 10 cahiers, Bibliothque nationale de France, Ms 9627(1
10). There are 10 books of sketches: for accuracy, in what follows I reference the manuscript
code first, then the book number in parenthesis, then the page of the book.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, pp. 3035.
Ms 9627(9), 8: Que ceux qui ne seront pas satisfaits [avec] le descente, en le
dissent voir basse voix de contrebasse on ne les entendra pas, surtout sils descendaient
au-dessous du uni grave (vieux style). Pardonnez-moi, je vous prie et permettez-moi de me
prsenter vous sous la forme de ce choral tout de gnuflexion de ce choral tout dhumilit.
120 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Tango,17 Le Golf18 and Quatre-coins19 are beamed every two crotchet beats, while
Le Bain de mer20 is beamed in four beats. The draft of Le Water-chute21 is beamed
every three beats. Structural changes occur (as in La Pche,22 Satie crosses out three
bars and adds others by noting 2me fois 4) and complex passages are reworked
(as Orledge illustrates with the five versions of a scalic descent in Le Water-chute)23
and endings are often rewritten (a change occurs to the ending of Le Bain de mer,24
in which Satie numbers bars 14, 16 and 15, in this order, and crosses out bar 15).

Satie and an Interart Aesthetic

During Saties varied career, he persistently worked with extra-musical media

and stimuli. At the start of his musical creativity, he already incorporated an acute
cultural awareness. Ogives (1888) incorporates plainsong, played in octaves,
with varying phrase lengths.25 It was written in response to the architecture of
Notre Dame de Paris, which is notable for its flying buttresses, a 90-metre tall
tower and panoramic views of the city from its towers.26 Chanson Hongroise
(1889) appears to have been inspired by Romanian folk music at the Exposition
Universelle in 1889. In composing the ballet Parade (1917), he collaborated
with some of the leading artists of the day: Jean Cocteau (18891963), Pablo
Picasso (18811973) and Lonide Massine (18961979). The film Entracte for
the ballet Relche (1924) saw Satie produce work with Ren Clair.27 As the Satie
scholar Mary E. Davis notes, the meeting of the different arts often brings forth
a discussion of Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk the concept of a total art work;28
likewise, Alan M. Gillmor described Sports as a tiny Gesamtkunstwerk.29

Ms 9627(8), 1617: this contains no text.
Ms 9627(9), 1213: this is a sketch of the music.
Ms 9627(7), 1: this includes the text.
Ms 9627(5), 2.
Ms 9627(5), 4.
Ms 9627(1), 2.
Ms 9627(5), 5. See Robert Orledge, Saties Approach to Composition in His Later
Years (191324), Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 111 (19845), pp. 15579.
Ms 9627(5), 3.
See Grace Wai Kwan Gates, Chapter 3 of this book.
Karl Baedeker, Baedekers Paris and its Environs (Leipzig: Karl Baedeker
Publishing, 1924), pp. 2647.
A detailed catalogue of Saties compositions can be found in the appendix of this
Mary E. Davis, Modernity la mode: Popular Culture and Avant-Gardism in Erik
Saties Sports et divertissements, The Musical Quarterly 83/3 (Autumn 1999), p. 433.
Alan M. Gillmor, Erik Satie (London: Macmillan Press, 1988), p. 182. See also
Simon Shaw-Millers remarks on pp. 99103.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 121

However, Satie mocks Wagner in his famous reference that composers should
create music without sauerkraut.30 He aspired to generate a new manner in
which music and visual art could relate: whilst Marcel Duchamp and Picabia
introduce words into their paintings, only Satie employed a simultaneous
counterpoint of poetry, music and drawing within a single composition.31 Satie
is an integrated artist, in that he inhabits the role of composer, writer and visual
artist, as demonstrated in Sports.
Many multi-art processes are at play between music, text and image. The
presentation of the work as a visual album questions the nature of music and its
relationships to the other arts, not only in its co-presentation, but also because of
the uncertainty regarding whether the music is to be performed at all and, indeed,
how such a performance could be achieved in order to experience all the art forms
simultaneously. Is it a work for a single spectator (whether reading the album,
performing the music while viewing the images, or any other approach which
might be taken), a chamber work to be displayed on the piano stand for a small
audience collected around the piano in a private salon or, as Whiting speculates,32
a work ripe for projection on large screens in a concert hall? The presentation of
the work as an object resonates with Peter Dayans first rule which resides at the
heart of an interart aesthetic: that it should be considered as an object, a thing
and not as the conduit or vessel for any concept, message, emotion, or anecdote.33
The album is presented as though all the arts worked in the same way, due to
their similar presentation on similarly sized loose sheets within the album, which
contradicts the nature of how music is heard and images are seen.34 There are
many components to interpret, from the images and calligraphy, to the combined
visual presentation of both text and music, to the scale of the pages, the colours
of both the score and 1922 images, as well as the title pages containing Saties
calligraphy and small emblems. In order to appreciate the multi-art nature of this
work, the spectator must search the piece to become aware of its many attributes.

Imagining the Moment

In exploring how we experience and think about the multi-layered, interart

presentation of Sports, Saties approach to composition requires some consideration.

Satie, Ecrits, 69: sans choucroute. With thanks to Austin Sherlaw Johnson
for bringing my attention to the library of James Harding. This copy of Ecrits includes
Hardings notes, two letters from Ornella Volta (March and June 1979), a programme for
Intgrales Erik Satie (May 1979) and a list in date order, in Hardings hand, of the titles
and dates of each piece in Sports et divertissements.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, p. 214.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, pp. 4078.
Dayan, Art as Music, p. 2.
Ibid., p. 3.
122 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

In establishing Saties musical logic, Orledge remarks that Satie conceptualised

his ideas with a spatial approach to music.35 Such a three-dimensional way of
thinking about music shares a frame of reference with visual art and sculpture; it
provides an insight into Saties compositional aesthetic within Sports, in using
music as a visual element in a collage album. Moreover, Orledge affirms that Satie
was attracted to transformational thinking, magic and the potentials of formal
mirroring.36 The loose leaves of Sports allow for music and image plates to be
positioned side by side, and in some cases, as referred to below, the shaping of
music and image result in a mirroring effect. The work is an interdisciplinary
experience reliant on time, space and the moment. These terms are relevant to
much recent interdisciplinary work in music and the other arts, and they are
comparable to the writings of Saties contemporary, Apollinaire.
Apollinaires surrealism superimposes the art forms of poetry and drawing,
most notably in Calligrammes (191317). Apollinaire is one of many artists
of the period to invent new ways in which the arts could be co-presented. His
Calligrammes present poetry in the form of a visual image. Unlike his earlier poems,
Calligrammes do not subscribe to symbolism; rather, Apollinaire reforms poetry
by fusing it to other media. To borrow from Dayan again, the poetry is the image;
the image is the poetry.37 Its new significance lies in visual shape and presentation
space, altering the emergent meaning of the literary text by the presence of the
visual parameter; consequently, it supplements the poetic medium. The experience
is situated between the senses: the spectator views the image and interprets its
representations (whether intended or otherwise) as a piece of art, but also reads the
text as a meaning bearing semantic commentary. Apollinaire promotes surrealist
dissonance in his interest in the lack of intelligible correlation between sounds,
gestures, colors, acrobatics.38 Apollinaires interest in simultanism bears affinity
to the multi-dimensional realisation which Sports requires. The result give[s] the
impression of a full and instant awareness within one moment of space-time.39
Whiting shares a similar opinion of Sports as each image is intended, in title at
least, to distil a single moment of each activity.40 Simultanism occurs when

Robert Orledge, Saties Musical and Personal Logic, presented in Erik Satie: His
Music, the Visual Arts, His Legacy, at Gresham College London (16 April 2010) and as
Chapter 1 of this book.
Dayan, Art as Music.
Daniel Albright, Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other
Arts (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000), p. 248. Albright uses the term dissonance
to refer to a contradiction between artistic media, representing a state of interaction which
is not complementary. In contrast, he uses consonance to refer to artistic complementation
and equality. Both are used to refer to states of artistic relationship and dialogue.
Guillaume Apollinaire, Calligrammes, eds. Ann Hyde Greet and S.I. Lockerbie
(Berkeley: California University Press, 2004), p. 3.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 402.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 123

different things are enacted at the same time without precise synchronisation to
one another: such a simultaneous conceptual digestion of artistic elements might
explain the spectators mediation of Sports.
The Calligrammes are a contrapuntal creation between media, as text produces
an image either in concord or in dissonance with its literal meaning. Likewise,
Sports blurs the lines between music and image in the presentation of the score. A
visual contrast also arises between Martins 1914 and 1922 images in the stylistic
differences between, on the one hand, the realist etchings and, on the other hand,
the cubist pochoir prints which contain the multifarious dimensions of Picassos
cubism in the use of segmented colour sections and delineated shapes.
I am aware that I play out a conceptual game in questioning how to mediate
Sports: I enact a performance of the work in a virtual environment that of
my own interactions and negotiations with the work. Though it is possible to
actualise the music in performance, such an act would go against Saties own
advice, as he stresses that it is a work for the imagination.41 Elsewhere, in
Heures sculaires et instantanes (1914), the performance of text and music was
considered by Satie in his preface: I forbid the text to be read aloud while the
music is playing. Any failure to observe this will incur my just indignation with
the presumptuous sinner.42 Poulenc later confirmed: it was forbidden under pain
of major excommunication to read out the stories and funny remarks with which he
decorated his music, either before or during a performance.43 The Sports album,
as presented on the page, is only figuratively performed if read. There is inevitably
a change in the way we consider the piece when performed or when we recognise
the work as a musical score as well as a fashion album. As the philosopher Brian
Massumi posits, in exploring the effect of virtual events, there is conceptual
displacement in that we interpret sonorous movement, but only in an implicit
manner.44 Rather than experiencing physical movement and sensation, it might
be culturally-theoretically thinkable.45 Motion and stasis, actual and virtual,
frame his discussion, moving beyond traditional ideas of opposition. These ideas,
applied to Sports, suggest that something might be actualised from a conceptual
experience: in affinity with Saties request of the imagination, Massumis theory
supports a view that the spectator may enact the album in thought.

Satie, Sports, Harvard University, Typ. 915.14.7700, preface.
James Harding, Erik Satie (London: Secker & Warburg, 1975), p. 126.
Francis Poulenc, La musique de piano dErik Satie, La Revue musicale, 214
(June 1952), p. 25: De mme quil ne faut pas, sous peine dexcommunication majeure,
Satie dixit, lire, avant ou pendant, les histoires et les indications bouffes dont il maille sa
musique. Translated in Roger Nichols, The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris 19171929
(London: Thames & Hudson, 2002), p. 218.
Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect and Sensation (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 1.
Ibid., p. 4.
124 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

In affinity with Saties call for this work to be imagined, Baudelaire appears
to offer an explanation of this artistic reasoning: It is imagination that has
taught mankind the moral significance of colour, outlines, sounds and scents.46
The senses appear to be crossed within the imagination as the corresponding
attributes of the piece are deliberated. An impression of synaesthesia arises within
his poetry: Scents, colors and sounds correspond.47 Saties deliberate fusion
of the arts, along with interplay of cultural attributes and musical style within
Sports, is representative of Baudelaires conclusions that today every art shows
the craving to overlap into the neighbour art.48 For example, Satie encouraged
Debussy in the adoption of extra-musical processes, urging him to make use of
the representational methods of Claude Monet [et al] Why not make a musical
transposition of them?.49 Similarly, poets were concerned with sonority and
musicality. Among the symbolists, Rimbauds Voyelles (1871) plays with the
different sound potentials of the vowels he uses. Composers were attracted to these
sonorous music above all50 symbolists: examples include Chabrier, Debussy
and Faur, who set works by Verlaine; Debussy set Mallarm; and Baudelaires
poems were set by both Debussy and Faur.
In contrast to Baudelaires correspondances, which suggests similarity in
experiencing the artistic elements and relationships, Apollinaire promotes surrealist
dissonance in his interest in the lack of intelligible correlation between sounds,
gestures, colors, acrobatics.51 If the artistic elements are in a state of dissonance
or contest,52 how might a simultaneous digest of them occur? It seems to be
this lack of cohesion that allows the imagination to marry the elements. Dayans
assessment of the interart aesthetic makes clear that the connection between

Charles Baudelaire, Richard Wagner, in Charles Baudelaire, Baudelaire: uvres
compltes, vol. 2 (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), p. 773: Cest limagination qui a enseign
lhomme le sens moral de la couleur, du contour, du son et du parfum.
Ibid., p. 784. Also cited in Herv Lacombe, The Keys to French Opera in the
Nineteenth Century, trans. Edward Schneider (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2001), pp. 2512.
Baudelaire, Lart philosophique, in Baudelaire: uvres compltes, vol. 2, p. 598:
quaujourdhui chaque art manifeste lenvie dempiter sur lart voisin.
Letter from Erik Satie to Claude Debussy (1922), in Satie, Ecrits, p. 69: Pourquoi
ne pas se servir des moyens reprsentatifs que nous exposaient Claude Monet, Czanne,
Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.? Pourquoi ne pas transposer musicalement ces moyens? Translated
in Robert Orledge, Debussy and Satie, in Richard Langham Smith (ed.), Debussy Studies
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 158.
Paul Verlaine, Lart potique, cited in Glenn Watkins, Soundings: Music in the
Twentieth Century (New York: Schirmer Books, 1988), p. 67.
Albright, Untwisting the Serpent, p. 248.
Nicholas Cook posits a model of musical multimedia which tests for similarity and
difference. The extreme state of difference is referred to as contest, in which media battle
for attention. Analysing Musical Multimedia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Exploring Interart Dialogue 125

media must always be incalculable.53 Marcel Proust (18711922) raises similar

points in his anti-symbolist essay when he refers to the imaginations role in
interpretation, noting that art can produce an unheard melody which the poet can
make reverberate.54 Something additional, not present in an art, can be generated.
In a similar sense, Sports is experienced in multi-dimensional terms. For
example, the musical text offers a visual symbolic presentation in La Balanoire,
dated 31 March 1914. Satie writes the music on three staves, which allows the
repetitive octave leaps to assume a larger space on the page, over two staves,
and separates the melody, as though it were for a soloist. The visual separation
of melody and accompaniment which jumps between staves corresponds to the
woman on the swing, who moves separately from her companion. The comparison
is based on a visual analogy read between the score and the expectation of the
swing moving to and fro, between the octaves. The arts may well be brought
together in the imagination, but their stimulus bears reference to a reality beyond
art.55 The negotiation of the audio and visual arts, with the real fashions versus
the imagined work, is not easy. The spectator is displaced due to the suggested,
and internally experienced, marriage of an audio yet visually presented art, and a
visual concrete art which metaphorically speaks of the plastic arts, not least in the
titles given to some pieces, for example, Le Tango.
Considering Saties appeal to the spectators imagination, alongside a
culturally determined album bearing specific representational qualities, it is
possible to posit a moment experience (as it might be referred to) in which
imagination and thought act out of time (beyond the linear, quantitative, metrical
or clock-measured time), in that each identifiable fragment which forms the
total experience is digested. This audio-visual act requires linear time, but it
is not restricted by it. If the different arts were placed on a line, representing
an order in which things might be experienced, they display disconnectedness,
but the whole experience co-presents each parameter and therefore connects
the arts in time and space, if not in a structural logic.56 As such, this moment
experience is an illusion, in comparison to Apollinaires Calligrammes, in which

Dayan, Art as Music, p. 3.
Marcel Proust, Chroniques (Paris: Gallimard, 1983), pp. 13744. Cited in Mary
Lydon, Skirting the Issue: Mallarm, Proust and Symbolism, Yale French Studies 74
(1988), p. 174.
Jean Baudrillard has argued that a hyper-reality now exists in which something
goes beyond the real and beyond metaphor, creating a simulated version of the real without
metaphor. In using Disneyland as an example, he posits that one can define reality through
the experience of the simulated version of reality. See Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings,
ed. Mark Foster (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), pp. 56.
This chapter considers this notion in terms of the contemporaneous arts and does
not analyse the concept of time in terms of psychology or cognitive science. For a summary
of various thoughts on time in regard to music, see Raymond Monelle, The Sense of Music:
Semiotic Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 81114.
126 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

one create[s] an impression of multiple and simultaneous consciousness, noting

that perceptions and ideas are abruptly juxtaposed.57 The fragments are not
joined by a formal structure but through, as Albright terms it, an ideological
logic.58 It is not thought of in defined spatial or measured temporal terms;
rather, the spectator forms a version of the activities in Sports. An audio-
visual simultaneous taking-in of identifiable features results in a multi-sensory
encompassing of experience59 which has yet to be rationalised or, as Albright
puts it, the spectator has a mentally unprocessed sensory experience.60
The usual experience of music, as a sonorous live event, is displaced as we
experience it in visual terms. Apollinaire was aware of the different ways in which
we experience art and music; as summarised by Simon Shaw-Miller, painting is
a simultaneous experience whereas music is a successive one.61 The transference
between audio and visual art forms is conceptually mapped: it is such mapping
which allows the spectator to mediate the work. A view of Sports as a thinkable
event resonates with the interart aesthetic that asserts one thing in terms of another
and presents art as an object for digestion. It resonates with Saties preface and
supports Apollinaires concept of simultanism.
Apollinaire presents one thing not in terms of another, as a metaphor, but as
that other. This is not to say that they are similar, but that they assert an analogy.62
The experience of the arts cannot be rigid and predetermined as, according to
Apollinaire, each work becomes a new universe with its own laws.63 The
elusive nature of the interart aesthetic, as Dayan exposes, is founded on an effect
of deflected attention.64 This notion is integral to considering the experience
of Sports: the moment experience digests the artistic elements within the terms

Apollinaire, Calligrammes, p. 3.
Albright, Untwisting the Serpent, p. 259.
Timothy Matthews, Reading Apollinaire: Theories of Poetic Language (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1987), p. 221.
Albright, Untwisting the Serpent, p. 264. An alternative method for appreciating
this process is in semiotic terms, in which a sign must be interpreted. Nattiezs trace level
offers an arena for conceptualising a way in which simultanism might occur as a taking in
of the material attributes which result from the poetic process. The sensory unprocessed
experience is only part of an interpretative rendering of the piece. See Jean-Jacques Nattiez,
Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music, trans. Carolyn Abbate (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 15.
Simon Shaw-Miller, Visible Deeds of Music: Art and Music from Wagner to Cage
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 136.
Guillaume Apollinaire, Architectural Record (May 1910), pp. 41314, cited by
Dayan, Art as Music, p. 58.
Guillaume Apollinaire, uvres en prose compltes, ed. Pierre Caizergues (Paris,
Gallimard, 1991), pp. 2, 112: chaque uvre devient un univers nouveau avec ses lois
particulires. Translated by Dayan, Art as Music, p. 73.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 127

of the work (in this instance, a French fashion album which deliberately fuses
inconsistent elements with visual primacy).
Lettre-Ocan from Calligrammes is a pertinent example as it incorporates
musical staves which, on one hermeneutic level, might suggest the visual layers
of the ocean, yet on another alludes to the potential sound of music. Lettre-Ocan
places both sides of the postcard in a single frame, modifying expectations. The
letter is shaped and depicted as the ocean, which in turn can be read as a poem,
but a representational reading differs from Apollinaires aesthetic. Our experience
is displaced: text can be seen as image, and image can be read as text. Or can it
be experienced as though it were another medium? The presentation fuses the
corresponding text-image in the creation of something else an analogy. It is
not narration;65 the layout of the text and its representation is secondary to the
experience of the Calligramme.
Sports et divertissements offers a title worthy of a fashion magazine and brings
with it a new element in the form of its musical contribution, making for a unique
edition on the one hand and an artistic document to challenge the interart aesthetic
(namely to set music, text and image side by side without directions on how to
view the product) on the other. As Davis reveals, the position of Sports within the
French ladies fashion magazine culture provides a context regarded for its high-
quality, luxurious and limited edition volumes. She explores Sports in its fashion
context, charting the fashion magazines and their impact and similarity with the
art work of Sports. The resulting analysis reads a cultural discourse founded in
fashion. Man Ray distinguished Satie from his contemporaries by noting that
he was a musician with eyes,66 suggesting the importance of the audio-visual
interaction in Saties work.
Like Apollinaires Lettre-Ocan, water is one of many themes in Sports: Le
Bain de mer, Le Water-chute and La Pche are case studies below.

Le Bain de mer

Le Bain de mer (11 April 1914) can be read as a musical-visual depiction of the
shape of waves. The visual correspondence is set up through the ascending and
descending arpeggios spanning two octaves throughout the piece. The arpeggios
descend by a semitone at the point where Satie writes: Dont sit down at the
bottom.67 The mimetic music-text correspondence enforces the shape of the 1914
image in which the couple are stood in the sea. Their location is an illusion as the
waves are formed from limbs. A knee, a foot, a hand and a hat can be seen to their
right. The spectators perspective is displaced by various means: first, the limbs

Albright, Untwisting the Serpent, p. 259.
As explored by Simon Shaw-Miller in Chapter 5 of this volume.
Satie, Sports, Harvard University, Typ. 915.14.7700, sheet 22: Ne vous asseyez
pas dans le fond.
128 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Figure 6.1 Le Bain de mer, Saties score. Typ 915.14.7700, Houghton Library,
Harvard University

personify the ocean; second, the static, central place of the couple positions the
water as though it were a boat holding them.
The brutality of the ocean in the 1914 etching is in stark contrast to the angular,
two-dimensional perspective of Martins 1922 pochoir. The green tones of the water
and the pink swimsuit offer a calm tone. The lady dives from an unseen surface and
appears to be about to land in a small rowing boat. The image captures different
activities (diving, swimming and rowing) and superimposes them in a shared
foreground. Music likewise offers contradictions and counterpoints. In Saties
sketches, he drafts the piece and reorders the material: the upper system is labelled
bars 813, then 12, while the lower system is numbered bar 381, following on from
the previous two bars.68 There is a notable difference in the text: in the centre of the
system of bar 6 (beamed every four beats), Satie writes prenez garde [be careful].
The third bar includes: Trs large, peut-tre [Very wide, perhaps]. The uncertain
text is removed in the completed version: it does not clarify the representation,
but rather allows the spectator to raise his or her own questions in correlating the
different and separately presented artistic media. Jean Roys discussion of Saties
poetry confirms the significance of such textual changes all music is a coded

Ms 9627(5), pp. 23.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 129

Figure 6.2 Le Bain de mer, Martins 1914 etching. Typ 915.14.7700, Houghton
Library, Harvard University

language that one cannot understand but his poems give us valuable insights into
the climate of Saties work.69 Some of these insights come from the intertextual
references which occur throughout Sports. For example, a reference to Debussys
La mer est plus belle occurs in the opening sentence La mer est large.
In his biography of Satie, Rollo Myers refers to Sports, which is: On a
miniature range, perhaps; but is artistry a matter of dimensions?70 This rhetorical
question on the scale of Sports might also be read in terms of mediating the work.
The separation of artistic methods, by the loose sheets, illustrates only the basic
dimensions of the work: a conceptual mapping of them occurs in the moment,
as they are explored. In Le Bain de mer, the spectator is encouraged to see the
ocean in the score. The removal of bar lines and time signatures lends itself to
a temporally freer experience and is comparable to Apollinaires removal of
punctuation. Though we may experience each piece in a non-linear fashion, the
album is divided into sections which dictates a condition for its reading (one views
the content of Le Bain de mer as a section of the whole work). Apollinaire places
an emphasis on the instantaneous pictorial apprehension.71 How long this takes,

Jean Roy, Satie Pote, La Revue musicale 214 (June 1952), p. 55: comme toute
musique est un langage chiffr quon sent plus quon ne peut le comprendre, ces pomes
nous donnent en outre de prcieuses indications sur le climat de luvre de Satie.
Rollo Myers, Erik Satie (London: Dennis Dobson, 1948), p. 90.
Albright, Untwisting the Serpent, p. 259.
130 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Figure 6.3 Le Bain de mer, Martins 1922 pochoir print. Typ 915.14.7700,
Houghton Library, Harvard University
by clock time, is unimportant, as during implies a limit to the experience. Rather,
the moment experience is dependent upon the spectators choices. This process is
not instantaneous as simultanism implies; in moment experience, linear time is
suspended because there is no longer a need to divide time into fragments as in
performance. A telescoping of time72 appears to take place.

Le Water-chute

Saties score for Le Water-chute, dated 14 April 1914, shares a visual consonance
with the 1914 image with a forte descending melodic D-minor scalic passage
which closes with a piano quaver motive (Ex. 6.1). The turn shape perpetuates
the curving water in the etching. Saties notebooks display various redrafts: a
problematic creation of the more complex melodic passages is evident. One such
example includes the descending scalic passage in Le Water-chute, of which he
made five attempts.73 Among the changes, the rhythm material was altered from a
quaver to a semiquaver descent.

Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France
1885 to World War I (New York: Vintage Books, revised edn 1968), p. 310.
Ms 9627(5). Orledge has explored some of these creative changes in Saties
Approach to Composition in His Later Years (191324), pp. 15579.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 131

Martins 1922 image subverts the experience, placing the spectators in the
foreground through which we participate in the anticipation of the chutes dip
into the water. The cubist regularity of the image, with demarcated waves in bold
green, teal and grey-blue colours, acts as a snapshot of a single moment within the
ride. The striking light blue and white of the sky emphasises the pastel and darker
tones of the water. The green colours are consistent with Le Bain de mer.

Example 6.1 Satie, Le Water-chute: descending scale passage

The spectators experience is guided, in part, by Saties use of multi-layered

structural-stylistic models. Le Water-chute is modelled on a waltz with a regularised
three beat (the draft is beamed in three)74 and ascending inverted chords in the left
hand, after the character of Schuberts piano waltzes. The use of dance forms in
Saties work provides a given structure and metrical sense to the music, as in the
slow dance forms in the three Gnossiennes. The regular beat visually suggests a
time restriction, a hierarchical emphasis on the first beat, while the absent bar line
removes the measured emphasis and restrictive associations.
The character of the waltz is modified because of its change in territory: the waltz
is no longer placed in a formal setting, but is used to encode a reference to the waltzs
use in music hall and popular culture. High art meets popular activities on many
levels. Davis claims that: The waltz parody serves simultaneously as a reminiscence
of the past and as the basis for the musical evocation of this newest amusement.75
Moreover, this musical specificity is at odds with the interart complexity which
the spectator navigates. The cultural codes interpreted in such a subverted context
change our understanding of the symbolic references, therefore altering the function
of the waltz. The musical reference requires the pictorial and textual cross-references
in order for it to be seen as a complete work and not a fragment.
The conceptual experience of motion is generated through our understanding
of the waltzs emphasis on rhythmic regularity (see the opening of the piece in
Ex. 6.2). This is at odds with Saties own text, which tells of a stomach-churning
experience: Watch out!76 Satie supplements a narrative to the static image in

Ms 9627(5), pp. 45.
Davis, Modernity la mode, p. 453.
Satie, Sports, Harvard University, Typ. 915.14.7700, sheet 44: Attention.
132 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Le Water-chute, though responds, it seems, to the central females open-mouthed

gasp in Martins 1914 etching: If you have a strong heart you wont be too sick.77
There are some striking similarities and counterpoints which offer meaningful
communication. The chute, situated to the left, towers over a brimming wave and
dipping boat, in which sit two women and two men. Acceptable attire is seen in the
high collars of the womens dresses and hats for the men.

Example 6.2 Satie, Le Water-chute: opening

The temporal nature of music is clearly conveyed in Le Water-chute via

rhythmic regularity. Similarly, the activities presented in the images have duration
they start and end. The nature of this publication detracts from experiencing a
temporality or grammatical structure. As Greet and Lockerbie note, Calligrammes
abandon[s] linear and discursive structures,78 and in the same audio-visual
co-presented experience, Sports navigates clear from a structured concert
performance. Le Water-chute is a prime example due to its visual music, which
mirrors that of the waves in both of Martins images. The arts have been subjected
to a modal change as the musical score is viewed as visual art. Sports acts beyond
the usual artistic boundaries: their separation on different pages further encourages
the spectator to imagine their interactivity. Indeed, Rey asks whether the work is
for the ear or the eye.79 The moment experience will not experience each element
equally: certain features will be privileged.

La Pche

The previous examples have focused on the people, their conversations cited in
the poetry, their images and activities. Satie chooses here to focus on the fish.
Satie contributes a symmetrical musical structure which coexists in a mimetic
relationship with his text: Murmurs of the water on a stream bed start and finish
the narrative accompanied by a consistent water motif (Ex. 6.3).
The accompanying theme oscillates in triple quavers between tone and tritone.
Such water association bears affinity with Debussys use of repeating short motives
constructed of regular rhythms and alternate intervals. For example, four bars before

Ibid.: Si vous avez le cur solide, vous ne serez pas trop malade.
Apollinaire, Calligrammes, p. 3.
Anne Rey, Satie (Paris: Seuil, 1995), p. 72.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 133

Example 6.3 Satie, La Pche: water motif

rehearsal figure 3 of the first movement of Debussys La Mer, De laube midi sur
la mer, the meter changes to 6/8, at which point semiquavers move from a perfect
fifth to a minor third inside the fifth.80 This harmonically dissonant grounding in La
Pche can be read to symbolise the perpetual motion of the water. The changeability
of the river is perhaps put forth by Saties indeterminate key. Movement is
represented by association of the activities, even though no visual detail is given to
show the water in the 1914 image. A couple stands on a small pier looking down at
a fish tail, though the image has no detail showing the water. The absence of water
in the image is completed by the music. The correspondence is founded in our visual
understanding of waters malleable horizontal surface. This is also demonstrated in
Monets paintings which emphasise water, removing any shadow of buildings from
the water, leaving a surface formed from multiple brush strokes of blues, greens and
pinks, including Charing Cross Bridge, La Tamise (1903) and Le Grand Canal et
Santa Maria della Salute (1908). Alfred Cortot noted that Saties La Pche produced
an exact correspondence between music and the theme.81 This, although accurate
from one perspective, produces what the poem and image cannot. The musical text,
with its motivic oscillation, is seen as an image.
The 1922 image favours a fashion pose, le look. The melodic and visual
shapes correspond in that the musical phrase is conjunct, gliding up and down;
similarly, the water ripples are drawn in a smooth, only slightly curving horizontal
line which could be compared to a musical stave. The structural similarity between
music and text projects a layer of contrast with the visual image. The tonal
ambiguity plays out the pluralistic nature of the visual image-music component of
Sports. The visual contrast of the pink, vertically hanging scarf in the centre of the
1922 image structures the visual space. Symbolic references are read between the
arts, finding correspondences in structure and implied motion. The fish themselves
are present in musical motives in the form of ascending and then descending
scalic motives, played twice and then once in parallel fourths following Saties
reference to Arrival of a fish, of another, of two others. However, Martins 1922
image displays no fish, but rather two doves. The post-war milieu might interpret

Claude Debussy, La Mer: trois esquisses symphoniques (Paris: Editions Durand et
Cie, 1905), pp. 57.
Alfred Cortot, Le cas dErik Satie, La Revue musicale 183 (AprilMay 1938), p.
266: Dans tout ceci, concordance exacte de la musique au thme quelle interprte.
134 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

these doves and the French flag as a nationalistic signal of freedom. The overt
representation of some attributes, with the deliberate separation of the arts, forms
an interesting contradiction with the interart aesthetic. Nevertheless, the many
readings allow for and demonstrate the multiple mediations of the work.

Interart Mediation

Considering the interdependency of the artistic elements, presented in such a way

as to highlight their separation, an interesting presentation of this work would be
as an art installation, in which a spectator can walk through rooms dedicated to
each movement; surrounding them would be four walls displaying the music and
text, the 1914 and 1922 images, and the title page with the small icon representing
each movement. The music could be issued via an iPod, allowing the spectator to
control his or her individual experience.82
Sports is a cultural-historical document, presented in hybrid form, with all
components forming a montage directed at the imagined conceptual enactment,
described here as a moment experience, of the various sporting and leisure
activities. Images are unable to offer the actual motion of water, which the musical
score suggests (or which can be actualised in performance). Likewise, music
cannot reveal precise physical objects. The conceptual mapping of music, image
and text is necessary to experience the work. The collective album is experienced
through a process of interpretative analogy, as Apollinaire argued in his own work,
which relies on the instantaneous taking in of the visual components. Tangible
points of significance are perceived as cross-referential, producing emergent
meanings through an intellectual thinking of the arts. Symbols act as a vehicle,
as in Baudelaires symbolist Correspondances, to express meaning. The stylistic
similarities or metaphorical equivalences may be read, but meaning does not
reside only in one art: the kaleidoscopic album generates meaning through the
experience of the entirety. The contradiction, counterpoint and uncertainties feed
the imagination. If all were said (or shown), there would be little for the spectator
to complete.
The simultaneous exposure to all the elements of the album, placing the three
sheets of each piece side by side, privileges its visual form. Its capacity to present
contemporary culture through a liberated framework is innovative, though it
generates further questions regarding audio-visual dichotomy, specifically when
music is visually presented in such a refined manner. The arts innate separation,
via artistic media and our senses, further promotes this work as an object: a
document to be interpreted in terms drawn from the many arts.

Such an experience is partially attempted for other works in Maisons Satie, in which
sculptures representing specific pieces are displayed while Saties music is broadcast in the
room. The exhibition is housed in Saties childhood home, Maisons Satie, 67 boulevard
Charles V, 14600 Honfleur.
Exploring Interart Dialogue 135

A cultural interpretation of possible experiences has been outlined.

Apollinaires simultanism raises questions regarding how we perceive our
experience, but guides the way in which Sports might be understood. The
spectator mediates the experience with an awareness of the contextually
significant features and contemporary artistic concerns. The elitist nature of the
album, targeting the collector, ensured an audience which would have been aware
of current artistic concerns and developments. Following Saties challenge to
imagine the work but not to examine its content produces an experience of the
moment, but first one needs an awareness of the contextual cultural concerns.
Sports is a fascinating artistic matrix, representative of Satie as an integrated
artist, and, as Milhaud heralded, it resides within many contemporary artistic
movements as one of the most characteristic works of the French school.83
It is ironic that the high-market production of the album has resulted in the
mutilation of it, with music and text reproduced for pianists, and separate
versions of the album with selected images (as outlined above). The limited
number of complete albums, containing both sets of images, propagates the
interart mystery that is the experience of Sports.

Darius Milhaud, Etudes (Paris: Claude Aveline, 1927), p. 42, translated in Davis,
Modernity la mode, p. 432.
This page has been left blank intentionally
Chapter 7
Parade: ballet raliste
Christine Reynolds

On 18 May 1917, Parade: ballet raliste was given its premiere by Serge
Diaghilevs Ballets Russes at the Thtre du Chtelet in Paris. It was the
culmination of more than a years work by its four collaborators: Jean Cocteau
(18891963), a poet, novelist and would-be leading light of the avant-garde; Erik
Satie, an iconoclast who was steadfastly untouched by the Romantic music that,
even in 1917, still formed the traditional backbone of ballet; Pablo Picasso (1881
1973), artistic genius and creator during the previous decade of cubism; and
Lonide Massine (18961979), a young dancer and successor as choreographer
in the Ballets Russes to the great Nijinsky. Parade was considered both puzzling
and controversial and it received some harsh, even vicious, words in the press:
une mystification wrote an anonymous reviewer in LIntransigeant on 28 May
1917; as regards the argument or the theme, I will not say a word: where there is
nothing, the critic loses his rights was Jean Poueighs pompous conclusion in Le
Carnet de la Semaine on 3 June;1 even worse was Jean dUdines Dung-like jest,
faecal amusement in Le Courrier musical.2 A more sympathetic assessment came
from the diary of Cocteaus diplomat friend, Paul Morand, on 19 May:

Full house yesterday at the Chtelet for Parade. Scenery by Picasso, like a
travelling show, graceful music by Satie, sometimes Rimsky, sometimes dance-
hall. The Managers, cubist constructions, caused surprise. The little American
girl and the characters doing tricks had lovely costumes. Massine good, too,
as the Chinese juggler. But Cocteaus central idea freeing dance from its
conventions in favour of lifelike gestures and his modern themes (the cranking
of a car, photography, etc.), stylised in movement, didnt seem quite right. Lots
of applause and a few hisses.3

De largument ou thme, je ne parlerai point: o il ny a rien, le critique perd des
droits. In Le Carnet des coulisses. The reviews cited were all kindly supplied by Dirdre
Plaisanterie stercoraire, amusement fcal. See Couleurs, Mouvements et Sons
Les Ballets russes en 1917, Le courrier musical (June 1917), p. 239.
Salle comble hier au Chtelet, pour Parade. Dcors de toile, genre spectacle forain,
de Picasso, une musique gracieuse de Satie, tantt Rimsky, tantt bastringue. Les Managers,
constructions cubistes, ont surpris. La petite fille amricaine et les faiseurs de tours avaient
de charmants costumes. Massine bien aussi, en jongleur chinois. Mais lide centrale de
138 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

A travelling show is indeed the subject of Parade. Its setting is a street fair or fte
foraine that had been a feature of French life for centuries and was still popular
as late as 1914. Parade, Georges Seurats well-known painting of 18878, depicts
the same scenario: a street with people watching a performer outside a baraque
(booth) trying to entice them inside to see the show. Cocteaus characters, a Chinese
conjuror, an American girl and an acrobat, were stalwarts of travelling fairs.4 When
Picasso joined the project, he added an extra realist touch: that of each performer
having his or her particular Manager, as we see to the right in the Seurat painting.
When, in 1917, Cocteau added the subtitle ballet raliste,5 he stressed the
artistic philosophy he had begun to formulate in 1910 when, aged 21, he had written
a one-act play La Patience de Pnlope. Its subtitle, Mensonge (Lie), indicated
even then his belief that theatre is, by its very nature, an artificial experience, a point
of view at odds with what Parisian audiences had come to expect. They would have
agreed with the playwright Henri Bataille: The main point [of the theatre] is to
give the spectator, through his senses, a more penetrating and more vivid view of
life.6 La Patience de Pnlope required the audience to dress in costume antique,
grec ou romain,7 emphasising the theatricality of the occasion and requiring their
involvement in the performance. Cocteau wanted to give a real theatrical experience.
The discussion about realism in the arts had begun in the 1820s in France.
Victor Hugo soon contributed, arguing in the preface to his play Cromwell (1827)
that everything that is in nature is in art, a point of view that paved the way,
in the revolutionary times of nineteenth-century France, for the dominance of
ordinary people as artistic subjects. The writer Emile Zolas vivid description of
drunkenness (LAssommoir), prostitution (Nana) and incest (La Cure) amongst
others held up a dark mirror to the Second Empire society of 185270. Gustave
Courbets painting LEnterrement Ornans (1849) showed village people on a
massive canvas measuring 314 cm by 663 cm, a size traditionally reserved for
historical or mythological subjects. However, this revolution brought in its wake
a problem for the artist: how to challenge the imagination and how to take the
public beyond the mere appearances of everyday life. As early as the 1840s, the
poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire foresaw that in the course of time [the

Cocteau de se dgager des poncifs de la danse pour grouper une srie de gestes de la vie,
et ses thmes modernes (mise en marche dune auto, photographie, etc.) styliss dans du
mouvement, na pas paru tout fait au point. Beaucoup dapplaudissements et quelques
sifflets. Paul Morand, Journal dun attach dambassade 191617 (Paris: Gallimard,
1996), p. 243.
As Deborah Menaker Rothschild points out in Picassos Parade (London:
Sothebys Publications, 1991).
On pp. 144 and 145 of Cocteaus Roman notebook, dated Turin 1917. It is catalogued
as Pice 24 of the Fonds Kochno in the Bibliothque de lOpra, Paris.
Cited by Barrett H. Clark in Contemporary French Dramatists (Cincinnati: Stewart
& Kidd, 1916), p. 43.
See Claude Arnaud, Jean Cocteau (Paris: Gallimard, 2003), p. 773, n. 51.
Parade: ballet raliste 139

public would] have singularly diminished its faculties of judging and of feeling
what are among the most ethereal and immaterial aspects of creation.8 Yet when
the Symbolist poets tried to be ethereal and immaterial, they were accused of
ignoring the everyday.9 Artists were faced with a difficult task. Even in the 1920s,
Cocteau still bemoaned the fact that the public is challenged as little as possible
in understanding a higher realism, whatever that meant.10
A series of fortuitous meetings and influences during 1913 and 1914 helped
the young Cocteau to refine the artistic philosophy that would lead to Parade.
In June 1913, the Russian actor turned metteur-en-scne Vsevolod Meyerhold
visited Paris to work on the play La Pisanelle for Ida Rubinsteins company.
According to the ballet critic Andr Levinson, Cocteau attended the rehearsals
and saw Meyerholds skills in action.11 Meyerholds central tenet was that
theatre should return to the fairground booth principle, to the purely theatrical
traditions of vaudeville theatre. In his essay of 1912, The Fairground Booth,
Meyerhold said that the public expects invention, play-acting and skill. But
what it gets is either life or a slavish imitation of life.12 Meyerhold promoted an
interactive experience between the audience and the actors, one that included the
grotesque (an incongruous element to jolt the people out of their complacency),
movement and the use of mask, that is, of instant recognition of a character, as in
the commedia dellarte. Cocteaus swift reaction was to write on 30 August 1913
to the impresario Gabriel Astruc, outlining his intention to stage Shakespeares
A Midsummer Nights Dream (Le Songe dune nuit dt) avec une tentative de
mise en scne et dinterprtation nouvelles (with an attempt at a new production
and interpretation).13
Coincidentally, on 29 September 1913 the highly influential Il Teatro di Variet
(called Le Music Hall in French) was published by the Futurist painter Filippo
Marinetti, criticising contemporary theatre because it vacillates stupidly between
historical reconstruction and photographic reproduction of our daily life.14

Au bout dun certain temps [aurait] singulirement diminu la facult de juger et
de sentir ce quil y a de plus thr et de plus immatriel. Charles Baudelaire, uvres
completes, vol. II (Paris: Calmann-Lvy, 1976), p. 619.
See Henri Rgnier, Potes daujourdhui et posie de demain, Mercure de
France128 (August 1900), p. 349.
Est donc peu exerc que possible comprendre un ralisme suprieur. La
Jeunesse et le scandale in Jean Cocteau, uvres compltes, vol. IX (Lausanne: Marguerat,
1950), p. 327. These words refer to his play of 1921, Les Maris de la Tour Eiffel.
See Le ballet de Jean Cocteau, Comdia (10 June 1924), p. 5.
See Edward Braun (ed.), Meyerhold on Theatre (London: Methuen, 1969), p. 124.
For information about this project, see Olivia Mattis excellent article Theater
as Circus: A Midsummer Nights Dream, Library Chronicle of the University of Texas at
Austin 23/4 (1993), pp. 4177.
See R.W. Flint, Marinetti, Selected Writings (London: Secker & Warburg, 1972),
pp. 116ff.
140 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Marinetti praises the Variety Theatre for its imaginative astonishment, delicious,
impalpable ironies, dynamism of form and colour (simultaneous movement of
jugglers, ballerinas, gymnasts) and for the way in which it seeks the audiences
collaboration.15 The interest in movement reflected the influence of Emile Jaques-
Dalcroze, which had swept through Europe during the preceding few years. In 1911
he had met Diaghilev and Nijinsky. In 1913 he had told Stravinsky, Diaghilevs
protg, that you hold in your hands the future of the dance. No surprise, then, that
in the winter of 1913 Cocteau attended the newly opened school of eurhythmics
started by his friend, Paul Thvenaz, one of Dalcrozes pupils. And by 4 February
1914, Cocteau had dreamed up David, the doomed forerunner of Parade, and had
earmarked his collaborators as Stravinsky and Thvenaz.
Although David was never performed, it demonstrates a major step in
Cocteaus thinking before Parade.16 It too was to be a Parade en trois tours
(in three parts), in which a voice directly addressed the audience (Come in
ladies and gentlemen! Come inside join us! In the back! Inside!)17 with the
same fairground patter and setting as Parade. This acted as a mask, instantly
recognisable, and the patter provided the interaction with the audience. Cocteaus
somewhat heavy-handed message in David was that the triumph of art over
philistinism could only be seen by making the effort to go inside the booth. And
his text, overly esoteric, underlined that accessing worthwhile art was difficult
(Come into the heart of our hard stone).18
Cocteaus disappointment when David failed to materialise was tempered
by his discovery of the cubists, thanks to an introduction in 1914 to the painter
Albert Gleizes. Akin to a Damascene experience, it would eventually lead Cocteau
to Picasso and Parade, via a renewed but unsuccessful effort to stage Le Songe
in which Cocteau showed his grasp of Meyerholds grotesque and Marinettis
ironies. It was to be staged in the Cirque Mdrano in Montmartre, with actors and
clowns performing together, a situation so unusual that, according to Cocteau, the
actors refused to interact with the clowns during the rehearsals in early 1915.19 In
addition, Cocteau made Shakespeares characters topical (Titania was to be a Red
Cross nurse, for example). He asked the cubists Albert Gleizes and Andr Lhote
to work on the costumes and scenery, Picasso [being] ill, demonstrating how
high he was now setting his sights. And as musical director he chose the composer
Edgard Varse, who in turn enlisted Satie and others to write incidental music, thus
ensuring that the music was both modern and French. Although the project came
to nothing, Cocteau was ready artistically for Parade.

There are four David notebooks, all in the Carlton Lake Collection in the Harry
Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Entrez Mesdames et Messieurs! Entrez dedans entrez chez nous! Au verso! A
Entrez au cur de notre dur caillou.
Mattis, Theater as Circus, p. 77.
Parade: ballet raliste 141

Cocteau never heard Saties completed Cinq Grimaces for Le Songe, and
the two met only in October 1915, through the artist Valentine Gross. Cocteau
heard Saties music for the first time at the soire Satie-Ravel on 18 April 1916
at the Salle Huyghens. He was so impressed that he asked Satie to collaborate
on Parade and by 1 May had sent Satie his ideas. Thus, the Salle Huyghens was
important, as we shall see. During the summer of 1916, Cocteau managed to
persuade Picasso to join the project. In August Picasso agreed and on 5 September
Cocteau, full of optimism, wrote to Valentine Gross: I believe Parade to be a
kind of renewal of the theatre and not a mere opportunity for music.20
Cocteaus characters and setting acted as an instantly recognisable mask. To
enhance this, Cocteau wanted Saties score to include sounds from the fair, and
to this effect a sheet of paper in Saties hand21 lists the various noises: sirens,
a typewriter, a steam engine, an electric bell, a dynamo, revolver shots and a
gong, amongst others. Saties letters22 of 24 and 29 March 1917 to Cocteau, at
rehearsals in Rome, urged him to be more precise about the placement of the
noises before the copying-out of the orchestral score. In the event, however,
material difficulties (amongst other things lack of compressed air) robbed us of
dynamo, Morse machine, sirens, express train, aeroplane. We could hardly hear
the typewriters.23 This was just one of the disappointments which Cocteau had
to bear.
The other two concerned the texts. As in David, Cocteau wanted to include a
vocal part that emanated from the fairground booth, emphasising a harsher view
of the show inside. In Part 1, Le Chinois, this is brutal: they put out his eyes,
pulled out his tongue (Ils lui crevrent les yeux, lui arrachrent la langue).24
In Part 2, LAmricaine, it concerns the sinking of the Titanic, an unhappy
reminder for the well-to-do audience of 1917, no doubt as Cocteau intended. The
Koch score shows that all vocal parts had the paroles supprimes (words cut
out). Cocteau had also planned a spoken text to mimic the Managers fairground
patter, to be shouted through a megaphone from the orchestra pit, but this too
was abandoned, as Cocteau explained in La Collaboration de Parade:

University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre (Carlton
Lake Collection).
BNF 9677(5).
For the text of Saties correspondence, see Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie:
Correspondance presque complte (Paris: IMEC, 2000), pp. 284 and 285.
Difficults matrielles (suppression de lair comprim entre autres) nous ont priv
de dynamo, appareil Morse, sirnes, express, laroplane. A peine pmes-nous entendre
les machines crire. Jean Cocteau, La Collaboration de Parade, Nord-Sud (JuneJuly
1917), pp. 2931.
See the score taken to rehearsals in Rome. It is in the Frederick R. Koch Collection
in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. I shall refer to it in
the text as the Koch score.
142 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

I realised that one voice alone, even amplified, for one of Picassos managers,
was inappropriate, was intolerably unbalanced. It would have needed three
voices per manager At that point I substituted for the voices the rhythm of
feet in the silence.25

Cocteaus letter to Guillaume Apollinaire at the end of April or the beginning of

May 1917 shows that this was a last-minute decision: I dont have a minute since
we met and moreover I have to devise and construct machines to amplify the sound
for Parade.26 These disappointments considerably weakened Cocteaus artistic
message, causing him to comment much later that Parade was just a skylight
opened onto what contemporary theatre should be.27
Satie set to work in May 1916 on what appeared to be an overture to precede
the entrance of the Chinese Conjuror. It appears in the short score labelled I
Le Chinois (BNF 9602(1)), copied out some months after the beginning of the
project, but before November 1916, when a Prlude was specially composed to
open the ballet. In the short score Satie writes after 10 bars Rideau (du Thtre)
((Theatre) Curtain), indicating where the curtain would rise, then, at bar 23 in
red ink, 2d rideau. This is an acknowledgement of the input of Picasso, who
would indeed paint a second (front) curtain. As we shall see, Saties compositional
process falls into two distinct periods: from the beginning of May 1916 to
early September, when Picasso began to make his presence felt; and from early
September to 12 January 1917, when the score for the premire was complete
apart from the orchestration. Throughout, Satie retained Cocteaus tripartite
framework of Le Chinois, LAmricaine and Acrobate, which eventually became
Le Prestidigitateur Chinois, La Petite Fille Amricaine and Acrobates. These
three parts expanded to six by May 1917, and by May 1919 to seven for the ballet
and eight for a concert performance.
Satie took considerable trouble with the lively overture music, trying out
different themes, accompaniments, tempi and time signatures (in BNF 9603(3)).
For the Conjurors music, he sketched out a Danse macabre-like theme and a
rambling 32-bar melody with an accompanying text, presumably taken from
Cocteaus notes: The conjuror puts an egg under a silver dome. He makes several
mysterious movements and lifts up the dome: the egg is transformed into a calfs

Cocteau, La Collaboration de Parade, pp. 2931: je constatai quune seule
voix, mme amplifie, au service dun des managers de Picasso, choquait, constituait une
faute dquilibre insupportable. Il eut fallu trois timbres par manager .. Cest alors que je
substituai aux voix le rythme des pieds dans le silence.
Je nai pas une minute depuis notre rencontre et en plus il faut que jinvente et
construise des machines amplifier le son pour la parade. Pierre Caizergues and Michel
Decaudin (eds), Correspondance Jean Cocteau/Guillaume Apollinaire (Paris: Jean Michel
Place, 2001), p. 33.
Une lucarne ouverte sur ce que devrait tre le thtre contemporain. Jean Cocteau,
Le Coq et lArlequin: notes autour de la musique (Paris: Stock, 1979), p. 30.
Parade: ballet raliste 143

head.28 Musically, this is very different from the final version of Part 1. In fact,
the remainder of this notebook (BNF 9585) is empty, suggesting that it was at this
point that Satie abandoned Parade for other things, only resuming his work at the
beginning of August.
To complete Part 1, Satie used two new sketchbooks: BNF 9603(5) and the
first three pages of BNF 9672. Page 1 of the first sketchbook shows the harmonic
series beginning on the fundamental note F together with the words Flaques,
Jets, Girations (Puddles, Gushes, Gyrations) as shown in Ex. 7.1. Taken by
themselves, the words mean little, but the fact that they are echoed in the Flaques,
Trpidations, Gomtrie (Puddles, Flickers, Geometry) of the slightly later BNF
9672 indicates that they and the harmonic series are relevant to Parade. In fact,
the C, E flat, F is the only reference to the pentatonic motif of the Conjurors
theme. Pages 1011 of BNF 9603(5) has two sketches for the short Roue de la
loterie music (Wheel of fortune) that links the introduction with the Conjurors
entrance. More importantly, however, pp. 1819 of the same sketchbook show
the vocal section, which is meant to emanate from a box, of Le Chinois followed
immediately by the opening of Part 2, LAmricaine. Cocteau wrote to Valentine
Gross on 31 August 1916 that Part 1 was finished, describing its ending as follows:
There is a huge silence and the box sings! They put out his eyes, they tore out
his tongue. The Chinaman goes off and the little [American] girl comes on to
the sound of a typewriter orchestra.29 The point here is that Cocteau makes no
mention of the repeat of the Roue de la Loterie music or of the Conjurors opening
pentatonic music, which, in the final version, both follow the vocal section to
round off Part 1. One has to assume that these were not yet envisaged.

Example 7.1 A sketch for Parade from the end of August 1916 (BNF 9603(5),

Sketchbook evidence shows that Part 1, without the repeats, is based on the
Golden Section. Satie was fastidious about numbering his sketches, and in BNF
9602(1), the short score of Part 1, the end of the vocal section, on p. 18, is marked
268. This is the number of beats from where the introductory music begins,
showing that where the music is in duple time Satie has counted two beats per bar,
but for triple time he has counted only one beat per bar. Courtney Adams shows

Le prestidigitateur met un uf sous une cloche dargent. Il fait plusieurs passes
mystrieuses & soulve la cloche: luf est mu en tte de veau.
Il y a un norme silence et la bote chante! Ils lui crevrent les yeux, lui arrachrent
la langue. Le chinois sort et la petite fille entre sur un orchestre de machine crire. Harry
Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
144 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

that Saties works based on the Golden Section cluster within two periods early
(188792) and late (191419).30 She also points out that every three-movement
work for solo piano between August 1914 and October 1919 was constructed
using the Golden Section (except the Sonatine bureaucratique, whose form was
already fixed). Since Satie was planning a three-movement ballet, there is a very
strong chance that he would have favoured this kind of construction.
A composition based on the Golden Section is characterised by its marking of
milestones in the music. In Part 1, the introduction and the Roue de la loterie
link end at beat 68, before the Conjuror enters. This suggests the possibility that
the milestones will be marked out using multiples of 34, a Fibonacci number,
the Fibonacci series being popular with composers in this type of construction.31
Beat 104 marks the end of the section before the very long second pentatonic
section begins (34 x 3 = 102); beat 174 marks the beat before the start of the
third pentatonic section (34 x 5 = 170); and at beat 268, Part 1 originally ends
after the vocal section (34 x 8 = 272). This system has a very pleasing logic
to it, especially as the multipliers of 34 (that is, 2, 3, 5 and 8) are themselves
Fibonacci numbers.
The first meeting with Picasso about Parade took place on 2 September. By 5
September, Satie told his friend Henri-Pierre Roch that Picasso is astounding
(Picasso est patant), and by 14 September, he told Cocteau that Picasso has
unusual and new ideas for Parade (Picasso a des ides curieuses et nouvelles
pour Parade). We can only guess that these ideas included the invention of the
Managers as well as the conversion of Part 2, LAmricaine, into a representation
of cinema. Indeed, this would have been appropriate since, before the construction
of cinemas, the ftes foraines were instrumental in bringing film to the public.
But from the evidence of p. 4 of BNF 9672, it would seem that Picasso also had
a more direct input into the structure of the music, although he may not have
been aware of it. The Flaques, Jets, Girations of BNF 9603(5) now give way to
Flaques, Trpidations, Gomtrie written above the following words: C Sphre
Cube Cylindre. In this context, the C must refer to the artist Czanne, since Saties
words paraphrase the artists famous dictum: treat nature by means of the cylinder,
the sphere, the cone.32 This geometricisation, as the art historian Herbert Read has
said, was Czannes way of pinning down reality.33 It would also be Saties.

Courtney Adams, Erik Satie and Golden Section Analysis, Music & Letters 77/2
(1996), pp. 24252.
The Fibonacci series is as follows: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377,
610, 987, etc.
Traiter la nature par le cylindre, la sphre, le cne. This was written in a letter
to the painter Emile Bernard on 15 April 1904, but was not published until 16 October
1907, after Czannes death, in Mercure de France LXX/248 (1907), p. 617, no doubt
where Picasso and Satie would first have seen the idea. The English translation is in Charles
Harrison and Paul Wood (eds), Art in Theory 19001990 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), p. 37.
Herbert Read, The Philosophy of Modern Art (London: Faber, 1969), p. 156.
Parade: ballet raliste 145

Czanne was a hugely influential figure for the cubists and, it would seem, for
Satie too. In 1891 he advised Debussy: Why not use the means of representation
demonstrated by Claude Monet, Czanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.? Why not transpose
these means musically?34 Saties reinterpretation of Czanne in BNF 9672 shows
him on the threshold of a new musical challenge: that of recreating a sphere-like
structure, a cube-like structure and a cylinder-like structure in Parade. It is my view
that he implemented the first of these when he introduced circularity into Part 1 by
inserting after the vocal section a repeat of the Roue de la Loterie link followed
by the Conjurors memorable fortissimo pentatonic opening music. Because these
appear in the same order as when the audience first heard them, they suggest that
the parade of Part 1 will begin again, as in a real street fair. This idea echoes what
Picasso had done in his famous painting of 191112, Ma Jolie (in the Museum of
Modern Art in New York). The words ma jolie (my pretty one), painted on the
canvas, are taken from the contemporary popular song, O Manon, ma jolie, mon
cur te dit bonjour. It was a cubist way of forcing the viewer to interact.
The circular device of Part 1 was in place by the time Satie wrote out the short
score in BNF 9602(1) and would also be used in Parts 2 and 3, with the same
effect. But Saties masterstroke lay in the reuse, after Part 3, of the introductory
music that had originally opened the ballet. The effect was to make one think that
the whole show was starting again. Subsequently called Suprme Effort et Chute
des Managers (Supreme Effort and Downfall of the Managers), it first appears on
p. 18 of BNF 9303(1) and can be dated to January 1917.
Part 2, originally called LAmricaine and begun, as we saw, before Picasso
joined Parade, became a cubist tour de force following the artists input. Its main
landmarks are an 8-bar introduction, a 48-bar Ragtime and Trio section, a wave
section and a vocal part that is followed by a repeat of the 8-bar introduction.
These are separated by short snatches of infill material that include a couple of
ragtime snippets, a whole-tone section, some scales and a variety of ostinati. The
sketchbooks are surprisingly detailed and show how Saties original intentions
were to make Part 2 an overall length of approximately 384 beats. The printed
piano duet version is only 340 beats, whereas the sketchbooks show an overall
length of 388 beats that surprisingly include added ostinati that appear to have no
valid aesthetic purpose.
Mathematically, 384 represents the total surface area of a cube whose six faces
measure 8 x 8 square units (8 x 8 x 6 = 384). But a cube with these dimensions can
also be subdivided into 8 smaller cubes each with a total surface area of 96 units,
with each of its six faces measuring 4 x 4 square units (4 x 4 x 6 = 96). It is the

Pourquoi ne pas se servir des moyens reprsentatives que nous exposaient Claude
Monet, Czanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.? Pourquoi ne pas transposer musicalement ces
moyens? See Ornella Volta (ed.), Erik Satie: Ecrits (Paris: Champ-Libre, 1977), p. 69.
Emile Bernard wrote one of the first hommages to Czanne in 1889. Under the general
title Hommes daujourdhui, it was called Paul Czanne and was published by Vannier,
19 quai St. Michel.
146 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

number 96 that occurs in each of the landmarks in Part 2, all of which, with the
exception of the 8-bar introduction, were composed after Picassos involvement.
The opening of Part 2 first appeared on p. 19 of BNF 9603(5) by the end of
August, as we saw from Cocteaus letter to Valentine Gross. Each quaver beat
then consisted of two semiquavers together with a three-note quaver chord, giving
five notes per beat (see Ex. 7.2). After Picassos involvement, this was changed
to triplet semiquavers underpinning the three-note chord to give a dual effect:
to imitate the trpidations or flickers of the cinema, but also to increase the
number of notes in this passage to 192 (there are 32 quaver beats each with six
notes, giving a total of 192 or 96 x 2).35

Example 7.2 The original opening of Part 2 of Parade, showing semiquavers

instead of sextuplets (BNF 9603(5), p. 19)

Satie turned his attention to the wave section next. The wave first consisted of
32 notes, 16 ascending and 16 descending set out in a perfect curve reminiscent of
the first half of a sine wave (BNF 9672, p. 6). This was changed (on pp. 89) to 24
ascending and 24 descending notes. In the Koch score the 48 notes are doubled in
the Primo part, as in the published piano duet version, to give a total of 96 notes
for the wave. The underlying ostinato is not included in this number. It is the wave
that Satie highlights and we shall come to the reason for this.
The vocal part is perhaps the most intriguing of the landmarks. Saties first
thought, on p. 7 of BNF 9603(4), was to have 16 bars of ostinato, the middle eight
of which underpin the vocal part. Each bars ostinato has eight notes, making a
total of 128 notes (16 x 8). Satie then adds the vocal part, Tic Tic Tic Le Titanic
senfonce dans la mer.36 Because the e of senfonce is pronounced in French,
the melody has 13 syllables (and therefore 13 notes). The sketch indicates that
these should be doubled, surprisingly well above any voices range, adding 26
notes in all to make a total of 154. Then as an afterthought a further four bars of
ostinato are added (32 notes) after the original double bar of the sketch to give a
new total of 186. Finally, in order to create a further three syllables (three notes),
Satie adds allum (lit up) to the vocal line which, when doubled, adds six more
notes to make a final total of 192 notes (96 x 2).
The Ragtime du paquebot is a self-contained piece of 96 minim beats (with
a 2/2 time signature) that falls into two distinct halves of 48 beats each: the

Except that the last group of the triplet semiquavers has been shortened to a quaver
and a rest.
Tic Tic Tic The Titanic goes down into the sea.
Parade: ballet raliste 147

Ragtime itself, then the Trio and shortened reprise of the Ragtime. Nancy Perloff37
and others have shown that Satie based this on the song That Mysterious Rag
by Irving Berlin and Ted Snyder. Satie wrote the Ragtime and Trio after all the
other landmarks of Part 2 were in place. It was a ready-made piece of music and
therefore was relatively easy to manipulate. The fact that it was a ready-made is
also allied to the cubist practice that inserted newspaper articles and other non-
painted items onto the canvas. In fact, Satie referred to it as Canevas-Rag in
his letter of 25 October to Valentine Gross. His first thought, in pp. 810 of BNF
9603(4), was to have a four-bar introduction followed by a 22-bar melody (giving
a possible 52 beats). In the event, however, he dispensed with the introduction
and inserted two extra bars of melody to create the 24 bars (48 beats) that form
the finished version of the first half. The Ragtime inverts the order of the original
model: Saties Reprise was Berlins original Introduction, his Trio was Berlins
verse and his Ragtime was Berlins original Chorus. Satie omitted Berlins Till
ready bars preceding the Verse, as well as the repeats of the Chorus.
In the light of the structure of Part 2, Saties claim in 1912 to be a
phonomtrographe (a sound-measurer) seems perfectly logical. Referring to his
earlier works Le Fils des toiles (1891), Trois morceaux en forme de poire (1903),
En habit de cheval (1911) and the Sarabandes (1887), he wrote: one sees that no
musical idea presided over the creation of these works. Its scientific thought that
dominates.38 This is nowhere clearer than in his treatment of the wave in Part 2 of
Parade. The fact that Satie tackled this early on in his sketches for Part 2 shows
its importance, and the original 32 notes, labelled Vague (Wave), show what
any mathematician or physicist would instantly recognise as the first half of a sine
wave. When more notes are inserted, Satie retains a perfect wave shape, changing
the clef to accommodate the extra notes. It is the visual effect that is important.
There is a point of comparison here with Le Bain de mer (Sea-bathing), one of
Saties Sports et divertissements of 1914 (only published, however, in 1923). Here
the wave-like shapes follow Saties written commentary: La mer est assez
profonde Voici de bonnes vieilles vagues (The sea is quite deep Here
are some good old waves).
So why did Satie choose to include what appears to be such a rare example
of musical realism in Parade? The wave is a reference to the scientist Christiaan
Huyghens (162995), whose greatest achievement was his wave theory of light,
first discovered in 1678. As physicists know, the wave theory applies to light and

Nancy Perloff, Art and the Everyday: The Impact of Parisian Popular Entertainment
on Satie, Milhaud, Poulenc and Auric, PhD dissertation, University of Michigan, 1986.
Published as Nancy Perloff, Art and the Everyday: Popular Entertainment and the Circle
of Erik Satie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).
In an article Ce que je suis (What I am) in Mmoires dun amnsique, Revue
musicale SIM 4 (1912), p. 69, cited by Volta (ed.) in Ecrits, p. 19: on peroit quaucune
ide musicale na prsid la construction de ces uvres. Cest la pense scientifique qui
148 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

sound. Huyghens was immortalised in Paris by the naming of rue Huyghens off
the Boulevard Raspail in Montparnasse, the artistic hub of Paris in 191617. At
number 6 rue Huyghens was a studio that in 1916 was opened as a concert and
exhibition venue by its owner, the Swiss painter Emile Lejeune. It became the
Salle Huyghens, where, as discussed earlier, Cocteau first heard Saties music.
Later, in November that same year, the first exhibition of the Socit Lyre et
Palette was also held at the Salle Huyghens. Taking part were the painters
Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Ortiz de Zarate and Mose Kisling. I believe that
Satie used the wave as a covert reference to the place that in April had instigated
the ballet. But he may also have known at the time of the waves composition
(SeptemberOctober 1916) that Picasso would soon be exhibiting at the Salle
Huyghens which would therefore unite the three collaborators. It is another
example of cubist realism.
During the eight bars of the pause that follow the sketch of the wave section,
the words Sans Fil (Wireless) are inserted. Once again, Satie indicates that
scientific discoveries underpin his musical references. Guglielmo Marconi had
invented radio telegraphy in 1896 and in 1901 he succeeded in transmitting the
letter S in Morse code from Cornwall to St Johns, Newfoundland by wireless
communication. This event caused a sensation. It was not until 1915, however,
three years after the sinking of the Titanic, that spoken messages were successfully
transmitted by radio. Thus, the vocal transmission in Part 2 about the sinking
of the Titanic was extremely modern, but anachronistic. The insertion of the
Morse code that was meant to replace the sung words and which can be seen in
the Koch score was more accurate in this respect. It read Sinistrs au secours
(Victims, help). The letter S (shaped like a sound wave) that occurs five times
almost certainly refers to Marconis epoch-making transmission in 1901.
The juxtaposition of the Huyghens sound wave and the Marconi wireless
communication shows Satie commenting additionally on the very essence of
music of sound itself which was not only wave-like but, thanks to the wonders
of science, could, even in Saties day, travel huge distances. The sounds in the
ballet mirror these old and new discoveries in their very different styles. The
Prlude that Satie would compose in November 1916 to open the ballet is a fugal
movement similar to what Huyghens would have heard in the seventeenth century.
Yet Part 2s ragtime rhythms crossed the Atlantic when Marconi was working on
his wireless telegraphy. For Satie, sound is sound, regardless of the period. It is all
produced by waves that can be measured.
There is one more point of interest in Part 2: the use of tritones. This interval is
the symbol of a cube par excellence. It spans six semitones (echoing the six faces of
a cube), and three tones (representing the three edges that meet at each of the cubes
four corners). It is also an augmented fourth (each face of a cube has four sides).
In Part 2 the tritone is used in numerous ways: as an ostinato; to shape a melody;
to construct a scale linking two sections (see Ex. 7.3); and as simultaneous melody
and harmony. There are over 250 tritones in Part 2, showing Satie putting this cubic
symbol into the very detail of the music.
Parade: ballet raliste 149

Example 7.3 Parade, tritones used as a scale (piano duet, Ed. Salabert, 1917,

Part 3, Acrobates, is relatively straightforward in terms of its cylindrical

structure. The sketches show that Satie had clear aims from the start, the first
being continuity of line, which can be traced from the A in bar 1 to the A 160 bars
later. The line is sometimes on the surface of the music, sometimes in an inner
part, sometimes static in an ostinato or a pedal point, while at other times moving
quickly in a scale. Sometimes, however, the line traces a whole-tone scale, and
this is Saties other aim: if Part 3 is to have the properties of a cylinder, it needs
both linearity and circularity. These coincide for the first time at bar 13, when
the opening melodic A, which had been left hanging, links to C flat, D flat, E
flat, F, a line that moves in a clockwise direction round the circle of fifths before
changing direction and moving back to E flat, then D flat, B, A, G, and F in an
anti-clockwise movement. It is a graphic depiction of a complete circle and, as one
would expect in a cylinder, he does the same thing at the end of the movement,
when the opening bars are repeated. During Part 3, snatches of whole-tone scales
also accompany the line to remind us that a cylinder is circular throughout. At
bar 33 of the piano duet, for example, the line is buried in the inner part (D, C
sharp, B flat, A), but surrounding it are A, G, F, E flat, moving in an anti-clockwise
direction round the circle of fifths. Between bars 41 and 52 the line is static on
C sharp, but the accompanying ostinato is a whole-tone one (B, C sharp, F and
G). There are many such examples. The cylindrical intent is further underlined
by Saties instrumentation, which is particular to Part 3: the xylophone (with its
cylindrical resonators) and the bouteillophone (bottlephone), the latter marked
in BNF 9603(1), p. 12.39 The two low pedal points (E and F) between bars 77 and
104 (points dorgue in French) are scored for organ, whose pipes, of course, are
cylindrical. In an article of 1930, Cocteau recalled the importance of the organ
notes for Satie:

For Parade, [Satie] demanded the construction of an organ with two notes
On the eve of the performance, he made a scene, pretending that if the fragile

According to a letter from the conductor Ernest Ansermet to Diaghilev in November
1917, the bouteillophone was represented by a mixture of celesta and bells for a performance
in Madrid. (Bibliothque de lOpra, Paris, Fonds Kochno, Pice 1).
150 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

instrument, with which the stagehands were messing about, became unplayable,
it was entirely the fault of Apollinaire and myself.40

The organ begins almost at the mid-point of the movement and lasts for 29 bars a
considerable time.
Before beginning Part 3, Satie completed the Prlude by 12 December 1916. It
is labelled Prlude du Rideau Rouge (The Red Curtain Prelude) and Hommage
Picasso (on pp. 2 and 3 of BNF 9603(1)). On p. 5 is the Suite pour finir le
ballet (Suite to finish the ballet). The Suite au Prlude du Rideau Rouge, as it
came to be known, briefly takes up the material of the Prlude before reaching
its concluding C-major chord. The Prlude and Suite were heard as the audience
contemplated Picassos front curtain. The original introductory music was now
hijacked for the appearance of the first Manager.
On the face of it, Parade, with its many disparate sections, seems to lack an
overall unity, but it is in fact a masterly demonstration of a new way of writing
that remains true to musics most basic constituent, the harmonic series that Satie
had set out in BNF 9603(5). Just as Cocteaus aim was to return theatre to its roots,
and Picassos aim in cubism was to explore the reality of the two-dimensional
canvas, so Satie remained true to the harmonic series. The tonal harmony implied
by F-A-C is used in the original introductory music, in the fugal Prlude, which
opens in C, in the Suite, which ends on a firm C-major chord, and in the Ragtime
of Part 2, also in C major. The pentatonicism of C-E flat-F structures Part 1: as
the predominant harmony and as the Chinese Conjurors memorable motif. The
tritone (A-E flat) is embedded in Part 2. And the whole-tone harmony of E flat-F-A
expresses the circularity of the cylindrical structure of Part 3. Yet, just as cubism
took non-artistic materials such as sand, oilcloth and newspaper, and incorporated
them into painting in order to discover new truths about art, so Saties music also
made a virtue of non-musical qualities, turning geometry into valid tools of the
trade in order to see what the possibilities were. But, unlike the Futurists (and, to
a much lesser extent, Cocteau), whose big new idea was to turn noise into music,
Satie remained true to the elements of music.
In his artistic credo Satie wrote: Do not forget that the melody is the Idea,
the outline; as much as it is the form and the subject matter of a work.41 Unity in
Parade can be found, additionally, in the F and E that, melodically, pervade the
ballet. In Saties original introduction, E would have been the first note heard.

Pour Parade, [Satie] exigea la fabrication dun orgue deux tons ... La veille
de la reprsentation, il fit une scne, prtendant que si le fragile instrument, avec lequel
les machinistes samusaient, tait devenu injouable, ctait uniquement de notre faute,
Apollinaire et moi. From Deux de mes collaborateurs, cited in Pierre Caizergues and
Josiane Mas (eds), Correspondance Jean Cocteau/Darius Milhaud (Paris: Massalia, 1999),
p. 67.
Saties full Credo is cited in English in Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 68.
Parade: ballet raliste 151

Both F and E are returned to frequently in this section (see Ex. 7.4). In Part 1,
E is the prominent note of the Conjurors motif (twice held for four-and-a-half
beats and insisted on three more times). E is also the last melody note to be heard
in Part 1 and forms a link with the F and E that introduce Part 2, at the top of
the shimmering chords. E is also the first melody note of the Ragtime, whereas
in Berlin and Snyders original ragtime, C was the first note of the Chorus. In
Part 3, E and F are the focal points of the line and F is the first and last note of
the anti-clockwise journey round the circle of fifths. E-F-E are also the notes of
the organ part. In the Suprme Effort et Chute des Managers it is F and E that
dominate melodically. Knowing Saties love of and constant use of puns, it is
tempting to see him using F and E (in French, Fa and Mi) as a symbol for Famille,
no doubt how he saw the Ballets Russes collaboration. If so, it is yet another realist
device reminiscent of the cubists that became embedded in the music. These notes
are conspicuous by their absence in the Prlude and Suite. There was no need:
Picassos curtain depicted a family of performers.

Example 7.4 Parade, original introductory music: the fourth and final statement
of the theme (piano duet, Ed. Salabert, 1917, p. 3)

Correspondence shows that, following Saties request to Diaghilev in 1919 to

use Parade in a concert performance, the two men met at the Htel Westminster
in Paris on 18 April to discuss Satie writing an extra three minutes of music.
Satie worked quickly and Parade with its new ending was performed at the Salle
Gaveau on 11 May. The sketches for the new Choral and Final appear as Parade
FIN (BNF 9602(4)). BNF 17677(5) contains a fair copy which indicates that in
concert performances the Final, which reprises music from Parts 1, 2 and 3, would
precede the Suite au Prlude du Rideau Rouge, whereas it would end the ballet
in theatre performances, omitting the Suite. The Choral would begin the ballet in
all performances. The first three bars of the Choral, and of the ballet after May
1919, reproduce the characteristic rhythm of the Choral from Saties En habit de
cheval (1911). It was Saties way of making a joke about the furore caused by the
152 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

appearance, in 1917, of the third Manager in the guise of a circus horse. En habit
de cheval translates as dressed for riding or, more appropriately in this case,
dressed as a horse. But this musical self-quotation is doubly relevant since En
habit de cheval was first called Divertissement (Amusement).
When Cocteau approached Picasso about Parade in August 1916, the
moment could not have been more propitious. Picasso, then 34, was seeking a
new direction both in his personal and professional life. He was still grieving
over the death the previous year of his mistress Eva Gouel, and his closest
friends, Georges Braque and Guillaume Apollinaire, were at the front. On the
other hand, he was enjoying financial if not public success thanks to loyal
collectors (Gertrude Stein, for example) and dealers (especially Daniel-Henry
Kahnweiler). However, with a lack of direction in his personal life and little
further potential in cubism, his present situation was ripe for change, and indeed
Parade became a life-changing experience for him: he married Olga Koklova,
one of Diaghilevs dancers, in July 1918; he gained an entre into the upper
chelons of society; and, following his trip to Rome and Naples in February
1917, he could reveal his passion for the classical style that he had so far kept
Picasso was especially suited to Parade because, as John Richardson points
out, he had a precocious taste for the theatre.43 A drawing of 1894, done when
Picasso was only 13, is called Scene Backstage at a Theatre. From 1895 he
frequented the Quatre Gats cabaret-restaurant in Barcelona to watch Miguel
Utrillo produce plays and sketches with black-painted zinc and dcor. During
his first visit to Paris in 1900, he befriended people like Oleguer Junyent, a stage
designer, and Pompeu Gener, a drama critic. Much of Picassos early cubist
work has a theatrical feel, with figures appearing to project forward from the
canvas as if on a stage, instead of receding in the traditional manner. The famous
Les demoiselles dAvignon (1907) is an example of this technique. He loved the
circus, especially the Cirque Mdrano, and from 1905 included in his paintings
the same characters and props (the circus horse, the dog belonging to the troupe,
the large chest doubling as a seat, the drum and the ball) that would appear in the
Parade front curtain (the Rideau Rouge). His interest in the commedia dellarte
prompted him to adopt as his alter ego Harlequin, whom he placed in circus
paintings (La Famille de saltimbanques (1905)) and other contexts. As we shall
see, Harlequin was central to the Parade curtain. The cinema was another love.
Richardson refers to Picassos private box at the local cinema, where he and
his friends were in the habit of going night after night [in 1916].44 Picassos
costume for the Little American Girl of Part 2 makes her look like Pearl White,

A point made by Professor Elizabeth Cowling in a lecture at the Edinburgh Festival
in 2003.
See John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. I (London: Pimlico, 1991), p. 41. I am
indebted to Richardson for biographical information on Picasso.
Ibid. p. 398.
Parade: ballet raliste 153

the famous American actress who made the Perils of Pauline and the Elaine
series of films.45
The Muse Picasso in Paris has several undated sketches of theatrical material
that have been assigned to 191617.46 They are almost certainly Picassos first
thoughts for the dcor of Parade, since some show characters onstage, set against
footlights and curtains (MP 1550 and 1549) and with spectators (MP 1546). Other
sketches show simply a baraque in a street, indicating a shift in thinking: the dcor
no longer imitates what happens onstage, but becomes the entrance to the baraque
(MP 1564, for example). Many sketches, however, still include spectators (MP
1560 for example), as in the Seurat picture, showing that Picasso had not yet made
the artistic leap that would imply that the real audience of the Thtre du Chtelet
were the spectators. The final dcor has no painted audience.47 It retains the overall
cubist style, the baraque, the tall buildings in the street and, most importantly, the
floorboards which can be seen in MP 1566.
Picasso must soon have realised on joining the project that Cocteau had
taken no account of the Managers that traditionally introduced a parade, as in
Seurats painting, where one of these iconographic figures stands, with a cane
under his arm, to the right of the picture. There was a profusion of sketches for
the three Managers, but three clear ideas emerge: a Manager on horseback (MP
1581); Managers wearing giant carcases (MP 1599); and the integration of the
Managers with the dcor (MP 1599). The Manager on horseback proved difficult
to achieve. The final arrangement (MP 1593) shows two dancers forming a horse
with an empty Manager carcass attached to the horses back. It is well known that
before the premiere, the Manager figure fell off the horse and was not reinstated
until November 1919, when Massine told Picasso that the manager on the horse
was very successful and it was a lot funnier than before.48 The carcass idea for
the French and American Managers (MP 1611) reflects the primary concern of
cubism: the dichotomy between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional.
Les demoiselles dAvignon (1907), as we saw earlier, has a sculptural quality, but
it was not until Guitarist (1913) that Picasso truly merged painting with sculpture.
The guitarists body is depicted in collage and is also drawn on a two-dimensional
board, yet has protruding newspaper arms and a cardboard guitar.49 This is almost
certainly the closest parallel before Parade to the Managers, who carry on their

Rothschild, Picassos Parade deals in detail with Picassos designs for the
See Michle Richet, Muse Picasso, Catalogue of the Collection, vol. II, Drawings,
Watercolours, Gouaches, Pastels (London: Thames & Hudson, 1986), pp. 159, 160 and 165.
Pictured in Rothschild, Picassos Parade, p. 205.
Le manager sur le cheval est trs russi et cest beaucoup plus drle quavant.
Muse Picasso, Paris, catalogue number A.P.C.S. 792. I am very grateful to Tatiana Massine
for permission to view Massines letters to Picasso.
Now dismantled but pictured in John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. II (London:
Pimlico, 1996), p. 253.
154 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

giant carcases, trees, fencing, bits of buildings and so on as if they have just
stepped out of the two-dimensional dcor.
The most complex and enigmatic of all Picassos designs for Parade is the Red
Curtain, especially as it was shown only briefly during Saties Prlude and Suite
au Prlude. There are just five sketches in the Muse Picasso, all but one showing
that Picasso wanted a two-part composition: on the left, a winged horse with an
questrienne, and on the right, a group of performers gathered round a table. These
disparate groups are separated by a ladder, but the whole composition is linked by
its enveloping red curtains and a Renaissance-style landscape in the background.
The sketches leave few clues about the underlying meaning of the curtain. At
its most superficial level, the curtain depicts performers resting, watching an
questrienne practising on a circus horse that has wings attached to its back. The
horse and the group of performers that include a harlequin, a sailor and a Moorish
figure are instantly recognisable from popular French culture.50 Yet the presence
of a winged horse enabled Picasso to open a door to a classical symbolism that
most of the audience would have failed to grasp. In Greek mythology, Pegasus
was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and Medusa, a moon-goddess.51 Pegasus
was loved by the muses and drank at Peirene, a never-failing spring. Born of water
and the moon, he represents the dual immortality of creative powers, which is
further emphasised by the presence of a foal. Therefore, the curtain was partly
about creativity.
On the back of the horse stands an questrienne, a Siren-like creature, with a
girls face but a birds feathers. Sirens traditionally had a birds feet, but here the
feet are hidden to give an ambiguous reading. According to Graves: Sirens
were carved on funeral monuments as death angels but [were] also credited
with erotic designs on the heroes they mourned; and since the soul was believed to
fly off in the form of a bird, were pictured as birds of prey waiting to catch and
secure it. Graves says that the Sirens lived on a green sepulchral island [which]
the Latins [placed] on the Sirenusian Islands near Naples, or on Capri.52 Picasso
visited Naples with Cocteau and Stravinsky in early 1917 and would probably
have known about this legend. As we have seen, Picasso was still mourning Eva
Gouel and there are various clues that the Siren figure represents her. Various
paintings link Eva to a bird. One is Seated Woman (Eva) Wearing a Hat Trimmed
with a White Bird (191516). In 1917 Eva was for Picasso a Siren-like figure,
erotic, but, as it turned out, deathly too.
Yet the Siren in Greek mythology can also look prophetically forward. By not
showing the Sirens bird-like feet, Picassos questrienne looks uncannily like a

See Rothschild, Picassos Parade, pp. 21920 and 234.
See Robert Graves excellent two-volume The Greek Myths (Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1955) for information on this and subsequent classical references.
See section 170.7 of Graves, The Greek Myths.
Parade: ballet raliste 155

dancer from Les Sylphides,53 which formed part of the Ballets Russes season in
May 1917. Olga Koklova, whom Picasso had met and courted in Rome, was one
of its dancers. She would be the future Madame Picasso, hence the duality of the
Siren figure. As Axsom so rightly says: Picasso often allowed a single shape to
evoke multiple associations and identities.54
On the right side of the curtain, the most prominent figure, in red and black, is
Harlequin, Picassos alter ego. It was Apollinaire who added a mystical dimension
to Harlequin in his poem Les Saltimbanques, sent to Picasso on 1 November
1905, the year in which Picasso completed the major painting of the same name.55
The final line refers to the Harlequin and therefore to Picasso himself as arlequin
trismgiste, a pun on the mystical Hermes Trismegisthus (Thrice Great).
The performers in the curtain echo Les Saltimbanques and the prominence of
Harlequin amongst them suggests that Picasso is recalling Apollinaires poem and
linking Harlequin, himself and Hermes, the messenger of Olympus. Like Picasso,
Hermes was known as an inventor and a thief (a literal one in 1908 when, together
with Apollinaire, he was wrongly accused of stealing a figure from the Louvre).56
Picassos work is littered with subject matter stolen from a wide variety of sources:
from other artists, from contemporary life, from his own work and so on. Just as
Hermes invented the lyre, so too did Picasso invent the new artistic language of
Cubism, as if he, like Hermes, had been given a magic eye by the three Fates,
symbolising the gift of perception.
The Harlequin figure also demonstrates Picassos love of mysticism and the
occult. The writer and artist Max Jacob taught him astrology, palmistry and the
Tarot, and his interest deepened when he met Apollinaire in 1904 and the painter
Andr Derain (also a friend of Satie) in 1906. Aspects of the occult, especially the
mystical hand gestures (one hand raised and the other pointing downwards) taken
from the Magician card of the Tarot, permeate his work from 1903 (in La Vie, for
instance) and, according to John Richardson, thirty years later [he] would still draw
on the Tarot in his writing as well as his painting.57 Picasso uses the imagery of
the Tarot in the curtain, as if laying out the cards to see if Parade will be good for
him. There are many versions of the Tarot, but the Marseilles pack with its strong,
Renaissance-like imagery and primary colours corresponds to Picassos conception.
The Tarot represents a quest. The Harlequin figure of the curtain equates to
the Fool (the first card, unnumbered in the Tarot) who is on a journey, and the
other picture cards will reveal his fortunes. With a dog at his heels, as in both the

A point made by Richard Axsom in Parade: Cubism as Theater (New York and
London: Garland, 1979), p. 141.
Ibid., p. 160.
Rothschild, Picassos Parade outlines the research undertaken by Theodore
Reff to establish that Apollinaire did indeed send this poem in 1905 and not, as previously
thought, in 1909. See p. 253, notes 2 and 3.
See Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. II, pp. 223.
Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. I, pp. 270274.
156 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

card and the curtain, and indeed in real life, as Picasso was a fanatical dog-lover,
the central Picasso/Harlequin figure sets out to assess his future: ignorant of the
dangers and pitfalls that await him, the Fool is a young traveller embarking on
lifes path, inexperienced, impulsive, carefree and careless.58 This was certainly
Picassos case: ballet was a completely new venture, a puzzling choice for his
fellow painters who viewed him as foolish in this respect.
To the Fools right is a sailor figure, a representation of the Magician card,
numbered I. The sailor has the same hand gestures (one hand raised, the other
hanging down) as on the Tarot card and also wears the same wide-brimmed hat in
the shape of a lemniscate, or horizontal sign for infinity, that represents the idea
of new life.59 With direct reference to the colours of the Chinese Conjurors iconic
costume, the sailor/Magician wears a prominent red and yellow sash. But the
Magician also represents Picasso and his magical artistry, for the sash resembles
the one he wore in a self-portrait photograph of 191516,60 and the pipe is shown in
Cocteaus photographs of him on 12 August 1916.61 The Magician card represents
new opportunities and gives courage to bring these to fruition.
Next to the sailor is a woman with a pointed, wide-brimmed hat and curly hair
hanging down to her shoulders. Referring to the cinematic Part 2, Picasso sets her
against a background that is square, like a cinema screen. She is like Mary Pickford
who, in her publicity photographs, often wears a hat showing her famous girlish
ringlets. But Mary Pickford, not acting but resting, would look like a woman rather
than the adolescent she played onscreen. The Tarot card La Papesse (the High
Priestess), numbered II, in which the figure stands against a backcloth and wears
an elaborate hat, symbolises the duality of a woman/child figure and represents the
initiate with potential as yet unfulfilled,62 just as Picasso was in ballet terms.
The next two characters resemble the Acrobats of Part 3, linked together with their
arms round each other. The female is bare-breasted, a reference to Lydia Lopokova
who danced the female Acrobat, [refusing] to wear the body-tights because they
revealed too much of her bosom.63 Tarot card III, the Empress, symbolises fecundity,
just as a bare-breasted woman does, and card IIII, the Emperor, who holds a sceptre
(the male Acrobat figure in the curtain holds up a chalice), is the symbol of material
wealth and status. As we have seen, Picassos reputation was becoming established
in 1917. The black servant, standing behind the male Acrobat figure, equates to Tarot
Card V, the Pope. This is often called the Chiron card after the wise King of the
Centaurs in Greek mythology. The male Acrobat in the curtain holds up his chalice
for wine that the servant, with his folded arms, appears to be refusing. The Centaurs
were known to have a communal wine jar. With its link to the half-man, half-horse

Joan Moore, The Amazing Book of Tarot (Godalming: Bramley, 1998), p. 13.
Juliet Sharman-Burke, Understanding the Tarot (London: Rider, 1998), p. 21.
Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. II, p. 415.
See Billy Kluver, A Day with Picasso (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997).
Moore, The Amazing Book of Tarot, p. 14.
Rothschild, Picassos Parade, p. 124.
Parade: ballet raliste 157

Chiron figure, this card refers to the third Manager in Parade. Yet the Pope card also
implies conventionality, marriage vows and a need for outward approval all things
that Picasso was seeking in 1917.
In the exact centre of the Curtain sits a musician, a guitarist whose black cross-
garters link him to Tarot card X, the Wheel of Fortune, which signifies a new
beginning. This is a clear reference to Saties music, and Picasso places a sphere
(the blue ball), a cube (the wooden chest) and a cylinder (the classical pillar) in
a triangle surrounding the group of figures. On the left side of the curtain, card
XVII, the Star, is represented by the blue ball, with its eight-pointed star, and
seven smaller stars. The Tarot card shows a naked girl pouring water into a stream.
Picasso dispenses with the girl but retains the water with the blue of the ball and
the Aquarius sign. This card brings hope, new opportunities and success.
The last card that Picasso lays out is number XXI, the World, which shows a
naked dancing woman in a garland (or mandala, the Sanskrit word for circle). In the
curtain the woman is the questrienne, and the mandala is formed by the red curtains
to her left, the ladder to her right and the horses wings encircling the lower part of
her body. As Moore states: The Fool has completed his journey and all his previous
trials and experiences culminate in card Twenty-one. The World indicates a spiritual
awakening; desires fulfilled, triumph. The final goal reached. Joy and a new life.
Twenty-one is a most fortunate card.64 It is entirely fitting that the World is depicted
by the Eva/Olga/Siren figure of the questrienne. Picasso implies that Parade will
be a way of exorcising his demons and beginning a new life.
The Red Curtain depicts an inner space enclosed by red theatre curtains,
but set against a Renaissance-type landscape that could equally represent the
outdoors. Its characters could have stepped out of the Renaissance, a time when
perspective was invented, and to underline this, Picassos floorboards bring to
mind the perspective in Uccellos famous painting The Rout of San Romano.
The dcor, however, is a cubistic street scene in which part of the baraque,
the indoor space, is carried on the French Managers carcass. Until Parade,
inside and outside spaces and Renaissance and cubist styles have been separate
worlds for Picasso. How to marry them as one artistic experience is what would
occupy him over the next few years, the dichotomy being how to represent depth
whilst being faithful to the two-dimensionality explored in the cubist period.
Indeed, Open Window at St Raphael of 1919 shows the consummation of a
marriage between the Cubist revolution and Renaissance perspective.65 Picasso
anticipates this in Parade when he links the outside and inside spaces of the
dcor and the Red Curtain by the same Uccello-like floorboards. He saw himself
as a modern Uccello, reinventing perspective. Uccello means bird in Italian and
Apollinaires nickname for Picasso was oiseau de Bnin (Benin bird).66 As

Moore, The Amazing Book of Tarot, p. 24.
Rosalind Krauss, The Picasso Papers (London: Thames & Hudson, 1998), p. 193.
Olga Koklova, in a letter to Picasso of 28 May 1917, writes dont forget Olga
who loves you dearly The Benin bird has flown from the zoo to the Russian Ballet
158 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Saties short Prlude was played, the audience could fleetingly contemplate the
Renaissance-like indoor scene before being hurried to the cubist space outside
the baraque.
One of Massines foremost contributions to Parade was his talent for mime
and strong characterisation that he had learnt in Moscow at the Imperial Theatre
School, where students performed in both ballet and theatre. When Diaghilev
asked him to join the Ballets Russes at the end of 1913, Massine had an agonising
decision to make because his acting career had become so successful. Massines
first appearance for Diaghilev, in La Lgende de Joseph (1914), was as a dancer
not a choreographer, and shows the influence of the Muscovite Stanislavsky:

There was no doubt that the dramatic and mimetic sequences in the production
were easier for me than the dancing I seemed to project into my acting all my
own anguish and heartbreak at having left Russia.67

In Parade it was mime rather than classical dance that dominated the ballet, as
Massines description of the Chinese Conjurors movements shows:

I marched stiffly round the stage jerking my head at each step With an
elaborate flourish I pretended to produce an egg from my sleeve and put it in
my mouth. When I had mimed the action of swallowing it, I stretched out my
arms, slid my left leg sidewards [sic] till I was almost sitting down, and with my
left hand pretended to pull the egg from the toe of my shoe. The whole thing
took only a few minutes, but it had to be done with the most clearly defined
movements and broad mime. When I had retrieved the egg I leaped round the
stage again, then paused, puckered up my lips and pretended to breathe out fire.68

The stiffness and jerkiness of the movements, the facial expressions and the fact
that the Conjuror stood still and mimed certain actions all went against classical
ballet conventions. In Part 2 of Parade, Marie Chabelska as the Little American

did an imitation of the shuffling walk of Charlie Chaplin, followed by a sequence

of mimed actions reminiscent of The Perils of Pauline jumping on to a moving
train, swimming across a river, having a running fight at pistol-point, and finally
finding herself lost at sea in the tragic sinking of the Titanic.69

(noubliez pas Olga qui taime [sic] bien ... Loiseau du Bnin sest envol du jardin
zoologique aux Ballets Russes). Cited in Jean Clair and Odile Michel (eds), Picasso, The
Italian Journey 19171924 (London: Thames & Hudson, 1998), p. 97.
Vicente Gabriel Garca-Mrquez, Massine (London: Nick Hern, 1996), p. 53.
Lonide Massine, My Life in Ballet (London: Macmillan, 1968), p. 103.
Ibid., p. 104.
Parade: ballet raliste 159

When Marie Chabelska crossed the stage in a succession of convulsive

leaps, her arms swinging widely,70 it seemed that Massine had abandoned the
traditional ballerinas port de bras. Yet the Acrobats in Part 3, with their pas de
deux, pirouettes, arabesques and lifts, show how eclectic his work was.71 The
Managers proved more problematic due to the gigantic carcasses hindering their
movement, so that Massine was forced to reduce the choreography to its very
essence, pure footwork. Its rhythms, written out on p. 32 of the Koch score, were
to be heard in silence.
Massine worked hard to match the ballets design, a feature commented on
by Apollinaire in his programme notes for Parade when he referred to this
new union for up until now stage sets and costumes on the one hand and
choreography on the other were only superficially linked.72 This visual awareness
was partly due to the artist Mikhail Larionov who, under Diaghilevs instructions,
had overseen Massines first forays into choreography.73 And for Parade, Cocteau
helped Massine, as the letter to his mother of 22 February 1917 shows: Massine
wants me to show him the smallest detail and Im inventing the roles which he
transforms there and then into choreography.74
Massine appeared to have little influence over Saties music, yet it is likely that
in January 1917 he had been the driving force behind the Suprme Effort et Chute
des Managers. We know from Saties letter of 11 January that Massine was in Paris
and it is probable that he was involved in the discussions between Diaghilev and
Satie about this section. Massine had already shown a preference in his ballets for
exciting finales, Soleil de Nuit (1915) and Kikimora (1916) being cases in point.
His handwritten instructions on p. 46 of the Koch score show frenetic activity
by the dancers Zverev and Lopokova, who, as the two Acrobats, take three bows
each, running to front-stage each time, and ending with a bow taken together. This
happens in the space of approximately 18 seconds. Cocteaus additional handwritten
notes indicate a cacophony of shouts from the Managers onstage.
As we have seen, Parade cast ballet in a new light, with each individual art form
being subjected to an aesthetic of renewal. Cocteau had partly realised his dream of
returning to the values of real theatre, with its interaction between the performers
and the audience, and of course, its emphasis on play-acting, on artificiality, with

Ibid., 104.
Ibid., p. 105.
Cette alliance nouvelle, car jusquici les dcors et les costumes dune part, la
chorgraphie dautre part, navaient entre eux quun lien factice. Guillaume Apollinaire,
Les Spectacles modernistes des Ballets Russes, Parade et lesprit nouveau, Excelsior
(18 May 1917), p. 5.
Tatiana Loguine, Gontcharova et Larionov, cinquante ans St Germain-des-Prs
(Paris: Klincksieck, 1971), p. 107.
Massine dsire que je lui montre la moindre chose et jinvente les rles quil
transforme sance tenante en chorgraphie. Cocteau, Lettres sa mre, vol. I 18981918,
ed. P. Caizergues (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), p. 296.
160 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

each fictional character coming from the long tradition of the fte foraine or the
newly invented cinema. This was the genius of Parade: a choice of characters
who appeared to be real forced the audience to question reality, the fakery of
theatre and the role of the artist who hoodwinks them in the process. The puzzled
audience of 1917 watched the Ballets Russes dancers, normally so technically
proficient and graceful, mimic with grotesque movements a set of performers that
they would have seen dozens of times already. Yet as they watched one travelling
troupe create another, they must have realised that the characters they held dear
were also imitations: the Chinese Conjurors were played by a variety of lookalikes
and the Little American Girl was just a series of intangible images on a screen. As
the audience contemplated Marie Chabelska dressed as Pearl White, they saw her
imitating Charlie Chaplin who in turn had pretended to be the little tramp. Reality
was being turned on its head. As if this were not enough, Cocteaus risky subtitle,
ballet raliste, brought to the French mind the upheaval and social change that
the realist arts had depicted in the nineteenth century and continued to depict in
some of the contemporary plays about war. Yet Parade was certainly not a work
of social commentary. It was first and foremost a statement about the arts that
almost as an afterthought capitalised on the nationalist feeling of 1917 to signal
a new French approach. By choosing Satie as his composer, Cocteau trumpeted a
new French simplicity in which Parade was just the starting point. Les Six were
subsequently formed, echoing the Five in Russia. Like Diaghilevs display of
Russianness during the first years of the Ballets Russes, Cocteaus new realism
reflected an artistic pride in France rather than the commentary on French society
and politics of an outdated nineteenth-century realism.
Chapter 8
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years
Pietro Dossena

On 3 June 1923, while having lunch with Sergei Diaghilev, Satie had a sudden and
painful colic episode that forced him to leave abruptly. His subsequent message,
sent to the famous impresario some hours later to explain and apologise, ended
with a cheerful: See you soon for Gounod, right?1 As a matter of fact, during that
same lunch, Diaghilev had offered Satie an important and well-paid job: setting
to music in the form of recitatives the spoken sections of Charles Gounods
opra comique entitled Le Mdecin malgr lui (1858) in order to transform it into
an entirely sung opera. Satie probably enjoyed this idea of a stylistic pastiche, as
he spent all of the second half of 1923 working on this project the programmed
premiere being in Monte Carlo on 5 January 1924.2 But the first months were not
easy: on 26 July, Satie confided his problems to Diaghilev: Im working on the
Doctor, but its not happening. Yes. I am angry with myself, of course.3 On
the same day, in a letter to Milhaud, he confirmed that Its not working, and on 3
August he repeated to Poulenc that My Gounod isnt going very well.4
Saties dissatisfaction arguably derived from a crucial doubt of a stylistic kind:
should he write la manire de Satie or la manire de Gounod?5 On the one hand,
making a faithful reproduction of Gounods style would not have easily suited
Saties strong artistic personality. On the other hand, a resolute intervention on
Saties part would have certainly shifted the centre of the work towards the avant-

A bientt pour Gounod, nest-ce pas? (Erik Satie, Correspondance presque
complte, ed. Ornella Volta (Paris: Fayard/IMEC, 2000), p. 540 hereafter Volta,
Correspondance). The author wishes to thank the editor for her invaluable help with the
translations of Saties letters into English.
The recitatives for Le Mdecin malgr lui were part of a larger project restaging some
Gounod opras comiques within the Festival franais in Monte Carlo organised by Diaghilev
(January 1924): Diaghilev also commissioned new recitatives for La Colombe (to Poulenc)
and for Philmon et Baucis (to Auric; see Steven Moore Whiting, Satie the Bohemian: From
Cabaret to Concert Hall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 520, note 24).
Volta, Correspondance, p. 552; Je travaille au Docteur, mais cela ne marche
pas. Oui. Je suis furieux contre moi, bien entendu.
Ibid., pp. 5523; a ne va pas; Mon Gounod ne marche pas trs bien.
Actually a Satie way never existed, given his fierce determination to continuously
question his musical language and even maturity did not weaken his drive for
162 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

garde thus potentially putting it out of balance. However, no intent of mockery

was hidden in Diaghilevs commission; on the contrary, the new recitatives would
highlight the dramatic qualities of Gounods music, as well as the light irony of
Molires lively dialogues (as he was the author of the original comedy), adapted
by Jules Barbier and Michel Carr for Gounods opra comique.
In order to achieve such aims, Diaghilev could not have made a better choice:
Satie must have been delighted by the humour of the libretto, and the two parallel
mediations (from Molire to Barbier and Carr, and from Gounod to Satie
himself) probably reminded him of his masterpiece Socrate, where other textual
mediations (Satie set to music Victor Cousins translation of Platos text)6 led him
to compose very personal music. Moreover, on at least one earlier occasion, he had
proved receptive to Gounods expressive suggestions: in 1916, in the mlodie for
voice and piano Le Chapelier, he had quoted the Chanson de Magali, drawn from
Gounods opera Mireille (1864).7 This quotation, which for Satie is conceptually
significant, had the sentimental expansion of the original melody interact with the
Mad Hatters astonishment in ascertaining that his watch retarde de trois jours
(is late three days late).
In Le Mdecin malgr lui, Saties primary concern was, of course, to reconcile
the new recitatives with the pre-existing music. But how could this be done? Perhaps
the composer should find a stylistic middle ground between Satie and Gounod?
Barbier and Carrs adaptation which was very respectful of Molires original
text8 invited a discreet approach on Saties part as well. By mid-August 1923,
Satie seemed to have found a solution to this problem, as he said he was busy with
composition: I am working in a torrential and even storm-like manner (13
August); I am taken with this like a devil (19 August).9 Another letter of 19 August
helps us to understand his point of view on the whole issue: Im doing Gounod as
if it were falling from the sky.10 In other words, Satie proved himself humble enough
to tip the scales in favour of Gounod an attitude comparable to a contemporary
architect asked to add new parts to a 65-year-old building. Satie makes Gounod,
but, as we shall soon see, he does not completely dismiss his own identity.
According to Robert Orledge, in Le Mdecin malgr lui, Satie showed how
proficient he was at writing functional chromatic harmony in a nineteenth-century

See Pietro Dossena, A la recherche du vrai Socrate, Journal of the Royal Musical
Association 133/1 (2008), p. 17.
See Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1990), pp. 214.
Molires dialogues were preserved (almost unchanged) for the spoken sections; the
verses to be set to music were also closely based on Molires words.
Volta, Correspondance, p. 555; Je travaille dune faon torrentielle & mme
diluvienne; je suis pris comme un diable.
Ibid., p. 556; Je fais du Gounod comme sil en pleuvait. On 15 September, he
wrote to Stravinsky: Je fais du Gounod ce qui nest pas plus bte que de faire du Ravel
(ibid., p. 560).
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 163

style;11 nevertheless, I cannot agree with Steven Moore Whiting that Saties
intervention was simply an extended exercise in stylistic imitation.12 If this were
the case, Saties recitatives would sound similar to those composed by Gounod
himself for his operas (notably Faust, Mireille and Romo et Juliette). Speaking of
recitatives, Steven Huebner explains that Gounod often went considerably beyond
declamation accompanied by punctuating chords in such linking sections13 and this
is applicable to Saties recitatives as well, which pursue textural and instrumental
variety. But the harmonic paths, smoothly consequential in Gounods recitatives,14
are more nervous and sharp-cornered in those of Satie. It is true that, as Orledge
writes, Satie uses the full nineteenth-century vocabulary of chromatic chords
with perfect ease,15 but he often deliberately dodges round the resolutions
recommended (or even allowed) in functional harmony, thus creating musical
situations that are unmistakably personal.

Case Study: Le Mdecin malgr lui (from Act III, Scene 7)

On 20 September, Satie wrote to Diaghilev saying I have a lot to discuss with you
and fixed a meeting for 22 September:16 as he had already completed the first two
acts of the opera, he was probably going to talk to Diaghilev about the third and
last act. On 28 September, a few days after this meeting, Satie indicated in a
more precise way the passage of the opera causing most of his troubles:

I need to talk to you about Scene vii (page 42 of the libretto & page 174 of the
score). What will we do with the Andantino? And how will we deal with the flute
and bassoon things? I would like to see you about this matter. Yes. Couldnt the
speech over music go over the Andantino? Think about it, I beg you. I will be
at the Savoy on Monday morning [1 October] at 11 oclock (eleven). This Scene
vii is bothering me a little. You will be able to enlighten me on this topic. Yes.17

Robert Orledge, Gounod, Satie and Diaghilev (192324): Le Mdecin [et le
Compositeur] malgr lui, Muziek & Wetenschap 3 (1993), p. 115.
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 520.
Steven Huebner, Gounod, Charles-Franois, Grove Music Online, http://www.
Of course, as Gounod did not set to music the spoken dialogues of any of his opras
comiques, these remarks are merely speculative, but they are still pertinent to Gounods
musical language.
Orledge, Satie the Composer, pp. 256.
Volta, Correspondance, p. 562; Jai beaucoup causer avec vous.
Ibid., p. 563; Jai vous parler de la Scne VII (page 42 du livret & page 174 de
la partition). Que faire de lAndantino? et comment traitons-nous les trucs de flte & de
basson? Jaimerais vous voir ce sujet. Oui. Le parl sur musique ne pourrait-il aller sur
164 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

The page of the score to which Satie is referring is reproduced in Fig. 8.1. This
page is particularly dense in dramatic indications: the flute solo and the three
interventions of the bassoon (these to be synchronized with a quick exchange
between Sganarelle and Gronte) are mentioned in Saties letter as les trucs
de flte & de basson, but from now on our attention will be focused on the
Andantino, orchestrated by Gounod for strings only (see the bracketed abbreviation
Quat[uor]). This short piece, 16 bars long, is placed after Sganarelles cue (Fig.
8.1), which is followed in the libretto by Lucindes line Non, je ne suis point du
tout capable de changer de sentiment. Lucindes sentence, which is not found in
Gounods score, was most probably spoken not sung as a melodrama passage
over the Andantino.
Resorting to melodrama had an important dramatic function, linked to the
plot twists which I will summarise briefly. Sganarelle, a simple woodcutter, is
mistaken for a doctor and is called upon to cure Lucinde (Grontes daughter) of
her mutism. But Lucinde, in love with Landre, is actually feigning dumbness in
order to avoid an undesired arranged marriage to a man she does not love. In this
scene of Act III, Sganarelle flings himself into a delirious parascientific disquisition
with the sole aim of distracting Gronte from Landres manoeuvres. Meanwhile,
Landre (pretending to be an apothecary assisting the renowned physician)
approaches Lucinde. Most unexpectedly, the girl verbally voices her incapacity
to change her mind implicitly referring to her sentimental preferences. Gronte,
visibly surprised of his daughters sudden recovery, warmly thanks Sganarelle for
his admirable job.
The Andantino is thus associated with a revelation of feelings. This piece,
imbued with a gentle expressiveness that is quite typical of Gounods musical
style, is actually an almost literal quotation of Landres srnade Est-on sage
dans le bel ge ? from Act II, expressing the irresistible power of love; this
musical recollection is obviously meant to show the love between Lucinde and
Landre, and functions as a genuinely lyrical interlude within a very comical scene.
While the original serenade is an archaising Allegretto in E flat, here Gounod
slightly decreases the tempo (Andantino) and transposes the piece to E a more
convenient tonality for the strings. The piece is in fact lightly scored for strings
only,18 all pizzicato except for the solo violin that plays the main melody. The
smooth quaver descents skilfully adorning the simple cadential scheme add to
the calm fluency of the piece. Such a delicate background allows Lucindes sweet
declaration to be easily noticed, like embroidery on a velvet cloth.
Nevertheless, from Saties point of view, the Andantino is a problematic
moment: his duty consists in setting to music all the spoken dialogues, and
Lucindes statement is indeed spoken, but it is also placed over music by

lAndantino? Pensez-y, je vous en conjure. Je passerai au Savoy lundi matin 11h (onze
heures). Cette Scne VII membarrasse un peu. Vous pouvez mclairer ce sujet. Oui.
The instrumentation indicated in Gounods orchestral score is as follows: solo
violin, violin I, violin II, viola, 2 cellos.
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 165

Figure 8.1 Gounod, vocal score of Le Mdecin malgr lui, from Act III
166 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Figure 8.2 Satie, Le Mdecin malgr lui: BNF 9595(1), pp. 1112: from Act
III, Scene 7

Gounod. I will now try to provide a plausible reconstruction of the stages that
resulted in the definitive version of Act III, Scene 7 in Saties score (No. 8 in
Saties numbering).19

Satie grouped his recitatives (scnes nouvelles) in nine numbers.
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 167

The main working document at Saties disposal was the typed libretto BNF
9595(1),20 where all the dialogues to be set to music were copied. Here Satie
wrote various annotations, and a few cuts to the text were made (possibly by
Diaghilev himself), with the aim of increasing the swiftness and the incisiveness
of the exchanges.
In Fig. 8.2, I transcribed the relevant pages of BNF 9595(1); the crossings-out
and all the signs in bold italics were added in Saties hand (either in pencil or in ink)
to the typed text.21 As can be seen, no cuts were made to the assigned dialogues; on
the contrary, Satie added by hand a cue, present in the original libretto but not in
BNF 9595(1): Les uns disent que oui, etc.22 In Fig. 8.2, there is also another
sentence that was absent in the original libretto: Je vous prie dcouter ceci, sil
vous plait. The origin of this sentence is unclear (was it conceived by Diaghilev?)
as well as its function: was it meant to introduce Sganarelles cue Les uns ?
This question, together with many others in this case study, will remain
without a definite answer: the meaning of many corrections made in the surviving
documents is in fact hard to grasp to say the least. In Fig. 8.2, the indication *
Reprendre le rcit musical was traced in ink over pencil and was also crossed
out in both pencil and ink. Whenever so many layered corrections are present, it
is very difficult to reconstruct their exact chronological order. I will thus provide
just one of all the possible solutions of this genetic puzzle namely the one
that I find the most fitting not only to the marks on the paper, but also to the
dramatic meaning of the scene. Therefore, the whole explanation that follows is
dubious and most of my statements should be preceded by the adverb perhaps.
In the meeting of 22 September 1923 between Satie and Diaghilev, the latter
suggested that the passage from Monsieur to les hommes should be
set as a melodrama on newly composed music. In BNF 9595(1), Satie thus
wrote * Parl sur musique and, a little below, * Reprendre le rcit musical,
which indicates the returning point of the ordinary recitative. In this way, the
ramshackle explanation of Sganarelle acquires a spoken preamble (which
lends itself to be interpreted with comical solemnity), and then continues as
a recitative until the sentence Les uns inclusive. The line of Lucinde,
as in the original opra comique, is placed upon the Andantino: in fact, Satie
writes (sur Andantino) P. 43 du livret next to Lucindes name. However,
this line is not intended as a melodrama (as no hints suggest this), but instead as

BNF is an abbreviation for Bibliothque nationale de France (FPn).
The bracketed caption in Sganarelles line was crossed out in pencil, and this
crossing was then erased. The words Monsieur, cest une grande et subtile question,
which are at the end of a line in the original, were underlined in pencil, and this underlining
was then erased as well.
In the published libretto, the complete sentence is as follows: Les uns disent que
non, les autres disent que oui; et moi je dis que oui et non; dautant que lincongruit des
humeurs opaques qui ne se rencontrent au temprament naturel des femmes Jules Barbier
and Michel Carr, Le Mdecin malgr lui (Paris: Billaudot, 1978), p. 103.
168 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

a recitative: as a consequence, Satie was supposed to add a vocal melody on top

of the Andantino.
At a later stage, Satie decided to incorporate Les uns in the Andantino as
well. This modification allowed the Andantino to function as a background for such
contrasting lines as Sganarelles (an ironical masterpiece of verbal acrobatics) and
Lucindes, thus assigning a twofold connotation to Gounods instrumental serenade
parodistic at first, then emotionally involved. As a memo, Satie added (sur
lAndantino) right after Les uns and drew an arrow to show that the Andantino
started just before Les uns . At this stage of the genetic process, the cue Je vous
prie dcouter ceci, sil vous plat triggers the beginning of the Andantino quite
But such an ambiguous use of the Andantino must not have fully convinced
Satie, who on 28 September sent Diaghilev the above-mentioned letter where he
expressed his doubts about the Andantino and proposed to change its position to
have it coincide with the Parl sur musique. One could imagine Satie explaining
his reasons and worries to Diaghilev during the meeting of 1 October that followed
the letter: the Andantino could have been employed to achieve humour through
estrangement, in association with the sentence Monsieur, of Sganarelle. The
comical effect would have been assured not only by Sganarelles words over such
a sweet music, but also by his gestures aiming at hiding Lucinde and Landre from
Gronte (see the stage directions in brackets). In order to clearly visualize his most
recent choices, Satie added the words (se servir partition) next to * Parl sur
musique. The recitative would start at * Reprendre anyway and would then
continue throughout the scene the music being Saties, with no repetition of the
Andantino of course.
Diaghilev and Satie exchanged their opinions, looking for a dramatically
effective solution. Various crossing-outs and rewritings were scrawled on a few
square inches of paper proposing, modifying, restoring, contradicting.23 Certainly,
the Andantino in that position could work, but maybe it would have been better if
Sganarelle had continued to sing while the Andantino began, thus avoiding a sharp
separation with the first part of his line (Cela sa maladie). Therefore, the Parl
sur musique was corrected into Chant still over the Andantino. To separate the
end of the Andantino from the recommencement of Saties recitatives, the sentence
Je vous prie was bracketed and indicated as Parl. Thanks to this expedient,
the enchanting sound of the Andantino (accompanying the falsely erudite statement
of Sganarelle) is allowed to linger for a while in the auditive memory of the listener,
while the following line Je vous prie introduces the second (totally odd) part
of the speech of the supposed luminary. The restarting of the recitatives was then
moved a little forward, right before Les uns , as the note * ici, la reprise shows.
This disposition of the elements seemed well conceived. A step forward was
taken in the notebook BNF 9595(2), where Satie matched on facing pages the

See, for example, the contradictory corrections layered at the bottom of p. 11 in
BNF 9595(1).
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 169

lines of the characters and the rhythm of the recitatives. Finally, after so many
afterthoughts, the situation could be assessed.24
In this manuscript, after Jacquelines line, Sganarelle continues in recitative;
Satie, not completely convinced of the effectiveness of the sentence Allez-vous-
en maladie, drafted the rhythm of the recitative, omitting the obsolete word
tantt.25 As expected, Sganarelles pretentious discourse starts as a recitative
over the Andantino. Meticulous as usual, Satie inserted bar numbers in the text
(see p. 55 in BNF 9595(2)) to clarify the relationship between rhythm and words,
and also indicated the tonalites used in each section. From these indications we
learn that the E major of the Andantino is to be preceded by the dominant B. After
the end of the Andantino comes the spoken sentence Je vous prie , and after
this the recitative starts again in C-sharp minor the relative of E. To prevent the
following line by Lucinde from going unnoticed, Satie decided to end Sganarelles
recitative on D major and to have Lucinde start in F major: the conventional shift
by a third would give a different colour to the second tonality.
Looking back at what he had just written, Satie noticed a flaw during the
Andantino: he had Sganarelle stop singing five bars before the end of the piece,
which resulted in an unnecessarily long gap before the spoken line. On the contrary,
a greater fluency could be achieved by incorporating the Parl in the ending of
the Andantino where the sentence Je vous prie could be recited in a solemn
tone over the final crescendo. Therefore, still in BNF 9595(2), Satie crossed out
the cue Parl and rewrote it above the ending measures of the Andantino.
The time had come for Satie to move to the actual composition of the
music. In BNF 9595(5), within the continuity draft of Act III, Satie drafted the
accompaniment for Scene 7, omitting for the time being the vocal melodies (whose
rhythm, however, he had already defined). Ex. 8.1 is an extract of this document.26
The bar numbering completely corresponds to that in BNF 9595(2), which means
that no apparent modifications of the form were made.
Bars 14 of section B represent a sort of Mickey-Mousing,27 as the staccato
chords of the progression imitate the steps that Lucinde is supposedly taking while
Jacqueline is talking. The shift to another character (Sganarelle) is emphasised
by an unusual cadence that plays around with listening expectations: the inverted
half-diminished seventh chord in bar 4 should normally resolve on the tonic A,
but Satie diverts it to C sharp, contradicting the earlier tonal plan. The bars that

On 1 October, after the morning meeting with Diaghilev, Satie wrote to him: Je
suis en train (maintenant : il est 17 h 28) de prparer la Scne VII pour demain (Volta,
Correspondance, p. 564).
Equally possible, but less convincing in my opinion, would be to consider as
omitted the words avec vous tantt being preserved.
The smaller staves represent the first version of the relative bars.
In cinema (especially in animation films), Mickey-Mousing means synchronising
the soundtrack with visible actions by linking music and images in a direct and indissoluble
way. In this case, the music mimics the act of walking.
170 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Example 8.1 Satie, Le Mdecin malgr lui: BNF 9595(5), pp. 1617; ink

precede the Andantino indeed confirm the remarks made above about Saties partial
adaptation to the style of Gounod (or, more generally, of the nineteenth century):
they are in fact pure Satie, recognisable for example by the modal inflection of the
B natural in bar 7 or by the non-directional sway in bars 910. The lengthening
of rhythmic values at bars 1114 of the voice (planned in BNF 9595(2))28 is here
slightly anticipated by crotchet chords in the accompaniment (bars 1011), thus
making the transition smoother. The staccato chords at bars 1314 give room to

The syllables afin que je raison[ne] were planned as a series of six crotchets.
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 171

the laborious reasoning of the mdecin malgr lui. The words de sa maladie,
associated with a rhythmic acceleration in the vocal melody, are accompanied by
triumphant rising octaves (bars 1516): the dominant is reached and everything is
set for the Andantino.
After the Andantino, the recitative continues (as expected) in C-sharp minor,29
but the use of the harmonic minor scale makes the melodies slightly wrong just
like Sganarelles logic, only seemingly consequential. The clear cadences at bars
34 and 78 of this section are not over-emphasised by the vocal melody, as it
is kept rhythmically independent. The harmonically dense passage at bars 58,
which leads to a sharp cadence, is pseudo-eighteenth century in character, almost
recitativo accompagnato. Although the tonal plan for this section was partially
modified, Lucindes sentence was preserved in F major. The contrast between
the two characters Sganarelle and Lucinde was, however, assured by the sudden
change of the instrumental figures: Satie rendered the accompaniment to Lucindes
line with special delicacy, superposing a peaceful countermelody in crotchets on
soft oscillating chords.
After completing this continuity draft (and, together with this, all the drafts
of the new recitatives),30 Satie wrote the vocal score,31 which includes the vocal
melodies of course, and finally the orchestral score.32 On 12 December, the
orchestration was almost done, and Satie was proud of his work: Im finishing
the Mdecin malgr lui (the orchestration). I plan to have it done in 3 or 4 days.
Nice! Im licking my fingers.33
During the rehearsals in October 1923, Saties vocal score (and also a copy of
this for the use of Daniel Vigneau, the singer interpreting Sganarelle) underwent
many modifications, which included cuts made by Diaghilev in order to increase
the overall swiftness of the drama. One of these cuts applied to bars 716 of

The passage following the Andantino (pp. 1718 of BNF 9595(5)) has not been
reported here, but it was transferred virtually unchanged into the orchestral score, which
is freely accessible online. See note 32 below for the complete reference.
Probably Satie was referring to these drafts when (on 8 October) he wrote to Paul
Collaer: Je termine le troisime acte du Mdecin malgr lui (Volta, Correspondance,
p. 565).
It was completed by 3 November, as on that day Satie wrote to Sybil Harris: Jai
termin le 3e Acte du bon Mdecin malgr lui (ibid., p. 570).
The autograph orchestral score, housed in Yale University Library (USNH), can be
downloaded online at
Medecin_Malgre_Lui_(Satie,_Erik). The pages related to this case study are pp. 6772.
Robert Orledge published a critical edition of the score (Liverpool: Aerial Kites Press,
2001) in 58 numbered copies. In the manuscript, the Andantino (in Gounods original
orchestration) is in the hand of a copyist, but the melodic line was written by Satie. This
alternation of hands explains the lack of a quaver rest right before the Andantino.
Volta, Correspondance, p. 575 (letter to Jacques Gurin): Je termine le Mdecin
malgr lui (lorchestration). Je compte avoir fini dans 3 ou 4 jours. Veine ! Je men
lche les doigts.
172 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

section B (Ex. 8.1), which thus did not find a place in the orchestral score: the
whole sentence Allez-vous-en maladie was completely removed. Verbosity
(even if coming from a master such as Molire) is often a bad ally for comedy,
and this case is no exception: in measures 56, Sganarelle approves Lucindes
desire to stretch her legs a bit, but the following sentence (when he addresses the
fake apothecary Landre) is not really necessary to clarify the dramatic situation.
Landre can approach Lucinde in a more spontaneous way, without needing
an explicit invitation. From the musical point of view, Sganarelles melody for
Cela lui fera du bien ends on D sharp, the leading note of E: the tonality of the
Andantino. Therefore, Gounods piece can start right after this short sentence, and
there is no need for the harmonic preparation (through a dominant seventh) found
in Ex. 8.1. Thanks to the sudden change of register, the start of the Andantino takes
the audience by surprise: it sounds as if it came from another world Lucindes
inner dimension in Gounods view, elegant irony in Saties. The spoken sentence
Je vous prie was not copied in the orchestral score (as happened to most of
the stage directions), but it is present in the vocal score, so it was surely told on
the stage at the premiere.34
At the beginning of January 1924, when he was in Monte Carlo for the
premiere, Satie attended the rehearsals and claimed he was satisfied with his
own orchestration: Good orchestra. Very happy with my orchestration. It sounds
chic. Yes (5 January).35 Actually, the lightness and vivid brightness of sound
characterising Saties last orchestral works are perfectly displayed in the score of
Le Mdecin malgr lui. The first bars of section B (pp. 678 of the score) clarify
that the orchestral timbre was typically constructed on the basis of the strings by
adding light wind touches (in this case, flutes and trumpets in octaves). While in
Parade Satie had proved able to compose for big orchestra with great skill and
ease, the orchestra for Le Mdecin malgr lui is much smaller; however, Satie
could equally draw a very personal timbre from it.
An example of Saties fantasy as an orchestrator can be found at bars 914 of
section D (Lucinde). Here the tone oscillations moving the chords (bars 1114) are
doubled in various octaves by the winds, used in different combinations in order
to obtain timbral variety. The main problem here would be to prevent such moving
figures from masking both the voice and the countermelody of the first violins
(especially when even the cellos start oscillating at bars 1213): Saties solution
was sustained notes of the horns (used alternatively),36 functioning as elements
of harmonic cohesion that automatically re-qualify the swinging movements as
non-thematic background figures. The relative weights of the oscillating parts

Detailed information about the discrepancies between the orchestral and the vocal
score can be found in Orledges critical edition (see p. XVIII in particular).
Volta, Correspondance, p. 581; Bon orchestre. Trs content de mon orchestration.
Elle sonne chic. Oui.
The melodic continuity between the two horns, obtained with the octave leap FF
(sounding pitches), is particularly elegant.
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 173

are ingeniously varied: at bar 11, the doubling is done on two octaves, with the
two oboes divisi; at bar 12, the figure is spread upon four octaves, though the two
lower ones (two clarinets in unison and cellos) are a bit heavier; at bar 13, the
doublings still occupy four octaves, but this time the instrumentation is balanced
thanks to the use of winds a due; at bar 14, the octaves become two again, but the
higher one is predominant.
What has just been presented is a still little-explored side of late Satie, where he
has been observed dealing with stylistic and dramatic problems. The chronological
reconstruction provided although with some interpretative risk looks like a
chess game: Satie, with the aid of Diaghilev, studied each move analytically and
forecast its possible consequences. On 14 December 1923, in a letter to Diaghilev,
Satie expressed his satisfaction and listed the qualities of his work, adopting a
hyperbolic style:

The third act is almost finished. Im working on No. 9. Very happy with my
work. Attractive, fat, fine, delicate, superior, exquisite, varied, melancholy,
super etc thus it is, this fruit of my daily vigils, and even nocturnal ones
(though rarely).37

In Le Mdecin malgr lui, Satie, with typical humility, renounced part of his
authorial personality, but this stylistic constraint did not prevent him from attaining
his aesthetic ideals: the adjectives listed in this letter effectively form a mock-
serious summary of Satie in the 1920s.
If Diaghilev proved to be a very helpful collaborator, Gounod had no other
choice than agreeing and nodding silently, though his shadow may well have
bothered Satie now and then. Satie acknowledged that his best artistic companion
ever was no less than the philosopher Plato, with whom he worked on Socrate38
a very discreet collaborator indeed. On the other hand, the most contrasted and
articulated artistic partnership was arguably the one for Parade, with Cocteau,
Massine and Picasso.
The Parade team, first reunited in 1923 by the Comte Etienne de Beaumont
for the short divertissement La Statue retrouve, was recalled again by Beaumont
in 1924 for the new ballet Mercure (part of the Soire de Paris series he was
organising), this time with the significant exclusion of Cocteau. The Count had
complete trust in the ideas of Picasso and Satie, as he wrote to Satie in laudatory
terms: When one has the marvellous agreement of Satie and Picasso, one should

Volta, Correspondance, p. 575; Le troisime acte est presque termin. Jen
suis au n 9. Trs content de mon travail. Joli, gras, fin, dlicat, suprieur, exquis, vari,
mlancolique, extra etc. tel est-il, ce travail fruit de mes veilles diurnes, & mme
nocturnes (mais rarement).
Platon est un collaborateur parfait, trs doux & jamais importun (ibid., p. 277).
The implicit reference is to Cocteaus intrusive behaviour.
174 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

not seek anything else.39 In fact, the composer and the artist had been on the same
wavelength since the Parade experience their perfect mutual understanding
causing Cocteaus jealousy and the very subject matter of Mercure may well
have been a mockery of Cocteau, who loved to disguise himself as Mercury in
masked balls.40
The Count himself wrote a three-page typescript scenario for the ballet,41 but
he was probably more interested in challenging Diaghilevs supremacy as an
artistic impresario than in being acknowledged as an author himself; in fact, quite
surprisingly, the Soire de Paris poster indicated Mercure as based on a theme
by the choreographer Massine.42 Satie, Picasso and Massine actually worked
quite independently, but since the first stages of the work, it became quite clear
that Picassos ideas showed the way: his subtitle plastic poses pleased both
the Count who initially wanted to call the ballet Mercure, Tableaux vivants43
and the composer. Massine, who had to wait for the music in order to prepare
the choreography, constantly pressed Satie during the composition process
something the composer did not like at all. Saties lack of sympathy for Massine
was hidden perhaps under the flattery Cher Grand Artiste with which he
invariably addressed Massine in correspondence, and the definition votre si riche
chorographie (in a letter of 4 May) does not sound like a compliment coming
from Satie. Nevertheless, the final stages of composition involved adding music
to numbers 4 and 11 of the ballet, precisely to fit Massines choreographic ideas.44
On the other hand, Satie definitely enjoyed working with Picasso their
stubborn independence being one of the possible reasons for their sympathy since
their first meeting in 1916. Satie, who even declared himself a disciple of Picasso
in a letter he sent him on 10 October 1918,45 had always showed a deep interest
in cubism, and the key passage composition logic he used from 1913 onwards
bears striking similarities with synthetic cubism collages.46 But in 1924, cubism

Lorsquon a laccord merveilleux de Satie et de Picasso, on ne doit rien chercher
dautre (ibid., p. 592).
Robert Orledge, Erik Saties Ballet Mercure (1924): From Mount Etna to
Montmartre, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 123/2 (1998), p. 234.
Now held at the IMEC (Abbaye dArdenne, Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe,
France) together with all the documents of the Fondation Satie. See also ibid., pp. 22949.
The poster presented the ballet as Mercure / Poses plastiques / Thme et
Chorographie de Lonide Massine / Musique dErick [sic] Satie / Dcor et Costumes de
Pablo Picasso (reproduced in Ornella Volta, Erik Satie: Del Chat Noir a Dad, Catalogue
of the Exhibition at the Ivam Centre Julio Gonzlez, Valencia, 1996, p. 164).
Le titre de cette uvre pourrait donc tre : Mercure, Tableaux vivants, si cela
vous convient (letter to Satie of 21 February 1924; Volta, Correspondance, p. 593).
See Orledge, Erik Saties Ballet Mercure, p. 245.
See Volta, Correspondance, p. 342.
See Chapter 4 of my doctoral thesis Scrittura e riscrittura in Erik Satie (University
of Padua, 2010) and the conference paper At the Intersection of Three Forms of Art: The
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 175

must have seemed a relic of the past, after Dada had appeared on the Parisian
artistic scene.
Actually, neither Picasso nor Satie was particularly interested in being
associated with Dada, but they soon became involved in post-war artistic struggles
for publicity. The names of Picasso and Satie appeared in Picabias 1919 drawing
Mouvement dada, near the top of the timeline of French artists leading to the Dada
movement,47 and also on a leaflet that Tzara distributed in Paris in January 1920,
among the personalities who had (allegedly) adhered to the DaDa movement.
Two years later, Breton started to consider Tzara as an opponent, and Satie was
delighted to preside over the 1922 public trial (following the Congrs de Paris
organised by Breton to take the leadership of the Dada movement) that eventually
condemned Breton. This episode surely alienated Bretons sympathy for Satie,
while the latter got closer to Tzara. It is no surprise that on 15 June 1924, at the
Mercure premiere, the surrealist commando led by Breton and Aragon cried A
bas Satie and Vive Picasso seul. Incidentally, Bretons definition of surrealism
(in his 1924 Manifeste du surralisme) as a psychic automatism expressing the real
functioning of thought in absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all
aesthetic and moral preoccupation48 was indeed very far from Saties extremely
careful control of his creations. As for Picasso, apparently he had always been
ahead of his time, for his 1914 sculpture Le verre dabsinthe was chosen by Breton
for the Exposition surraliste dobjets he organised in 1936.
In such a complex environment, what never changed was the admiration Satie
and Picasso had for each other. While trying to define a first structural plan for his
score, Satie added in pencil a few memos to a single-page typescript by Beaumont
that are clearly connected with Picassos views:49 Poses Plastiques was written
twice in the document and Cubisme appeared next to the typed title of the final
number Rapt de Proserpine. The influence of cubism on Saties thinking is also
evident in yet another memo, Nocturne (cubisme), which apparently referred
to the second number La Nuit: this art movement therefore acted as an aesthetic
frame of the whole score. But when one actually looks at the score, cubism is not
the first tag that comes to mind: in Mercure we still find Saties lifelong trademark,
namely the jigsaw puzzle assembling logic, but collage-like procedures are not
as radical as in the 1914 kaleidoscopic series Sports et divertissements: they are
instead quite tamed, applied to regular four-bar phrases that are only occasionally
twisted. Such phrasal regularity was of course borrowed from popular music,

Genesis of Erik Saties Le Golf that I presented at the AMS 2010 meeting in Indianapolis.
Mouvement dada is a mechanical drawing that represents Dada as an alarm clock
which is supposed to awaken contemporary art. Picassos name is close to the positive
pole (i.e. antitraditional) of the clock battery (i.e. French modernism), while Satie is closer
to the negative pole (see John Elderfield, The Modern Drawing: 100 Works on Paper from
the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1983), p. 116).
Andr Breton, uvres compltes, vol. I (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), p. 328.
BNF 9596(2), pp. 12 (folded sheet pasted on the back of the front cover).
176 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

and in particular from the music hall,50 as Satie himself declared: The spectacle
is related quite simply to the music hall, without stylization or any rapport with
things artistic.51
There is, however, a more convincing way to associate cubism with Mercure
and to distrust Saties declaration.52 Paraphrasing the aesthetic statement
that Satie wrote in 1917 on one of his sketchbooks,53 for him harmony was a
sort of camera filter through which an object (the melody) could be observed:
changing the filter produced iridescent effects. Far from being a recollection of
Monets Rouen cathedral series, this concept is much closer to cubism than to
impressionism: lines and colours should never blur together, but should instead
preserve their autonomy, so that the illusion of a superimposition of different
planes can be created. What Satie is essaying here is basically a multiplication of
(listening) perspectives. In Mercure this is achieved in various ways, including the
following three: first, through the numerous reharmonisations of melodic themes
(something Satie was fond of); second, through the choice of stylistic variability
within a consistent musical structure; and, third, through a sort of dramaturgical
counterpoint with the other forms of art.
One example of reharmonisation concerns the melody presented at bars 13 of
the Polka des Lettres, which is then seen through different harmonic filters at the
end of the number and later in Le Chaos (at the beginning and end). Saties musical
style in Mercure is eclectic: we hear popular tunes (e.g. Danse de tendresse), avant-
garde harmonies with nervous chromatic basses (e.g. Ouverture), oases of modal
elegance (e.g. Bain des Grces) or inspired passages of a neoclassical clarity that
could well have sprung from the pen of an eighteenth-century composer (e.g.
Nouvelle Danse). The dramatic counterpoint was apparent in plastic poses such
as the delicate Bain des Grces accompanying the bath of three transvestites.
Now the Cubisme tag to the Rapt de Proserpine in the autograph plan seems
to make more sense,54 as Saties energetic music here resembles (in Steven Moore
Whitings words) a romp in an operetta by Offenbach,55 while Picassos scene
is much more restrained and abstract. The artist chose in fact to represent the

Mercure was premiered at the Cigale, a former music hall theatre in Montmartre.
Le spectacle sapparente au music-hall tout btement, sans stylisation, et par
aucun ct na de rapport avec les choses de lart (interview with Pierre de Massot, Paris-
Journal, 30 May 1924; translation by Robert Orledge, in Erik Saties Ballet Mercure, pp.
2312). Music hall was a favourite Cocteau ide fixe, but the qualifier without stylization
sets Mercure apart from Cocteaus evocations of popular entertainment (Whiting, Satie the
Bohemian, p. 523).
What Satie called art was, however, a complex concept: for further clarification,
see the complete aesthetic statement reported in Orledge, Satie the Composer, pp. 689.
See ibid.
It should be remembered that this plan was done at the very first stages of
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 528.
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 177

chariot of Proserpine as a white wooden cut-out (praticable) functioning as a

background to black wickerwork linear shapes attached to it.56 The form of the
represented object was therefore the result of the superimposition of the two
elements, each on a distinct plane: the linear element, floating freely out of the
edges of the background shape, cast shadows that created the illusion of thickness.
This special technique (comparable to Saties definitions of melody and harmony)
is one of the most appealing features of Picassos scenes and makes one think of
pencil drawings made in space. Likewise, in the curtain for the Soire de Paris
season, Picasso painted the two stock characters with free-flowing continuous
lines against coloured flat surfaces: such drawings made of a single unbroken
stroke must have been a constant in his visual imagination, as they can be found
both in his 1918 virtuosic illustrations (appropriately called monogrammes) for
Cocteaus Le coq et larlequin and as late as 1949 in the fascinating light drawings
he made with the help of the Life photographer Gjon Mili.57 In any case, Picassos
mastery was above the artistic fights between movements and arguably Saties
was as well, despite his fondness for personal confrontation. In 1924, in fact, the
border separating Saties friends from his enemies was particularly porous: Auric,
Poulenc and Cocteau had just gone over to the enemy (at least in his own view,
since Cocteau still contributed to the homage to Satie in the March 1924 issue of
Revue musicale), thus joining the surrealists Breton and Aragon.
When Satie chose Picabia between the two candidates proposed by Blaise
Cendrars as a set designer for Aprs-Dner (to be featured in the season of the
Ballets Sudois),58 he was consciously throwing himself into the Parisian fray at
the age of 58. Picabia who back in 1921 had published two salacious penses
by Satie in his journal 39159 was easily convinced to leave his temporary artistic
retreat, also because he was allowed to mould Cendrars scenario to his own
(iconoclastic) design. This was done in February 1924 and led to the audacious
ballet instantaniste Relche, where the contribution of Cendrars was scarcely
On 2 May, an anonymous reporter wrote in Paris-Journal that a few days
earlier he had seen Picabia, Satie and Rolf de Mar (the director of the Ballets
Sudois) having lunch together. He (probably Pierre de Massot) described their
behaviour in a lively tone: they were discussing animatedly and laughing loudly.

For a photograph of the scene, see Ornella Volta, LYmagier dErik Satie (Paris:
Van de Velde, 1979), p. 81.
Some of Milis photos were published in the 30 January 1950 issue of Life, on pp.
See Volta, Correspondance, p. 1024.
The two aphorisms were published in Le Pilhaou-Thibaou, supplment illustr of
391 (10 July 1921): Jaimerais jouer avec un piano qui aurait une grosse queue (Id like
to play with a piano that has a big knob, a piano queue being a grand piano); Ce nest
pas beau de parler du nud de la question (It isnt the done thing to talk about the knot of
the question though le nud can also mean the glans of the penis).
178 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Erik Satie was whispering in the ear of the painter Francis Picabia, and the director
of the Ballets Sudois, Rolf de Mar, looked delighted. What is this trio preparing?
Mystery.60 Apparently Satie and Picabia got along really well, and this led to
Bretons strong refusal (3 May) to Picabias offer to contribute to 391. Therefore,
Picabia started denigrating his former Dada companions, so that his enemies came
to coincide (at least partially) with Saties. Both being uncompromising artists
with a penchant for provocation, the enfants terribles Satie and Picabia prepared
to strike the Parisian artistic establishment at the premiere (which, after being
postponed twice, took place on 7 December).61
The title of the work, Relche (meaning no performance tonight), was
a brilliant discovery which would guarantee that it would be displayed in any
theatre at least once a week, and, during the summer, in all theatres at once.62
In the advertisement for the ballet in the October 1924 (and last) issue of 391,
the audience was invited to bring dark glasses and something to block their ears.
As for brawlers, de Mar would have whistles distributed to the public at every
performance.63 The one and only product of the instantanisme movement,
Relche was also advertised by Picabia in the NovemberDecember issue of La
Danse with a striking manifesto-like description that included puns, slogans and
more articulated thoughts like the following: Relche is life, life as I like it; life
without tomorrow, the life of today, everything for today, nothing for yesterday,
nothing for tomorrow Relche is movement without a goal, neither forward
nor backward, neither to the left nor to the right Relche is the happiness of
the moments without reflection; why reflect? why follow conventions of beauty
or joy? Relche advises you to be bon viveurs.64 Other hyperbolic passages
of this text could well have been pronounced by Rodolphe Salis, the Master of
Ceremonies at the Chat Noir who Satie met in 1887: Erik Satie, Brlin, Rolf de
Mar, Ren Clair, Prieur and me have created Relche a bit as God created life.65

discutaient avec animation et riaient tue-tte. Erik Satie chuchotait dans
loreille du peintre Francis Picabia et le directeur des Ballets sudois, Rolf de Mar,
semblait ravi. Que prpare donc ce trio? Mystre (Volta, Correspondance, p. 959).
The evidence supporting this date has recently been found by Robert Orledge.
nous serons srs de le voir afficher, au moins une fois par semaine, dans nimporte
quel thtre, et, pendant lt, dans tous les thtres la fois (Volta, Correspondance, p.
See Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 535.
Relche est la vie, la vie comme je laime ; la vie sans lendemain, la vie
daujourdhui, tout pour aujourdhui, rien pour hier, rien pour demain. Relche, cest
le mouvement sans but, ni en avant ni en arrire, ni gauche ni droite. Relche est
le bonheur des instants sans rflexion ; pourquoi rflchir, pourquoi avoir une convention
de beaut ou de joie ? Relche vous conseille dtre des viveurs (reproduced in Volta,
LYmagier dErik Satie, p. 83).
Erik Satie, Brlin, Rolf de Mar, Ren Clair, Prieur et moi avons cr Relche un
peu comme Dieu cra la vie (ibid.). Salis used to say: God created the world, Napoleon
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 179

Picabias ironically subversive ideas must have reminded Satie of the fumiste
experiences of his Montmartre years the very title Relche being an example of
mystification in the best fumiste tradition.66 Surely delighted to second Picabias
anti-bourgeois attitude, Satie in turn caught the pleasure-focused spirit of the
project and claimed to have written amusing, pornographic music,67 an obscene
ballet.68 Reviving the parodic techniques used in his so-called humoristic pieces,
in Relche Satie indeed quoted various popular lewd songs that were supposed to
be recognised by the audience. Some of these were actually songs with alternate
lyrics, both childrens rhymes and barracks songs,69 like the harmless Cadet
Rousselle and the spicy Le Pre Dupanloup sharing the same timbre. It seems that
Satie succeeded in his aim, as many in the audience felt compelled to sing along
when they recognised the song Le Navet (also known as Le marchand de navets).70
Any critical approach to Saties contribution to Relche has to deal with
a curious contrast inherent in the work: despite all the explicit emphasis that
Picabia put on ephemeral and hedonistic aspects, Saties logical thinking became
activated (by default?) and led to a tightly crafted mirrored structure with
interlocking elements, represented by Orledge on p. 180 of Satie the Composer
and by Whiting on p. 553 of Satie the Bohemian. Instantaneist music was
therefore supposed to outlive its performance time, at least in the analyses of
musicologists. Picabias trenchant statement nothing for tomorrow was also

created the Legion of Honour. As for myself, I made Montmartre! (Whiting, Satie the
Bohemian, p. 52). Prieur was probably the French Revolution politician Pierre-Louis Prieur
from the Marne region, who was given the punning nickname Crieur de la Marne because
of his eloquence (and stentorian voice).
For a study of the relationships between fumisme, Erik Satie and the avant-garde
(especially Dada), see Emilio Sala, Dalla Bohme allavant-garde: Ancora nel segno
dei fumisti, in Gianmario Borio and Mauro Casadei Turroni Monti (eds), Erik Satie e la
Parigi del suo tempo (Lucca: LIM, 2001), pp. 2944. On p. 44, the author compares the
accelerating hearse in Entracte with the galop refrain in the 1880s song Lenterrement (by
Aristide Bruant and Jules Jouy) and also with the lithograph Les morts vont vite by Charles
Leroy (presented at the Exposition des Arts incohrents in 1886).
une musique amusante, pornographique (Volta, LYmagier dErik Satie, p. 85).
In a letter to Milhaud on 1 September 1924, he wrote Le ballet obscne est termin
(Volta, Correspondance, p. 629).
Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, p. 539.
Ibid., p. 538, note 71. The lyrics of this song (titled Les Navets) are found in
Anthologie Hospitalire et Latinesque, Tome II (Paris: Chez Bichat-Porte-a-Droite, 1913),
p. 336. It was recorded (with the title Le marchand de navets and slightly different lyrics)
in Anthologie des chansons de salle de garde, Collection Plaisir des Dieux, Tonus No. 13,
Diffudisc, Paris. Satie used it in the Entre des Hommes and in the Rentre des Hommes
the turnip being an obvious reference to the penis. This melody must have been the air
connu adapted by Xanrof for his song Flagrant dlit (see Whiting, Satie the Bohemian, pp.
538, 5435). However, Saties direct reference to Le Navet in an interview with W. Mayr
(Le Journal littraire, 4 October 1924) clarifies the ultimate source of his quotation.
180 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

contradicted by Satie in a letter to Marcel Raval (21 October) where he declared

that: It is in Relche that the signal for departure will be given. With Relche
we are entering into a new period. I say this immodestly, but I say it Picabia is
cracking the egg, and we shall set out forward, leaving the Cocteaus and other
blinkered people behind us.71 In reality, any attempt to define the essence of
Dada-inspired instantaneism seems to be inherently fruitless: in his 1926 portrait
of Erik Satie designed for the Relche vocal score, Picabia inserted the sentence:
When will we get away from the habit of explaining everything?72 Fortunately,
a slogan on the front cover of the October issue of 391 helps us get out of this
exegetical impasse: Instantaneism is for those who have something to say73
and Satie and Picabia surely did.
One of the most remarkable features of Relche was its daring multimedia
nature, which involved music, dancing and film. As is well known, Ren Clair
contributed two films: one was very short, most probably projected over the
two initial pieces Ouverturette and Projectionette;74 the other was the famous
Entracte, about 18 minutes long, projected as an intermission. The insertion
of filmed images, although not a completely new experience for the audience,75
looked very far into the future of experimental theatre and of cinema, for that
matter. Not only was Relche a landmark of non-narrative cinema, it was also a
pioneering experiment in virtual reality. For example, Brlin was seen onstage as
a man of flesh and blood (lHomme) in the first act, then as a character (actually,
two different characters) in Entracte, then, at the end of the film, as the virtual
Brlin jumping through the screen onto the stage, and then again in flesh and
blood on the stage. Even the authors of the show, Picabia and Satie, appeared at
different levels of reality: first as themselves in the introductory film (the famous
jumping-on-roof sequence), then in the most incorporeal possible form as the
minds behind the scenes and the music, and finally as the real authors driving a
Citron car onstage.
The concept of multiplication not only referred to people and art forms, but also
to aesthetic categories. To put it better, the aesthetic core of Relche was arguably
the subtle interpenetration of high and low artistic categories, where each could
be transformed into (or mistaken for) the other in a disorienting (and authentically

Cest de Relche que sera donn le signal du dpart. Nous commenons de
Relche une nouvelle priode. Je le dis immodestement, mais je le dis Picabia crve
luf, & nous partons en avant, laissant derrire nous les Cocteau & autres brids
(Volta, Correspondance, p. 638; starting from the second sentence, the translation is by
Robert Orledge, in Satie the Composer, pp. 23).
Volta, Correspondance, p. 1025; Quand se dshabituera-t-on de lhabitude de tout
expliquer? This sentence was written in 1920 by Picabias first wife Gabrielle Buffet in the
preface to her husbands book Jsus-Christ Rastaquoure.
Linstantanisme: est pour ceux qui ont quelque chose dire.
There are in fact issues related to the respective timings of the film and the music.
In early cinema, films were commonly projected during music hall shows.
Collaborative Works in Saties Last Years 181

Dada) aesthetic experience. A good example of inextricable high/low mixture is

the trivial lascivious tunes which were coated with elaborate harmonies, displayed
in rather conservative contrapuntal textures and finely orchestrated to achieve a
varied palette of timbres. In this respect, Saties last work (as Relche turned to be)
allowed him to push his lifelong experiments with interfering aesthetic categories
to a previously unreached limit of higher complexity and greater strength. In the
kaleidoscopic and elusive network of Relche, the absolute, nostalgic elegance of
the Rentre de la Femme, the evoked lyrics Mesdames, voil lnavet (Ladies,
heres the turnip; Nos. 8 and 13), a fugal exposition (No. 17) and Chopins funeral
march (in Entracte) were all granted a similar status within a convincing dramatic
A parallel interest in contrasting concepts (that turn out to be mutually reversible)
is found in Picabias wild scenario, where men and women were presented in their
double dimension: as elegantly dressed bourgeois, but also as apparently naked
bodies (actually covered with body tights) deprived of any social characterisation.
As for Entracte, every single projection made nowadays confirms that its appeal
is still vivid and multi-targeted, because none of its elitist references to avant-
garde movements stop the general public enjoying its crazy freedom and genuine
comic scenes. All in all, such a multi-layered way of communicating would not
have been so effective without Saties music. In his last production, Satie seemed
to have successfully carried out Picassos celebrated motto: he did not have to look
for his music any more; he simply found it.76
In fact, both of Saties last ballets Mercure and Relche were composed in a
hurry, mostly under the pressure of choreographers. Satie, typically reflective and
considered, was never a fast composer and detested time constraints. Nevertheless,
his recent experience with Le Mdecin malgr lui certainly helped him to deal
with these two important (and well-paid) commissions by providing him with a
solid constructive frame to start with. As we have seen, Gounods opera, with its
traditional division into separate numbers, invited a very meticulous organisation
of the work on Saties part: he divided his scnes nouvelles into nine numbers
and prepared preliminary rhythmic and tonal plans before drafting the score.
The number opera form (which was indeed suggested by the detailed scenarios
provided by Beaumont and Picabia), the careful structural and tonal planning, and
the use of tonality itself are also common features of Mercure and Relche: this
confirms the central role of Le Mdecin malgr lui in the definition of Saties latest
working (and thinking) habits.
It should be noted that neither Parade (191617, 1919) nor Socrate (1917
18) was planned as a series of short numbers, each set in a specific tonality: the
dramatic swiftness of Mercure and Relche owes more to the lighthearted number

His compositional methods in 1924 in fact became very straightforward: he seemed
to have found an excellent balance between the relative simplicity of the compositional
processes and the never-ending experimentation in language (see Dossena, Scrittura e
riscrittura in Erik Satie, Chapter 6).
182 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

opera Genevive de Brabant (18991900) or to Saties proto-surrealistic play Le

pige de Mduse (1913). But the concern for tonal centres and the neoclassical
lightness that shines in many pieces of the two ballets are likely to have been
directly suggested by the Gounod pastiche.77

The influence of the aborted opera Paul & Virginie (19201923) cannot be properly
estimated from the few surviving manuscripts. However, Robert Orledge guesses that this
opera could have been similar in style to Le Mdecin malgr lui (see Orledge, Satie the
Composer, p. 323).
Chapter 9
History, Homeopathy and the
Spiritual Impulse in the Post-war Reception
of Satie: Cage, Higgins, Beuys
Matthew Mendez

Though Saties posthumous canonisation as precursor to and catalyst for a

number of key post-war experimental1 musical practices can be attributed to a
wide variety of factors, arguably none was as significant as his perceived position
with respect to history and tradition. The received wisdom on the topic would
have us believe that Satie successfully circumvented all influence from the
musical as well as the broader past, steadfastly cultivating an aesthetic marked
above all by the virtues of timelessness and anonymity. The most noteworthy
backer of this position is surely Virgil Thomson, originator of the well-known
claim that among the important twentieth-century composers, Satie is the only
one whose works can be enjoyed and appreciated without any knowledge of
the history of music.2 Less frequently cited but of much the same cast is Louis
Andriessen and Elmer Schnbergers straightfaced assertion that Satie kept
making history by composing without history.3 Of course, we know very well
that no artist works in a vacuum, le matre dArcueil despite his best efforts
included. As such, we would be wise to judge such cut-and-dried apologias with

I use the term experimental in Michael Nymans now well-established sense,
which denotes those composers of the 1950s and 1960s generation who saw themselves
as working in contradistinction to the supposed establishment avant-garde of Boulez,
Maderna, Nono et al.; see Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd
edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). The argument can be made that
the Satiean legacy was one of the primary causes for this bifurcation, for, as John Cage,
the most well-known and influential exponent of the experimental camp, once insisted,
The principal problem the French [i.e. Boulez and co.] have with my music circles
around my interest in Satie; Kenneth Silverman, Begin Again: A Biography of John
Cage (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), p. 84.
Richard Kostelanetz (ed.), Virgil Thomson: A Reader. Selected Writings, 19241984
(New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 108.
Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schnberger, The Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky
(Amsterdam: Amsterdam Academic Archive, 2006), p. 141.
184 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

a healthy dose of scepticism: as Robert Orledge has rightly argued, they are not
to be taken literally.4
Nevertheless, well-deserved revisionist moderation does not void the fact
that the Thomson position was held, if often implicitly, by most of the leading
players involved in the post-war recuperation of Satie. No doubt, outward
appearances indicate that strictly technical values such as the all-pervading
fadeur of Saties musical surfaces, his insistence on the virtues of repetition
and the ostensible contingency of content vis--vis structure in some of his
works were decisive in this reception. With Ravels early assessment of Satie
as a great experimenter setting the tone,5 most accounts have focused upon the
aesthetic impact his musical innovations have had on subsequent generations,
at the expense of a serious discussion of his ambiguous philosophical legacy.
Yet, given that the revival of interest in Saties work among experimental
practitioners came precisely at a time when the catastrophe of Auschwitz (to
say nothing of the enduring spectre of global nuclear annihilation) rendered the
past profoundly compromised in other words, at a time when forgetting was
the rule of the day the centrality of the perception that the author of Mmoires
dun amnsique had discovered a means of composing without history can
hardly be over-stated. In this sense, it is no coincidence that John Cages initial
impulse in the late 1940s was to link Satie directly to Webern: the Darmstadt
avant-garde deified Webern for much the same reason, as the only composer
whose work, as Richard Taruskin notes, was deemed appropriate to the amnesiac
tenor of the Stunde null and its injunction to start from scratch, to reject the past
in its totality as tainted if not actually destroyed in the Holocaust.6
Because they were not directly exposed to the horrors of the war, this subtext
is far from self-evident in the work of Saties two most important American
evangelists, Thomson and Cage. (Although Cage gave hundreds of interviews
during his long career, he virtually never addressed this issue publicly.)7 Instead,

Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1990), pp. 2589.
Arbie Orenstein (ed.), A Ravel Reader: Correspondence, Articles, Interviews
(Mineola: Dover, 2003), p. 45.
Richard Taruskin, Music in the Twentieth Century: The Oxford History of Western
Music, Vol. 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 18. This apparent equivalency
of function of Webern and Satie is yet another manifestation of the truism that the total
serialists and chance composers reached the same conclusions and produced compositions
that sounded effectively indistinguishable from one another, by the most radically divergent
of means.
But see Richard Kostelanetz, Conversing with Cage, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge,
2003), p. 63 for one of the very rare exceptions to this rule: When the Second World War
came along, I talked to myself, what do I think of the Second World War? Well, I think
its lousy. So I wrote a piece, Imaginary Landscape No. 3, which is perfectly hideous.
What I meant by that is that the Second World War is perfectly hideous. Also noteworthy
is the now-lost 1943 dance score Lidice, written to commemorate the victims of the Nazi
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 185

we must look to the post-Cage generation for an explicit formulation of Saties

relevance in light of the singular moral and historical exigencies of the extended
post-war period. In his manifesto Boredom and Danger, written during the
summer of 1966, the Fluxus composer and former Cage pupil Dick Higgins8
broached the topic through the lens of Saties repetitive works. Higgins was
certainly well prepared for the task, having established himself as one of the
New York undergrounds foremost Satieans: for the 1965 New York Avant-Garde
Festival, he staged Relche with his wife Alison Knowles, Meredith Monk and the
Japanese visual artist Ay-O, while on 18 June the following year he hosted a major
all-Satie marathon at his Chelsea, Manhattan gallery. Including contributions from
Yvonne Rainer of the Judson Dance Theater (already a longstanding Satie convert),
the concert featured the cabaret songs and a Cage-styled relay performance of
Vexations.9 It was the latter that helped alert Higgins to the positive virtues of
boredom its mysterious and profound properties, as Satie had it.10 In particular,
Higgins came to recognise boredoms potential as a technique ideally suited to

atrocities perpetrated in the eponymous Czech village the previous year. Similarly, Cages
1942 prepared piano composition In the Name of the Holocaust is often referenced in this
context. Though Cages biographer David Revill posits that the work was directly motivated
by his disgust at the conflict, given its date, the title almost certainly does not refer to the
Nazi genocide, but is rather an allusion to a passage from Joyces Finnegans Wake, Cages
favourite novel; David Revill, The Roaring Silence. John Cage: A Life (New York: Arcade
Publishing, 1992), p. 82. It is important to note that all three of these works are from Cages
youth and that he would renounce their overt topicality as soon as his mature aesthetic
coalesced in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Higgins was a student in Cages now-legendary New School classes of 19579.
For Rainers landmark early 1960s Satie dances, see Sally Banes, Democracys
Body: Judson Dance Theater, 19621964 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983). For
information on the two Higgins concerts, see Richard D. Freed, Avant-Garde Festival
Reviews Erik Satie in Music and Dance, New York Times, 27 August 1965, p. 16; Deborah
Jowitt, Monk and King: The Sixties Kids, in Sally Banes (ed.), Reinventing Dance in
the 1960s: Everything was Possible (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003),
p. 126; Edward Strickland, American Composers: Dialogues on Contemporary Music
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 91; and Stephen Varble, Interview with
Charlotte Moorman on the Avant-Garde Festivals, in Geoffrey Hendricks (ed.), Critical
Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia and Rutgers University, 1958
1972 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), p. 174. In addition to Higgins,
the pianists participating in the Vexations performance were John Bierhorst, Ferdinando
Buonanno, Philip Corner, George Flynn, Joseph Gurt, Miriam Kappell, John MacDowell,
Judy Speiser, James Tenney and Joan Wiesan; Who Makes Music and Where, New York
Times, 12 June 1966, p. 140; see also the advertisement Concert: Piano Music of Erik
Satie, Village Voice, 16 June 1966, p. 40.
Ornella Volta (ed.), A Mammals Notebook, trans. Antony Melville (London: Atlas
Press, 1996), p. 149.
186 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

the experiential, phenomenological concerns motivating the Fluxus movement.11

Taking Vexations, as well as La dfaite des Cimbres from Vieux sequins et vieilles
cuirasses, as antecedents of a putative new mentality, he draws attention in equal
measure to the euphoric acceptance and enjoyment as well as the uncertainty and
disorientation the psychological difficulties such works necessarily induce in
the listener.12
Though Higgins enthusiasm for these musical threshold states is highly
significant, for the moment I would like to draw attention to the ideological
associations he draws with Saties repetitive works. Higgins begins his argument
in a mock-Frankfurt School register, suggesting that a work that is without these
possibilities [i.e. boredom and danger] only decorates life and so is merely a
commodity.13 Departing from this common avant-gardist premise, he then asserts
that Fluxus should aim to broaden the perceptual horizons of its audiences by
any means necessary hence the acceptance of emotional and physical danger,
violent spectacle and psychological abuse as legitimate compositional strategies.
And it is precisely at this point that Higgins recognises the dangerous game that
Fluxus artists are playing by experimenting with such tactics:

We only want to overwhelm when to do so seems a positive factor. There was

nothing more overwhelming than Hitlers speeches as staged by Goebbels.
There has been a great deal of that in our world and one way to avoid it is to use
more sophisticated values in our own work, and the acceptance of boredom and
danger as valuable is indispensable to this end.14

For an exhaustive investigation of the centrality of experiential, perceptual
preoccupations to the Fluxus movement, see Hannah Higgins, Fluxus Experience (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2002). It should be noted that the word movement is
something of a misnomer as far as Fluxus is concerned; it has often been asserted that the
terms sensibility or attitude would be more appropriate.
Dick Higgins, Boredom and Danger, in Larry Austin and Douglas Kahn (eds),
Source: Music of the Avant-Garde, 19661973 (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2011), pp. 182, 178, 181. The reasons for Higgins interest in La dfaite des Cimbres are
obscure. Higgins is under the impression that the final eight beats of the movement are to be
repeated by the pianist 380 times, yet the work contains no such indication, nor is there any
known performing tradition to this effect. Alison Knowles remains convinced that Higgins
derived the number 380 from a specific source (which she can no longer recall); private
communication with Alison Knowles, 2 June 2012. Either way, it is unclear why Higgins
thought La dfaite des Cimbres was one of Saties repetitive works in the first place. It
should be noted that a number of subsequent commentators, most notably Nyman, have
taken Higgins claim about La dfaite des Cimbres at face value and have disseminated it
further without inquiring into its accuracy; see, for example, Nyman, Experimental Music,
p. 36.
Higgins, Boredom, p. 182.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 187

Higgins believes that, within certain bounds (when it seems a positive factor),
two wrongs do make a right so to speak and that the best means of healing
an illness is, paradoxically, through further exposure to the illness. Needless to
say, this line of reasoning practically guarantees misunderstanding: Higgins
argument is by no means that the Nazi death camps should be reinstituted, the
better for us to be desensitised to the unspeakable fact that they ever existed in
the first place. Rather, his proposed method is a homeopathic one, founded upon
the formula of heal like with like. Significantly, homeopathy is a key doctrine of
Rosicrucianism, that esoteric movement with which Satie became involved during
the 1890s.15
Of course, Saties association with the Rosicrucian craze was notoriously
equivocal: though many have dismissed it as little more than an arch send-up
of fin-de-sicle Montmartre at its most decadent and self-important, the question
of the genuineness of Saties association with the movement remains a matter
of considerable debate.16 For our purposes, however, Saties motives are less
important than the fact that, taken together, the Rose-Croix pieces remain one of
the rare overt expressions of occult Christianity in the musical canon. Yet, as Noel
Verzosa observes, this reality has been consistently suppressed or downplayed
with not a little embarrassment by Saties closest defenders. This is the case
insofar as to admit that Sr Pladans brand of over-ripe late romanticism had
any lasting impact on Satie would be to severely compromise his modernist
bona fides. As far as matters musical went, the late-nineteenth-century revival of
Rosicrucianism would have been unthinkable without the influence of that other
panegyric to homeopathic Christianity, Wagners Parsifal. Verzosa concludes that
entertaining the possibility that Saties ties to Rosicrucianism were earnest would
mean complicating his long-held reputation as the anti-Wagner par excellence,
the true originator of le style dpouill.17 Therefore, if it cannot be denied that his
formative years were spent in the very heart of Klingsors garden, in the very

Although to my knowledge Higgins never discussed the hermetic, alchemic
traditions of Rosicrucianism by name, he was long fascinated by the work of Giordano
Bruno (15481600) and Robert Fludd (15741637), both of whom were closely aligned
with the movement.
With respect to Saties true opinion of Rosicrucianism, William Austin helpfully
poses four potential scenarios: 1) Satie was cynically joking in a ponderous way; 2) he was
deeply committed to a fantastic ideal, which he abandoned by 1900; 3) he served a subtler
ideal, to which he remained faithful while protecting it with a shell of irony; 4) he was
uncertainly groping his lonely way amid conflicting ideals; William Austin, Satie Before
and After Cocteau, Musical Quarterly 48/2 (1962), p. 224.
Noel Orillo Verzosa, Jr., The Absolute Limits: Debussy, Satie, and the Culture
of French Modernism, ca. 18601920, PhD dissertation, University of California, 2008,
pp. 94104. Verzosa concludes at p. 103 that the modernist values that Satie is thought to
embody today arose out of active participation in, and not simply an ironic critique of, the
culture of mysticism in fin-de-sicle Paris.
188 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

depths of the Grails crypt,18 those inclined to view Satie as having been at the
vanguard of the siege on Bayreuth cannot but justify his allegiance to Pladan,
Montmartres Fisher King, as the actions of a double agent, wielding the sword
of understated satire, safeguarded by the armour of soft-pedalled pudeur.
Unsurprisingly, these historiographical obstacles are further amplified in post-
war Satie reception. Though Vexations and, to a lesser degree, compositions like
Messe des pauvres (18935) were absolutely front and centre in this reception,
these works patent Rosicrucian and post-Wagnerian affinities were almost entirely
effaced in the course of the endeavour to install Satie as the forefather of the Cage-
Higgins experimental axis. Indeed, to the extent that the 1950s1960s vanguard
did not favour the supposed anti-art objectivity of Saties final period, Verzosa
correctly notes that commentators have tended to treat the Rose-Croix music as
little more than an embryonic, abortive attempt at ideas that Satie would more
successfully realise with musique dameublement.19 Yet it is also plain to see that
in the aesthetic atmosphere of the 1950s, in which the perfect non-referential
purity20 effected by both chance and total serialism was prized above all else,
the sublimated Catholicism and dissembled links to Wagnerian Kunst-religion
characteristic of the pre-Arcueil music would have been even more alien than they
were to Cocteau and the Les Six composers circa 1917.
Consequently, in assessing the post-war Satie reception, we are confronted
with two very different points of departure: on the one hand, the widely held
claim that Saties music served as an anti-idealist, demystifying stimulus for a
generation hoping to refute the fiction of the cult of the artist and artworks once
and for all; and, on the other hand, the rather more unorthodox suggestion that
the Cage-Higgins-centred Satie revival entailed a tacit ongoing dialogue with the
idea that music should be the handmaiden of spiritual impulses; that, as Wagner
asserted, it could even take over the role formerly played by religion. The choice
is one of emphasis: did Saties experimental heirs set such great store by his music
because, in the words of Vladimir Janklvitch, it endeavours to disenchant the
enchanted soul?21 Or, rather, did they value it for opposite reasons, as it seems
to exercise such a potent power of bewitchment over its listeners?22 No doubt,
Cages well-known defences of Satie in particular, his assertion that to follow
in Saties footsteps, we must give up our inherited aesthetic claptrap would

Jean Cocteau, quoted in ibid., p. 136.
Ibid., p. 99.
Kate van Orden, On the Side of Poetry and Chaos: Mallarman Hasard and
Twentieth-Century Music, in Michael Temple (ed.), Meetings with Mallarm in
Contemporary French Culture (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1998), p. 167.
dsenchanter lme enchante; Vladimir Janklvitch, La Musique et les heures
(Paris: Seuil, 1988), p. 9.
Vladimir Janklvitch, Music and the Ineffable, trans. Carolyn Abbate (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 22.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 189

appear to indicate it was the former that appealed far more strongly.23 Yet, as we
shall see, the mystical, post-romantic image of Satie played an equal, if more
furtive, role in shaping post-war sensibilities. Only Satie, it seemed, could address
the historical impasse then confronting not only artists but all of humanity. This
is particularly clear in the work of another of Saties most passionate mid-century
devotees, the controversial German sculptor and proto-performance artist Joseph
Beuys. A colleague of Cage and Higgins, Beuys mined the links between Satie
and Wagner to an unparalleled degree, finding particular inspiration in their shared
enthusiasm for the chivalric spirituality of the Middle Ages.24
Starting with the conceptual framework outlined in Boredom and Danger,
the following investigation will trace the divergent ways in which the homeopathic
impulse latent in Saties works operates in a trio of performances given within a
span of 18 months during 1963 and 1964: Cages presentation of the public world
premiere of Vexations which Higgins suggested was a Fluxus performance in all
but name25 and two of Beuys actions (as he called his performance pieces),
the Sibirische Symphonie 1. Satz and Kukei, akopee-Nein!, Braunkreuz, Fettecken,
Modellfettecken. The comparison between Beuys and Cage is particularly salient
with respect to problems of historicity and the contemporary loss of meaning (of
which the former is a subcomponent), both effects of an ever-more thoroughly
administered, instrumentalised (post)modernity. As the two great optimists of
post-war art, both played the role of religious healer as frequently as they played
the role of artist, engaging in practices that were as much anthropological as they
were art-historical in nature.26 It is therefore characteristic that both deploy Saties
works as spiritual, holistic remedies for the crisis of meaning. Yet, while Beuys

John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings (Middletown: Wesleyan University
Press, 1961), p. 82.
All the same, some critics have insinuated that Beuys found Saties work to be of
value as an instantiation of musical Dadaism, a position the following discussion will reveal
as being wide of the mark; for such a reading, see Mario Kramer, Klang und Skulptur: Der
musikalische Aspekt im Werk von Joseph Beuys (Darmstadt: Verlag Jrgen Husser, 1995),
p. 13.
In spite of this, we should take care not to conflate Cage with Fluxus, for their
positions were by no means always synonymous.
As Claudia Mesch and Viola Michely intimate, for reasons of academic fashion
the strong religious orientation (predominantly Catholic, but by no means exclusively) of
Beuys work has been largely neglected by English-language art-historical scholarship:
Introduction, in Claudia Mesch and Viola Michely (eds), Joseph Beuys: The Reader
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), pp. 46. For a recent sign that this may be changing,
see Chris Thompson, Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2011). To an extent, a similar situation exists with respect
to Cage, though George Leonard is hardly alone in his conviction that Cage becomes more
comprehensible when he is thought of not as a musician but as a religious figure: George
J. Leonard, Into the Light of Things: The Art of the Commonplace from Wordsworth to John
Cage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 120.
190 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

looks to restore absent, forgotten meanings to the experience of modernity, Cage

instead sees the loss of meaning as empowering. As Robert Morgan has correctly
intimated, the two disagree most intractably on the problem of the psyche and
ego:27 in a word, Beuys practises egotic homeopathy, Cage egoless homeopathy.
Consequently, whereas Cage renounces the past by embracing the strategy of
forgetting suggested by Vexations, in his Satie-inspired actions, Beuys can only
resurrect historical consciousness by substituting an irretrievable and hence
fraudulent past for the present.

Beuys and the Ambivalence of the Past

Apart from its obvious historical-ideological implications, it is possible that

Higgins allusion to the unsavoury authoritarianism of Hitlers speeches as
staged by Goebbels in Boredom and Danger has a second, rather more personal
meaning. Higgins had his first sustained contact with Beuys at one of the earliest
official Fluxus events, the Festum Fluxorum Fluxus: Musik und Antimusik,
das Instrumentale Theater, held on 23 February 1963 at the Staatliche
Kunstakademie, Dsseldorf, where Beuys was then a professor.28 Though Beuys
work is now widely read as a tacit commentary on German collective memory
and its failure to adequately address the legacy of the Holocaust, during the
late 1960s and 1970s, it was instead his vigorous efforts to construct a larger-
than-life persona the way in which Beuys imbued all of his activities with an
atavistic, shamanistic aura that received the most attention from colleagues.
In 1963, however, Beuys was still a relative unknown. No one, with the possible
exception of his closest associates, could have predicted what role he would play
in the Dsseldorf concerts.
Prominently featuring elements from Saties Messe des pauvres and Sonneries
de la Rose + Croix, Beuys main contribution to the Festum was the Sibirische
Symphonie 1. Satz,29 given on the events first evening.30 Heiner Stachelhaus has

See Robert C. Morgan, The End of the Art World (New York: Allworth Press, 1998),
p. 107: What Beuyss teaching suggests, in contrast to that of John Cage, is that the denial
of the ego is less healthy and less beneficial than the rechanneling of the ego as a source
of energy.
He also helped co-organise the soiree; Uwe M. Schneede, Joseph Beuys: Die
Aktionen. Kommentiertes Werkverzeichnis mit fotografischen Dokumentationen (Ostfildern-
Ruit bei Stuttgart: Verlag G. Hatje, 1994), p. 20.
For the sake of convenience, this work will henceforth be referred to as the
Symphonie. The abbreviation should not be confused for any of Beuys other symphonic
works, namely EURASIA. Sibirische Symphonie 1963. 32. Satz and 34. Satz (1966) and
Celtic + ~ (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony (1970).
There has been some confusion as to whether the action was given on the first
or the second evening of the Festum: following Beuys statements, most authoritative
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 191

rightly described the action Beuys very first as a deliberate provocation,31

for it served notice to Higgins and George Maciunas (the unofficial chairman
and ideologist of Fluxus) in no uncertain terms that Beuys vision for the nascent
Fluxus tendency was already miles away from theirs that, as Beuys later put
it, it was even directly opposite of theirs.32 Indeed, the Dsseldorf audience was
shocked, taken aback by the unexpectedly visceral, incantatory intensity of the
Symphonie. Years later, Beuys could still remember the surprise on Dick Higgins
face after the conclusion of the action, which contrasted absolutely with the cool,
disinterested logic characteristic of the other performances.33 Higgins was not the
only one caught unawares: Emmet Williams recalled his Fluxus colleagues being

sources have previously indicated that the Symphonie was performed on 3 February, the
second evening, and that his other offering, the rather inconsequential Komposition fr 2
Musikanten, was given the prior evening; see, for example, Gtz Adriani, Winifried Konnertz
and Karin Thomas, Joseph Beuys: Life and Works, trans. Patricia Lech (Woodbury: Barrons
Educational Series, 1979), p. 91; Heiner Stachelhaus, Joseph Beuys, trans. David Britt (New
York: Abbeville Press, 1991), p. 129; Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys (New York: Solomon
R. Guggenheim Museum, 1979), p. 87. Uwe Schneede, however, has convincingly argued
that the Symphonie had to have been given on the first evening (2 February) and that the
Komposition was carried out the following night; likewise, Beuys specialist Mario Kramer
seconds Schneedes assessment: Schneede, Aktionen, p. 28 n. 2; and Kramer, Klang, p. 35.
Stachelhaus, Beuys, p. 129.
Joseph Beuys and Richard Hamilton, Gesprch zwischen Joseph Beuys und
Richard Hamilton, in Ewa Beuys, Wenzel Beuys and Jessyka Beuys (eds), Joseph Beuys.
Block Beuys: Der Block Beuys im Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt (Munich:
Schirmer-Mosel, 1997), p. 10.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 88; for another recollection of the response to the Symphonie,
see Jean Sellem, The Fluxus Outpost in Sweden: An Interview with Bengt af Klintberg,
Lund Art Press 2/2 (1991), p. 67. Though there is no reason to doubt the veracity of Beuys
recollection, it does further muddy the waters with regard to the question of which evening
the Symphonie was performed. Maciunas correspondence with Beuys in preparation
for the Festum indicates that Higgins was in Turkey in January 1963 and that it was
uncertain whether he would be able to attend: Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 88.
According to Owen Smith, in the event, Higgins missed the first evening but was able to
attend and participate in the second nights festivities; Owen F. Smith, Fluxus: The History
of an Attitude (San Diego: San Diego State University Press, 1998), p. 96. If this was indeed
the case, and if Beuys memory of Higgins reaction is accurate, this would cast doubt
on Schneedes otherwise plausible attribution of the action to the first evening. Further
confusing matters, elsewhere Smith claims that the Symphonie was performed on the first
evening and implies that Higgins was not only present but contributed his Constellation Nos.
4 and 7 to the programme; Owen Smith, Developing a Fluxable Forum: Early Performance
and Publishing, in Ken Friedman (ed.), The Fluxus Reader (Chichester: Academy
Editions, 1998), p. 4. For her part, Alison Knowles recalls being present with Higgins for
both nights: private communication with Alison Knowles, 2 June 2012. Higgins own brief
commentary, written in the wake of the Festum, also seems to imply his having been there
both evenings: Dick Higgins, Auszug aus Postface, in Jrgen Becker and Wolf Vostell
192 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

astonished and in a state of shock at finding themselves aligned with this kind
of activity.34
Beuys most forcefully parted ways with the Fluxus mainstream with respect
to their proposition that authorship and narrative were no longer relevant to
contemporary artistic production. Maciunas was unequivocal on the issue: Fluxus
would destroy the authorship of pieces & make them totally anonymous.35 As
such, the cult of the artist (revived in the 1940s by the Abstract Expressionists)
and its attendant notions genius, inspiration and even originality were to be
wholly devalued. Sometime Fluxian Yoko Ono puts it plainly: In Fluxus, it was
not cool to use anything that had to do with human psyche [sic].36 Going one
better than Cage (though it leant heavily upon his precedent), Fluxus rejected
the grand imperatives of communication and self-expression in favour of what
Higgins termed mini-realism, immersive, quasi-scientific investigations of the
density of everyday experience.37 Ideally, the artist would even become superfluous
with respect to her works, an aspiration reflected in the general rule that Fluxus
compositions could be performed by anyone, at any time, thereby divorcing the
ego of the artist from his or her creation.38 In contrast, Beuys actions would
have been unthinkable without his physical presence: impossible for others to
interpret or even straightforwardly re-enact, their every detail bears his inimitable
That said, to contend that Beuys had no stake in the conviction underlying
Fluxus post-Cagean rubric that there is no hiatus between art and life would be
to misrepresent his relationship with the movement. Arguably, without the benefit
of his experiences with Fluxus, Beuys would never have arrived at what became

(eds), Happenings, Fluxus, Pop Art, Nouveau Ralisme: Eine Dokumentation (Hamburg:
Rowohlt, 1965), p. 184.
Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson, Joseph Beuys
at the Guggenheim, October 12 (Spring 1980), p. 7.
George Maciunas, Letter to Tomas Schmit (1964), in Jon Hendricks (ed.), Fluxus
Codex: The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection (Detroit: Gilbert and Lila Silverman
Fluxus Collection, 1988), p. 37, emphasis in original.
Yoko Ono, quoted in Kristine Stiles, Anomaly, Sky, Sex and Psi in Fluxus, in
Geoffrey Hendricks (ed.), Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia
and Rutgers University, 19581972 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press), p. 84.
Dick Higgins, Modernism since Postmodernism: Essays on Intermedia (San Diego:
San Diego State University Press, 1997), p. 176.
Joan Rothfuss, Joseph Beuys: Echoes in America, in Gene Ray (ed.), Joseph
Beuys: Mapping the Legacy (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2001), p. 41.
See, for example, Ken Friedman, Getting into Events, in Ken Friedman (ed.),
Fluxus Performance Workbook [El Djarida, special issue] (1990), p. 5: Only Beuys can
have done a Beuys performance. Also relevant is Bengt af Klintberg, Fluxus Games and
Contemporary Folklore: On the Non-Individual Character of Fluxus Art, Konsthistorisk
tidskrift 62/2 (1993), pp. 115, 120.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 193

his signature slogan, every human being is an artist.40 Moreover, in later years
(and in a more conciliatory mood), Higgins was willing to admit that, at least
in principle, Beuys expressionism represented a legitimate side of Fluxus.41
Yet in 1963, Higgins and Maciunas were loath to concede this point. Conjuring
the repressed memory of archaic rituals, Beuys charisma-laden Symphonie was
an unsettling reminder of a not-so-distant past in which cults of personality and
blood and soil credos ruled the day. That Beuys action was given to a largely
international audience in a city that had been reduced to little more than a heap of
rubble less than two decades previously only added insult to injury.
Yet things are never quite so black and white with Beuys. While Higgins
adoption of the homeopathic method was only hinted at in Boredom and Danger,
Beuys professed adherence to it throughout his career, openly claiming for his
artistic production the motto similia similibus curantur.42 Indeed, Beuys had long
seen himself as no less than a crusader for the good, one whose aim was to restore
the human race to health. Though he was far more flamboyantly pontifical in
approach, in this he was actually much like Cage. It could be argued, then, that
Beuys and Higgins disagree not on the strategy necessary to avoid a return to
Hitlers speeches as staged by Goebbels, but rather on the tactics required. If to
varying degrees both approach art as a homeopathic, quasi-alchemical remedy for
societys ills, they disagree on the role subjectivity should play in their attempts to
heal like with like.
In this, it is significant that Beuys appears to have been attracted solely to
Saties Rosicrucian works, whereas Cage and Higgins maintained an interest
in the entire oeuvre. As an adherent of the teachings of the Austrian esotericist
Rudolf Steiner, the tenets and imagery of Rosicrucianism had long appealed
to Beuys.43 Not only that: as a youth, he read Pladans writings with great
enthusiasm and continued to employ the Srs ideas into his mature years.44

Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys in America: Energy Plan for the Western Man.
Writings by and Interviews with the Artist, ed. Carin Kuoni (New York: Four Walls Eight
Windows, 1990), p. 22. For a balanced summary of this point, see Thomas Crow, The
Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent, 195569 (London:
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996), p. 136. For Higgins opinion of the situation, see Dick
Higgins and Nicholas Zurbrugg, Looking Back: Dick Higgins Interviewed by Nicholas
Zurbrugg, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 21/2 (May 1999), p. 27.
Higgins, Modernism, p. 94. This suggests it was not the violence in Beuys action in
and of itself that Higgins objected to: after all, Higgins was the composer of Ten Thousand
Symphonies (1968), a work whose score is produced by shooting a machine gun at empty
staff paper.
Beuys, Energy Plan, p. 128: the Latin for heal like with like.
Steiner was a student of Rosicrucianism and devoted multiple lecture series to
the topic.
Stachelhaus, Beuys, p. 41; Ann Temkin and Bernice Rose, Thinking is Form: The
Drawings of Joseph Beuys (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1993), p. 123 n. 3.
194 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Without question, the argument could be made that Beuys co-opted Saties works
not for their musical values, but rather as particularly vivid totems of an occultist
belief system to which he hoped to convert his audiences. Yet to do so would
be to overstate the case, for Beuys, who received musical training as a child
(he played cello and piano), first fell in love with Saties music as a teenager,
long before his mature aesthetico-philosophical loyalties were settled.45 Indeed,
considering how obscure a name Satie was in Germany during this period
not to mention that Beuys adolescence coincided with the height of the Nazi
campaign against so-called entartete Kunst it must be counted as a fairly
remarkable occurrence that he came into contact with Saties music at such an
early age.46 Beuys clearly had a close affinity for the music itself: according to
one of his closest friends, he loved Satie and played his music exquisitely.47
Satie was even played at Beuys funeral in 1986.48
Nevertheless, Beuys did later claim that a Rosicrucian or at least a spiritual
intention was foremost in his mind during the performance of the Symphonie.49 The
action lasted only 10 minutes and featured two sites of activity: in close proximity,
a grand piano and a large portable blackboard.50 Beuys prefaced the action by
tying the body of a dead hare onto the latter, leaving it dangling upside down. Also
affixed to the blackboard was an electric power cord, which was extended to the
piano. After preparing the hare, Beuys sat down at the piano, where he began a
short improvisation. Gradually, he blended in (Beuys words) excerpts from the
Messe and selected harmonies from the Sonneries.51 Rather than playing either of
the works in their entirety, Beuys only used them suggestively, as Uwe Schneede
notes.52 At certain intervals, he also stopped the music to write various sentences

One might speculate that as a child Beuys implicitly sensed a particular quality in
Saties Rosicrucian works that strongly appealed to him (for example, a feeling of austere,
inwardly-directed spirituality), but that he only later came to realise the direct conceptual
and aesthetic relevance of this early enthusiasm to his nascent visual style.
Although Beuys had a notorious mythomaniac streak, often exaggerating (or in certain
cases wholly omitting) certain episodes of his autobiography, there is no evidence to dispute
the contention that he first became acquainted with Saties music during the second half of the
1930s. Notwithstanding the fact that he was a member of the Hitler Youth, Beuys would later
account for the situation by claiming that at the time he aspired to take in everything that was
forbidden during Hitlers reign; Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 13.
Er liebte Satie und spielte ihn vorzglich; Franz Joseph van der Grinten, quoted in
Jrgen Geisenberger, Joseph Beuys und die Musik (Marburg: Tectum Verlag, 1999), p. 40.
Dave Perez, Exhibition Review: Snyder-Rogers Gallery, Kansas City, New Art
Examiner 14/4 (December 1986), p. 49.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 88.
Geisenberger, Beuys, p. 63; Schneede, Aktionen, p. 22. Notably, both items would
become omnipresent in Beuys later oeuvre.
Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 91; Tisdall, Beuys, p. 88.
Andeutend; Schneede, Aktionen, p. 23. Of course, given the instrumentation
(organ and chorus) of the Messe des pauvres, an unabridged, unreduced performance would
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 195

and notations on the blackboard, each time apparently resuming the music where
he left off.53 After completing the musical portion of the action, Beuys then placed
five large, roughly spherical lumps of brown clay (he referred to these as little clay
mountains) on the closed piano lid.54 Into each55 lump was inserted a large pine twig,
each approximately half a metre long and devoid of foliage. The branches, which
Beuys wife described as telegraph wires,56 were meant as a natural counterpart
to the power cord. This is why the cable was subsequently placed amongst the
miniature forest of branches, the result of which Beuys portrayed as resembling an
electric pylon system leading from the piano to the hare.57
At this point, Beuys proceeded to the climax of the Symphonie. Brandishing
a knife, he punctured the dead hares skin and removed its heart, doing so with
such force and conviction that it reputedly took some spectators breath away.58
While for some the violence elicited frightening and painful sensations, Beuys
nevertheless performed the evisceration without a trace of sensationalism:
according to eyewitnesses, it was a very quiet affair, although Nam June Paik did
recall Beuys being almost red-faced by the end.59 By way of a coda, Beuys final
gesture was to place the heart on the blackboard, connecting it to the electrical
wire and by extension to the piano.
What is perhaps most noteworthy about the commentary Beuys gave on the
Symphonie in the ensuing years is his reference to it as a free composition for
piano.60 This is peculiar for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it
was precisely the non-musical elements of the action the removal of the hares
heart that made it Beuys first succs de scandale. Indeed, most commentaries
on the work have paid little if any attention to its significant Satiean endowment.61
On the other hand, Beuys seems to have wanted to have his cake and eat it too, for
he also notes of this ostensible composition for piano that the piano was used as
a sculpture.62 Perhaps he considered his performance, and by implication Saties
music, as consisting of static, plastic objets sonores (thereby corroborating Daniel
Albrights shrewd claim that Satie was the first great materialist of music).63 No

have been impossible regardless of the circumstances.

Tisdall, Beuys, p. 88.
Schneede, Aktionen, kleinen Tonberge, p. 23.
Telegraphenartige Draht; Eva Beuys, quoted in ibid.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 88.
Stachelhaus, Beuys, p. 129.
Schneede, Aktionen, p. 24; Nam June Paik, Beuys Vox: 196186 (Seoul: Won
Gallery, 1990), p. 19.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 88
The exception is Geisenberger, Beuys, pp. 3942, 617.
War das Klavier als Skulptur benutzt; quoted in ibid., p. 64.
Daniel Albright, Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and
Other Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 192.
196 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

doubt, the severe, utterly inert sonorities of the Messe and Sonneries would be
tailor-made to create such an impression. Nevertheless, we may rightly ask if the
Symphonie can truly be classified as both a musical composition and a sculpture.
Given that Beuys once went so far as to declare that the work contained the essence
of all [his] future activities,64 it is likely that he did not intend the terms musical
composition and sculpture in their traditional senses; instead, he is referring to his
so-called expanded concept of art and the related notion of social sculpture (or
social plastic), both of which, as he claims, were present in the Dsseldorf action
in germinal form.
Viewed schematically, the expanded concept of art can be boiled down to
Beuys conviction that everyone is an artist. This is not to say that, willy-nilly,
he believes everyone is a good painter; rather, the expanded concept refers to
the talent involved in every job a nurses talent or a farmers talent as creative
potential.65 Beuys frequent use of the term anthropological art66 is helpful here,
for his aim was to teach individuals, regardless of their occupation or field of
specialisation, how better to unlock their creative potential during the course of
their daily lives that is, in situations having nothing to do with art as ordinarily
conceived. In this, Beuys follows Steiner, regarding creativity as the ground of
society, as the fundamental quality necessary for personal and political self-
determination hence Beuys equation, Art=CAPITAL.67 It follows that if a
nurse and a farmer are artists, their medium patients and crops, respectively is
broadly speaking society, or social sculpture/social plastic.68 The implication
is finally that society is an artwork on the broadest of scales, the culmination of
which is to be nothing less than the total artwork of the future social order.69
What does the Symphonie have to do with these grand visions of a social
Gesamtkunstwerk? After all, if everyone is an artist, what reason is there for a
professional artist to perform an action? Consider Beuys claim that his works
were composed with materials that transform [themselves] into psychological
powers within those who are not aware of their creative potential.70 For Beuys, art
as traditionally conceived is now a vehicle, a pedagogical mechanism or productive

Tisdall, Beuys, p. 87.
Joseph Beuys, Talking about Ones Own Country: Germany, in In Memoriam
Joseph Beuys: Obituaries, Essays, Speeches, [ed. unspec.], trans. Timothy Nevill (Bonn:
Inter Nationes, 1986), pp. 445.
Beuys, in William Furlong, Speaking of Art: Four Decades of Art in Conversation
(London: Phaidon, 2010), p. 81.
Beuys, Energy Plan, p. 22; Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys. The Multiples: Catalogue
Raisonn of Multiples and Prints, Jrg Schellmann (ed.), 8th edn (New York: Distributed
Art Publishers, 1997), pp. 248, 295.
See Beuys, in Joseph Beuys et al., What is Money? A Discussion, trans. Isabelle
Boccon-Gibod (Forest Row: Clairview Books, 2010), pp. 1516.
Gesamtkunstwerk zuknftiger Gesellschaftsordnung; Beuys, Energy Plan, p. 22.
Beuys, in Furlong, Speaking, p. 79.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 197

moment of inquiry71 in the service of a higher art: the art of museums and galleries
has been subsumed by life, which is in its turn only ever art (social plastic).
Fostering an aura of associative power,72 Beuys actions trigger complex affects
and sensations so as to induce a renewed appreciation of the spectators own unique
creative abilities. Not only that: if only negatively, Beuys works provide a fleeting
glimpse, a glimmer of the social Gesamtkunstwerk (more on this point later).
This associative power generally manifests itself through archetypal images
and the memory traces of the collective unconscious. In the Symphonie, this is
clearest in the case of the dead hare. Though Beuys originally intended to use the
corpse of a stag,73 he chose a hare in full knowledge of the wide array of meanings
attached to it by various strands of pre-modern European folklore. Two statements
he made on the topic are of particular significance: first, his claim that even in
death the hare can understand more than man with his stubborn rationalism; and,
second, his more allusive suggestion that the hare is a symbol of incarnation. The
hare does in reality what man can only do mentally: he digs himself in, he digs
a construction.74 The first claim is quintessential Beuys and challenges what he
views as the myopia and spiritual poverty of modern-day science and scholarship.75
Owing to its superb sensory organs, the Beuysian hare is sensitive to obscure
strata of knowledge, to those primeval facts of existence long since repressed in
the course of humanitys development. A nomad, migrant or wanderer who
traverses the sweeping plains of Eurasia,76 it has a unique understanding of the
ways of matter, of the rules governing the metamorphoses of forms. This point
also helps to clarify Beuys second statement. As he sees it, the hare represents
an alchemical, and therefore Rosicrucian, potential in which material boundaries
are made fluid, in which cold is effortlessly transmuted into warmth, liquids into
solids and the dead back into the living.

Beuys, in Adriani, Gotz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 68.
Mark Rosenthal, Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments (Houston: De
Menil Collection, 2004), p. 26.
For whatever reason, Beuys could not obtain a dead stag in time for the Dsseldorf
concert; Stachelhaus, Beuys, p. 55. Nevertheless, he was extremely satisfied with the hare,
for he used it in subsequent works and came to identify strongly with the animal. According
to Heiner Stachelhaus, on one occasion he declared, only half jokingly: I am not a human
being I am a hare; ibid., p. 59.
Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys: We Go This Way (London: Violette Editions, 1998),
p. 196; Adriani, Gotz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 132.
Georg Jappe, Interview with Beuys about Key Experiences trans. Peter Nisbet, in
Ray (ed.), Mapping the Legacy, p. 186. See also Adriani, Gotz and Thomas, Beuys, pp. 638.
Hence the designation Siberische Symphonie; Tisdall, We Go, p. 19; Antje Von
Graevenitz, Parsifal Christoph Schlingensiefs Figure of Redemption, as Prefigured by
Richard Wagner and Joseph Beuys, in Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes and Victoria Walters
(eds), Beuysian Legacies in Ireland and Beyond: Art, Culture and Politics (Berlin: LIT
Verlag, 2011), p. 174.
198 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

The last of these transformations was especially important in the Symphonie

Schneede sees the dangling hare as an allusion to the Crucifixion77 to the extent
that a spectator could easily take this to be the works dominant meaning. Beuys
essentially conceded as much years later when he observed that the Christian
element played an absolutely central part [in the Symphonie].78 His free adaptation
of the Satie works was therefore intended to spark off a vital warming process, the
raison dtre of all of his numerous acoustical experiments. This is illustrated well
by his rather gnomic claim that its important to hear images and sculptures with
the ear [because hearing can] set in motion a much more inward, deep-seated
machinery, which creates evolutionary warmth, which enables us to become
beings capable of carrying evolution forward.79 Beuysian acoustical warmth acts
as a carrier of creative forces and potentials (though he also intends this literally, in
that the performance of any musical instrument requires kinetic or potential energy,
thus producing heat). True, man may no longer possess the necessary willingness
or ability to listen in this manner, but the same cannot be said for the Beuysian
hare, with its conspicuously over-sized ears.80 The half-natural, half-man-made
electric pylon system was envisaged as just such a leporine organ, an antenna
that would pick up the lingering physical traces (i.e. vibrations) of the completed
Satie performances. Therefore, by removing the heart of the hare the most vital
among vital organs and joining it to this system, Beuys hoped to resurrect the
hare, with all its bygone sonic wisdom, via a transfusion of acoustico-spiritual
warmth. Viewed thus, the Fluxus milieus reaction to the Symphonie comes into
further focus: they could not buy into Beuys vlkisch rituals of wish-fulfilment,
his faith in the transubstantiation of blood into wine.
Needless to say, Beuys did not actually revive the hare. Considering the
obvious, one could argue that, as with his later action How to Explain Pictures
to a Dead Hare (1965), Beuys was rather knowingly enacting an impossible,
deliberately futile mourning process.81 If this was the case, one might suspect that
he was not grieving solely for the dead hare. In a telling exchange, Beuys, again
suggesting humans have much to learn from animals, makes his programme as
explicit as can be: Nowadays people know little about the meaning of life and

Schneede, Aktionen, p. 27.
Beuys, Talking about, p. 30.
Beuys, in Joseph Beuys and Volker Harlan, What is Art?: In Conversation with
Joseph Beuys, Volker Harlan (ed.), trans. Matthew Barton and Shelley Sacks (Forest Row:
Clairview Books, 2004), p. 18. Note that Beuys is articulating the popular trope that hearing
is a particularly primal, passive sense, that there is no such thing as earlids. Also relevant
in this context are Beuys comments in Joseph Beuys, Beuys Keep Swinging: Gesprch
mit Beuys von Gottfried Tollman, in Spex 9/1982, in Ulrike Groos and Markus Mller
(eds), Make it Funky: Crossover zwischen Musik, Pop, Avantgarde und Kunst (Cologne:
Oktagon Verlag, 1998), p. 67
Kramer, Klang, p. 38.
Rosenthal, Beuys, p. 28.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 199

the meaning of the whole interrelationships of the world. Thats why there are so
many people now who can find no meaning in life and who kill themselves. All
the connected meanings are missing.82 Yet Beuys work is Janus-faced in this
regard: it seems to stoically grieve over this pervasive loss of existential meaning,
while at the same instant desperately attempting to restore these very meanings,
particularly those rooted in the ideologies of early Romanticism and the Middle
Ages.83 There is indeed much to say for the claim, articulated by Beuys most
strident critic Benjamin Buchloh, that critical historical thought on any level
is rejected by Beuys altogether.84 In other words, the Symphonie would be
no more than a flamboyant game of make-believe: Beuys can only act out his
return to an idealised, Arcadian past by virtue of an enormous act of self-deception
(if not outright sophistry). Namely, Buchloh observes, he simply wishes away
the widespread problematisation of signifying processes (by the Duchampian
ready-made, by poststructuralism, by the culture industry) attributable to the
contemporary crisis of meaning.85 In this, Satie unwittingly becomes one of
Beuys biggest accomplices. For him, the Messe and Sonneries are found objects,
holy relics without a past or, rather, their past becomes whichever past he wishes
to arbitrarily bestow upon them.
If the message and contents of the Symphonie were deliberately contentious,
Kukei, akopee-Nein!, Braunkreuz, Fettecken, Modellfettecken86 would become
one of the most notorious works of post-war performance art due to circumstances
largely out of Beuys control. The action was given at the Technischen Hochschule
Aachen as part of a Festival der neuen Kunst on the evening of 20 July 1964,
the twentieth anniversary of the German Resistances unsuccessful assassination

See Beuys, Multiples, p. 24: Using the example of an animal you can get to an
answer to the question: what is the human being, how is he meant?
As Annette Michelson puts it, Beuys oeuvre is a rehearsal of things very familiar
to us an elaborate system of intellectual bricolage; Buchloh, Krauss and Michelson,
Guggenheim, p. 10. This is illustrated quite well in the Symphonie: though deceptively
simple in material and approach, Beuys actually succeeds in establishing a complex, opaque
web of significations. Access to the meaning (or, better, intentionality) underwriting this
web requires initiation into Beuysian mythology, with all of its autobiographically tinged
references to various hermetic traditions.
Ibid., p. 11.
See also Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Reconsidering Joseph Beuys: Once Again,
in Ray (ed.), Mapping the Legacy, p. 88, where Buchloh addresses this problem in more
forgiving terms: Even if I grant [the] point that it is more likely that Beuys wanted to
engage in a public discourse of mourning Beuys [never] understood to what extent the
processes of mourning and memory with which [he] claimed to be deeply engaged would
be instantly transformed, and one can say, perverted into other forms of spectacularization,
which they would serve very well.
For the sake of convenience, this work will henceforth be abbreviated as Kukei.
Kukei and akopee are nonsense words coined by Beuys son, who was a toddler at the
time; Schneede, Aktionen, p. 45.
200 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

attempt on Hitler.87 Nearly cancelled at the last minute by the Hochschule

administration owing to fears that the performances would not be in the proper
spirit of the occasion, the evening concert was re-branded as a commemoration
and went ahead as planned. The dispute only served to raise the events profile,
however, with an unruly, near-capacity crowd of more than 800 spectators (largely
engineering students with little previous exposure to contemporary art) packing
the auditorium, ready for controversy.88 Yet, whatever the audiences expectations,
few could have predicted the circumstances under which the concert would
prematurely end: with Beuys, nose bloodied from a fistfight with an incensed
right-wing student, distributing chocolate to the chaotic throng and holding an
ersatz crucifix aloft in a gesture that was one part ardent sacramental benediction
and one part mock-Nazi salute.
The audience was deliberately provoked from the start: upon entering the hall,
they were immediately bombarded with the voice of Joseph Goebbels, in the guise
of one of his most notorious rabble-rousing soundbites Do you want total war?
loudly and incessantly pumped over the sound system. Setting the tone for the
rest of the evening, the result was an instant clamour, with the spectators loudly
ordering the performers to switch off the distasteful recording. In the midst of the
uproar, Bazon Brock, one of the evenings prime movers, strode onstage to address
the audience. According to Richard Langston, he informed the crowd that the
Festival would be very different from the perfunctory memorials and observances
to which they were accustomed. Rather, because barbarism and torture still exist
around the world, he explained, resistance is hardly a thing of the past: most
commemorations of the 20 July anniversary had been no more than rituals of
forgetting, Brock insisted.89 The concert would therefore remind the audience that
the crimes of the past were by no means over and done with, that they instead
remained with each and every one of us as an unspoken wound. Beuys himself
would have gone even further, for he believed that in contemporary capitalism,
the human condition is Auschwitz,90 something that obligated one and all, as he

Some uncertainty remains as to whether the date was deliberately chosen, but the
consensus seems to be that it was a happy act of providence and that it was only once the
artists became aware that the concert would occur on 20 July that they decided to address
the anniversary in their performances. See Adam Oellers, Fluxus at the Border: Aachen,
July 20, 1964, in Eckhart Gillen (ed.), German Art from Beckmann to Richter: Images of
a Divided Country (Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag, 1997), pp. 2067; Schneede, Aktionen,
pp. 423.
Oellers, Border, pp. 2067; Richard Langston, The Art of Barbarism and
Suffering, in Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann (eds), Art of Two Germanys: Cold
War Cultures (New York: Abrams, 2009), p. 241.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 23. For a discussion of this rather contentious comment, see Gene
Ray, Joseph Beuys and the After-Auschwitz Sublime, in Ray (ed.), Mapping the Legacy,
p. 71.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 201

would later implore of his viewers, to show your wound.91 Whatever the case,
as Brock continued to give his speech, Beuys sat at a run-down upright piano: as
decided in advance, the accompaniment to the talk would be Saties Sonneries,
once again in what Beuys described as modified form.92
At this point, the concert proper got under way. Though each work did not
necessarily commence at the start of the concert, all of the performances were
given simultaneously with others from various positions on the stage.93 For much
of the concert, Beuys station was extreme stage right: though visible to the
audience, he was at times virtually in the wing and, as witnesses later recalled,
actually remained a background presence for the majority of the proceedings.94
With the Satie performance being the first component of the work, Kukei was
one of the pieces to start (or, in Beuys case, to continue) in the midst of Brocks
lengthy talk. Though he did not get the opportunity to complete the entire action as
intended only a third of the scheduled Festival programme was given before the
police were called in to terminate the concert Beuys remained at his station, if
not performing at all times, for the full 98 minutes of uninterrupted activity before
the audience stormed onstage.95
After Beuys concluded the accompaniment to Brocks speech, he set out
to make his Rosicrucian intention plain in a manner that the Symphonie had
only intimated. Using the simplest of means a stack of cardboard boxes used
to conceal a light source and a large sheet of white cardboard used as a backdrop
Beuys illuminated a bouquet of roses he had positioned upright in a tall glass
vase, creating a static shadow play of roses.96 Content with the symbolic set-
up, he then turned his attention back to the piano. With the narrow lid opened,
he proceeded to insert a variety of items into the piano: among other things,
dried oak leaves, bonbons, marjoram and a postcard of Aachen Cathedral (the
mediaeval coronation site for German kings).97 Next he poured in Omo brand
laundry detergent. According to one eyewitness, however, the result proved
wanting: Beuys tested the timbre and volume of his crude prepared piano and,
finding it inadequate, took a nearby trashcan and dumped in the contents. Now

Stachelhaus, Beuys, p. 160.
Vernderter Form; Beuys, quoted in Geisenberger, Beuys, p. 71; see also Adam
C. Oellers and Sibille Spiegel, Wollt ihr das totale Leben?: Fluxus und Agit-Pop der 60er
Jahre in Aachen (Aachen: Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, 1995), p. 34.
For a reproduction of the proposed schedule of the various simultaneous
performances, as well as of a diagram of the various positions each artist was to occupy
onstage, see ibid., pp. 4042.
berhaupt nicht in Vordergrund: Henning Christiansen, quoted in Schneede,
Aktionen, p. 46.
Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 105; Langston, Barbarism, p. 242.
Schneede, Aktionen, p. 46.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 90.
202 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

he was pleased and could begin to coax a variety of sounds and noises out of the
It is not insignificant that following a performance of the Sonneries, Beuys
would fill the piano with the detritus of everyday life, taken from both the rustic,
vlkisch past as well as the affluent, post-war consumer society. As he saw it,
Saties aim as a composer was no less than to build a mythos of the common
man.99 (Nor is he the only one to have held such a view: for Slavoj iek, Satie
represents egalitarian communism in music.)100 In his visual work, Beuys always
opted for the most ordinary, artisanal, fetid materials he could find, his favourite
colours being the rust-red of dried blood, the dark brown of chocolate and dirt,
and the grey of felt and rotten bratwurst. In this, he could have found no greater
musical ally than Satie, the master of the sonically flavourless, pallid and flinty.101
Beuys next step was to bore holes into the piano, the positions of the holes being
determined according to a piece of sheet music covered with brown blotches and
smudges he had lying next to the score of the Sonneries.102 Though the audience,
most of whom were some distance away from him, were under the impression
that he was wielding an electric drill and would thus damage the piano, he was
in actuality only using an electric chisel.103 Accordingly, as Brock recalled, rather
than having a violent connotation, the vibrations produced by the chisel were
meant as a means of sound production, a musical activity.104 Beuys later made
the intent behind both the drilling and the piano preparation clear: the aim was
to bring about healing chaos, amorphous healing, whereby the frozen and rigid
forms of social convention are dissolved and warmed, and future form becomes
possible.105 A comparison with Beuys earlier Piano-Aktion (1963), in which he
literally destroyed a piano, is pertinent: I played the piano all over not just the

Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 108.
Einen Mythos aufzubauen, der sich bezieht auf den einfachen Mann: Beuys,
in Mario Kramer, Joseph Beuys: Das Kapital Raum, 19701977 (Heidelberg: Edition
Staeck, 1991), p. 10.
Slavoj iek, Living in the End Times, revised edn (London: Verso, 2011), p. 381.
The colours and symbols Beuys typically relied on (including in Kukei) are also, of
course, those of the discredited German nationalist past. Caroline Tisdall explains the logic
behind this best: Beuys always said, it is terrible to deny the oakness of your countryside
just because of the Nazis He actually dared to take materials like that and use them, and
he reinstalled them in the canon of their Germanness [even though] for a German they
are dangerously close to Blut und Boden; Caroline Tisdall, in Scott Rainbird, Joseph Beuys
and the Celtic World: Scotland, Ireland, and England, 197085 (London: Tate Publishing,
2005), p. 80.
Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 108.
Oellers, Border, p. 203.
Um eine Lauterzeugung, eine musikalische Aktivitt: Bazon Brock, quoted in
Schneede, Aktionen, p. 46.
Beuys, quoted in Tisdall, Beuys, p. 90.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 203

keys with many pairs of old shoes until it disintegrated. My intention was neither
destructive nor nihilistic: Heal like with like.106 For Beuys, the Aachen piano
had already been mistreated, not only by the negligent school custodians but also
by way of the activities of the thoughtless, politically unconscious pianists the
shit-artists, criminals, assholes, impotent dogs who had previously performed
on it.107 By carrying out what appeared by all accounts to be acts of destruction
on the piano, he was therefore repeating what he considered to be the dangerous,
sham-creative performances inflicted upon the instrument by the representatives
of dirty concert hall shit.108 Yet in true homeopathic manner, fighting fire with fire
produced more than ashes and cinders. Thawing through the reifying imperatives
of tradition, Beuys destructive acts generated novel, hitherto unheard sounds
and tones: warmth. As in the Symphonie, a resurrection of sorts was in operation,
or as Langston synopsises it, Beuys conduct demonstrated how to resuscitate life
back into something dead, like an old scraped musical instrument.109 At the same
time, having just performed the Sonneries, it must be admitted that his behaviour
towards the piano could also be taken as an implicit critique of Satie. Beuys, who
once protested that Saties aesthetic was lacking in a discernible political praxis,
may have believed the Frenchman was wrong to have been satisfied with merely
subverting the conventions of music from within.110
The performance sequence that came after this is the least significant in this
context, so it will not be discussed here.111 More pertinent, given Beuys comments
about the role warmth played in the manipulation of the piano, is the third
sequence of Kukei. Beuys had a two-burner mini-stove heating up on a nearby
table, which he used to slowly melt blocks of fat.112 He then poured the melted fat
into a box, into which he deposited a further packet of Rama-brand margarine.113 As

Ibid., p. 86.
Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas, Beuys, p. 107. Schei-Knstler zurck, diesen
Verbrecher, dieses Arschloch, diesen impotenten Hund: Beuys, quoted in Geisenberger,
Beuys, p. 27. See also Joseph Beuys, Interview des Magazins Kunst mit Joseph Beuys,
in Becker and Vostell (eds), Happenings, p. 327: The piano was ruined not by me, but
by its previous owners; Das Klavier ist nicht von mir, sondern von seinen vorherigen
Besitzern ruiniert worden.
Dreckiger Konzerthausschei: Geisenberger, Beuys, p. 28. This accounts for
Beuys bizarre claims that the piano was happy to have experienced for once in its life what
it did in Aachen and that it subsequently thanked [him] expressly [for the performance];
war glcklich, noch einmal in seinem Leben eine Sache wie Aachen erlebt zu haben. Es hat
sich nachher noch mal ausdrcklich bei mir bedankt: Beuys, Interview, p. 327.
Langston, Barbarism, pp. 2468.
See Kramer, Kapital, pp. 1011.
Among other things, it involved Beuys dissolving rose petals in acid, spinning a
top and producing an invisible sculpture with ultraviolet light.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 90.
Oellers, Border, p. 203.
204 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Gene Ray notes, Beuys decision to include the hot plate and fat in his subsequent
Auschwitz Demonstration (1968), a vitrine containing various artefacts from old
completed actions, made the intention behind the fat sequence blatant namely,
it confirmed that this section of Kukei, beyond being a mere didactic illustration
of Beuys sculptural theory (in which solids transmute into liquids and so forth),
was a blunt allusion to the crematoria of the Holocaust and the body of the
holocaustal sacrifice.114 Of course, this would have been clear even had Beuys
not included the stove in the Demonstration. Given the date, Brocks remarks and
the iconography of some of the other Aachen performances (a gas mask, an attack
dog, blood-covered bones), the audience was perfectly aware of what Beuys was
up to. They reacted accordingly, with escalating hostility and remonstration.
What happened next, however, transformed the furore into an all-out free-for-
all. Beuys took a felt-covered copper staff he had to hand and emphatically raised
it over his head. The result, as he later put it, was that the whole place exploded,
the charismatic conviction of the gesture working like a catalyst an electric
current.115 At this point, some of the students rushed onstage; the acid Beuys
used earlier in the action was inadvertently spilled; one students clothing was
damaged in the spill; Beuys claimed he was not at fault; the student, screaming
The terror has only just really begun!,116 proceeded to welt Beuys in the face;
Beuys defended himself in kind, and the rest was history.
The result was what Matthew Biro terms hermeneutic undecidability,117
for spectators were unclear whether the motives underlying Kukei were critical
(a denunciation of political indifference), acritical (an enactment of political
indifference), reactionary (a renewed embrace of the tenets of fascism) or a more
complex admixture of the three. Much like irony, the critical valence implied by
the selective appropriation of discredited or dubious iconography is left almost
entirely to the eye of the beholder. Kim Levin poses the problem well, in terms that
may remind us of Higgins dilemma: Like may cure like, but likeness can also be
mistaken for emulation. And homeopathic remedies work only in small doses.
Otherwise they can cause the symptoms they were meant to cure.118
An especially troubling example of this problem revolves around the role
played by Saties music in Beuys action. This is manifest if we consider the
parallel that Langston draws between the piano segment of Kukei and Beuys
fat-melting sequence by suggesting there was a physical and conceptual

Ray, Sublime, pp. 623. Not only that the use of the Rama margarine brings
to mind the historical complicity of German as well as international industrial firms in the
Nazi genocide.
Tisdall, Beuys, p. 90.
Langston, Barbarism, p. 242.
Matthew Biro, Representation and Event: Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, and the
Memory of the Holocaust, Yale Journal of Criticism 16/1 (2003), p. 117.
Kim Levin, Beyond Modernism: Essays on Art from the 70s and 80s (New York:
Harper & Row, 1988), p. 181.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 205

liquefaction at work in his piano [sequence].119 There are a number of mutually

exclusive ways of reading this analogy. The crudest and most inadequate of these
would involve equating Saties music with the victims of the death camps, with
the gradual undermining of the pianos capacity to perform the Sonneries in the
manner intended by the composer being a symbolic re-enactment of the murders
committed in the Nazi extermination camps. If the vandalism of the piano was
comparable to the melting of the fat, and the melting of the fat was comparable
to the crimes of Auschwitz, then the latter was likewise comparable with the
vandalism of the piano. Given, however, that Beuys claimed that his efforts to
deface the piano had healing associations, such an interpretation would seem to
be off the mark. (Furthermore, it is unclear for what reasons Satie beyond his
distaste for musical Sauerkraut would be an apt representative of the European
Jewry.) Otherwise, one would be forced to conclude that the fat-melting sequence
was also meant to have an affirmative connotation.
Herein lies the paradox of Beuys performance: if the liquefaction of the
pianos productive capacity was indeed envisioned as being emancipatory and
therapeutic, the same must have been the case with the fat. This would necessarily
imply that in Beuys eyes some good finally came of the Nazi genocide, if only in
the form of an ethical injunction or memento mori of sorts for future generations.
Yet Beuys own theories compel us to go further than this. If his metonyms for
the atrocities perpetuated by his German peers were creative and gainful, so, he
indicates, were the atrocities themselves. If his use of the piano at the one moment
suggests a metaphorical means for fighting against the forces of silence,120 it
insinuates at the very same moment the troubling suggestion that the worst crime
in human history was an act of rare creative potential, that, as Gustav Metzger
once put it (only half-jokingly), for Beuys, Himmler must also have been an artist
worthy of praise.121
In this connection, it seems far from coincidental that it was Beuys gesture
with the spear, and not his melting of the fat, that proved to be the last straw for
the incensed Aachen audience. After Aachen, Beuys used a spear in a number of
his actions, always with reference to Wagners Parsifal, as well as to the lance of
Longinus.122 For Beuys, the wanderer (Parsifal, Wotan, the Flying Dutchman),
leaning upon his walking stick as he traverses a wilderness both exterior and interior,
played a role analogous to that of the hare in the Symphonie, always becoming a
new person and never coming to the end of his development. As he saw it, this

Langston, Barbarism, p. 248.
Rosenthal, Beuys, p. 36.
Gustav Metzger, quoted in John A. Walker, Left Shift: Radical Art in 1970s Britain
(London: I.B. Tauris, 2002), p. 70.
Beuys was long an admirer of Wagner, having learnt Lohengrin, Das Rheingold
and Tannhuser as a schoolboy. Indeed, he grew up on the border of the historical Duchy
of Brabant, surrounded by the iconography of the legends that inspired Lohengrin and
Parsifal: Geisenberger, Beuys, p. 50; Stachelhaus, Beuys, p. 11.
206 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

spiritual itinerary is the true Holy Grail.123 Indeed, Parsifal and its iconography of
the Chalice became something of an obsession for Beuys: not only did he maintain
a lifelong (but ultimately unrealised) ambition of staging Wagners final opera, but
he also once made a pilgrimage of sorts to Montsalvat and later fashioned an action
(1966s MANRESA) based on the experience.124 Nor was Kukei the only occasion on
which Beuys would mine the link between Satie and Parsifal. In Celtic + ~ (Kinloch
Rannoch) Scottish Symphony, he used Saties music as the partial soundtrack to an
even more intensive exploration of the mediaeval Christian imagery of the Parsifal
legend.125 Here, Beuys equates his vision of Christianity Everyone is an artist
with the eschatology of Marxism, situating the Jedermensch he saw pictured in
Saties music as the endgame of Parsifals grail quest.126
Viewed through this prism, Beuys intent in wielding the spear in Kukei becomes
clearer: the goal, as Jrgen Geisenberger observes, was to invoke a veritable
Ragnark, to point towards a tabula rasa in the true Wagnerian tradition.127 This
is why Pierre Guillet de Monthoux could claim that Kassel (the centre for Beuys
activities after the Dsseldorf years) was to Joseph Beuys what Bayreuth was to
Richard Wagner, a place radiating the aura of a new era.128 Guillet de Monthouxs
use of the term aura is significant here, bringing us back not only to one of the
key arguments of Buchlohs Beuys critique, but to Adornos mot that in Parsifal,
Wagner sought not merely to represent musical ideas, but to compose their aura
as well.129 For Beuys, the ritualistic gestures of his actions were addressed to the
so-called loss of aura in essence, no more than a deficit of meaning attributed
to artworks by Walter Benjamin in the era of mass reproduction. Whether Beuys
credulously believed this aura could be restored merely by appealing to the

Im Wanderer steckt stets ein neuer Mensch nie ans Ende seiner Entwicklung
kommt. Das ist ja eigentlich der Gral: Joseph Beuys and Antje Graevenitz, Joseph Beuys
im Gesprch mit Antje Graevenitz: Im Wanderer steckt stets ein neuer Mensch, in
Wolfgang Storch (ed.), Der Raum Bayreuth: Ein Auftrag aus der Zukunft (Frankfurt am
Main: Edition Suhrkamp, 2002), p. 208.
Von Graevenitz, Parsifal, p. 165; Stachelhaus, Beuys, pp. 756.
As in 1963, Beuys employed the Messe des pauvres; also a significant component
of Celtic + ~ (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony, however, was a series of Satie-
inspired piano miniatures written by Beuys frequent collaborator Henning Christiansen;
Geisenberger, Beuys, p. 40. For a reproduction of Christiansens scores (replete with
fanciful Satiean titles), see Kramer, Kapital, pp. 2339.
Beuys, in ibid., pp. 234.
Geisenberger, Beuys, p. 53.
Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, The Art Firm: Aesthetic Management and Metaphysical
Marketing from Wagner to Wilson (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), p. 260.
Theodor W. Adorno, On the Score of Parsifal (trans. Anthony Barone), Music &
Letters 76/3 (1995), p. 384. Buchloh was one of the first, and certainly the most noteworthy,
to link Beuys artistic production to the problematics of the Benjaminian aura, doing so
as early as 1980; see Benjamin Buchloh, Beuys: The Twilight of the Idol, in Mesch and
Michely (eds), The Reader, p. 124.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 207

imagery of Parsifal, one of the first and arguably most salient attempts to address
this most quintessential problem of modernity, remains a vexed question. As we
saw upon considering the Symphonie as a mourning ritual, one should take care
not to confuse sanguineness in Beuys with naivet.
Therefore, it is uncertain that if in juxtaposing the Wagnerian themes of the
Grail quest with the scenes of liquefaction played out in the Nazi extermination
camps, Beuys is simply refusing to allow that the former were compromised by
virtue of having been co-opted by Hitler and Goebbels. It may or may not be
accurate to suggest, as Jan Verwoert does, that Beuys homeopathic, paratactic
strategies meant that he never deigned to examine the historical genealogies
undergirding the images and beliefs upon which he most frequently relied.130
Likewise, the passing decades may lead us to qualify Marcel Broodthaers
Nietzsche-inspired attack on Beuys and his alleged Wagnerian tendency to
conflate politics and magic as something of an over-simplification.131 Beuys
once described his homeopathic process as one in which this world can be
shaken away, transformed, dematerialised:

The homeopathic process, in which one reconstitutes therapeutic substances

through potentisation, is one where the physical part of materiality gets
completely eliminated and only the formative principle is retained The notion
of force remains but all physical elements become so diluted that they are not
actually in the substance anymore. And therefore one can rightly say: everything
that is ultimately not satisfactory to us anymore, we can throw away again.132

The presence of this eminently pragmatic procedure is plain to see in Kukei:

Beuys reduces the sinister, reprehensible or suspect in the recent German past
to harmless traces, to the empty shells of symbolic signifiers, taking what are
otherwise unutterable traumas and enabling the spectator to occupy them to
remember them in a manner that would otherwise be extraordinarily disturbing.
Yet, as Buchloh rightly implies, this task was one the Aachen audience remained
unwilling to carry out, surely because, as Levin notes, Beuys art pill was a most
bitter one.133
Even so, this interpretation of Kukei is complicated by the presence of the
Sonneries. As far as it goes, Saties Montmartre works are indirectly implicated

Jan Verwoert, The Boss: On the Unresolved Question of Authority in Joseph
Beuys Oeuvre and Public Image, e-flux journal 1 (December 2008), http://www.e-flux.
Marcel Broodthaers, Magie: Art et Politique (Paris: Multiplicata, 1973), p. 13.
Beuys, Art, p. 59; translation modified.
Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, 1964a, in Hal Foster et al. (eds), Art Since 1900:
Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism, Volume 2 (1945 to the Present) (New York:
Thames & Hudson, 2004), p. 483; Levin, Beyond, p. 181.
208 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

in the irrational, esoteric ambience that helped pave the way for Hitlers rise, just
as is Parsifal. Indeed, the tendency to ignore intellectual histories arising from
homeopathic practices was itself a contributing factor to the tragedy of National
Socialism, for as Levin has astutely indicated, the proto-fascist occult circles of
Weimar Germany (such as the mysterious Vril Society) were heavily indebted to
Rosicrucian ideals.134 Just like the projected rose shadows, Beuys performance of
the Sonneries could be read as no more than an identifying icon or emblem of his
personal spiritual alignment. Yet it could just as easily have sent a very different
message. As Andreas Huyssen has pointed out, music was at the very heart of
West Germanys post-war cultural reconstruction project precisely because it was
perceived as an inherently non-representational medium that was not, and could
never be, compromised by the crimes of the past.135 Given its relative isolation
from tradition, Saties oeuvre, as we have already seen, has struck many as an
extreme example perhaps even the apex of this supposed ahistorical tendency.
In this guise, Saties work lends support to a highly ambivalent project. At its
best, Beuys deployment of the Sonneries seems to act as a hypnotic cleansing
mechanism, a tool of forgetting that actually enables us to remember; after all, we
can only remember that which has been forbidden by forgetting the interdiction
that has been imposed against remembering it. At its most dangerous, however,
Beuys use of Saties music comes across as part of something like a complacent
confidence trick. For Peter Chametzky, Beuys appropriates the aura of suffering
and authenticity associated with [Holocaust objects] and imports that aura into the
art museum, with the result being that historical authenticity is lost, and only
the aura of history remains.136 In this case, the Satiean holy relics Beuys uses to
accompany his actions would furnish a false aura of historical meaning, part of an
attempt to bewitch audiences into thinking that forgetting itself amnesia would
be enough to establish a clean slate and to return the world to an Elysian past.

Cage and the Present of Forgetting

It is telling that in spite of the substantial aesthetic differences separating the two
men, Beuys and Cage were warm acquaintances who shared a mutual and deep-
seated bond of respect.137 Beuys intense enthusiasm for Cages work is easily

Levin, Beyond, p. 177.
Andreas Huyssen, Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia
(New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 202.
Peter Chametzky, Objects as History in Twentieth-Century German Art: Beckmann
to Beuys (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), p. 180, emphasis added.
They even collaborated on two occasions in 1983 and 1984, and at various
points in their careers both produced tributes or homages to the other; for these latter, see
Geisenberger, Beuys, pp. 36, 18992; John Cage, X: Writings, 79-82 (Hanover, NH:
Wesleyan University Press, 1983), pp. 768; and Thompson, Felt, pp. 1249.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 209

accounted for. He admired Cages attempts to elide art into life and among living
artists cited him as being at the point of origin beyond [which] everything is
derivative.138 Likewise, Cage found analogues to his own anarchist leanings in
Beuys theories and claimed to agree with his optimism and utopia [sic].139 There
is, however, another potential hypothesis: according to Gerhard Richter, Cage was
present for the Dsseldorf performance of the Symphonie.140 If this is true, perhaps
Cage saw past the religiose self-aggrandisement so problematic for Higgins and
Maciunas to an artist who had a deep, if selective, understanding of the Satie
aesthetic. Perhaps the two were linked above all by their love of the music of the
Velvet Gentleman.141 Whatever the case, later that same year Cage would present
the celebrated public premiere of Vexations, which through his advocacy would
become musics best-known study in boredom.
Quickly canonised as a seminal moment in the history of the American
experimental vanguard, the 18-hour, 40-minute-long premiere was given on
89 September 1963 at New York Citys Pocket Theater, a seedy ex-vaudeville

Beuys, Energy Plan, p. 87.
Francesco Bonami, Interview with John Cage, Flash Art International 24/160
(1991), p. 95.
Gerhard Richter, in Robert Storr, The Cage Paintings: Gerhard Richter (London:
Tate Publishing, 2009), pp. 5051. While Richters story appears plausible, no other
account has Cage present for the Festum (though Jon Hendricks and Mario Kramer both
claim that one of Cages tape pieces was played on the programme: Jon Hendricks, Fluxus:
Kleines Sommerfest/Neo-Dada in der Musik/Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester
Musik/Festum Fluxorum Fluxus, in Eberhard Roters (ed.), Stationen der Moderne: die
bedeutenden Kunstausstellungen des 20. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, 2nd edn (Berlin:
Berlinische Galerie, Museum fr Moderne Kunst, Photographie und Architektur,1988),
p. 498; Kramer, Klang, p. 34). Cage was listed on the advertisement poster along with
the names of a number of other creative figures who were not present (and never intended
to be). Yet Robert Storr, Richters interviewer when he made the recollection that Cage
attended (and performed), makes the mistake of claiming these individuals were present
solely on the basis of the poster; Storr, Cage Paintings, p. 44. Though this does not
necessarily call Richters claims into question, it is possible that he misremembered or
accidentally conflated two separate concerts. Then again, Richter also vividly references
Paiks Fluxus Champion Contest, which was indeed performed at the Festum; this would
seem to argue in favour of the veracity of his report: ibid., p. 48. Either way, Cage had been
in West Berlin at the end of January for a performance with David Tudor and could have
easily made his way to Dsseldorf in time for the soiree; see Otto Khler, Klamauk im
technischen Zeitalter, Die Zeit, 25 January 1963, p. 9.
After all, this was Cage, who, speaking of Cheap Imitation and his devotion to
Satie, admitted that if my ideas sink into confusion, I owe that confusion to love: John
Cage, For the Birds: In Conversation with Daniel Charles (London: Marion Boyars, 1981),
p. 177. If anyone could induce Cage to make aesthetic exceptions, it would be Satie, for the
mythomaniac posturing on display in Beuys oeuvre was otherwise quite foreign to Cage.
210 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

house on the outskirts of the East Village.142 Attended at various points by a

variety of underground figures including allegedly Andy Warhol, the works
840 repetitions were performed by a relay team of 10 pianists.143 Beginning at 6
pm, the concert received an extraordinary amount of coverage from both national
and international media outlets,144 and the following week it was even the subject
of an episode of the popular American television game show Ive Got a Secret.
According to Carolyn Brown, Cage, ever the shrewd self-promoter, positively
delighted in the publicity.145 Of course, since then much ink has been spilt over
Cages interpretation of the infamous note written on the Vexations manuscript.146
For our purposes, however, it is unimportant whether, as Ned Rorem believes,
Cage took Satie literally where he was being merely whimsical.147 More prudent
is Jann Paslers suggestion that the point is not what Satie did, but how Cage uses
the Satie example to help him[self].148
As is well known, Cage first discovered the Vexations manuscript in Paris
in 1949 on the initiative of Virgil Thomson. What is less well known is that he

Silverman, Begin Again, p. 99; Sue Solet, 7 Outlast Music Marathon, Get Back
$3, New York Herald Tribune, 11 September 1963, p. 23.
Branden W. Joseph, Andy Warhols Sleep: The Play of Repetition, in Ted Perry
(ed.), Masterpieces of Modernist Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006),
pp. 17980. Besides Cage, the pianists were John Cale, MacRae Cook, Philip Corner, David
Del Tredici, Viola Farber, James Tenney, David Tudor, Christian Wolff and Robert Wood,
with Joshua Rifkin and Howard Klein substituting for an unspecified performer who failed
to appear; Harold C. Schonberg et al., A Long, Long, Long Night (and Day) at the Piano,
New York Times, 11 September 1963, p. 45. Of these, Corner and Tenney subsequently
participated in Higgins Vexations performance.
See Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: Five Masters of the Avant-
garde, new edn (New York: Penguin, 1968), pp. 1389. The New York Times led the way
with nine reporters; Tomkins also makes particular mention of coverage by Movietone
News and Radio Free Europe for transmission behind the Iron Curtain.
Carolyn Brown, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and
Cunningham (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), p. 369. Brown likewise recalled the
premiere as a sensational press affair UPI, AP, radio people with microphones, phone
calls from London all in an uproar, and of course treating it as a joke.
The best English-language discussion of Saties note and possible intentions is
Christopher Dawson, Erik Saties Vexations An Exercise in Immobility, Canadian
Music Review 21/2 (2001), pp. 2940.
Ned Rorem, Knowing When to Stop: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster,
1994), p. 232.
Jann Pasler, Inventing a Tradition: Cages Composition in Retrospect, in
Marjorie Perloff and Charles Junkerman (eds), John Cage: Composed in America (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 129. Also relevant is Kyle Gann, Music Downtown:
Writings from the Village Voice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), p. 176:
through the [performing] tradition he started, Cage is as much the author of what we know
as Vexations as Satie is.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 211

originally planned to stage the work as early as 1951, as a joint venture with the
Living Theatres Judith Malina and Julian Beck.149 Though logistical difficulties
ultimately derailed the project (local tenants refused to consent to the idea of
an all-night concert),150 it is arguable that had the performance gone ahead as
intended, Cages understanding of Vexations would have been very different
than the one he ultimately arrived at. Discussing his discovery with Thomson in
June 1949, Cage boasted that he loved repetition, a claim borne out by his early
vernacular-inspired percussion and prepared piano scores.151 Yet in 1949, Cage
was also on the cusp of an entirely new way of thinking about music. With it
would come slowly but surely a wholly unconventional conception of musical
repetition. Consequently, when in 1958 Cage made the seemingly incongruous
claim that one could not endure a performance of Vexations, his mature notion
of repetition had not yet entirely crystallised.152 By this time, he had turned against
the repetition of Stravinsky and of popular music, viewing them as regressive as
well as oppressive, but he had not yet found a way to endure them.
The long incubation period for Cages new repetition concept helps account
for an obscure footnote to the Vexations performance. Two weeks before the
Pocket Theater premiere, the New York Times published an enthusiastic account
of one of Cages ideas for Dadaist concerts that somehow never materialized. It
was described thus: Cage was going to locate an old, cracked, scratchy acoustic
record of Mischa Elman playing the Dvok Humoresque. The concert would
have nothing but that record played incessantly from 11 A.M. to midnight.153
One immediately asks the following question: why Dvok? Why Dvok, why
the Humoresque and why Mischa Elman? David Revill, the only writer to have
previously drawn attention to the idea, suggests that it prefigured the works (the
Europeras) Cage would produce using nostalgic media Victrolas and old 78s of
nineteenth-century grand opera arias more than 25 years later.154 Cages specified
choice of Elman and the Humoresque likely derived from a similar impulse:
Elman, a contemporary of Jascha Heifetz, was a violin virtuoso renowned for
his interpretations of showpieces by Mendelssohn, Sarasate and Wieniawski. He
was a model specimen of classical pops, as was the Dvok Humoresque, which

Silverman, Begin Again, p. 98.
John Gruen, 18 Hours, Over & Over, Same Music 840 Times, New York Herald
Tribune, 10 September 1963, p. 21.
Silverman, Begin Again, p. 98.
Cage, Silence, p. 78. Cage also mentions Vexations in his well-known polemic on
Saties behalf from 19501951. However, he expresses no reservations about the feasibility
of a performance at this time; presumably, he was still operating under his old repetition-
concept; see John Cage and Abraham Skulsky, Satie Controversy, in Richard Kostelanetz
(ed.), John Cage (New York: Praeger, 1970), p. 90.
Harold C. Schonberg, Dada, Dada: Avant-Garde Doings to Pepper Up the Town,
New York Times, 25 August 1963, s. 2, p. 9.
Revill, Roaring, p. 205.
212 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

had been over-exposed to saturation in the first half of the century through its
numerous adaptations by artists in the vein of what would later become known
as Easy Listening.155 The choice, motivated by autobiographical as well as
sociological considerations (both unusual for Cage), suggests that Cages aim was
to find a musical object with very broad affective connotations, the most widely
known, banally heartstring-tugging product of the middlebrow culture industry
that he could procure.156
Why, however, was it so important that the object be familiar? Cage once
described his strategy for withstanding Muzak: if you pay attention carefully
enough, I think you can put up with the Muzak if you pay attention, I mean, to
the things that are not Muzak.157 This is so, he asserts, because the volume level
of Muzak is uniform; this enables us to hear through the Muzak to the sounds of
the environment. This affirmation of the pre-eminence of the faculty of attention
thus provides the answer: if the listener did not already know the musical found
object (the Humoresques wistful phrasing, Elmans antediluvian portamentos,
the air of canned nostalgia pervading the enterprise), he or she would have
been able to derive auditory interest from previously ignored aspects of structure
and interpretation. Yet the Humoresque diverges slightly from Muzak, which is
designed to disarm active, detail-oriented listening. While it had become a staple
of middlebrow music, it was also simultaneously a high art product that, were it
not so familiar, would indeed have stimulated close listening. It was not merely, as
Cage noted of Muzak, an attempt to distract us, and thus posed an even tougher
test for the faculty of attention.158
Consequently, we can see that the goal of the Humoresque experiment would
have been to take a cherished objet trouv and relentlessly bombard the listener
with it until its initial connotations simply fell away. This would enable the listener

Not for nothing did Dvoks son describe it as perhaps the most famous small
composition in the world: Otakar Dvok, Antonin Dvok, My Father, Paul J. Polansky
(ed.), trans. Miroslav Nemec (Spillville, IA: Czech Historical Research Center, 1993), p. 26.
See, for example, Frank Waughs rather mawkish description from as early as
1917: [when] one listens to Mischa Elman play the Dvok Humoresque one feels
the homesick longing expressed by Tom Sawyer who sat on the hills in springtime and
looked across the valleys and yearned and yearned and wanted to cry. Frank A. Waugh,
The Natural Style in Landscape Gardening (Boston: R.G. Badger, 1917), p. 57.
Ev Grimes and John Cage, Conversations with American Composers: Ev Grimes
Interviews John Cage, Music Educators Journal 73/3 (1986), p. 48.
John Cage, Roger Shattuck and Alan Gillmor, Erik Satie: A Conversation,
Contact: A Journal of Contemporary Music 25 (Autumn 1982), p. 22. The one complication
for this theory is the specification that the Elman record was to be old, cracked, scratchy.
One could argue that this would have hardly changed matters and that the same distortions
and noise would have been reproduced with each spin of the record, such that the listener
would quickly become inured to them. It is also possible, however, that Cage meant to add
some indeterminacy into the equation by using a defective disc, assuming such a disc
would not play the same way twice.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 213

to hear past the music to the noises of ones surroundings and the unforeseeable
acoustical phenomena that occur when music is coupled with ambient sounds.
Why, then, did Cage ultimately reject the idea? Though he does not address this
project, Branden W. Joseph pinpoints the cause: for Cage, mechanical repetition
annulled performative differentiations and defeated even [the] most
experimental work.159 In other words, the repetition that arises by playing a record
over and over would seem to provide none of the variety one finds between multiple
live performances this variety being produced by virtue of human fallibility, by
our inability to ever precisely reproduce a previous performance in every possible
detail. Perhaps Cage recognised that the Humoresque concert would have been a
bridge too far, fearing that even his own well-nigh-superhuman powers of musical
attention would have been defeated by repetition of this sort.160
Joseph compares Cage to Warhol in this regard: while Cage was still mulling
these ideas, Warhol was already living repetitive fixation.161 As Warhol later
recalled, he had a routine of painting with rock and roll blasting the same song,
a 45 rpm, over and over all day long.162 It is not by chance that Cage, speaking
of what would become the eventual Vexations premiere, once made the telling
admission that he initially thought itll just be this thing like what I think a Warhol
film is, you see, just going over and over.163 Likewise, it is revealing that Cage
associates Warholian repetition with physical danger and mental decay, as in the
following stream-of-consciousness reflection: Boredom. Fascination / People
in the audience losing their / minds. Dogs searching for bombs. / Precedents: the
/ Warhol movies.164 Undoubtedly, a part of him was afraid that the experience of
Vexations would prove little different than the projected Humoresque experiment.
And yet, to Cages great surprise, the Pocket Theater performance turned out to

Joseph, Sleep, p. 196.
That said, Joseph believes Cage under-estimated the imaginations ability to extract
difference from experiences of all stripes, even parades of mechanically uniform objects.
He also locates a possible source of difference-through-iteration that Cage overlooked at
the material level: given the physical wear of the needle, a record could be understood as
being different each time it is played (ibid.). It is unclear, however, how perceptible this
effect would have been over the span of a 13-hour concert.
Ibid., p. 198.
Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol 60s (San Diego: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1980), p. 7. It wasnt only rock and roll that I used that way Id also
have the radio blasting opera: ibid. In a letter to the editor of the New York Herald Tribune
written in the wake of the Vexations premiere, Thaddeus Golas, author of The Lazy Mans
Guide to Enlightenment, recounts doing the same thing in 1945 with a recording of the first
two Gymnopdies, sometimes all day long, often hours at a time; Tad Golas, Satie is
Perfect, New York Herald Tribune, 14 September 1963, p. 10.
David Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2001), p. 125. Cages interpretation of the Warhol films is an over-simplification, but
that is another matter entirely.
Cage, X, p. 157.
214 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

be nothing of the sort. Instead, as he averred afterwards, something had been

set in motion that went far beyond what any of us had anticipated.165 Indeed, the
concert was so transformative that he later claimed Vexations as equal in terms of
experience with any religious work of any culture, any of the Bach Passions and
so forth.166 The result, he recalled with a converts zeal, was not only a moment
of enlightenment [that] came for each one of [the performers], but the sensation,
upon waking the following morning, that he had changed and the world had
More so than the Humoresque concert could have, Cages performance of
Vexations explored an arena in which memory and forgetting seemed to become
fundamentally unhinged. A number of factors contributed to this impression. As
has been previously noted, with its quizzical atmosphere and intentionally fussy
use of accidentals, Vexations is first of all as puzzling to the eye as it is to the
ear.168 Likewise is the compositions bizarre tonal instability: as Orledge asserts, it
is the earliest acknowledged specimen of uninterrupted free chromaticism. Having
no recourse to harmonic resolution, it seems to sidestep teleology entirely.169 For
this reason, the inert, grey, barren and undernourished170 envelope of sound
that Vexations produces disturbs often profoundly the perception of clock
time among listeners and executants.171 Indeed, as Thom Holmes puts it, it is most
perplexing and defies a performers normal instincts. It is not easy to play even

Cage, in Tomkins, Bride, p. 104. See also Cage, Shattuck and Gillmor,
Conversation, p. 24: the experience over the 18 hours and 40 minutes of those repetitions
was very different from the thought of them For them to actually happen, to actually live
through it, was a different thing.
Sylvester, Interviews, p. 125. Paik, further developing the theme, compared
[Cages] reclamation of Saties Vexations to Mendelssohns discovery of Bachs St. Matthew
Passion: Silverman, Begin Again, p. 198.
Cage, quoted in Jean Stein and George Plimpton, Edie: An American Biography
(New York: Knopf, 1982), p. 235; Cage, Shattuck and Gillmor, Conversation, p. 24. Cages
descriptions of the performance remained remarkably consistent over the years. Compare
this remark on the performances transcendent effect from 1966 I remember, after it was
all over, going home at noon and sleeping for a long time. When I woke up after that sleep,
the world was really new. I remember Philip Corner looking absolutely transformed
with this one from his 19889 Norton Lectures: life so to speak changed i got up the
next morning the world seemed really new something had happened and i remember i think
philip corner was part of it he remarked about that [sic]; Sylvester, Interviews, p. 125; John
Cage, IVI (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1997), pp. 823.
Stephen Whittington, Serious Immobilities: On the Centenary of Erik Saties
Vexations, 1999,
Robert Orledge, Understanding Saties Vexations, Music & Letters 79/3
(1998), p. 386.
Michael Nyman, Cage and Satie, Musical Times 114/1570 (1973), p. 1229.
See Jonathan D. Kramer, The Time of Music: New Meanings, New Temporalities,
New Listening Strategies (New York: Schirmer, 1988), p. 381.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 215

once, let alone 840 times.172 This is why players have so frequently confirmed
that even after 840 repetitions, they still could not recall what Vexations sounded
like. Richard Toops experience of being incapable of reproducing any more than
a tiny fraction of the piece following a complete performance is by no means
unusual.173 Stephen Whittington sums the effect up well: this obfuscation compels
the performer to confront the piece anew with each repetition.174
This corroborates Cages contention that the Vexations performance
established a situation in which each act is virgin, even the repeated one.175 Thus,
comparing this effect with something like the uniform mechanical repetitions that
would have arisen from the Humoresque experiment, Cage argued that a proper
performance of [Vexations] will bring about subtle oscillations simply because
it would be intolerable to have that music, with its more or less regular beats,
kept extremely regular.176 Cages wording here should not be taken to imply that
such oscillations would be intentional; rather, his point is that variations will
necessarily arise on their own, given the impossibility of true repetition among
human executants.177 The use of multiple pianists, if partly motivated by the
pragmatic concern of stamina among the executants, was therefore also justified
ex post facto as a deliberate strategy for amplifying these effects. Cage stated
that when you have many pianists that leads to an experience with so many
variations that the dimension of resemblance disappears.178

Thom Holmes, Electronic and Experimental Music, 2nd edn (New York:
Routledge, 2002), p. 34.
See Richard Toop, quoted in Gavin Bryars, Vexations and its Performers,
Contact: A Journal of Contemporary Music 26 (Spring 1983), p. 14. As his appearance
on Ive Got a Secret demonstrates, the work had much the same effect on John Cale in
1963; see 16 September 1963, Ive Got a Secret, by Allan Sherman, CBS, first aired 16
September 1963.
Whittington, Immobilities.
Cage, Birds, p. 48. Cage claims to have borrowed this insight from Ren Char.
Cage, Shattuck and Gillmor, Conversation, p. 22.
As Joseph puts it, Cage instead redefines repetition as merely the production of
unintentional differences: Joseph, Sleep, p. 181.
Cage, Birds, p. 48. According to Cage, the musicians were always slightly
different with their versions their strengths fluctuated: Cage, quoted in Stein, Edie,
p. 235. Christian Wolff, on the other hand, challenged this observation, claiming of the
Pocket Theater performance that by the third round or so the personalities and playing
techniques of the pianists had been almost completely subsumed by the music: Bryars,
Vexations, p. 14. David Del Tredici corroborated Wolffs claim, noting that he
initially started to try to do everything possible to the piece, but that after three hours,
you just play: Solet, 7 Outlast, p. 23. Relevant here is the infrequently cited fact that
before the concert, Cage organised a rehearsal in order to establish the duration (here, 80
seconds) the performers were to spend on each repetition; see John Cage, Brief ber die
Urauffhrung von Vexations, in Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn (eds), Erik Satie
[Musik-Konzepte vol. 11] (Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 1980), p. 47. Leighton Kerners
216 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

The implication is clear: the category of repetition, as it is commonly

understood, is liquidated and in its place is a conception as not at all something
periodic and repetitive, but rather the fact that something happens, something
unexpected, something, irrelevant.179 Here, Cage returns to the problem of
attention, suggesting that when conceived in this manner, repetition actually
sharpens our sensitivity to the minutest of differences, rather than dulling it (as is
often thought).180 This is why Cage contends that his objective is to deconcentrate
attention, to distract it: the point becomes not listening to the music as such,
but rather between it, attending moment-to-moment to the variety within the
seemingly uniform.181 Given its self-similarity at a number of structural levels,
Vexations is eminently well suited for this task, for, as Cage claims, there are two
ways to unfocus attention: symmetry is one of them; the other is the over-all where
each small part is a sample of what you find elsewhere.182
Viewed thus, Vexations stands in direct contrast to the conventional definition
of repetition as the unchanging same. Here, repetition is a font of perpetual novelty,
an engine for the production of difference. Accordingly, Vexations becomes an
exercise in unshackling repetition from the conceptual reification of identity. A
reflection of Cages desire to reduce any concept that one may have to such a
state of pulverization that it doesnt exist, the implication, at least, is no less than
the dissolution of all stable identities.183 After all, there can be no concept, idea or
subject formation without the retention and concretisation of memory. Vexations
therefore becomes a test case for Cages conviction that every individual event
in the flux of existence must be privileged equally and discretely in all its
immediate, inexpressible singularity (Cages sounds in themselves) without
the intrusion of taste, ideas and pre-established significations and meanings of
any kind.

review of the concert in the Village Voice also makes mention of the rehearsal, indicating
that Cage previously under-estimated the amount of time the performance would take and
that he only came to the belated realisation that the proceedings would occupy nearly 20
hours at the run-through; Leighton Kerner, Vexations and a Pleasure, Village Voice, 12
September 1963, pp. 14, 19. Confirmation of this observation can be found by way of an
advertisement in the Village Voice for the premiere four weeks earlier, where the projected
concert duration is listed as a mere 12 hours; New Music at the Pocket Theatre, Village
Voice, 15 August 1963, p. 7.
Cage, Birds, p. 222, emphasis in original. Although Cage refers to rhythm here,
he is really describing repetition.
As Cage asks: What happens when something so simple is repeated for such a
long time? What actually happens is the subtle falling away from the norm, a constant flux
with regard to such things as speed and accent, all the things in fact which we could connect
with rhythm. The most subtle things become evident that would not be evident in a more
complex rhythmic situation. Cage, Shattuck and Gillmor, Conversation, p. 22.
Cage, Birds, p. 154.
Cage, Silence, p. 100.
Cage, in Kostelanetz, Conversing, p. 55.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 217

Like all of Cages works, Vexations would act as something akin to Yogic
meditation, teaching us how to truly approach our experience.184 Presuming
that being experienced is not at all the same thing as experiencing, Cage finds
common cause with Satie: Satie was / right: experience is a form of paralysis.185
Yet, taking Satie and Cage literally, this means we can only truly act by forgetting,
by deactivating our capacity to remember and conceptualise through exercises like
Vexations. This is precisely why Holmes argues that Vexations la Cage was not
only the first calculated example of a western composition made to create a new
state of listening. Insofar as it works at rewiring our sensitivity to the difference at
the heart of repetition, Vexations effect no matter how fleetingly it may last is
truly that of reprogramming the consciousness of those who perform and listen
to it.186 Cage puts it best: The whole point is to forget in the space between an
object and its duplication.187
As Joseph argues, Cage was strongly influenced in this line of thinking by
Marcel Duchamp; that he did not substantively engage with the elder Frenchmans
ideas until the 1960s would explain why his new repetition-concept was slow in
coming to fruition. It also accounts for his reservations about performing Vexations
in 1958.188 Joseph similarly credits the example of La Monte Youngs reductio ad
absurdum of repetition, arabic numeral [any integer] to Henry Flint (1960), for
providing Cage with the impetus to move in this direction. Cage professed his
interest in Youngs work in a 1962 interview, where he claimed that through the
repetition of a single sound, Young enabled him to discover that what I have all
along been thinking was the same thing is not the same thing after all, but full of
variety.189 This adds a curious historical wrinkle to the Vexations premiere: at
least in part, it took the example of a 28-year-old Fluxus composer to authorise
the first public performance of a work then 70 years old.
One of the most idiosyncratic and rarely addressed aspects of the Pocket
Theater staging of Vexations is the unconventional ticket pricing scheme employed
by Cage and the organisers. According to the New York Times, audience members
were charged $5 for first admission and, having been given a card noting the
time of their entry, were subsequently furnished with a refund of 5 cents for
each 20 minutes [they stayed], and a 20-cent bonus to anybody who stayed the

John Cage and Jonathan Cott, An Interview with John Cage, 1963,,
Cage, X, p. 160.
Holmes, Electronic, p. 34.
Cage, Birds, p. 80.
Joseph, Sleep, p. 197. Joseph draws particular attention to Cages citation of
Duchamps formula of the impossibility of sufficient auditory memory to transfer from one
like event to another the memory imprint: John Cage, A Year From Monday: New Lectures
and Writings (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1967), p. 22.
John Cage, John Cage: A Catalogue, Robert Dunn (ed.) (New York: Henmar
Press, 1962), p. 52.
218 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

entire program.190 At the time, the arrangement was viewed with considerable
bemusement by the media, dismissed as merely the icing on the cake of this most
outlandish of jejune Dada pranks. (Indeed, word of the scheme even spread to
the former Soviet Union, where it was promptly denounced as so much capitalist
opportunism.)191 Yet if the aura of circus-like notoriety surrounding the premiere
largely faded in the succeeding decades, a correspondingly serious reappraisal of
the implications of this ticketing practice has not followed. No fanciful add-on
or mere publicity stunt, this was an absolutely essential component of this most
characteristic of Cagean performance events. Not only was it also to be a feature
of the Humoresque experiment, the idea was present when Cage made his first
attempt to stage Vexations in 1951.192
The scheme was in essence an unspoken dare: How far can you hold out?
How long until you can take no more? Or, as Garry Moore, the host of Ive Got
a Secret, described it, the audience was rewarded on the basis of their patience
(Moore may well have borrowed this witticism directly from Cage and co., who
wryly noted in the Village Voice advertisement for the premiere that listeners
would be recompensed for their tenacity).193 Significantly, the scheme would
have been the first thing audience members attended to as they entered the hall.
Insofar as Cage claimed to be interested in stretching the boundaries of where
a performance began and ended, it in some sense served as the overture to the
imminent performance.194 Listeners were therefore explicitly encouraged to view
Vexations in terms of this framing device, one implicitly valorising stamina in

Schonberg et al., Long, Long, Long, p. 45. According to the New York Times,
only one person lasted the full concert, whereas the New York Herald Tribune has seven
individuals staying until the end; Solet, 7 Outlast, p. 23.
The paper Sovetskaya Kultura referred to the scheme as an inventive business
stunt and, evoking the half-conscious state of a single listener who held out to receive
the full $3 refund, perversely accused the concert organizers of happily rubbing their
hands, counting their profit. For them the subjected [sic] Vexations produced substantial
satisfaction: Unseeing Red, New York Times, 20 January 1964, p. 12.
Though the graduated ticketing system was to be part of the Humoresque
experiment, the planned payment method was different: The audience would enter without
an admission charge. But it would have to pay on the way out and those who left first
would pay the most. Those who could stand the entire 13 hours would pay little or nothing.
Schonberg, Dada, Dada, p. 9. Curiously, the prices for the 1951 concert were set far higher
than they eventually were in 1963: No admission would be charged upon entry. Instead, an
audience members entrance time would be punched on a round clocklike ticket, to be paid
for when he or she left. The longer one stayed the less one paid: for ten minutes, $14.40;
for twenty minutes, $7.20; for half an hour, $3.60 down to five cents for twelve hours:
Silverman, Begin Again, p. 98.
Secret; New Music, p. 7.
Cage, IVI, p. 427. See, for instance, Cage, in Sylvester, Interviews, p. 120: I like
to start a piece without the audience knowing it has started and to conclude it without
their knowing it has stopped.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 219

the face of extreme repetition. Cage, deliberate, finicky and even calculating in
so many other respects, cannot have been unaware that this was the horizon of
expectations he was establishing. And if free admission was out of the question for
practical reasons, that the dare was nevertheless conducted through the medium
of monetary exchange (shades of a stockholders meeting, as one reporter put
it)195 is far from inconsequential. After all, just a few years after the Pocket
Theater performance, Cage mused: Why are people so stingy about their time?
Why are they so ungenerous? What in heavens name is so valuable about thirty
minutes? Or forty-five minutes? Or an hour and a half?196 This political import
of this statement is clear: contemporary capitalisms mad rush for efficiency
and results has made approaching our experience a necessarily protracted,
uncertain, unproductive enterprise ever more difficult. Railing against time
treated as a commodity to be doled out conservatively, the Cagean aesthetic of
wastefulness197 works to sever the bond between time and capital. Jacques Attali
is perhaps the only commentator to have acknowledged this, arguing that for Cage,
to compose is to take pleasure in use-time and exchange-time as lived and no
longer as stockpiled.198
The point is that a consideration of the wager significantly qualifies the
implications of Cages staging of Vexations. Writing from a rigorously philosophical
position, Daniel Herwitz has made the claim that Cages experiments with totally
nonstructural hearing effectively ask us to imagine a person who is not a person
and that Cages radicalism does not represent a coherent human possibility.199
His argument is that Cages ideal listener the amnesiac, the person who (to use
a much over-used phrase) perpetually lives in the moment and therefore has
no history, no identity, no concept of musical organisation is not empirically
practicable unless, as Herwitz contends, we literally undergo a lobotomy.200
The mature Cages assertion that you cant repeat anything exactly even

William Bender, A Composition That Lasts All Night, New York Herald Tribune,
8 September 1963, s. 4, p. 10.
Sylvester, Interviews, p. 121.
James Pritchett, The Music of John Cage (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1993), p. 157.
Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 135.
Daniel Herwitz, Making Theory, Constructing Art: On the Authority of the Avant-
Garde (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 161. Fredric Jameson has also
argued this point with regard to Cages artistic practice, though he poses the question in
terms of the unreality of the schizophrenic and (apropos of Vexations) the tendency of
children to repeat a word over and over again until its sense is lost and it becomes an
incomprehensible incantation: Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism and Consumer Society,
in Hal Foster (ed.), The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (New York: New
Press, 1998), p. 138.
Herwitz, Theory, p. 161.
220 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

yourself may certainly be true in the realm of theory.201 In practice, however,

the renunciation of personal identity appears to lead inexorably to madness.
As a lifestyle, the pure monism that Cage sees Vexations as encapsulating is a
dangerously slippery slope. The sensationalistic experiences of one of the few
practising musicians to have contested Cages reading of Vexations illustrate
this plainly. Disaster struck on 2122 February 1970 when pianist Peter Evans
attempted to carry out the Cagean interpretation of Vexations to the letter (and then
some), performing all 840 repetitions without assistance. Managing to do so for
15 hours and 595 da capos, Evans soon felt each repetition wearing [his] mind
away. Evans stated that: I had to stop. If I hadnt stopped Id be a very different
person today.202 An eyewitness put it in even more vivid terms, claiming Evans
mind became full of evil thoughts, animals and things started peering out at him
from the score. Without the slightest trace of irony, Evans declared that people
who play [Vexations] do so at their own great peril.203 Nor is Evans the only
individual to have had such an experience: an audience member at the original
Pocket Theater performance had to leave after 10 minutes, claiming the music
immediately induced feelings of anxiety, fear and apprehension.204
In a way, the Evans performance was the negative mirror image of Cages. Like
Cage, Evans recognised that Vexations was reprogramming his consciousness,
but whereas Evans experienced the process as a malediction, Cage viewed it as
transfiguring. How else to account for Cages missionary declaration that Vexations
measures the egos capacity for emptiness as receptivity, that a performance
of this piece would be a measure accurate as a mirror of ones poverty of
spirit, without which one loses the kingdom of heaven?205 The use of the
word poverty is significant here: Vexations, with its near-total lack of thematic,
harmonic and timbral differentiation, in its own way proves that the music of
Monsieur le pauvre is too simple for ears accustomed to highly spiced sounds.206
This is significant insofar as blandness is highly prized in Eastern thought. As in
Cage, in these traditions blandness does not represent lack or absence, but rather
discloses the highest forms of plenitude and excess hence Cages unresolved
attribution of the interior immobilities specified in the Vexations performance
note to Zen Buddhism.207 Yet, as Franois Jullien tells us, the transcendent ideal of

Cage, Birds, p. 48.
Peter Evans, quoted in Bryars, Vexations, p. 15.
Ibid., pp. 16, 15.
Solet, 7 Outlast, p. 23
John Cage, MUSICAGE: Cage Muses on Words, Art, Music, Joan Retallack
(ed.) (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1996), p. 134; Cage and Skulsky, Satie
Controversy, p. 90. Cage takes care to note that the notion of emptiness as receptivity is
fundamental to both Eastern and Western spirituality.
Jean Cocteau, Cocteaus World: An Anthology of Writings, ed. and trans. Margaret
Crosland (London: Owen, 1972), p. 219.
Cage, Shattuck and Gillmor, Conversation, p. 24.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 221

blandness-detachment eagerly sought after in the East can only exist in a state
prior to all differentiation. Just as Evans discovered, Jullien concludes that for
Western sensibilities, blandness-detachment can lead only to a state in which the
very notion of reality ends up lost.208
Cage, on the other hand, refused to concede this possibility. For him, poverty
and blandness represented self-discipline and openness without preconception to
new experiences (a discipline Cage also associated with Christianity).209 As a result,
he argued that listeners resistant to the idea of hearing 840 repetitions of Vexations
might eventually find the performance to be curative: if one began such a listening
period in a state of nondiscipline, one could move into a state of discipline simply
by remaining in the room and being subjected to this activity, which eventually
one finds interesting.210 By these lights, Vexations becomes a conditioning routine
to build the willpower to resist or, better, annul boredoms crippling numbness.
Still, for all that, Cages use of the unusually pushy word subjected in the above
statement is not to be glossed over. As we have seen, in order to take the measure
of Vexations la Cage, the listener must accede to the uncomfortable situation of
simulating and courting potentially dangerous mental states. Cage, as we have also
observed, argues that there is a positive, therapeutic benefit to unreservedly giving
[one]self to the composers [Saties] work (to use the words of an individual who
stayed for the entire Pocket Theater performance).211 Richard Taruskin alleges
Cage of trading in virtual sensory deprivation, a discipline that, inflicted on
an audience of nonadepts, can seem an act of puritanical aggression.212 Cage,
however, washed his hands of responsibility: I try to get it so that people realize
that they themselves are doing their experience and that its not being done to
them.213 Yet surely the Pocket Theater admission wager tells a different tale,
involuntarily confronting audiences with the impossible either/or choice between
the quicksand of amnesia and the terra firma of personal identity.
Cage also ignores the role played by personal temperament in the perception of
boredom. As long as a century ago, psychologist Hugo Mnsterberg characterised
the link between reiterative processes and industrial morale, writing that those
who grasp equal impressions easily, and who are prepared beforehand for every
new repetition by their inner dispositions experience the repetition itself with
true satisfaction. If the terms used to describe those inclined towards repetition

Franois Jullien, In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and
Aesthetics, trans. Paula M. Varsano (New York: Zone Books, 2004), pp. 72, 143.
See Cage, in Richard Kostelanetz, Conversation with John Cage, in Kostelanetz
(ed.), John Cage, p. 13: [Discipline] is precisely what the Lord meant when he said, give
up your father and mother and follow me.
Sylvester, Interviews, p. 124, emphasis added.
Karl Schenzer, in Secret.
Richard Taruskin, No Ear for Music: The Scary Purity of John Cage, New
Republic, 15 March 1993, p. 26.
Cage, quoted in Kostelanetz, Conversing, p. 109.
222 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

grasp equal impressions easily and experience the repetition itself are
remarkably close to Cagean parlance, the flipside likewise echoes detractors like
Taruskin: those in whom every impression inhibits the readiness to receive a
repetition feel it as a painful and fatiguing effort if they are obliged to turn their
attention to one member after another in a uniform series. This mental torture is
evidently the displeasure which such individuals call the dislike of monotony.214
Mnsterberg concludes that the feeling of monotony depends much less upon
the particular kind of work than upon the special disposition of the individual.215
Cage rejects this logic, instead unilaterally embracing our current ability to listen
to things for a long time, an aptitude that he believes is becoming a general
practice in society.216 The mature Cage truly considers an individuals tolerance
for boredom and repetition as infinitely malleable, hence his defensive claim that
boredom is not perpetrated upon you; its you who create the boredom. So my
music isnt boring. The person who said it is has just found a way to be bored.217
Indeed, perhaps Cage even hoped that listeners would finally become so attached
to Vexations that, in a Stockholm syndrome of sorts, they would feel what Roger
Reynolds once felt upon the musics conclusion, a unique sensation of loss, a kind
of grief.218

Hugo Mnsterberg, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (Boston, MA: Mifflin,
1913), p. 204, emphasis added.
Ibid., p. 198.
Sylvester, Interviews, p. 119. Cage made much the same argument to one of the
reporters covering the Pocket Theater premiere, noting that our time consciousness has
changed. People are no longer afraid of time. It becomes a discipline to enter into a work of
such length, and the spiritual rewards are infinite: Gruen, 18 Hours, p. 21.
Cage, in Kostelanetz, Conversing, p. 252. Earlier in his career, however, Cage
evinced somewhat more respect for the disparities in individual temperament. He recalls
teaching a class with a record of Buddhist ceremonial music that settled into a single loud
reiterated percussive beat. According to Cage, this noise continued relentlessly for about
fifteen minutes with no perceptible variation. A lady got up and screamed, and then yelled,
Take it off. I cant bear it any longer. I took it off. A man in the class then said angrily,
Whyd you take it off? I was just getting interested; Cage, Silence, p. 93. When it comes
to repetition, it seems you cannot please everyone.
Roger Reynolds, Ideals and Realities: A Composer in America, American Music
25/1 (Spring 2007), p. 35. For a more theoretically minded account that corroborates
Reynolds experience, equating extreme boredom and shock in Fluxus and Vexations, see
Dorothe Brill, Shock and the Senseless in Dada and Fluxus (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth
College Press, 2010), p. 147. Also relevant here is a conversation Cage had with Warhol
associate Henry Geldzahler after a Young performance: In the lobby after La / Monte
Youngs music stopped, / Geldzahler said: Its like being in a / womb; now that Im out,
I want to get back in. I felt differently and so did / Jasper Johns: we were relieved to be
/ released; Cage, Monday, p. 16. Assuming the lengthy works of Young and Cage are in
some sense comparable, not only does it confirm Reynolds impression, but it also provides
a rare exception to the rule that Cage, to put it whimsically, never met a sound he didnt
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 223

Even so, to equate the Pocket Theater with Abu Ghraib, as Taruskins most
meretricious arguments do (there is no mistaking the intimation of torture in a
phrase like virtual sensory deprivation) is to wilfully overlook the facts. Cage
never impelled anyone into listening against his or her will. Quite the opposite is
true, for, as Richard Kostelanetz recalls, he made a point of ensuring that every
performance space he used had easily accessible exits, so that audience members
could comfortably depart at any time of their choosing.219 Compare this with
Beuys, who once invited Cage to give a concert in Dsseldorf during which he had
all of the auditorium exits locked, confining one and all inside. As a measure of just
how disconcerting such an experience could be, we need only consider that one
spectator, who grew up during the war, found the physical sense of being locked
in a space full of people and forced to undergo an event of an utterly unpredictable
nature as the closest she ever came to reliving the nights she spent in a bomb
shelter during air raids.220 Cages wager may have provoked, but the Pocket
Theater performance nevertheless remained a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. No
doubt, his Zen mantra, if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If
still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers
that its not boring at all but very interesting,221 was meant in an earnest spirit
of self-empowerment. Still, this does not preclude the possibility that for some
listeners, the side-effects of the attempt at self-empowerment would prove worse
than the original symptoms.
In the end, then, it is characteristic that, just like Beuys, the pill Cage provided
to audiences Vexations, this sort of self-flagellation reminiscent of the medieval
monks penances, as Ornella Volta has so memorably put it was a most bitter,
uncompromising one.222 During the premiere, Cage told reporters that the concert
was designed to introduce people to their daily lives, the implication being that
a homeopathic intention was animating the proceedings. After all, he reasoned,
there are a lot more than 840 repetitions in life like paying the telephone bill,
for instance!223 Indeed, the claim that Cage used Vexations to heal like with like
gains further credibility when we consider the hitherto-overlooked fact that the

like. That he found the music oppressive suggests that even Cage did not always conform
to his dictum that we alone are responsible for our experiences. It is noteworthy that this
incident likely took place after the Vexations premiere. If so, it is curious that Cage would
have this reaction to Youngs music, which he previously claimed to admire. Young was
approached to perform in the Vexations premiere, but turned down the offer. He did attend
part of the performance, but was unimpressed, finding it boring: Joseph, Sleep, p. 195.
Richard Kostelanetz, John Cage (Ex)plain(ed) (New York: Schirmer, 1996), p. 42.
Jan Verwoert, Class Action, Frieze 101 (September 2006), http://www.frieze.
Cage, Silence, p. 93.
Ornella Volta, liner notes (trans. Elizabeth Carroll) to Aldo Ciccolini, Erik Satie:
Luvre pour Piano, Vol. II: uvres mystiques (EMI 7497032, 1987), p. 6.
Solet, 7 Outlast, p. 23.
224 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

programmes printed for the premiere apparently made explicit note of Saties
Rosicrucianism, a truth Cage never otherwise appealed to when discussing the
composer.224 Using the very contagion he was intent on fighting, albeit in diluted,
highly controlled form, Cage was inoculating listeners against the boredom
pervasive in modern life, providing them with the skills the antibodies
necessary to resist it. Witness his plaintive cri de cur against the contemporary
culture industry: if art today didnt help us to forget, we would be submerged,
drowned under those avalanches of rigorously identical objects.225 Of course, this
is also a double-edged sword: in the attempt to save it, Cage loses precisely what
he hopes to save, for only by relinquishing history can he neutralise the amnesia
proper to the culture industry.226 This accounts for the paradox Michael Nyman
diagnoses at work in Vexations. Cage believes boredom will dissipate once we
will it to, by abandoning structural hearing and the search for relational meaning.
Yet, as Nyman points out, for most listeners boredom began when climaxes
disappeared and they lost most of their signposts.227
It is also significant that as we have been discovering, boredom, whether
musical or existential, is not simply boredom: as philosopher Lars Svendsen tells
us, boredom involves a loss of meaning a meaning withdrawal.228 He also
argues that the only surefire antidote to boredom is to deny meaning altogether.229
Therefore, if Cage fights boredom with boredom, he is also obligated to fight
meaninglessness with meaninglessness. Yet Svendsens point is ultimately that
the lack of meaning causes the boredom. If it is just such a lack of meaning that
makes audiences so resistant to Cages experiments, then surely the apparent lack
of meaning (as in Vexations) breeds the boredom, and not the other way around.
Though he does not discuss Cage, Svendsen does touch on Warhol, who, like
Cage, believed that forgetting [would] eradicate boredom, because forgetting will
make everything new.230 For some (like Taruskin), however, taking this attitude
is tantamount to waving the white flag of surrender. Yvonne Rainer expresses this
position most eloquently: Cages solution was to throw out the baby with the
bathwater. Cages refusal of meaning is an abandonment, an appeal to a Higher

See Gary Comenas, Notes on John Cage, Erik Saties Vexations and Andy
Warhols Sleep,, 2011,
Cage, Birds, p. 80.
Wim Mertens characterises this well, asserting that Cage can only act out the
renunciation of the consumer society by anticipating the end of history, which is blamed
as being an infringement of the natural order: Wim Mertens, American Minimal Music: La
Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, trans. J. Hautekiet (London: Kahn &
Averill, 1983), p. 116.
Nyman, Cage and Satie, p. 1229, emphasis in original.
Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom, trans. John Irons (London: Reaktion
Books, 2005), pp. 17, 30.
Ibid., p. 100.
Ibid., p. 105.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 225

Authority.231 Even so, it must be admitted that what looks like capitulation in
one case can very easily appear under very different circumstances to be a noble,
timely renunciation. It says much that after the Holocaust, young German artists
like Beuys embraced Cages work for precisely this reason: for them, the amnesia
of meaninglessness was a reprieve.232
This brings us, finally, to the question of Cages relationship to Wagner.
Vexations has often been described in overtly Wagnerian terms as a veritable
Ring cycle totally devoid of any but accidental variation (Nyman) and as a sort of
Ring des Nibelungen des pauvres (Gavin Bryars).233 Such comparisons would
be easily dismissed as superficial were it not for the fact that another of Saties
works Sports et divertissements has so often been referred to as a pseudo-
Gesamtkunstwerk.234 Indeed, at least one author believes Cages performance
of Vexations achieved a totality not dissimilar to the Gesamtkunstwerk, though
one less steeped in epic and pomp, and if we follow Brechts well-known
critique of the Gesamtkunstwerk as inducing an alarming degree of passivity
and bewitchment among spectators, we might be inclined to agree with such
a sentiment.235 From this standpoint, Cage comes across much like Beuys:
for his detractors, Cages Satiean Gesamtkunstwerk embraced forgetting in a
negative sense, being representative of the belief that the accumulated meanings
of the past could be shorn off once and for all, that one could simply ignore

Yvonne Rainer, A Woman Who : Essays, Interviews, Scripts (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1999), pp. 90, 97, emphasis in original.
See Amy C. Beal, New Music, New Allies: American Experimental Music in
Germany from the Zero Hour to Reunification (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2006), p. 115.
Nyman, Cage and Satie, p. 1229; Bryars, Vexations, p. 12.
See, for example, Alan M. Gillmor, Erik Satie (Boston, MA: Twayne, 1988),
p. 182: tiny Gesamtkunstwerk; Robert Orledge, Rethinking the Relationship between
Words and Music for the Twentieth Century: The Strange Case of Erik Satie, in John
Williamson (ed.), Words and Music (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005), p. 173:
a Gesamtkunstwerk in cameo; and Verzosa, Limits, p. 129: a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk
of fumisme.
Christof Migone, Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body, PhD
dissertation, New York, 2007; subsequently published as a book Berlin: Errant Bodies, 2011),
p. 196; Bertolt Brecht, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, trans. Steve Giles (London:
Methuen, 2007), p. 69. Simon Shaw-Miller, however, exercising more circumspection, rightly
warns us against such rash comparisons. Where the aim of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk
was the fusion of the arts into a higher, synergetic totality, the Cage aesthetic as well as
Higgins concept of intermedia, which it directly influenced explored the complex
situations that arise when media are superimposed independently of one another and when the
boundaries between the media themselves become fluid and uncertain; Simon Shaw-Miller,
Visible Deeds of Music: Art and Music from Wagner to Cage (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 2002), p. 211. Also relevant is Sara Heimbecker, HPSCHD, Gesamtkunstwerk, and
Utopia, American Music 26/4 (Winter 2008), pp. 47498.
226 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

the political and communal common reservoir of concepts and symbols.236 Yet
whether or not we concur with the claim that Cage was after the totality of the
Gesamtkunstwerk, there is one sure sense in which Cage again just like Beuys
was one of Wagners best and most successful pupils. Kyle Gann writes that
Cage put his message across during his life better than any other composer since
Wagner.237 As prophets of a new spiritual age, both were concerned to address
humanity in the broadest possible terms. No matter that their philosophies appear
to have been polar opposites: they are the two most distinguished representatives
of musical Kunst-religion.238
Satie, the great apostate of romantic obfuscation, the epitome of musical
agnosticism, the mortal enemy of all empty grandeur and false transcendence
surely this portrait requires qualification if we are to take the true measure of
the artistic production of Cage and Beuys. The long-held view of Saties work
as having been the product of a completely unreligious sensibility or, to use
Constant Lamberts rather more florid, nuanced description, that of an Italian
priest [who] could allow himself an occasional bottle of wine or a risqu story
which the English convert would regard as a lapse from devoutness may well
remain valid as far as it goes.239 Yet when one focuses upon the reception of
Saties oeuvre and, in particular, the ways in which his music has been put to
work posthumously, it is clearly not enough to call LEglise Mtropolitaine dArt
de Jsus Conducteur a parodistic religion and leave it at that.240 For Cage and
Beuys, at least, Saties call for the Regeneration of western society was no mere
fumiste mocking.241 In their eyes, the chaste timelessness of his work made it an
eminent salve for the harrowing void left by the withdrawal of religious belief,
their first port of call when addressing modernitys most serious spiritual ailments.

Sytze Steenstra, Song and Circumstance: The Work of David Byrne from Talking
Heads to the Present (New York: Continuum, 2010), p. 127.
Gann, Downtown, p. 125.
Indeed, this is what most emphatically separated Cage from his Fluxus acolytes.
For Higgins, the ideal of an art that traded in spiritual content was objectionable in the
extreme, requiring iconoclasm in the true sense of the word. Written in the summer of 1966
alongside Boredom and Danger, his Anger Song #6 (Smash), which asks the audience to
destroy religious sculptures and busts of Wagner alike, thoroughly exemplifies the point.
Dick Higgins, Anger Song #6 (Smash), in Ken Friedman, Owen Smith and Lauren
Sawchyn (eds), The Fluxus Performance Workbook, revised edn (2002), p. 51, available at:
W.H. Mellers, Erik Satie and the Problem of Contemporary Music, Music &
Letters 23/3 (1942), p. 211; Constant Lambert, Music Ho!: A Study of Music in Decline
(London: Hogarth Press, 1985), p. 117.
Alan M. Gillmor, Erik Satie and the Concept of the Avant-Garde, Musical Times
69/1 (Winter 1983), p. 117.
Erik Satie, The Writings of Erik Satie, ed. and trans. Nigel Wilkins (London:
Eulenberg, 1980), p. 46.
History, Homeopathy and the Spiritual Impulse 227

On the contrary, they did not regard Satie as musics most inveterate debunker of
artistic pretension in the name of mental health.242
To be sure, this means that both Cage and Beuys turned a deaf ear to a number
of significant facets of the Satie aesthetic, the most important of which was
unquestionably its omnipresent humour. No doubt, there is much that is comical
and absurd in the work of both men, yet ultimately what Alain Borer, referencing
novelist Milan Kundera, claims to be true for Beuys is equally accurate for
Cage: in becoming a saviour the saver neglected the unbearable lightness of
being.243 Similarly striking is Cages questionable conviction that Satie was not
known to have had any sexual connection with anyone or anything: the deeply
satisfying purity of symmetry was enough for the vestal Satie, Cage avers.244
This is particularly ironic coming from Cage, considering how greatly he valued
Vexations, the one work of Saties that likely was autobiographical, written with an
eye to his painful romantic infatuation with Suzanne Valadon.245
In the final scheme of things, however, more significant than the supposed
accuracy of the Cagean-Beuysian interpretation of Saties aesthetic is the question
of its efficacy. From the vantage point of intellectual history, Higgins stance that
the catharsis of Wagners Gtterdammerung leads inexorably to Buchenwald
is surely a crude over-simplification.246 Yet, insofar as Beuys and Cage felt the
need to address this impression (directly or indirectly, whatever the case may have
been), both found Saties oeuvre to speak uniquely and urgently to their aesthetico-
ideological concerns. Both men used Saties work as an art pill; for both, his
music had a cleansing, therapeutic influence on the memory, one that could just
maybe restore us to a past prior to its corruption (Beuys) or grant us an eternal
present unburdened by the weight of the past (Cage). Both use Saties music in
service of the broadest possible social aims, searching for a reprieve from the great
traumas of modernity. For them, this is where Saties true lightness lay.
If, as Beuys and Cage seem to have believed (in their own very different
ways), the Satie aesthetic was the true parallax of Wagners, perhaps it is fitting,
then, that the last word should be left to Nietzsche. After all, it was Nietzsche
who, as an amateur composer, provided what is ironically the only known

Richard Taruskin, Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 167.
Alain Borer, The Essential Joseph Beuys, Lothar Schirmer (ed.) (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 1997), p. 34, emphasis in original. Correspondingly appropriate to Beuys is
Calvin Tomkins suggestion that if one of Cages works by chance establishes humorous
circumstances, he accepts it with equanimity, just as he accepts everything else that can
enter into the work: Tomkins, Bride, p. 105.
Cage, in Steve Schlegel, John Cage at June in Buffalo, 1975, Masters thesis,
Buffalo, 2008, p. 31.
See Whittington, Immobilities for a reading of Vexations along these lines.
Dick Higgins, Horizons: The Poetics and Theory of the Intermedia (Carbondale:
Southern Illinois University Press, 1984), p. 65.
228 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

musical precedent for Vexations.247 Nietzsche once wrote that the unhistorical and
the historical are necessary in equal measure for the health of an individual, of a
people and of a culture.248 Nietzsches insight, arrived at just as he was beginning
to part company with Wagner, is that an excess of historical consciousness can
prove just as deleterious in effect as a deficit of collective memory; that when it
comes to the mental archive, hypertrophy and atrophy, far from being antipodes,
are symptoms of the same affliction. Consequently, if it has become something of
a clich to say that the technological prostheses of memory proper to the modern
world have had the unforeseen effect of fostering a culture of ever-more pervasive
amnesia and short-sightedness, perhaps Saties prophetic lesson for us today is
that only if we begin to treat forgetting as no less healthy than remembering
will we find the balance necessary to once again find meaning in the interplay
between past, present and future.249

The Vexations precedent is a piano composition entitled Das Fragment an sich
[The Fragment in Itself] which contains neither a concluding double bar line nor a fine
indication. Rather, it bears the caustic instruction da capo con malinconia. Given that
Nietzsche does not specify how many da capos are to be performed, in theory the piece
could go on forever. To the best of my knowledge, the secondary literature on Vexations has
never made reference to Das Fragment an Sich. For information on the composition as well
as a reproduction of the score, see Jos de Mul, Romantic Desire in (Post)modern Art and
Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), pp. 12931. For perhaps
the first attempt to link Satie to Nietzsches well-known ideal of musical levity, see Jean
Cocteau, A Call to Order, trans. Rollo H. Myers (New York: Holt, 1926), p. 18.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 63.
I am indebted to Hannah Higgins and Alison Knowles for their generosity in
answering my numerous questions about Dick Higgins and his relationship to Satie. I am
also extremely grateful to Nora Bartosik and Leonardo Liccini for their assistance with
German translations and sources. Finally, my thanks go to Professor Peter Dayan for his
wisdom and practical assistance.
Chapter 10
After Satie: Howard Skempton in
Conversation with Caroline Potter

CP: Do you remember how you first came across Saties music?

HS: I think I must have heard the Gymnopdies on the radio, because I knew of
Satie when I went to London in 1967 I went, really, to study with Cardew, but I
was also a student in Ealing doing a general degree. Music was one of the subjects
and I remember we looked at Satie then, but I already knew the Gymnopdies. I
was already interested in Satie.
I also knew of Satie through Cage. When I was in the sixth form Id read an
essay on Cage by Calvin Tomkins which was printed in a book called The Bride
and the Bachelors, later published in paperback as Ahead of the Game.1 It was a
wonderful essay and he mentions a performance of Vexations, but of course Cage
also mentions Satie because he refers to him in the Black Mountain lecture much
earlier on,2 where he notoriously said that Satie was right and Beethoven was
So, I was aware of Satie through Cage, but otherwise its difficult to know
precisely where one might have heard the music. My guess is that I heard
broadcasts: I know that one or two people like Peter Dickinson were promoting
him at that time. But the interest seemed to develop much more once I became
involved with Cardew and Cardews students, some of whom like Christopher
Hobbs were very interested in Satie.

CP: Were they performing the music?

HS: Well, I think Christopher was finding the music and playing it in Morley
College when we met, occasionally, and of course John White was around and
John would have been interested in Satie as well. So somehow Satie, as one would
expect, infiltrated the Cardew circle, the experimental music circle at that time.

CP: Was Cardew himself interested in Satie?

Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: The Heretical Courtship in Modern
Art (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1965; reprinted Penguin, 1976).
Cages lecture Defence of Satie was delivered at the Black Mountain Satie Festival
in 1948. See Michael Nyman, Cage and Satie, Musical Times 114/1570 (1973), pp. 12279.
230 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

HS: I have no evidence that he was. Its interesting; I wouldnt associate Cardew
with Satie. I think Satie probably came in through John [White] and through some
of Cardews own pupils like Christopher Hobbs who would have been interested
in Vexations, again through his interest in Cage. But the fact is that Vexations was
an intriguing piece for us because it was a minimalist piece.

CP: Do you think it was known for its notorious reputation rather than as an
actual piece of music?

HS: Yes, and in fact it was some time before I heard the piece. I know that Gavin
Bryars and Christopher Hobbs did a performance in 1971, and of course there is
documentation about that performance in Contact, including about the little notes
they wrote to each other while performing.3 Im not aware of much interest in
Satie in the UK before Hobbs and Bryars I dont think even John White was
promoting the music very actively. In fact, before Hobbs and Bryars performance
of Vexations there had been a performance by Richard Toop he performed the
piece solo at the Arts Lab in London in 1967. So I think it was seen as a great
predecessor of minimalism.

CP: Why would Satie be of interest to experimentalists?

HS: Hes enigmatic, hes contradictory there are several things that would have
appealed to the experimentalists. Considering the English experimentalists first,
what might have appealed to them? Obviously I can talk about myself although I
said I wasnt consciously aware of being influenced by Satie, as I was for example
by Morton Feldman my first piano music obviously owes a lot to Feldman.
But I wrote a piece called Waltz, which Michael Nyman mentioned in his book
Experimental Music, which was taken up. It was even broadcast just a few months
after it was composed in 1970, and that piece is very Satie-esque. In fact, the
composer Brian Dennis we both lived in Ealing at the time and we were having
tea, and he played me some Satie and he said now I know where you got Waltz.
Even though I cant remember what Satie piece it was, it was alarmingly close
to Waltz the melodic ideas, the material was very similar, and also the deadpan
nature of it, the short-circuiting aspect of it, little bits of looped, cyclic material.
But the wonderful thing about Satie is that the music seems simple enough, but
hes an extremely complex man and the musics extremely complex he is his
music, and this is what one has to say when people describe that his music is
simple the composer isnt simple. So theres something else going on here, and
of course when people start working on the music they realise that it isnt so easy
once they understand whats needed.

Bryars article Vexations and its Performers was originally printed in Contact 26
(Spring 1983), pp. 1220 and is now available at JEMS: An Online Journal of Experimental
After Satie: Howard Skempton in Conversation with Caroline Potter 231

But one thing thats clear is that Saties music is understated. Hes an anti-hero;
hes not one of these grand composers, so I think he was an antidote to the great
stars, and I think for people who were promoting an alternative tradition to the
mainstream avant-garde, this rather softly spoken, tactful, sweetly reasonable man
was a perfect anti-hero, a perfect model.

CP: Did you think you needed that in the 1960s, early 1970s?

HS: Well, I think there was disquiet we didnt think of Stockhausen as an

imperialist as Cornelius [Cardew] did, but certainly the big figures Stockhausen,
Boulez they seemed to be powerful but quite wilful, overbearing figures, and
I think a lot of us were drawn to experimental music because of its homespun
quality. Certainly American experimental music is homespun; a lot of composers
wrote for piano, partly so they could hear the music themselves. It was a sort of
do-it-yourself music.

CP: And the brevity of Satie

HS: And the brevity of course suggests communication on an intimate level

thats the way I see it. These arent grand, pretentious statements hes very quick
to prick that particular bubble, and I think that if youre looking for something
really central about Satie, I think its the intimacy of the music.

CP: So it was the piano music that appealed to you rather than the later ballets?

HS: Oh yes, absolutely. Im aware now and to be fair, I would have read David
Drews wonderful essay in European Music in the Twentieth Century which came
out around 1957, I would have seen it in the 1960s; there are half a dozen pages
about Satie in there which are quite favourable.4 Obviously David thought Parade
was a wonderful piece Parade is a masterpiece, and other people think that
Socrate says it all. So it was so interesting to read Robin Holloway on Socrate in
his first book of essays, on Hugues Cunods performance with Geoffrey Parsons
in 1977 the idea that one needs to project the music to some extent, but even then
its too much.5 Its the impossibility of getting it absolutely right.

CP: He does make specific demands on performers, doesnt he? Its music that
almost seems to work better on CD or on the radio.

Drews chapter Modern French Music was published in Howard Hartog (ed.),
European Music in the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957;
reprinted Penguin, 1961), pp. 23295.
Robin Holloway, On Music: Essays and Diversions 19632003 (Brinkworth:
Claridge Press, 2003). Chapter 48, on Socrate, is at pp. 2778.
232 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

HS: Well, this is very interesting. I would say that its difficult in performance
and this is where the complexity lies. Performance is always a balancing act, but
I think the balancing act with Saties music is a subtle one: its always a balance
between regularity and flexibility, or a deadpan approach, a knowing approach
[and] how much one projects. Some of the pieces are really quite playful, like Le
Piccadilly, which is a ragtime you can imagine doing it in quite a lively way,
and other pieces clearly have to be deadpan, but what about the Gymnopdies for
example? Its a matter of tempo I remember Stephen Pruslin playing it in the
late 1960s extremely slowly, and I thought, what on earth is this? again, youve
got to make a decision about that. And there are problems with the Gnossiennes
because it looks unusual.

CP: Without bar lines.

HS: So youve actually got to approach it very intelligently. And its difficult to
ignore the fact that nowadays, the music has become better known as a result of
recordings. Now, why would that be the case? I think one of the reasons is because
of this intimate quality. This music is for the listener at home, perhaps listening on
headphones it is a very personal exchange, like letters. I think the idea of a piece
of music as a letter, a lyric, not a great public statement; its something that has a
sort of tenderness or wit, and certainly is as tactful as you would hope friends to be,
not hectoring or browbeating. And of course its a tenderness which one finds also
in Chopin, who is a key figure for Satie, I think. Also, the harmonic ambiguity in
the music, I think, is better grasped through recordings because one can listen again
and again, so one can become familiar with it. Or through playing it yourself, and I
think the music needs that the familiarising process is part of that intimate, private
aspect of the music. I dont think Im overselling this its a key element, and
certainly I think the intimate character of the music is what appealed to the English
experimentalists. And of course theres also the humour, which was something new
in music it is humour, not wit, because wit is more commonly found, but there is
real humour in the titles. We understood Cages humour through Satie as well, and
Satie was a sort of father figure as far as humour was concerned.

CP: Do you find this humour in the music itself, or is it purely verbal humour?

HS: Theres wit, I think theres humour in the titles, and there is wit in the music
there is a sort of wittily truncated, wittily short-circuited quality. Its extraordinary
how the pieces sometimes end, as if they skidded into a snowdrift or something,
and thats it the end of the piece! And so of course the humour is another source
of appeal for any young composer seeking an alternative tradition to the post-war
avant-garde. The latter was very powerful, very good, very inspiring but also
restricting and quite dogmatic.
Probably the crucial aspect of Saties music which attracted some of us was
its spaciousness and its uncluttered character. There was complexity but no
After Satie: Howard Skempton in Conversation with Caroline Potter 233

complication, in other words. It was the right sort of complexity: it was ambiguity,
elusiveness, all these things, but there was no obfuscation, except maybe in
the titles but no. It was absolutely the complete clarity of the music and the
efficiency of the music, one might say you can find that in other composers,
but Im sure one of the things that attracted me to American music was a sort of
clarity, and Im not just talking about American music. Maybe a composer like
Peter Dickinson, or Wilfred Mellers who admired Satie as well they would have
admired Copland and theres a French connection there, with Boulanger. So those
who were attracted to the musical ascetic it is a classic asceticism, its classicism
and its a reaction to Romanticism, and I think to some extent that asceticism, that
classicism was evident in experimental music but not in the European avant-garde
necessarily. Although theyd wiped the slate clean, as it were, very quickly they
seemed to complicate things. So were going back to a sort of clarity, and I think
particularly American experimental music had that clarity.
Now one of the reasons American music had that clarity is because of the art
because of the Abstract Expressionists, and even before that Mondrian. So its the
extreme rigour and transparency of that work which is what inspired the American
experimentalists. And of course there is that appeal to the visual intelligence as
well in Saties music this is another crucial factor. One can see it in the scores,
of course, but the fact is if you have that visual awareness which is something
that is particularly true of experimental composers, these are people who dont
embrace everything, they sort of work between categories

CP: To use a Feldman-esque expression

HS: To use a Feldman-esque expression!6 But theres very much an awareness

of painting, of art; experimental composers such as the Americans Feldman,
Cage, Christian Wolff wrote piano music and were also friends with painters, and
exactly the same happened in England at the end of the 1960s with experimental
composers writing piano music. John White used to have soires on a Sunday and
a number of us would gather and play our latest piano music. So again, the piano
was central, but also we were interested in artists as well, and they were interested
in music there was a lot of common ground.

CP: Which artists in particular?

HS: The constructivists. Gavin Bryars worked at the Portsmouth College of

Art, which was where the Portsmouth Sinfonia was founded, Michael Parsons
worked there as well, and some of the artists who were based there belonged to
a British constructivist movement. These figures are not well known. The small

Feldmans composition Between Categories, for two pianos, two chimes, two
violins and two cellos, was composed in 1969; in the same year he wrote an essay of this
title for The Composer 1/2 (Fall 1969), p. 76.
234 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

circle included Jeffrey Steele, Malcolm Hughes, Jean Spencer, Peter Lowe, David
Saunders and Michael Kidner, and the artist Kenneth Martin was a father figure
of the group. So its this aspect of experimentalwork in New York in the 1950s,
in London in the late 1960s/early 1970s that looked beyond music to art and to
theatre, but in a funny sort of way not working in either. Certainly the English
composers were taking a cue from Fluxus, you see, which was again between
categories as Feldman would have said.
So Satie was a figure who resonated with that interest in the visual. I feel
theres a sense of creating space in music, and of course Cage picked up on that
through his concern with duration. This sense of spaciousness and this sense of
freedom from congestion is something one associates very much with visual art.
I suppose what I want to say more than anything is that the key figure for me, and
I guess a crucial influence in the twentieth century on artists, was Brancusi, who
was a friend of Saties. If one wants to find a very simple way to explain Satie, one
only has to think of Brancusi, because as Henry Moore said about Brancusi, he
got rid of all that clutter, all that extraneous stuff and made us once more shape-
conscious, as he put it. So its the way in which Brancusi promoted shape, so all
the foliage, all the unnecessary decoration is removed, and I think that its the way
Satie is able to focus so clearly on form.

CP: Theres that famous remark about the Gymnopdies being like walking round
a sculpture, viewing it from three different angles

HS: Well, exactly. That of course suggests that were dealing with a very complex
composer because now were talking about harmony as well, and harmonic
ambiguity. Of course this music isnt going anywhere its going back and forth
and turning round, and its turning in a very agile way, very quickly, and this is no
doubt what interested Debussy, I think. Im sure it was Saties harmonic albeit
innocent! harmonic manoeuvring, harmonic instability in the music harmonic
changeability in the sense that its emotionally very rich but its not steering us
in a particular direction. Its not pointing very clearly in a particular direction,
heralding something and bludgeoning us its not, as I say, a guided tour, or if it is
a guided tour its a playful one, a mystery tour a mystery tour in a maze. So in a
way Im trying to analyse this friendship with Brancusi, because I think it helps to
explain Saties influence and importance during the 1920s. He was really the first
modern composer, and Debussy would have picked up on that. Morton Feldman
said that the problem with composers is that they have a vested interest in their
technique, Satie didnt have a vested interest in his technique; he didnt feel that
proud of his technique to have a vested interest in it.
I have a very interesting thought, something that a friend said. She was
fascinated by the title, Trois morceaux en forme de poire whats interesting about
those pieces is that they date from a time when he was at a very low point. Hed
just moved out of Montmartre that was a bad time. It might account for the
fact that he felt that he had to go back to school; there was a crisis of confidence.
After Satie: Howard Skempton in Conversation with Caroline Potter 235

Whats so interesting about those Morceaux en forme de poire is that its a riposte
to Debussy they were very good friends, but its always said hes putting Debussy
in his place by using this title. But I think its actually a rather self-critical title,
and it hadnt occurred to me that it was a ruefully self-critical title until my friend
Alison Golding said Pieces in the form of a pear because his life had gone

CP: Everythings gone pear-shaped!

HS: And it never occurred to me that the Pieces in the form of a pear were pieces
that had gone pear-shaped its pretty obvious, isnt it?!

CP: Yes, a lot of Saties humour is texts which can be taken literally.

HS: Theyre not just in the form of a pear it might have been a banana, that
would have been just as funny no, its the idea that they had gone pear-shaped.
The phrase may relate to the shape of collapsing balloons7

CP: And theyre based on his cabaret pieces, taking bits from here, bits from there
What do I do with this stuff, where am I going, who am I?

HS: Well, knowing Satie there were these two aspects there may be a lack of
confidence, a defensiveness, but one reason why hes so influential now and such
an inspiration to the young is because of his integrity, which is the integrity of a
child. I always say that children have integrity, but thats the only thing theyve
got they dont have any sort of power, but they have this wonderful sense of
fair play Why can he have it, its not fair! Saying life isnt always fair is an
infuriating response to a child. And of course you can see this in Saties rather
petulant reactions, the way he would cut people off if they disappointed him that
childlike integrity, those high standards which nobody else can quite reach. I dont
know whether thats fanciful, but I think thats part of his character. There are these
two things: his strength, his self-possession, that extraordinary resilience, but at
the same time his petulance. The relationship to Debussy is interesting because
I think he would havebeen quite happy in Debussys company, quite aware that

Alison Golding has provided the following note: The expression may have
originated in Victorian Britain describing what happened to spherical gas balloons before
they plunged to the ground. It seems to have been an English language expression so Satie
may have learnt it from his Scottish mother and he may have enjoyed mystifying his
French audience by the reference (private communication, 3 August 2012). The origins
of Saties title are probably multiple: there is a French slang expression where poire = the
face (avoir une balle en pleine poire = getting a ball in the face); as Satie was obsessed with
heads, that may have been in his mind. Poire can also mean idiot (il ma pris pour une
bonne poire = he thought I was a right idiot).
236 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

his talent was his talent and nobody elses talent, and his technique was his own
technique and nobody elses technique, and really you cant ask for any more than
that having a voice.
The thing is, technique is precisely that its what you do, technique is what
you use to make a piece, and Satie had his own technique and he tried to develop
it, he went back to school and built on it and came back with new resources. So
he was mindful of the need to explore new things. But on the other hand, he is a
contradictory figure, a complex figure, and I think there was a genuine sense of
inferiority vis--vis Debussy. Also I dont think he ever got over certain traumas,
like his affair with Suzanne Valadon. Theres a sense that it would have been so
interesting if he had, or if hed allowed ambition to influence him. He might have
written a few large orchestral works, but it didnt happen it might have been nice
if it had, perhaps.
Ive talked about the do-it-yourself aspect of the music and here is a composer
who was forced to do it himself, to write for himself, and I think thats why there is
so much Satie piano music here is a composer who wrote almost exclusively for
the piano, and that made him interesting for later generations of pianist-composers.

CP: Of course thats how he earned his money as a pianist, a performing

musician, teaching children piano. How about Saties approach to structure is
that something thats interested you as a composer?

HS: Well, only in the sense that he had an approach to structure: that structure is
important, that theres a clarity, and that the interest in structure replaces structural
tonality, in a sense, so what we have is a different sort of structure and thats whats
appealing. In the same way I think that Cage was initially interested in Satie,
before he discovered Vexations, because his own rhythmic structures resembled
the structure hed found in Socrate. Certainly theres no development, thats the
key thing. Its such an obvious thing to say, isnt it? But the point is we have a
composer who doesnt do development, so we have something else we think of
painting, we think of Brancusi, we think of walking round things, but also theres
film. Here is a composer who was very much in tune with a new way of structuring
things, with new forms: structures which emerged through the use of film, which
was already emerging when Satie was developing as a composer, but particularly
at the beginning of the twentieth century and of course he was involved in it. When
I think of development, I dont think of classicism, I think of Romantic music,
really. But those classical forms, like the rondo, where one has little boxes, little
parcels of material and sort of mobile forms this is steady state music, rather than
music that is moving from, developing from one state to another and evolving.

CP: And its very compact music too it doesnt overstay its welcome. Its precisely
as long as it needs to be.
After Satie: Howard Skempton in Conversation with Caroline Potter 237

HS: And this is crucially important to me. You find that in other composers an
awful lot of what I said about non-development and this sort of patchwork form,
with great economy and great efficiency, could be said about Stravinsky. Its very
interesting to think of the influence there.

CP: I think Satie had a lot of insight into Stravinsky.

HS: Yes, and of course things were in the air, but I would give Satie credit for
influencing Debussy in terms of harmony, the elliptical, rather ambiguous use of
harmony again, a non-developmental use of harmony and again by default. Satie
had extraordinary tact with which he kept things brief nothing was longer than it
had to be. He was very clear about what he was doing in that sense if the music
wasnt developing, it should just stop. Revisiting the music, this becomes clearer
than ever; perhaps one is distracted by the humour to begin with, and then one
appreciates other things about the pieces later on the efficiency. The structure
is interesting because its very clear, its articulated clearly, but it does relate in a
funny sort of way to film technique.

CP: You mean the cutting from one scene to another?

HS: Yes, the cutting, the montage thats right. Its his happiness to cut, and to cut
from one type of music to another very quickly. Its the hard line of modernism: it
doesnt go in for the dissolves of transitions and bridge passages and things like that
theres none of that subtle refinement. There is refinement, but again the refinement
is built into the music in a funny sort of way its not foisted on the music.
I can think of no other composer who had a readier access at that time to
modernism because he didnt have that baggage, he didnt have the vested interest
in a technique that had developed over about 150 years from the breakdown of
the baroque. Even Debussy would have come out of Wagner, out of Liszt you
can see where Debussys coming from. If you can imagine a modern world as
we might have imagined it at the start of the twentieth century, as Le Corbusier
might have imagined a modern world, with all the light and spaciousness that one
associates with modernism, Satie would have had no difficulty imagining that,
because he would just have gone straight for it, and in a way there was a directness
to that approach which one might recognise in a pop composer.

CP: Of course, thats where he was coming from in the cabaret songs.

HS: Yes. Theres always a conflict in Satie, a contradiction and its a conflict
between this ecstatic style which seems to anticipate Messiaen the religious
pieces, part of the Fils des toiles, that very formal type of music, statuesque music
and this really playful cabaret music even the waltz Je te veux, which is a great
song. Its the freshness, its pure inspiration: these are ideas with great character,
theyre very memorable musical ideas.
238 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

CP: And again with popular music, we think of simple verse-chorus forms.

HS: Its the efficiency of the music weve forgotten this, but in the days of
jukebox records, songs were very short one minute 40 seconds were down to a
Satieesque length with pop songs of a certain time. I think that what is interesting
is this blend of the inspired but untrained composer and the very sophisticated
composer. You sense that he was a very sophisticated composer, but somehow had
managed to elude a conventional training. Now again, there are all sorts of possibly
family reasons for that here is a composer with an interesting psychological

CP: With his stepmother, perhaps she was the one who encouraged him to go to
the Conservatoire and he didnt get on with that

HS: Yes, and why does this seem so modern? Theres something very up-to-date
about this, and I do think that when were talking about modernism we can see
structural concerns, we can see a lack of development, we can see an interest in
immediacy or new materials, new sounds and so on, but I think the key thing is
sensibility and a sense of uncertainty. A key element of modern work or modern
thinking is uncertainty we live in uncertain times. Now, you would not regard the
nineteenth-century composer as an uncertain figure you know, the Romantic artist
was not uncertain. And I think its that uncertainty that sort of tentative, provisional
character of the work hes fighting, the word is transcending that and hes finding a
sort of clarity. There is a sort of Utopian vision of something, so thats the modernist
thing, and he had direct access to this because he didnt have to come to terms with
his achievements he didnt have any as an academic or in a conventional sense.
But I think that uncertainty is very interesting, because that is something that
would mean something to modern composers and not just to composers, in the
second half of the twentieth century. Take Samuel Beckett for example, who wrote
the text of Feldmans Neither, which is all about being to and fro in shadow
from inner to outer shadow, by way of neither as between two lit refuges,
unspeakable home are the last words of that text. Its that uncertainty, almost
what psychologists would call avoidance avoidance someone not wanting to
do A and not wanting to do B and ending up by doing nothing or steering that
awkward path between the two, so wanting to stay on as a student to avoid military
service or something, or wanting to be a student but not wanting to

CP: take on anything that involves!

HS: But what could be more modern than that dilemma? Which is a perfectly
honest one how do we account for that? Here is a man who is just too honest to
take either one dishonest course or another he probably saw both courses of action
as being questionable. I dont think it was laziness you could put down Saties
lack of achievement or lack of ambition or whatever, but it wouldnt have been
After Satie: Howard Skempton in Conversation with Caroline Potter 239

that. Why the restricted life? I mean, there was great generosity in certain aspects
of him when he did have money, he gave it away. There was great extravagance
come on, seven identical velvet suits?! Four would have done! When he did have
money he couldnt get rid of it quickly enough, is the impression one gets.

CP: Its certainly not the sensible middle-class approach, putting some aside

HS: I think its part of that bohemian life definitely thats what he wanted, but
then you have to ask, why did he opt for that? It was definitely to avoid that
sensible road, wasnt it the happy medium everything my mother always told
me about balance being the answer to everything! But in a funny sort of way he
found his own balance, and what hes doing in his music is proposing a type of
balance this is his own view of what balance might be. I think he probably, like
all of us, wanted to achieve some sort of balance in his life and he found a rather
extraordinary kind of balance Cage was aiming for that sort of balance by using
Here is somebody who opted out, chose to follow neither of the possible
paths: either becoming a conventional musician or doing something completely
different. He was, in his own way, passionately committed to being a composer
Cage quotes this idea that everything that happened to him happened to him as a
result of that.

CP: Satie must have been so well read and was so well informed about the other
arts thats also very modern, isnt it?

HS: Again, thats the point I was making earlier about this interest in poetry
and poets interest in him, and of course artists like Cocteau, thats always very
appealing. But in the general sense it is the integrity and originality of the man
which is always going to be of influence, as with Webern to some extent the
devotion to a particular calling. When everything else falls away, these figures
remain Webern was obviously a key figure in a way if youre picking up the
pieces again you go back to that sort of single-minded dedication and pick up
on that, and so its almost an attitude that is influential. But theres obviously
something too about Saties commitment, about his underlying seriousness. Weve
talked about the humour theres humour and seriousness, the balance between
the two the way that hes able to achieve a sort of classical poise.
But this is the problem with Satie: there are so many different aspects that
one can light on and talk about, but you cant really talk about a school of Satie.
And I think this has always been a problem, when people have spoken about
Saties influence in the past clearly he was influential in France as a father
figure to Les Six.

CP: Yes, musicologists often like to pigeonhole composers, put them in a lineage
240 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

HS: But it doesnt quite ring true, does it? I think maybe we have our own image
of Satie, because I feel definitely a direct descendant of Satie, in certain key ways,
and possibly I would say that the members of what we would have to call the wider
experimental family in England also owe a great deal to Satie. In the end, its partly
a technical thing; its the possibility of doing something which is sidestepping
technique. Its this feeling that, as Morton Feldman said when it was pointed out
to him that other people wrote more notes than he did, he just said Oh, thats just
colouring book stuff! And its partly that the feeling that Satie just goes straight
to the heart of the matter, and when you say the heart of the matter youre talking
about a purity of utterance. And its the ability to produce something which is very
pure and irresistible and charming, quite irresistibly touching and eloquent in
a way, with a minimum of means, without any fuss or bother, reminding me of
Feldmans remark that everything you use to make art is precisely what kills it
this idea of non-interference.
I cant really relate Feldman and Satie: I dont know what Feldman thought
about Satie, probably not very much, but what they do have in common is that
sense of being self-taught, crucially that they dont use their skill to express
something, the expression and the skill are sort of bound up with each other, so
they discover the means to say what they need to say as they say it. Which I
suppose is where we come back to the pop composer, its that sort of freshness and
directness of expression

CP: And this is something you try to do in your own work.

HS: Well yes, obviously I would identify with that. I would say thats certainly
true in my case what I recognise is, I mean I have used what gifts I have to
produce something and in the end Im bringing everything into play and then
something is happening. I just recognise that what is extraordinary about Satie is
you feel that hes bringing everything into play hes pushing himself to the limit
in a way, but in a rather wonderful way because hes exploiting all his strengths.
His strengths are limited, but theyre related to his knowledge of other things. So
theres a great richness, an imaginative world thats being brought to bear its
not a small thing; there is something heroic in his surmounting the obstacle of
his own limited skill. Im not going to say limited technique because as I said,
technique in the conventional sense but its the way in which he surmounts that,
but of course one might then say that its in the process of trying to overcome these
limitations that he reveals his individuality which is not so easy. If you have all
the skill, then in a way you havent had to draw on your own resources enough to
reveal what is perhaps most valuable, which is your character, and those aspects of
your character which are going to inspire. Its a very subtle point, perhaps.
But one might ask, why is the music a beacon at this time? And I would have
to say its because Satie is that rarest of composers: hes a melodist. Hes the most
wonderful melodist think of his contemporaries, people like Chausson or even
Faur in that sense he is rather like a popular composer [if not a commercial
After Satie: Howard Skempton in Conversation with Caroline Potter 241

composer], he has this gift for striking melody. This is one thing the unschooled
composers, the pop composers, the Tin Pan Alley composers had this great gift for
striking melody. Maybe again its that purity of view theyre just going straight
for the heart of the matter as it were, which is the tune, the melody, which makes
the music so strong and so memorable, and thats what Satie has.
So I think its that instinctive gift for melody, which he has again by default
possibly, which makes the music so memorable, and in the end this is something,
as with the pop composer, that happens almost by default, because as a dictionary
will tell you, melody is the one thing that cant be taught Ive got a dictionary
at home that tells me that. I won it as a music prize when I was at school! It says
melody is the one thing that cant be taught, and I think that Satie, partly because
of that, perhaps understood when he was young that he was being deflected. I
mean, maybe for all sorts of reasons he was negligent, for better or worse I dont
believe in laziness, but maybe for all sorts of reasons he failed to achieve what he
might have achieved. I think its a fear of failure in the end, which is why he didnt
get married, isnt it?

CP: The fear of being cuckolded, as he told his brother

HS: There you are. Well, in a professional sense, you might say that his choices seem
to have been made as a way of avoiding failure. A man called Max Hammerton,
in the 1960s, came up with the phrase defence by infinite retreat. I love that
phrase defence by infinite retreat, theres that element in Satie, isnt there?
Again, theres uncertainty And for thoseof us who perhaps were outsiders, its
crucial. The outsider is a familiar figure in the twentieth century: the person who is
an outsider through lack of training, lack of opportunity, or has chosen to be an
outsider. To some extent Cardew chose to be an outsider the alienated individual
would find a hero in Satie.

CP: Its a very modern figure.

HS: Its a very modern idea, the idea of alienation and the way that is expressed
in music. In other words you dont confidently march through the keys, and
confidently accelerate into an interrupted cadence you know, you dont do that!

CP: Thinking of something like Socrate, where the dynamic level is uniformly low:
it doesnt impose itself in volume either

HS: I was reading recently about the low dynamic for example in Pellas Debussy
would have picked up on that reticence, that understatement. He would have not
necessarily been influenced by that, but there would have been an agreement, a
commonality. But I think in the end we have to come down to the fact that Satie
was an outsider. Here is a man of great integrity, who created his own world;
someone who through his experiences of childhood,perhaps, but also through
242 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

choice, someone who alienated himself from more conventional possibilities,

more traditional ways of functioning as a composer or as a human being. And I
think that sense of alienation or sense of being an outsider is something that we
can only too easily pick up.
And of course its the uncertainty or anxiety that goes with that which might lead
one to conjure some sort of modernist vision, to imagine something perfectly
balanced, perfectly structured, as Cage did later, something thats less corrupt,
less complicated in a bad sense Saties example is always going to be inspiring,
but what is interesting then is going back to the work. We might talk about Satie
the man, but then you go back to the music I wish I could listen to the music
without knowing about Satie the man, but in the end one might, I suppose, if one
could hear Satie with an innocent ear, without knowing who the composer was if
one can imagine anyone, someone perhaps from Mars who wouldnt recognise the
music as Satie, would they think this is a bit odd, this is eccentric? I mean, would
you think that, or would you think this is very witty, very direct this is very
subtle, very rich in its changeability, its variety, its ability to slip through the gap
in a hedge, as I would say, harmonically speaking.
But in all the music, back in the early pieces, theres this extraordinary strangeness
which is perhaps the most precious thing of all. Its in a lot of twentieth-century
music again the word is ambiguity, this sense of the familiar and the strange
being in such close proximity, so that one is constantly disturbed by something
turbulent and strange and in the next moment reassured. Its that sort of dialogue
which again you find later on in the twentieth century, and thats a very modern
thing which you find I suppose in Britten, in Berg thats a very much wider thing.
Chronological Catalogue of
Saties Compositions and Research Guide
to the Manuscripts
Robert Orledge

The following catalogue first appeared in Satie the Composer (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 266335) and in its subsequent reprintings
in 1995 and 2009. Since the late 1980s, when it was compiled, many discoveries
have been made as to dating, sources, manuscripts, editions and premieres, and
quite a few of the manuscripts have also changed ownership or collection. Those
in Harvard University (Houghton Library) have now received their third, and
I hope final, reclassification, and therefore the Ho numbers of 1990 have been
replaced by a number within b MS Mus 193 (thus Ho 1 is now 193: 14). Most of
the projected, unfinished, unpublished and lost compositions that were titled by
Satie are still included, but his Schola Cantorum exercises from 190512 remain
excluded, unless they contributed to a titled composition. They can be consulted
in BNF 9577, 9579, 9591(13), 9601(1), 9613, 9617(12), 9620, 9634, 963659,
96615, 96678, 9670, 96756, 9677(2), 10033(112), and Houghton b MS Mus
193: 14, 1620, 22, 378, 50, 94 and 97.
Subsequent arrangements by others are mostly omitted: for these (and a
comprehensive discography), see Alan Gillmor, Erik Satie (Boston: Twayne
Publishers, 1988), pp. 32570. Fuller, detailed descriptions of first and subsequent
editions of Saties music and writings can be found in Ornella Voltas Erik Satie:
bibliographie raisonne (Paris: Mairie dArcueil/Fondation Erik Satie, 1995).
Works with titles added by others, such as the Salabert publications of 1968 by
Robert Caby, are grouped together at the end. Many of these are again works from
the Schola Cantorum period.
A particular problem arises in relation to Saties numerous cabaret songs from
18971909 because none of them are dated, few include a text and some are
arrangements of popular works by Saties contemporaries for cabaret use, usually
with the topical entertainer and pince-sans-rire parodist Vincent Hyspa. Only
songs authenticated and dated by Steven Moore Whiting in Satie the Bohemian
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999) are included here, and in some cases the dating
is still approximate.
Otherwise, this catalogue is arranged chronologically by the date when Satie
began each work, and where this date is given in inverted commas, it comes from
a manuscript. If it is in square brackets, it signifies a lost or merely projected
244 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

composition. A subsequent date in round brackets gives the date of the complete
duration of the project into which the actual composition date fits. When a
distinction can usefully be made, details of the full scores and final printers
copies (usually in black ink) are given first, followed by the locations of the drafts
and sketches (usually in pencil). Saties original capitalisation is preserved in the
titles, and the other library sigla for manuscript sources follow those of The New
Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: Macmillan, 2001), as do the
abbreviations for instruments (which are not reproduced here).
The catalogue gives the following information: title, date of composition and
orchestration (when appropriate), then description and author of the text (where
appropriate), description of the music, dedication (if applicable), present location
and details of the manuscripts, publication details of the music, and details of the
first performance (where known). The place of first performance and publication
is Paris, unless otherwise stated, and a complete list of the Parisian venues where
Saties music was heard appears below, rather than repeating these details with
each premiere.
Only a few early works have opus numbers, and these were mostly added by
Saties father, Alfred, on publication, undoubtedly in collusion with his son, as it
was in both their interests to make him seem more prolific and experienced than
he really was. Equally, they may have been a joke by Satie at the expense of the
salon music of his prolific stepmother, Eugnie, in which his father colluded. A
comprehensive list of Alfred Saties publications from 188391 can be found in
Orledge, The Musical Activities of Alfred Satie and Eugnie Satie-Barnetche, and
their Effect on the Career of Erik Satie, Journal of the Royal Musical Association
117/2 (1992), pp. 27097. As many of Saties compositions are modal or lack key
signatures, information as to tonality is not given.


arr. arrangement, arranged by

c. circa, around
coll. collection, collection of
cond. conductor, conducted by
corr. corrected
ded. dedication, dedicated to
diss. dissertation, thesis
f., ff., folio, folios
facs. facsimile
inc. incomplete
incl. includes, including
MS, MSS manuscript, manuscripts
orch orchestra
orch. orchestrated, orchestration
Appendix 245

OS orchestral score
perf. performance, performed by
PLU present location unknown
prem. premiere, first performance
pubd published, published by
pubn publication
r recto
red. (piano) reduction
repr. reprinted
rev. revised
SACEM Socit dAuteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique [Paris]
sc. scene
SIM Socit Internationale de Musique
SMI Socit Musical Indpendante [founded 1909]
SN Socit Nationale (de Musique) [founded 1871]
trans. translated, translated by
transcr. transcribed, transcription by
unacc. unaccompanied
unperf. unperformed
unpubd unpublished
v verso
VS vocal score

Library Sigla

CH: Switzerland
BS Basle, Fondation Paul Sacher (Grumbacher coll.)
F: France
BNF Bibliothque nationale de France, Dpartement de la Musique, 2 rue
Louvois, 75002 Paris (referred to as F-Pn in The New Grove)
FES Archives de France: archives de la Fondation Erik Satie dposes
lIMEC [Institut Mmoires de ldition Contemporaine], Abbaye
dArdenne, 14280 St-Germaine-la-Blanche-Herbe, near Caen,
Hon Satie birthplace Museum Archive, 88 rue Haute, Honfleur, Normandy
Pbd Paris, Bibliothque Littraire Jacques Doucet, 10 place du Panthon,
75005 Paris
Pca Paris, private coll. of the late Robert Caby (now dispersed)
Pfs Paris, Archives of the Fondation Erik Satie, 56 rue des Tournelles,
75003 Paris [mostly now in FES above]
Pmmm Paris, Mdiathque Musical Mahler, 11bis rue de Vzelay, 75008 Paris
Po Paris, Bibliothque de lOpra, 2 rue Auber, 75009 Paris
Ppc Paris, private coll. (not identified on the wishes of the owner)
246 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Psa Paris, private coll. of the late Henri Sauguet (now dispersed)
Psalabert Paris, Archives of Salabert et Cie, 22 rue Chauchat, 75009 Paris (now
mostly in BNF above)
Ptb Paris, private collection of Thierry Bodin

US: United States of America

AUS Austin, Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Eu Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Music Library
Ho 193 Houghton Library, University of Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts
These are followed by their classification number within b MS Mus 193
NH New Haven, Yale University, Beinecke Library Rare Book and
Manuscript coll.
NYpm New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 29 East 36th Street, NY
Wc Washington DC, Library of Congress, Music Division

Other private collections outside Paris are described in full, when permitted by the
owners of the manuscripts concerned.

Addresses of Parisian Concert Venues

Agriculteurs, Salle des, 8 rue dAthnes, 9e

Auberge du Clou, L (cabaret of Miguel Utrillo), 30 avenue Trudaine, 9e
Bal Bullier (formerly Jardin Bullier), Closerie des Lilas, Carrefour de lObservatoire
lissue du Luxembourg, 6e (open for dancing throughout the year, with Bals
champtres held on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays and on public holidays
between April and September)
Barbazanges, Galerie, rue du Faubourg St-Honor, 8e
Bouffes-Parisiens, Thtre des, 4 rue Monsigny, 2e
Capucines, Thtre des, 39 boulevard des Capucines, 2e
Conservatoire, Salle du (after 1911: Salle de lAncien Conservatoire), 2bis rue du
Conservatoire, 9e
Champs-Elyses, Thtre des, 13 avenue Montaigne, 8e
Chtelet, Thtre du, 1 place du Chtelet, 1er
Chat Noir, Le (cabaret of Rodolphe Salis), 84 boulevard Rochechouart, 9e
Cigale, Thtre de la, 120 boulevard Rochechouart, 9e
Cirque dHiver, Le, place Pasdeloup, 110 rue Amelot, 11e
Cirque Mdrano, 65 boulevard Rochechouart, 9e
Colise, Thtre du, 38 avenue des Champs-Elyses, 8e
Comdie des Champs-Elyses, 15 avenue Montaigne, 8e
Comdie-Royale, 25 rue de Caumartin, 9e
Durand-Ruel, Galeries [Paul], 16 rue Laffitte, 9e
Erard, Salle, 13 rue du Mail, 2e
Appendix 247

Gat-Lyrique, Thtre de la, 3-5 rue Papin, 3e

Gaveau, Salle, 45 rue La Botie, 8e
Huyghens, Salle (Socit Lyre et Palette: Emile Lejeune), 6 rue Huyghens, 14e
Imprial, Thtre, 5 rue du Colise, 8e
Lune Rousse, La (cabaret: Dominique Bonnaud, Numa Bls), 58 rue Pigalle, 9e
Michel, Thtre, 38 rue des Mathurins, 8e
Opra (Palais Garnier), place de lOpra, 9e
Opra-Comique (1898f), place Boieldieu, 2e
Pleyel, Salle, 22 rue de Rochechouart, 9e (1839-1927)
QuatzArts, Les (cabaret), 62 boulevard de Clichy, 9e
Sarah Bernhardt, Thtre, place du Chtelet, 1er
Scala, La (Music Hall), 13 boulevard de Strasbourg, 10e
Vieux-Colombier, Thtre du, 21 rue du Vieux-Colombier, 6e
Ville de lEvque, Salle de la, 18 rue de la Ville lEvque, 8e

Bibliography for Recurring Sources in the Catalogue

(e.g. Orledge, Robert: Satie the Composer (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1990) = Orledge, 1990)

Clair, Ren (trans. Jacques, R. and Hayden, N.), A Nous La Libert and Entracte,
(London: Lorrimer Publishing, 1970), 11540
Gillmor, Alan, Erik Satie and the Concept of the Avant-Garde (PhD dissertation,
University of Toronto, 1972)
Erik Satie (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988)
Gowers, Patrick, Erik Satie: His Studies, Notebooks and Critics (PhD dissertation,
Nos. 537476, University of Cambridge, 1966)
Orledge, Robert, Saties Approach to Composition in His Later Years (191324),
Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 111 (19845): 15579
Satie the Composer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Satie at Sea, and the Mystery of La Belle Cubaine, Music & Letters 71/3
(1990): 36172
The Musical Activities of Alfred Satie and Eugnie Satie-Barnetche, and their
Effect on the Career of Erik Satie, Journal of the Royal Musical Association
117/2 (1992): 27097
(trans. Nichols, R.), Satie Remembered (London: Faber, 1995)
Erik Saties Ballet Mercure (1924): From Mount Etna to Montmartre, Journal of
the Royal Musical Association 123/2 (1998): 22949
Understanding Saties Vexations, Music & Letters 79/3 (1998): 38695
Erik Saties Ballet Uspud: The Creation of a New Language with Only Half
the Alphabet, Musical Times 150/1908 (Autumn 2009): 3141
Potter, Caroline, Erik Saties Obstacles venimeux, Ars Lyrica 20 (2011): 10114
Rey, Anne, Erik Satie (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1974)
248 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

Roland-Manuel, Alexis, Erik Satie: Causerie faite la Socit Lyre et Palette, 18

Avril 1916 (Paris: H. Roberge Imprimeur, 1916)
Sanouillet, Michel, Francis Picabia et 391, vol. II (Paris: Eric Losfeld, 1966)
Templier, Pierre-Daniel, Erik Satie (Paris: Editions Rieder, 1932); trans. E. and D.
French (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969)
Volta, Ornella (ed.), Ecrits (Paris: Editions Champ Libre, revised edn 1981)
LYmagier dErik Satie (Paris: Editions Van de Velde, 1979; reprinted 1990)
Dossier Erik Satie: Los molle, Revue Internationale de Musique Franaise
8/23 (1987): 598
Erik Satie & la Tradition Populaire (Exhibition catalogue) (Paris: Fondation
Satie, 1988)
A la recherche dun fantme: Paul & Virginie dErik Satie, RIMF 10/29
(1989): 4770
Satie et la danse (Paris: Editions Plume, 1992)
(trans. Melville, A.), Erik Satie: A Mammals Notebook (London: Atlas Press,
Satie sur scne (Exhibition catalogue) (Honfleur: Muse Eugne Boudin,
Erik Satie: Correspondance presque complte (Paris: Fayard/IMEC, 2000;
revised edn 2003)
Wehmeyer, Grete, Erik Satie (Regensburg: Gustav Bosse, 1974)
Whiting, Steven Moore, Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999)
Wilkins, Nigel, The Writings of Erik Satie (London: Eulenburg, 1980)



composed: Honfleur. 9 Sept 1884

music: 9 bars for pf (using refrain of Jirai revoir ma Normandie, pubd by
Frdric Barat in 1850 as Ma Normandie)
MS: BNF 10052(2), 1f.
pubn: Salabert, 1995 (EAS 19351, pp. 45 in EAS 19354)
prem.: 12 April 1980 by Giancarlo Carlini (pf). Teatro di Porto Romana, Milan


composed: ? 18857
music: salon piece for pf
ded.: Madame Clment Le Breton
Appendix 249

pubn: musical supplement to La Musique des familles VI/283 (17 March 1887),
pp. 1746 (as Op. 62); as No. 1 of Deux uvres de jeunesse, Salabert, 1975
(EAS 17200)
prem.: Opra-Comique, 7 May 1979 by Anne-Marie Fontaine (pf)


composed: ? 18857
music: salon piece for pf
ded.: mon ami J.P. Contamine de Latour
pubn: musical supplement to La Musique des familles VI/302 (28 July 1887),
pp.3615; as No. 2 of Deux uvres de jeunesse, Salabert, 1975 (EAS 17201)
prem.: Opra-Comique, 7 May 1979 by Anne-Marie Fontaine (pf)



composed: ? early 1887

music: setting for v, pf of poem by Contamine de Latour
ded.: Mademoiselle Cleste Le Prdour
pubn: Alfred Satie, April 1887 (AS 61, as Op. 19); as No. 2 of Trois Mlodies de
1886, Salabert, 1968 (MC 295)

Trois Mlodies

composed: ? AprilMay 1887

music: 3 settings for v, pf of poems by Contamine de Latour (no. 3 is Saties first
barless composition)
1 Les Anges
2 Les Fleurs
3 Sylvie
ded.: 1 notre ami Charles Levad
2 Madame la Comtesse Grald de Marguenat
3 Mademoiselle Olga Satie
pubn: All 3: Alfred Satie, JuneJuly 1887 (AS 746, as Op. 20); Nos. 1, 3 in
Trois Mlodies de 1886, Salabert, 1968 (MC 296, 294); No. 2 in Trois Autres
Mlodies (No. 3), Salabert, 1968 (MC 298)
250 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

1er Quatuor; 2d Quatuor

composed: ? 1887
music: 2 sketches for str quartet (unscored)
MSS: BNF 10049, 1f.

Trois Sarabandes (orig. Sarabandes vives)

composed: 118 Sept 1887

music: 3 dances for pf. The first is prefaced in the MS by an extract from Contamine
de Latours La perdition
ded.: 1 Monsieur Conrad Satie (MS only)
2 mon ami Arthur Dodement (MS altered in another hand to Mademoiselle
Jeanne de Bret). In 1911 ed. Maurice Ravel
3 no dedication
MSS: F-Hon: Nos. 1, 2 (first versions, 6, 6pp, originally titled Sarabande vive.
No. 1 dated 1 Sept 1887: Paris)
BNF 14457(13), 3, 3, 2ff. No. 3 dated 18 Sept 1887, the others Sept 1887
F-Hon: Neat copies of all 3 for Rouart-Lerolle ed., 1911
pubn: No. 1 in Revue musicale SIM 7/3 (15 March 1911), pp. 334. As in BNF
14457 (without bars 535, 735 found in Rouart-Lerolle ed.
No. 2 in supplement to Musica (Album Musica) 103 (April 1911), pp. 8990
All 3: Rouart-Lerolle, Nov 1911 (RL 9800-02). (No. 2 lacks the repeat of bars
826 as 8791 found in the Musica ed., but Satie told Lerolle on 10 May 1911 that
he preferred this shorter version)
prem.: No. 2 by Maurice Ravel (pf), SMI, Salle Gaveau, 16 Jan 1911


composed: ? Dec 1887

music: setting for v, pf of poem by Contamine de Latour
ded.: Mademoiselle Valentine de Bret
pubn: Alfred Satie, Jan 1888 (AS 84[bis], as Op. 52); as No. 1 of Trois Autres
Mlodies, Salabert, 1968 (MC 342)
Appendix 251


Trois Gymnopdies

composed: Feb2 April 1888 (or earlier and postdated)

music: 3 restrained, modal dances for pf, inspired by an extract from Les
Antiques by Contamine de Latour: Slicing obliquely through the shadows a
raging torrent rushed in waves of gold over the polished flagstone, where atoms
of amber, glistening in the firelight, joined their sarabande to the naked dance
[gymnopdie] (trans. Roger Nichols, Peters ed., 1988)
Nos. 3, 1 orch. Debussy, Feb 1896, for 2 fl, ob, 4 hn, str (No. 3), plus 2 hp, cymb
(No. 1)
ded.: 1 Mademoiselle Jeanne de Bret
2 Conrad Satie (1895 ed. In MS mon ami Arthur Dodement)
3 Charles Levad (orig. in MS Monsieur Georges Mathias, Saties pf
teacher at Paris Conservatoire)
MSS: BNF 8537(13). No. 1: Feb [orig. April] 1888 (3pp.); No. 2: March
1888 (3pp.): No. 3: 2 April 1888 (3pp.)
CH-BS: OS by Debussy, and copy by Satie with additions by Debussy, 3, 3pp.
Order: 1, 3; BNF 25400-01: OS and parts copied by Satie in 1897 for Baudoux
ed. Order: 3, 1 (5, 9 pp.); BNF 10046: Additional str and ob parts by Satie
BNF 9597(2), p. 1. Trial scoring of No. 3 by Satie (c.1894) for ob, 2 cl, hps, str,
voice (bars 13 only)
pubn: No. 1 as musical supplement to La Musique des familles VII/357 (18 Aug
1888), no p. nos (as Gymnopdie (Danse antique) with Latours poem). Then
by Imprimerie Dupr (private ed.), April 1895
No. 2: Imprimerie Dupr (private ed.), April 1895 (incl. bars 14 [introduction]
missing in BNF 8537(2))
No. 3: Imprimerie Dupr (private ed.), Nov 1888
All 3: Baudoux, 1898; Rouart-Lerolle, Nov 1912 (RL 983840)
Nos. 3, 1 orch. Debussy, Baudoux, Oct 1897 (EB 403), parts Sept 1897 (also EB
403); rev. ed. by Robert Orledge in uvres compltes de Claude Debussy V/11
(Paris: Durand, 2013)
prem.: No. 3 by Maurice Ravel, SMI, Salle Gaveau, 16 Jan 1911
Nos. 3, 1 orch. Debussy, Exposition de Genve, cond. Gustave Doret, June
1896; Salle Erard, cond. Doret, 20 Feb 1897; Cercle Musical, cond. Debussy,
25 March 1911


composed: ? late 1888

252 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

music: 4 pieces for pf inspired by plainchant and the Gothic architecture of Notre
Dame cathedral. Perhaps also inspired by the ogival windows in the church of St
Laurent, near Saties parents home at 66 blvd de Magenta and the Gare de lEst
ded.: 1 J.P. Contamine de Latour
2 Charles Levad
3 Madame Clment Le Breton
4 Conrad Satie
MSS: PLU. 1889 ed. with red ink corrections by Satie, coll. R. Orledge, Brighton
pubn: Imprimerie Dupr (private ed.), Jan 1889 (advertised in Le Chat noir,
VIII/369 on 9 Feb 1889); Le Chant du Monde/Sikorski (Hamburg), 1965; rev.
ed. using corrected copy above by Jamie Crofts, SOUNDkiosk, Brighton, 2009
(SKPE 01); Barenreiter, 2012


Gnossienne [No. 5]

composed: 8 July 1889

music: dance for pf
MSS: BNF 10054(1), f. 1r and v, f. 2r
pubn: Salabert 1968 (MC 288, as No. 5)

Chanson Hongroise

composed: ? July 1889

music: 4 bars for pf inspired by Romanian folk music at the Exposition Universelle,
MS: BNF 10054(1), f. 2v
pubn: in Wehmeyer, 1974, p. 32


Trois Gnossiennes [Nos. 13]

composed: 1890 (18901893?)

music: 3 dances for pf
ded.: 1 Roland-Manuel (1913 ed.)
2 Antoine de La Rochefoucauld (1893 facs.)
3 No dedication
MSS: PLU. A facs. of No. 2 dated April 1893 appeared in Le Cur in 1893 as
the 6e Gnossienne
Appendix 253

BNF 10053, f. 2v. Sketch for end of No. 2

BNF Rs. Vma 163. First proofs (1912)
Ho 193: 92. Start of No. 3 for small orch (2 bars only for ob, hp)
pubn: Nos. 1, 3 in Le Figaro musical 24 (Sept 1893), pp. 300303 as No. 1 and
No. 2; No. 2 in Le Cur 1/67 (SeptOct 1893), p. 12 as 6e Gnossienne (facs.
reproduced in Volta, 1987, p. 32). All 3: Rouart-Lerolle, Jan 1913 (RL 98846).
Here Nos. 2 and 3 are dated 1890 by Satie (in the 1912 proofs). No. 1 was dated
1890 between the first proof stage and publication.
The complete collection of 6 Gnossiennes was pubd by Salabert in 1989 as EAS


composed: 5 Dec 1890

music: Saties first completed piece for small orchestra (2 fl, ob, 2 cl (B flat, A),
bn, timp, hp). Used as No. 6: En plus in Trois morceaux en forme de poire (1903)
MS: Ho 193: 92. 14pp. music.
pubn: in Gowers, 1966, PhD 5375, pp. 3240. Bars 110 in Gillmor, 1988, pp.



composed: 20 Jan 1891

music: short march-like piece for pf
MS: BNF 10051(1), 1f.
pubn: Salabert, 1968 (MC 303, ed. Robert Caby, as Premire Pense Rose+Croix)

[Gnossienne] [No. 4]

composed: 22 Jan 1891

music: slow dance for pf
MS: BNF 10051(2), 2ff.
pubn: Salabert, 1968 (MC 281, as Gnossienne No. 4)

Leit-motiv du Panthe

composed: 28 Oct 1891

music: Saties only monodic composition (no forces specified)
254 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

ded.: au Sr Josphin Pladan

pubn: as frontispiece in Pladan: Le Panthe. La Dcadence latine, Ethope, No.
10 (Paris, E. Dentu, 1892 [Dec 1891])

Prlude du Prince de Byzance

composed: [? Nov 1891]

music: lost or never started. Announced in Josphin Pladan: Le Panthe (1892),
pp. 299300, and intended as incidental music for his play Le Prince du Byzance
(title as on first ed. of 1896)

Salut Drapeau!

composed: 2 Nov 1891

text: Giorgio Cavalcantis speech in Act 2 sc. 9 of Pladans 5-act romanesque
drama Le Prince du Byzance (Paris: Chamuel, 1896). Here (p. 54), Cavalcanti
seizes the flag and proclaims Tonio to the people as the [androgynous] hereditary
prince of the title
music: hymn for v (or vv in unison), pf (or harmonium)
MSS: BNF 10053 (5ff., r only), plus 2pp. by Pladan converting the prose speech
into 3 unequal verses
pubn: Salabert, 1968 (MC 328, ed. Robert Caby as Hymne. Pour le Salut
Drapeau. The orig. MS has no bar lines and each vocal phrase should end with
a minim and a crotchet rest. Publication as Salut au Drapeau was announced by
Satie in the small uspud brochure of 1895, but no copy has yet been found)

[Trois] Sonneries de la Rose + Croix

composed: Nov 1891 (SACEM, 14 Nov 1891)

music: 3 fanfares for tpts and hps (or orch?)
1 Air de lOrdre
2 Air du Grand Matre (Sr Josphin Pladan)
3 Air du Grand Prieur (Comte Antoine de La Rochefoucauld)
MSS: BNF 10040, 3ff., probably parts for tpts in F, as the MS contains only the
passages in octaves in the 3 Sonneries, a perfect fourth lower
F-Ppc: 1892 ed. corrected by Satie to conform with the orchestral parts
pubn: Imprimerie Dupr, 5 March 1892 (publi par les soins de la Rose+Croix).
The wrapper, with red Gothic lettering by Satie, shows 3 trumpeting horsemen
from La Guerre by Puvis de Chavannes. 500 copies, 450 of which were returned
to Rouart-Lerolle by Satie on 29 April 1910. These were then over-stamped by
Appendix 255

the publishers and put on sale at Net. 4 fr[ancs] in ? 1911. Presumably when
stocks ran low, around 1922, Rouart-Lerolle issued their own first, larger edition
on Normandy Vellum paper, still at 4 francs, printed by A. Mounot (10, rather
than 12pp. music)
Nos. 1, 3 only, Baudoux, May 1896 (EB 221. No. 2 was omitted after Saties break
with Pladan in Aug 1892)
prem.: 10 March 1892, Eglise Saint-Germain-lAuxerrois, Place du Louvre, Paris
1e, as Premier Geste esthtique de lOrdre Rose+Croix Catholique. Repeated
at the first Rose+Croix Soire on 22 March, Galeries Durand-Ruel, when No. 3
appears as the Sonnerie de lArchonte

Le Fils des toiles

composed: ? Dec 1891

music: incidental music for fls and hps for Josphin Pladans 3-act Pastorale
Kaldenne Le Fils des toiles (Beauvais, Imprimerie professionnelle, 1895). A
Gnossienne in Act 1 (BNF 10052(1), ff. 9v12r) was reused as the Manire de
commencement in the Trois Morceaux en forme de poire in 1903
MSS: BNF 10052(1). Short score, 68pp. music
US-Nypm: Short score, preludes only, 12ff.
BNF 10052(2). Scenario by Pladan, 5ff.
pubn: 3 act-preludes only (Act 1: La Vocation; Act 2: LInitiation; Act 3:
LIncantation), Baudoux, Jan 1896 (EB 220, 200 copies in red ink, with
Ddicatoire by Satie, and the imprint of the glise Mtropolitaine dArt de Jsus
Rouart-Lerolle, 1911 (RL 5220, in black ink, except Ddicatoire); Salabert, 1973,
with added dynamics (only these printed scores bear the misleading description
Wagnrie Kaldenne)
Complete ed. for pf, 2003 by Christopher Hobbs, Experimental Music Catalogue
(, 53pp.
prem.: 3 act-preludes at public dress rehearsal for the first Soire Rose+Croix,
Galeries Durand-Ruel, 19 March 1892 (for fls and hps?). Public prem. 22 March
Prelude to Act 1 by Maurice Ravel (pf), SMI, Salle Gaveau, 16 Jan 1911
Complete score by Christopher Hobbs (pf), Pfarrkirche, Neu-Rum, Innsbruck, 22
Oct 1989


Danses Romaines; Danses Byzantines; Kharaseos

composed: [1892]
256 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

music: dances for orch. and a 1-act opera listed among Saties compositions in
his application for election to the Acadmie de Beaux-Arts in May 1892 (after the
death of Ernest Guiraud). These works were probably never started

Fte donne par des Chevaliers Normands en lhonneur dune jeune

Demoiselle (XIe Sicle)

composed: Summer 1892

music: prelude for pf based on Saties first known compositional system, using
interlocking chord progressions (see Orledge, 1990, pp. 1879)
MSS: Ho 193: 64, f. 2r and v (chordal cells), f. 3v (draft of central chordal passage
on which prelude is based. Earlier discarded versions using the same cells can be
found in Ho 193: 64, ff. 3r, 10v)
BNF 10050(1), draft of prelude on verso of Sept 1884 Allegro. The style and
calligraphy of the prelude both belong to the early 1890s, however, and other
passages using the same progressions can be found in uspud and the Danses
Gothiques of 18923)
pubn: Rouart-Lerolle, 1929 (RL 11689, as the first of 4 Prludes)

Prlude du Nazaren

composed: 12 June 1892

music: incidental music for Le Nazaren, a 3-act esoteric play by Henri Mazel
(Paris, A. Savin, 1892). Page 5 is marked Dcors rver. Musique faire. Satie
composed one sub-divided prelude, which he signed and dated at the end. This
was erroneously pubd as 2 separate preludes in 1929
MSS: Part 1: BNF 10037(1), 4pp.; adorned with Gothic castles and other drawings
(see Orledge, 1990, pp. 43, 151)
Part 2: BNF 10037bis, 3pp.
pubn: Rouart-Lerolle, 1929 (RL 11689, as nos. 3, 4 of 4 Prludes). In No. 4,
chords 56 and 1012 on p. 8 system 4 should be repeated between chords 12 and
13, as in Saties MS; as one sub-divided prelude: SOUNDkiosk, Brighton (ed. R.
Orledge), 2013

Le Btard de Tristan

composed: [1892]
music: announced as an opera in 3 Acts to a libretto by Albert Tinchant in Le
Courrier du soir on 22 July 1892, to be performed at the Grand Thtre in
Bordeaux. Saties Wagnerian hoax was probably never started
Appendix 257


composed: ? Sept17 Dec 1892

text: Ballet chrtien in 3 Acts by Contamine de Latour and Satie. First version
(finished 17 Nov 1892) with one desert setting for all 3 Acts (see Volta, 1987,
pp. 719). All in Saties hand, apart from two interspersed letters by Latour. Second
version (recopied overnight on 1617 Dec 1892 to show to Eugne Bertrand at the
Paris Opra on the 17th) in BNF 9631. This is all by Satie, with different stage
settings for each Act
Pubd (all in lower case) in the large uspud brochure (with only minor changes)
(Paris, Imprimerie Artistique, April 1893). uspud may have been intended for the
shadow theatre at the Auberge du Clou as a parody of Flauberts La Tentation de
saint Antoine
music: short sections for fls, hps, str with text read in between, even if there sees
to be no links between the two. The short score would, however, be more practical
on harmonium
MSS: F-Hon, first version for fls, hps only (as in Le Fils des toiles). Carnet of
46pp. (incl. first version of text). Dated 17 Nov 1892
BNF 9631, second version for fls, hps, str (quatuor), 48pp. Music is the same
with a few extra dynamics and pause bars added. Dated Novembre de 92 but
actually copied on 1617 Dec
F-Pbd, text (A.II.2)
pubn: text and extracts from each Act in large uspud brochure, 16pp. (1893); 4
music extracts only in small uspud brochure, 8 oblong pp. (April 1895) and with
the signature of Suzanne Valadon on the medallion of Satie and Latour deliberately
erased by Satie after the break-up of his only known affair on 20 June 1893. Copy
no. 16 (of 100) of the 1893 brochure, in the coll. of Johny Fritz, Luxembourg,
shows that the clef displacements were made to distance Stupid people from the
music. Satie made his own woodcuts for both brochures (now in F-Pfs)
Short score (as in BNF MS 9631): Salabert, 1970 (MC 445); SOUNDkiosk,
Brighton, 2013
prem.: Opra-Comique, 9 May 1979 by Michel Tranchant (pf), Hubert Camerlo
(narrator), with slide projections by Robert Doisneau


composed: [? Dec 1892]

text: shadow play by Vincent Hyspa (lost)
music: lost, but score may have been compiled from existing pf pieces, like the
prem.: ? 24 Dec 1892, as first shadow play in the Auberge du Clou (together with
La Styliste by Henri de Wendel). Scenery by Miguel Utrillo
258 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature


Eginhard. Prlude

composed: ? 1893
music: short piece for pf, possibly incidental music for a play (author unknown)
MS: BNF 10038, 2ff.
pubn: Rouart-Lerolle, 1929 (RL 11689, as the second of 4 Prludes)

Danses Gothiques (Cultifiements et Coadunations Choristiques. Neuvaine pour

le plus grand calme et la forte tranquillit de mon me)

composed: 2123 March 1893

music: a continuous piece of motivically interrelated music, split up into 9 dances
by the insertion of titles (which sometimes appear in mid-motif). Composed in the
midst of Saties tempestuous affair with the artist Suzanne Valadon
1 loccasion dune grand peine
2 Dans laquelle les Pres de la Trs Vritable et Trs Sainte glise sont invoqus
3 En faveur dun malheureux
4 A propos de Saint Bernard et de Sainte Lucie
5 Pour les pauvres trpasss
6 O il est question du pardon des injures reues
7 Par piti pour les ivrognes, honteux, debauches, imparfaits, dsagrables, et
faussaires en tous genres
8 En le haut honneur du vnr Saint Michel, le gracieux Archange
9 Aprs avoir obtenu la remise de ses fautes
ded.: la Transcendante, Solennelle et Reprsentative Extase de Saint Benot,
Prparatoire et Mthodique du Trs Puissant Ordre des Bndictins. Le 21 Mars
de 93 Paris, le soleil tant sur la terre
MS: BNF 10048, 13ff. Dated at the end 23 Mars de 93. Paris. 6 rue Cortot and
registered with SACEM on 24 March. 5 of the 10 motifs use cells found in the
Fte donne of ? 1892
pubn: No. 1 in Revue musicale SIM, 7/3 (15 March 1911), pp. 3940
All 9: Rouart-Lerolle, 1929 (RL 11685): SOUNDkiosk, Brighton, 2011 (SKPE

Bonjour Biqui, Bonjour!

composed: 2 April 1893

music: brief musical greeting for v, pf. Text (as title) by Satie, accompanied by his
portrait of Valadon
ded.: Suzanne Valadon [Biqui]
Appendix 259

MS: FES, 1f. (SAT 192.5)

pubn: facs. in Templier, 1932, Plate XII and 1969, plate 32; Wilkins, 1980, p. 136


composed: April 1893

music: short self-repeating passage for pf, which is itself repeated 840 times, after
a period of silent meditation (see Orledge, 1998, pp. 38695). The 840 also derives
from adding the first 12 numbers in the Lucas summation series (1, 4, 7, 11 to 322)
together, as discovered by Marcus Williamson. Vexations uses the same chordal
types as Bonjour Biqui, Bonjour!, hence its dating, and it may well reflect Saties
own vexations with Suzanne Valadon
MS: FES, 1f (SAT 2.4)
pubn: facs. in Contrepoints, 6 (1949), opposite p. 8; Eschig, 1969, as second of
Pages Mystiques (ME 7714)
prem.: Richard David Hames (aged 13), Lewes Grammar School, Sussex, 1958
Pocket Theatre, New York, 910 Sept 1963, organised by John Cage (complete:
18 hours 40 minutes). Pianists: John Cage, David Tudor, Christian Wolff, Philip
Corner, Viola Farber, Robert Wood, MacRae Cook, John Cale, David Del Tredici,
James Tenney, Howard Klein (substitute), Joshua Rifkin (substitute)

Ontrotance; Corcleru; Irnebizolle; Tumisrudebude

composed: [1893]
music: ballets in 1, 3, 2, and 3 Acts respectively, planned with Contamine de Latour
as offshoots to uspud featuring members of the uspud clan (see Orledge, 2009).
Announced in the large uspud brochure of April 1893, where Ontrotance is reported
as being in preparation. No other trace of these ballets has survived


composed: [? mid-1893]
music: setting for v, orch (or pf) of poem by Contamine de Latour, listed in letter
to Conrad Satie on 28 June 1893 (see Volta, 2000, p. 44). Music and text lost
260 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature


Prlude de La Porte hroque du ciel

composed: ? Feb 1894

music: incidental music for esoteric drama in 1 Act by Jules Bois (Paris, Librairie
de lArt Indpendant, March 1894). Orch. by Roland-Manuel in 1912. For Saties
programme note, see Le Guide du Concert, III (1 June 1912), p. 35
ded.: Je me ddie cette uvre. E.S.
MSS: Draft, PLU. BNF 9597(1bis), f. 3v (sketches); BNF Rs. Vma 170. Corr.
proof, 1912
pubn: facs. in Le Cur, 2/8 (March 1894), pp. 45. Also pubd on pp. 2021 of
Bois drama; Rouart-Lerolle, Jan 1913 (RL 9875); Salabert, 1968
prem.: ? With Bois play, 29 May 1894 (play reviewed in LObservateur Franais
on 30 May)
In orch. by Roland-Manuel, SMI, Salle Gaveau, 17 June 1912. Cond. Dsir-
Emile Inghelbrecht

Messe de la foi

composed: [c.1894]
music: mentioned in applications for election to the Acadmie des Beaux-Arts on
30 April 1894 and 14 April 1896. A drawing of an organ survives inscribed Messe
de la foi de Erik Satie (facs. in Volta, 1979, p. 100). Music lost or never started

Messe des pauvres (Grande Messe de lglise Mtropolitaine dArt)

composed: June 18931895

music: Mass for org. with small choir of children and men (SB) specified in Kyrie
eleison. In Le Cur 2/10 (June 1895), p. 3 Conrad Satie says that the work begins
with a very characteristic prelude that forms the basis of the Mass. This is the
passage before the voices enter on p. 2 system 2 of the Salabert ed. Conrad also
says that the Prire des orgues comes between the Kyrie and the Gloria, so the
lost Gloria must have been the fifth movement (see list below). In p. 9 of the pubd
ed., the Chant Ecclsiastique should end with the second system. It is followed
by two harmonisations of the Prire pour les voyageurs (systems 34 and 56).
Satie intended the second, less chromatic (titled) version in contrary motion to
be his final version, so p. 9 systems 34 can be omitted in performance. Satie
almost certainly intended to write additional movements for this Mass, but those
he composed were organised as follows:
1. Prlude [? 1893]
2. Kyrie eleison (? 1893, ? inc.)
Appendix 261

3. Dixit Dominus [1894]

4. Prire des Orgues [1895]
5. Gloria [? 1895, lost]
6. Commune qui mundi nefas [Jan 1895]
7. Chant Ecclsiastique [? 18945]
8. Prire pour les voyageurs et les marins en danger de mort, la trs bonne
et trs auguste Vierge Marie, mere de Jsus [? 18945]
9. Prire pour le salut de mon me [? 1893]
MSS: Nos. 1 and 2 (1929 ed. pp. 12 system 1; p. 2 system 2p. 5 system 3): BNF
9597(2), pp. 1125 (draft)
Sketches (in compositional order, as far as can be ascertained, with note values
half those of the 1929 ed.): BNF 9597(2), p. 40 (inverted); 9597(1), pp. 1, 510;
Ho 193:64, f. 4rv; BNF 9597(2), pp. 79; 9597(1bis), ff. 6r7r; 9597(1), pp.
2822 (inverted); 9597(2), pp. 1125.
Repositories of motifs (written separately): Ho 193, f. 6rv; BNF 9597(1), pp.
1114; 9597(1bis), f.9rv. The original pagination of BNF 9597(1) was: BNF
9597(1), p. 10; Ho 193:64, f. 6r (Seuls motifs pour la Messe); Ho 193: 64, f. 6v;
BNF 9597(1), p. 11 (Motifs et notes).

Note: Ho 193:64 includes several pages torn by Satie from BNF 9597(1). It also
contains other sketches which may have been intended for the Mass: Spiritus
sancte deus miserere nobis, f. 11r; Modr (for org?, dated 15 July 1893), f. 7r
(with a first version in Ho 193: 65); Harmonies de Saint-Jean, Ho 193: 64, f. 10r. I
am grateful to Steven Moore Whiting and Pietro Dossena for their assistance with
this problem.

No. 3: BNF 9597(1bis), f. 10 (with 3 different versions of the text. This first verse
of Psalm 109, set to the Primus Tonus chant in Gregorian notation, can be
found in Ho 193: 71, p. 1 (cf. Paroissien Romain, p. 218), though this melodic
line was not preserved in any of the harmonised settings).
F-Ptb, first draft for org. in fake Gregorian notation, 1894
No. 4: Complete draft assembled from BNF 9597(2), p. 6, 9597(1bis), f. 9v and
9597(2), pp. 2630. Earlier sketches: Ho 193: 64, f. 5v; BNF 9597(1bis), f. 9r
No. 5: PLU
No. 6: Ho 193: 64, f. 5r, v (central part only)
No. 7: BN 9597(1bis), f. 1r
No. 8: First version (1929 ed., p. 9 systems 34): BNF 9597(1bis), f. 5r
Second version (1929 ed., p. 9 systems 56): BNF 9597(1bis), f. 3r
No. 9: BNF 9597(1bis), f. 2r,v
pubn: No. 3, second draft, disguised in fake Gregorian notation, for org in brochure
Intende votis supplicum (Paris, Librairie de lArt Indpendant, March 1895); facs.
in Wilkins, 1980, p. 42. Another setting of the same text can be found in a similar
Gregorian fake in La revue musicale, 214 (June 1952), facing p. 80
No. 4: Le Cur 2/10 (June 1895), p. 2
262 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

No. 6: extract in brochure Commune qui mundi nefas (private ed., Jan 1895); facs.
in Wilkins, 1980, pp. 389
Complete Mass (without Gloria): Rouart-Lerolle, 1929 (RL 11686). The text of
No. 3 [Dixit domine] should read Dixit Dominus Domino meo/ Sede a dextris
meis (Psalm 109, verse 1)
Modr (15 July 1893): Salabert, 1995 (EAS 19352, pp. 67 in EAS 19354)
prem.: Concerts Pro Arte, Brussels, 3 May 1926 by Paul de Maleingrau (org)



composed: [1895]
music: announced as forthcoming in small uspud brochure (April 1895), p. 4.
Music lost or never started


Gnossienne [No. 6]

composed: Jan 1897

music: dance for pf
MS: BNF 10054(2), ff. 1r, 2v
pubn: Salabert, 1968 (MC 289, as 6e Gnossienne). All 6 Gnossiennes: Salabert,

Pices froides

composed: March 1897

music: 6 pieces for pf in 2 sets. These marked a move away from the slow, hieratic,
chordal music of the Rose+Croix period towards greater rhythmic fluidity. Satie
began to orch. several of them but never progressed beyond the first few bars
1 Airs faire fuir (3)
2 Danses de travers (3)
ded.: 1 Ricardo Vies
2 Madame J[ules] Ecorcheville
MSS: 1 and 2: Archives Jules Ecorcheville, Paris; BNF 10047(12), 6, 6 pp.,
copies for printer; Rs Vma 166, corr. proofs (1912)
Air No. 1: BNF 9575(1), pp. 279 (draft); Ho 193: 68; BNF 9575(2), pp. 35, 25,
2931 (incl. small orch. trials); 9575(1), p. 24 (ending, for pf)
Appendix 263

Air No. 2: BNF 9575(1), p. 29 (inc. draft); Ho 193: 69; BNF 9575(1), p. 24 (inc.
draft); 9575(2), p. 6 (inc. scoring); US-WC, sketch, 1f. The origins of No. 2 can
be seen in Saties harmonisations of the Northumbrian folksong The Keel Row in
BNF 10054(2), ff. 1v, 2v (see Orledge, 1990, pp. 190191)
Air No. 3: Ho 193: 69; BNF 9575(1), pp. 234 (sketches); BNF 9575(1), pp. 912
(draft of all 3 dances)
Danse No. 1: Ho 193: 91 (incl. sketches in 10 numbered cells, f. 7r, v)
Danse No. 2: BNF 9575(1), pp. 79 (inc. scorings)
pubn: Rouart-Lerolle, Jan 1913 (RL 98712); Salabert, 1973. A complete, rejected
version of the second Danse de travers was pubd by Salabert, 1970 (ed. Robert
Caby). Its sources are BNF 9575(2), p. 13 and Ho 193: 91 (final version, ff. 5r, 6r,
with sketches on f. 9)

Je te veux

composed: 1897 or ? 1901

text: sentimental song by Henry Pacory. A more daring first version of this can be
found in BNF 10057, and Satie may have assisted with the watered-down pubd
version, as popularised by Paulette Darty in 1904
music: waltz song for v, pf with 2 verses and repeated chorus. Satie also scored
it for brasserie orch (fl, cl in A, bn, hn, 2 cornets in A, str), and for full orch (pic,
fl, ob, 2 cl in B flat, bn or tuba, 2 hn, 2 cornets in B flat, 3 trbn, perc, str), adding
a new trio in the process. The 1897 dating comes from Roland-Manuels lecture
on Satie (1916, p. 11), using information that was almost certainly supplied by
the composer. However, the song was not registered with SACEM until 26 Nov
MSS: BNF 10056, OS in D (brasserie orch), 4ff.
BNF 10057, VS in C, 2pp.
BNF 10058, OS in C (full orch with added Trio), 8ff.
BNF 10059, orch parts (vn 2, va, vc, cornet 2), mostly for BNF 10058
Sketches: BNF 9599, pp. 12, 16, 234; 9600, pp. 14r, 20; 9614, p. 20
F-Ppc, pic part corr. by Satie; corr. proofs of VS
pubn: VS: Baudoux, Dec 1902 (EB 773); Bellon Ponscarme, 1903 (BP 773, using
Baudoux plates); simplified version, March 1904 (BP 868)
Pf solo version, April 1904 (BP 875); Rouart-Lerolle; Salabert
OS: Brasserie version, Bellon Ponscarme, 1904 (BP 884); full orch, Salabert, 1978
(EAS 17352)
264 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature


Jack in the Box

composed: MayJuly 1899

text: pantomime or clownerie in 2 Acts by Jules Dpaquit
music: incidental music planned for a production at the Comdie Parisienne in
Oct 1899 (letter to Conrad Satie, 15 May 1899). Satie also referred to his score
as a suite anglaise and described the project as more of a clooonerie than a
pantomime to Conrad on 4 July (see Volta, 2000, pp. 912). Only a short score in
3 movements has survived, which was later orch. by Darius Milhaud:
1 Prlude [registered as Gigue at SACEM on 14 Jan 1905]
2 Entracte
3 Final
MSS: Ho 193: 28 (short score, 15ff., versos only).
Sketches: Ho 193: 23, ff. 2r, 5v6v, 8r, 11r; 193: 24, ff. 13r, 4r11r; 193: 25,
p. 30; 193: 58 (1p.: No. 1 titled Gigue); 193: 59 5ff.: No. 2 orig. titled Marche
sourde des Repasseurs de couteaux, des Tireurs de chenilles, et des Casseurs de
briques on f.2r, and constructed from 16 numbered cells found on f. 1r which
also contains the theme of No. 1, bars 4656, accompanied by a long heroic text.
See also Ho 193:91, p. 11 (No. 2); BNF 9600, f. 6v (No. 3)
Pf score (by Milhaud, c.1925): BNF 17677(10), 5pp.
pubn: Universal Edition, 1929, short score (UE 9914) and OS by Milhaud
prem.: 3 May 1926, Concerts Pro Arte, Brussels by Paul Collaer (pf)
17 May 1926, Festival Erik Satie, Thtre des Champs-Elyses, Paris by Marcelle
Meyer (pf)
3 June 1926, Diaghilevs Ballets Russes, Thtre Sarah Bernhardt (in orch. by
Milhaud) with sets and costumes by Andr Derain and choreography by Georges
29 Nov 1937, in orig. version with Dpaquits play, Salle dIna, in soire
LHumour dErik Satie

Un Dner lElyse

composed: Aug 1899

text: cabaret song by Vincent Hyspa (after 12 Aug 1899). Also known as Peintres
franais, and registered thus at SACEM on 2 Sept 1899
music: song for v, pf, 4 verses (Le Prsidente, dune faon fort civile)
MSS: Ho 193: 25, pp. 245; 193: 64, f. 1v; 193: 52, titled Peintres franais.
Sketches in Ho. 193: 23, ff. 12r; 193: 24, ff. 12v13r
Appendix 265

pubn: in Vincent Hyspa: Chansons dhumour (Paris, Enoch, 1903), pp. 10713
(with drawings by Jules Dpaquit); Salabert, 1995, Neuf chansons de cabaret et de
cafconc (ed. Whiting), pp. 89 (EAS 19340)

Le Veuf

composed: 18991903
text: cabaret song by Vincent Hyspa (Elle avait des cils noirs comme toutes les
music: song for v, pf in 2 versions (A flat and D major). The first returns as the
central section of No. 4 of the Trois morceaux en forme de poire (1903)
MSS: First version: Ho 193: 2, ff. 1v2r (neat copy); 193: 23, ff. 9v10r; 193: 24,
ff. 15v16r (drafts); BNF 9599, pp. 1416 (pf score, 1903 see Whiting, 1999, p.
266 n.43); 9598, p. 20 (v part, 1903); Ho 193: 23, f. 10v; 193: 24, ff. 14v15r and
16v17r (sketches)
Second version: Ho 193: 24, ff. 11v12r (neat copy); 193: 23, ff. 8v9r (draft);
193: 24, ff. 13v14r (sketches)
pubn: Salabert, 1995, Neuf chansons (ed. Whiting), pp. 1415 (1st version), 16
17 (2nd version) (EAS 19341)

Aline-Polka (Pacory arr. Satie)

composed: [? 18991900]
music: short polka by Henry Pacory transcr. for pf by Satie
MS: Ho 193: 43 (1f., inc., 21 bars only)

Genevive de Brabant

composed: ? July 1899April 1900

text: 3-act play in prose and verse by Lord Cheminot (Contamine de Latour), 32ff.
MS in archives of Comte Etienne de Beaumont (see Volta, 1987, pp. 1631)
music: short score for solo vv, chorus, pf (probably for marionette theatre). Orch.
by Roger Dsormire in 1926 for fl, ob, 2 cl in B flat, bn, 2 hn, cornet, trbn, perc,
1 Prlude
2 Chur: Nous sommes la foule compacte
3 Entre des soldats
4 Entracte
266 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

5 Air de Genevive (Innocente dun crime que je nai pas commis)

6 Sonnerie de cor
7 Entre des soldats
8 Entracte
9 Chur (repeat of No. 2)
10 Air de Golo (Non, Sifroy nest pas mort)
11 Entre des soldats
12 Cortge/Marche
13 Entre des soldats
14 Petit air de Genevive (Ah! Le ciel recompense ma vertu, ma constance)
15 Chur final (Laffaire est bien passe)

Note: Nos. 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 13 all use the same material, with slight variations. No.
14 was revised during the composition of The Dreamy Fish (1901). See BNF MS
15333, ff. 7v, 8v; 9587, ff. 3v, 4r, 5r
MSS: VS: BNF 15333, 8ff.; FES (SAT 7.5), VS copied by Milhaud, 13pp., n.d.
Sketches: Ho 193: 23, ff. 13v16v; 193: 24, ff. 2022; 193: 57, (1f.); 193: 56, ff.
2r, 3r
pubn: Universal Edition, 1930 (VS and OS: UE 9386 and 9956). New ed. of VS
and Latours libretto (ed. Ornella Volta), Universal Edition, 1989 (UE 19131 and
prem.: 17 May 1926 (in Dsormires orch.), Thtre des Champs-lyses,
produced by Manuel Ortiz in Satie festival organised by Comte Etienne de
1 Feb 1929, with marionettes, Concerts Pro Arte, Brussels, cond. R. Dsormire
13 April 1983, with Latours libretto, Compagnie Carlo Colla & Figli, Gran Teatro
la Fenice, Venice


Prlude de La Mort de Monsieur Mouche

composed: 18 April 1900

text: play in 3 Acts by Lord Cheminot (Contamine de Latour). Lost
Ho 193: 23, f. 13v states that Acts 1 and 3 take place in a restaurant, with Act 2
chez Monsieur Mouche
music: prelude for pf. Registered at SACEM on 18 April 1900. This includes
Saties first known use of ragtime syncopation (see Whiting, 1999, pp. 2569)
MSS: BNF 9600, pp. 13, 15, 17 (neat copy registered with SACEM on18 April
Sketches in Ho 193: 23, ff. 13v, 17r and v
Appendix 267

pubn: in Carnets desquisses et de croquis (ed. Robert Caby), Salabert, 1968, pp.
1314 (MC 363)

Verset laque & somptueux

composed: 5 Aug 1900

music: piece for pf
MS: BNF 9600, p. 22 (? sketch); MS in Autographes de Musiciens Contemporaines
1900, vol. 8, p. 255 (for Exposition Universelle: see F-Po 1900 XIV (255))
pubn: Salabert, 1995 as third of Trois pices pour piano (ed. R. Orledge), p. 9
(with MS facs. on p. 8), (EAS 19353); SOUNDkiosk, Brighton, 2010 (SKPE 16)

Poudre dor

composed: ? 19001901
music: 2 separate waltzes for pf or orch (see Whiting, 1999, pp. 2727), with the
opening melody common to both. No. 2 below probably predates No. 1
1 As pubd waltz and trio (beginning in D major) with 4 repeating strains. For Bal
Bullier, ? 1901, orch for pic, fl, ob, 2 cl in A, bn or tuba, 2 hn, 2 cornets in A, 3 trbn,
perc, str
ded.: Mademoiselle Stphanie Nantas
MSS: OS: BNF 10061, final version, 8ff. (when BNF 10060, ff. 78 are added).
Registered with SACEM on 11 March 1902
F-Psa, pf solo version, 2pp.; BNF Rs. Vma 169 (corr. proofs)
Sketches: BNF 9600, ff. 17v18v; 9614, pp. 38 (titled Pluie dor)
pubn: for pf solo: Baudoux, Nov 1902 (EB 770); OS: Salabert, 1978 (EAS 18568)
2 As suite of 3 waltzes (7 strains, beginning in C major, later transposed to D major).
Structure: Introduction. Temps de marche; Nos. 13, No. 4 (= No. 2); Coda (=
No. 1 plus actual coda)
MSS: BNF 9600, ff. 14v17r; 9614, p. 19
Parts: Ho 193: 72, 3ff.; Drouot Richelieu sale, 10 May 1995, lot 165, 4ff. (PLU)


The Dreamy Fish (Le Poisson rveur)

composed: March 1901

text: tale by Lord Cheminot (Contamine de Latour). Lost
268 Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature

music: extended pf piece (188 bars) to accompany above story. The theme in bars
17ff shows affinities with the prelude to Jack in the Box. Bars 8990, 94108, 111
of the central section are taken from Genevive de Brabant (1899), No. 14
MSS: BNF 9587, 14pp. (with many corrections)
Sketches: BNF 9600, ff. 2v, 3r (numbered 1617), 6r, 7r; 15333, f. 8v; Ho 193: 23,
ff. 17r18v; 193: 24, ff. 19r, 223 (also titled Rverie burlesque); 193: 53 (4pp.)

Note: BNF 9600, f. 7r is a sketch using the whole-tone scale, which is modified in
BNF 9587, f. 4v (see Orledge, 1990, pp. 535). This is the nearest Satie came to
imitating Debussy and to thinking for orchestra as he did so
pubn: Salabert, 1970 (ed. Caby: MC 516); 1997 (ed. and rev. Orledge, 1995: pp.
917, with facs. on p. 4) (also MC 516)

The Angora Ox (Le Boeuf Angora)

composed: ? 19012
text: tale by Lord Cheminot (Contamine de Latour). Lost
music: inc. score for large orch (pic, 2fl, ob, eng hn, 2 cl in A, bn, 2 hn in F, 2 tpt
in C, 3 trbn, tuba, timp, perc, str).
Bars 6673 recur in Redite in the Trois Morceaux en forme de poire (1903)
MSS: BNF 10062, 9pp., inc. OS with some corr. (? by Charles Koechlin); 9598,
pp. 78 (inc. short score). Transcr. in Gowers, 1966, PhD 5376, 17390 (Exx. 57,
short score; 58, OS)
Sketches: BNF 9598, pp. 4, 68, 1011; 9629, pp. 67, 1416, 19 (see Whiting,
1999, p. 266 n. 42)
pubn: Salabert, 1997 (ed. and completed J. Fritz for pf solo, 1995: pp. 216, with
facs. on p. 18) (EAS 19355: with The Dreamy Fish above)


Chanson barbare

composed: ? 1902
music: inc. piece for pf, material used in The Angora Ox above)
MS: BNF 9598, p. 4

Tendrement [also known as Illusion]

composed: 1902
Appendix 269

music: 2 separate pieces whose complex and overlapping genesis is fully traced in
Whiting, 1999, pp. 21924
1 Tendrement, registered with SACEM on 29 March 1902 as a Valse piano et
orchestre in C major
MSS: BNF 10073 (draft for SACEM)
US-Redmond, WA (coll. Jeff Sanderson): pf score, 2pp. with title Tendrement
crossed out by Satie. Also 1p. VS of third piece titled Tendrement, with 1p. by
Vincent Hyspa adding the text for what became the De Fraudy Valse in the
operetta Pousse lamour (see 19056 below).
Drafts and sketches in compositional order: BNF 9629, pp. 23, 9; 9614, pp. 18,
20; 9599, p. 5; Ho 193: 27, 2ff.
2 Illusion, also registered as Valse piano et orchestre in B flat major with SACEM
on 19 June 1902. Scored for pic, fl, ob, 2 cl in B flat, bn or tuba, 2 hn, 2 cornets
in B flat, 3 trbn, perc, str. This is the waltz song pubd as Tendrement in 1902, but
without its text by Vincent Hyspa
MSS: Ho 193: 83. Draft, 7pp. and p