This week on Clef Notes we are looking at ballets that were considered controversial at their premieres. In honor of composer Erik Satie’s 150th birthday that’s coming up on May 17, let’s look at how his Parade created conflict following its 1917 premiere.
Last year in a Music and Art blog post, I discussed Satie as a Cubist composer. But what is Cubism? In art, this style features three-dimensional objects represented on a two-dimensional plane. This is done by using geometrical shapes such as cubes (hence “Cubism”) and overlapping them in a fun, sometimes colorful, way. But how is this Cubist idea portrayed in music? Satie’s ballet Parade illustrates this idea of overlapping fragments in music by using jazz elements, a whistle, siren, and typewriter in his score. These features were unheard of at this point in history and audiences did not respond well.
Parade was written by Jean Cocteau with choreography by Léonide Massine. It is interesting to note the costumes were unconventional as well, displaying the Cubist artwork of Pablo Picasso. Here are a few excerpts from Satie’s score to Parade.