105 x 85 x 8
Ph. Mattia Micheli
Parade is my artistic tribute to the ballet of 1917 which several artists brought their contribution. The scenario was written by Cocteau, the music was composed by Satie, the sets and costumes were designed by Picasso, while the choreography was conceived by Massine. The first performance by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes took place on May 18, 1917 at the Théâtre du Châtelet under the orchestra conducted by Ansermet.
Parade is a ballet to which several artists brought their contribution. The scenario was written by Cocteau, the music was composed by Satie, the sets and costumes were designed by Picasso, while the choreography was conceived by Massine. The first performance by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes took place on May 18, 1917 at the Théâtre du Châtelet under the orchestra conducted by Ansermet.
The program note written by Apollinaire stated:
“Parade is a scenic poem transposed by the innovative musician Erik Satie into astonishingly expressive music, so clear and simple that it seems to reflect the marvelously lucid spirit of France. The cubist painter Picasso and the most daring of today’s choreographers, Léonide Massine, have here consummately achieved, for the first time, that alliance between painting and dance, between the plastic and mimetic arts, that is a herald of the more comprehensive art to come. This new alliance has given rise, in Parade, to a kind of surrealism, which I consider to be the point of departure for a whole series of manifestations of “l’Esprit Nouveau” that is making itself felt today and that will certainly appeal to our best minds”.
The title refers to the popular eighteenth-century custom of the itinerant companies to perform pieces of the repertoire at the door of the theatre booth to attract customers to attend a show that, in this case, is a misunderstanding.
Cocteau’s scenario, as it was written in the program, states:
The scene represents the houses of Paris on a Sunday. Theatre booth. Three music-hall numbers serve as parade.
Chinese magician. Little American girl. Acrobats. Three managers organize the publicity.
They communicate to each other in their terrible language that the crowd is taking the parade for the show inside and grossly try to make them understand. No one goes in. After the last number of the parade the worn-out managers collapse on top of each other. The Chinese, the acrobats and the little girl come out of the empty theatre. Seeing the managers’ extreme effort and their fall, they try in turn to explain that the show takes place inside.
The audience greeted with great confidence the great curtain, which was the background of the painful overture of Satie. It is a great composition, far from the cubist canvases, inspired by the world of circus, in a calm and peaceful atmosphere that recalls the harlequins of the pre-cubist period of Picasso.
In his work, Satie “organized the disorder”. The simple and beautiful score emphasizes the poor elements in parallel with what Picasso does for costumes. Satie evokes street jugglers, which he transfigures by elevating them to a higher level, that of the meticulously perfect art. The simplicity of Satie’s music constituted the common thread and the receptacle that the body had to fill in absolute harmony with the costumes and the scenes. The sense of estrangement that was to create the setting had the paradoxical effect of recreating the realism of art.
Parade’s score is, from top to bottom, a masterpiece of architecture; and this cannot be understood by the ears accustomed to the “romantic” musicality.
Erik Satie’s opposition consists in a return to simplicity: it is, in the end, the only possible opposition in an era of extreme refinement. The good faith of the critics of Parade, who believed that the orchestra was a disturbance of sounds, can only be explained as a phenomenon of suggestion. The word “cubism” repeated out of turn, suggested to them the idea of a certain type of music.
The “Chinese”, the “Little American girl”, the “Acrobats” express types of nostalgia unknown until today. Never spells, never shooting, equivocal caresses, morbidity, miasma, Satie never fishes in troubled waters. It is the childhood poetry attained by a highly-skilled artist.
For most artists, a work cannot be beautiful without a mixture of mysticism, love or boredom; the brief, the gay, the sad without idyll, are suspicious. The hypocritical elegance of the “Chinese”, the melancholy of the “Maiden”, the moving nonsense of the “Acrobats”, all of these, remained a “dead letter” for the audience of Parade, who would have liked if the Acrobat had loved the girl and had been killed from the jealous Chinese, killed, in turn, by the acrobat’s wife, or if any of the thirty-six possible dramatic combinations had occurred.
Parade premiered May 18, 1917 at Châtelet in Paris. It was “scandalous” and was replicated in Rome the same year
At the premiere of the show the audience expressed their dissent by shouting to the authors “boches” and “à Berlin”: the formal novelties that Parade proposed compared to the traditional French ballet were felt, in that difficult year of war, as a betrayal, a gesture of contempt for national “values”. Not wrongly, in a certain sense: precisely the war had accelerated the times of the normal process of cultural change, and many were then in Paris the artists variously engaged in an effort of renewal and critical rethinking of the past.
1917: First performance by the Ballets Russes of Parade by Erik Satie (set design and costumes by Picasso). This bizarre work hides true beauty under its extravagance, and it is above all simple, straightforward and precise. It is exactly such qualities that inspire some young musicians to wave an ideological flag. They are against Wagner, against Rimsky, against Debussy; they no longer want romantic or impressionist music, or prolific melodies that get lost in the sky, in transparent harmonies. They need music with precise contours, with the feet firmly planted on the ground and with a good French accent, transmitting forthright Montmartrian honesty. Parade, who seems written with a compass and a drawing pen, responded to their aspirations.
Roland De Candé
Apparently impassive, Parade is upsetting for its internal tragic power. From the carnival music, Satie has retained only the characteristic inflections. Parade is not circus music: it draws the portrait.
Paul Collaer e Eduardo Rescigno
The process around Parade also touched upon great summits of comedy. A music critic, a certain Poueigh, had heavily attacked the work (in respect of which he first declared himself enthusiastic) writing “it is an offense for the French taste”, without deigning the score in a single word. Satie in retaliation had initially replied to him “Monsieur and dear friend, you are only an arse, worse, an arse without music” and then started sending him every day insulting postcards, deceitfully written in terms of a revolting obscenity. At the thought that the concierge would read them and gossip in the whole neighbourhood, Poueigh felt dishonoured and sued Satie. When the court clerk read the indictment, caught in the dilemma between modesty and truth, he opted for the compromise to read everything, but pronouncing only the initial of the scandalous words: this determined an astonishing parade of all the letters of the alphabet, embedded in short sentences of an exasperating familiarity, which unleashed an irrepressible hilarity of the audience. Defended by Cocteau who shouts in court the same swearword, leading to him being expelled, Satie is sentenced to eight days in prison