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    The Savage Parade - From Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso to the Britten of 'Les Illuminations'

    and beyondAuthor(s): David DrewSource: Tempo , New Series, No. 217 (Jul., 2001), pp. 7-21Published by: Cambridge University PressStable URL: 25-04-2016 17:14 UTC


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     David Drew

     The Savage Parade-from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     to the Britten of Les Illuminations and beyond

     This article arose from the author's review of Daniel

     Albright's recent study Untwisting the Serpent -

     Modernism in Music, Literature and Other Arts

     (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press).

     The review, now published in the Spring 2001 Issue of

     the Kurt Weill Newsletter (vol 19, no. 1), concen-

     trates on Schoenberg and Weill, while the article explores

     other aspects of Modernism considered by Albright.

     Tempo's own formal review of Untwisting the

     Serpent is contributed by Peter Quinn on p. 00 - Ed.).

     In the Parade of 1917 - Satie's, Cocteau's, Picasso's,

     and Massine's Parade - the Three Managers of a

     travelling theatre advertise their show to the

     passing crowd by presenting excerpts on the

     platform outside. Their efforts are in vain. The

     public remains indifferent, and not a ticket is sold.

     That's Modernism in primary school - long

     before it learned how to market itself, and

     upped the commission fees.

     The Princess Ghika records in her joural of 5

     July 1922 that the reception that opened the

     social season in Roscoff had been 'magnificent' -

     70 beautiful, famous, and titled guests; and the

     servants were 'perfect'. The Princess had worn

     her black-crepe peplum, 'a unique, wonderful

     thing, such a success that it's beyond words'; the

     strings of pearls were 'simply endless... the

     fiancee of Prince Coloradi-Mansfield alone wore

     three million's worth'; and, yes, 'we had three

     musicians: Auric, Poulenc, and Erik Satie. They

     played their works'.'

     Satie, the 'old Bolshevik' as he liked to call

     himself, belonged elsewhere but knew how to

     behave in such company. For the Princesse de

     Polignac, born of the sewing-machine Singers,

     he began Socrate in the winter of 1918-19, and

     felt he owed his return to 'classical simplicity,

     with a modern sensibility' to his 'Cubist friends.

     Bless them'. Through Socrate he would meet and

     become friends with Brancusi; but Parade had

     already brought him Picasso, whose friendship

     was more important to him than the fame that

     Parade had also brought him.

     'Compared with Petrushka, does my little

     Parade stand up?', he mused.' Having announced

     in November 19202 that Paul et Virginie, a 3-act

     comic opera after a play by Cocteau and

     Raymond Radiguet, would be his last work and

     that he would then 'devote himself entirely to

     the cause of young musicians', he forgot about

     the opera but not the young musicians, and

     saved his last work - a pair of ballets - for the

     year before his death.

     In 1920 Satie had composed 'Elegie', to a text

     by Lamartine, and dedicated it to the memory of

     Debussy 'en souvenir d'une admirative et douce

     amitie de trente ans'. The song's craggy and

     desolate harmony inhabits the same landscape of

     bereavement as the poem: the loss of one individ-

     ual seems suddenly to have depopulated and

     denuded the entire planet. 'Elegie' subsequently

     became the first in a cycle of four songs, where

     it is followed by settings of Cocteau and of an

     18th-century verse dedicated to 'le petit trou',

     and balanced at the end by an 'Adieu' - a gently

     comical farewell to the past, on a poem by

     Cocteau's protege, the 17-year-old Raymond


     For Satie, the void left by Debussy was all the

     greater for their previous painful estrangement

     during the year that had remained to Debussy

     after the success and scandal of Parade. To attempt

     to fill it with his 'Cubist friends' - Braque and

     Jean Gris as well as Picasso and Brancusi - was

     wiser than attempting a Paul et Virgine that would

     have to find its feet in the continuing presence of

     Pelleas et Melisande. Debussy, his near-contemp-

     orary, was irreplaceable. Stravinsky, his junior by

     16 years but similarly devoted to Debussy's

     memory, was to become his new exemplar-

     another who could do no wrong.

     By 1924, Satie's devotion to Stravinsky and his

     music was sufficient to ensure that his two ballet

     scores would in no sense compete. As if sensing

     that an Apollo and a Persephone were reserved for a

     future well beyond his own lifespan, he dispatches

     his anorexic Mercure to other climes. Under a

     starry night-sky, Apollo exchanges tendresses with

     Venus, and around them dance the signs of the

     zodiac. Mercury appears. Jealous of the enamoured

     Apollo, he threatens his life, relents, and makes

     full amends (he is, after all, Apollo's half brother).

     It is the agile Mercury, not Terpsichore, who

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     8 The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     devises the dances for Bacchus's party. Among

     the guests is Persephone. In the finale, she is

     abducted by Pluto and Chaos, who carry her off

     to Hades to the strains of a cheerful alla marcia in

     the sort of F majorish mode associated with

     Mercury's first entry.

     Commissioned by the Count de Beaumont,

     designed by Picasso, choreographed by Massine,

     and presented at the Cigale music-hall, Mercure had

     begun life with a scandal: led by Louis Aragon

     and Andre Breton, the Surrealists mounted a

     demonstration in favour of Picasso, and Aragon,

     with the police close at his heels, had jumped

     on to the stage shouting 'Bravo Picasso, down

     with Satie '. The Surrealists duly published their

     manifesto as Hommage a Picasso. It pointedly

     ignored Massine and Satie, and proclaimed

     Picasso as the true representative of Modernism.

     Among the signatories were Poulenc and Auric,

     the two young friends with whom Satie had

     quarrelled a year before.3

     Most of the missives Satie entrusts to his

     messenger-god in Mercure are self-addressed. But

     the one received by the Three Graces as they

     are bathing is a wholly believable billet doux.

     Marked 'Tres calme (sans aucune nuance)', its

     limpid sequences distract their attention while the

     messenger-god, who is also the god of thieves, is

     stealing their pearls.4 Satie's score did at least have

     that Apollonian moment to offer Picasso - eight

     bars and a repeat, nothing more. The subsequent

     'Polka des lettres' delivers nothing that might

     interfere with Picasso's quite separate designs.

     In Parade Picasso had invaded the theatre for

     the first time (Cocteau would claim he pushed

     him), and his popularized cubism had been

     answered by Satie's. In Mercure, the paint-brushes

     are put aside, while wooden and wickerwork

     puppets mingle with the dancers, and the 'decor',

     as Gertrude Stein describes it, 'is written, so

     simply written, no painting, pure calligraphy'.5

     Himselfa meticulous and inventive calligrapher,

     Satie was an ideal table-companion for Picasso

     wherever paper tablecloths and napkins were

     available. 'Their' Mercury can only have taken

     wing in the kind of cafes Satie frequented ('... to

     give a moral example and appear respectable, I

     say: Young folk, don't go to cafes: listen to the

     solemn words of a man who has spent too much

     time in them, in his opinion - but doesn't regret

     it, the monster ') The Surrealists had other

     haunts, and never saw the clues left on the table-

     cloths by the two conspirators.

     Who was the fleet-footed and light-fingered

     artist who had brought Satie and Picasso together

     for Parade, and then made such a nuisance of him-

     self? At the masked balls so lavishly mounted for

     Parisian high society by Count de Beaumont and

     lesser hosts of the day, there was a ubiquitous

     guest who made himself immediately recognis-

     able by wearing above his mask the helmet of

     Mercury, and moving, wand in hand, through

     the crowds so swiftly and lightly that he seemed

     to be airbom. Satie, the uninvited, knew him best:

     'The author of Parade (J.Cocteau) was explain-

     ing (for the thousandth time) the miseries which

     bore down on him, cut him to pieces, blew him

     up, rolled him flat, and raked him over while he

     was writing this work - three lines long....'"

     Thus Satie in Picabia's 391, only a month

     after the premiere of Mercure in June 1924. Even

     more telling is the message he had published

     back in February:

     1916: That was when Cocteau was 'writing' Parade....

     ....Yes.... Picasso and I were onlookers (unknowingly

     of course)....

     The Surrealists who demonstrated against Satie

     and 'his' Mercure had missed the one point that

     would have appealed to them. 75 years later it's

     still being missed. Cocteau, seeing himself as

     discoverer of Rimbaud, would have liked to be,

     and expected to be, one of the Surrealists' heroes;

     but try as he might, he never became one.

     Mercure put him in his place as far as Picasso and

     Satie were independently concerned. But their

     private demonstrations were more thoughtful

     than the public ones. The pros as well as the

     cons and the conneries were being weighed up:

     Picasso seems to be recalling Cocteau's notable

     penmanship, and preserving it, like the erasures

     of a palimpsest, beneath his calligraphic rendering

     of Mercure; meanwhile, and much more

     prominently, Satie gives Le Coq et l'Harlequin

     another hearing, and in the end acquits Cocteau

     with a warning.


    In Giovanni Bologna's ever-popular Late

     Renaissance bronze, the naked and helmeted

     messenger-god with raised right arm and verti-

     cally extended index finger is bearing in his left

     hand the traditional caduceus or wand. Around

     the wand are entwined two snakes. As 'modern'

     a message as one could wish for in the bio-tech

     age, the snakes' double helix lies beyond

     Professor Albright's carefully delimited field in

     Untwisting the Serpent. It is not the Bargello's

     bronze that inspires his title, but the Vatican's

     statue of Laoco6n (and his two sons) grappling with

     the sea-serpents. Hence the central importance

     for him, as for present and past generations of

     scholars, critics, and aestheticians, of Lessing's essay

     of 1766- Laocoon, or On the Limits of Painting

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     The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     and Poetry. The qualities that distinguish

     Untwisting the Serpent from other studies in the

     same field are in the first place idiosyncratic and

     frankly hedonistic. 'This book', declares Albright

     on an early page, 'aims to please'.

     And so did Cocteau. Albright's quest 'for the

     fundamental units in the mixed arts' is a neo-

     Cocteauesque tour deforce, reconciling the timeless

     requirements of well-informed and intelligent

     entertainment with the intellectual demands of a

     conscious if not self-conscious modernity, here

     and now, at the dawn of a new millennium. The

     quest divides into two supposedly complemen-

     tary strands - 'Figures of Consonance among the

     Arts', and 'Figures of Dissonance among the Arts'.

     The latter are theoretically resolved at the close

     by the great Paris-American C major concord of

     the Thomson-Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts.

     'Never to return to distinctions' sings St. Chavez,

     fortissimo, to the (angelic) male chorus. Albright's

     amen to that is justified by his rigorous analysis

     of iterative and differentiating patterns in Stein

     and in Thomson (who understood, better than

     many latter-day minimalists, how to make the

     static move and be moving).

     In the retrospective mirror of Four Saints it

     becomes easier to understand Albright's decision

     to begin the second part of his quest with Parade.

     Generous and well-deserved tribute is paid to

     Dorothy Menaker Rothschild's monograph of

     1991 and her comprehensive investigation of

     Picasso's notes, sketches, and finished designs. In

     the matter of design, Albright concentrates on

     what he calls the 'whorls' or 'apostrophes' char-

     acteristic of Picasso's costumes for the Chinese

     Conjuror and the Acrobat. Describing them as

     'tantalisingly enigmatic', he promises to show

     that the whorl is the 'master emblem of the

     whole ballet, a veiled impudence'.

     The plainer facts are these: in February 1917

     Picasso and Cocteau joined the Ballets Russes

     on their Italian tour to work on the forthcoming

     production of Parade; they visited Pompeii and

     other Roman sites; and taking the slogan 'be

     vulgar ' as their motto, vied with each other in

     emulating the phallic motifs common to graffiti

     of every age and place. According to Albright -

     on what authority is not clear -'they seem to

     have spent a good deal of time' on this particular

     recreation. In any event, when Picasso recounted

     his dream of an erect penis improbably curling

     back on itself (like some upended interrogation

     mark), Cocteau made an inelegant sketch of it.

     Reproduced by Rothschild and re-exposed in

     Untwisting the Serpent, it is construed as a proto-

     surrealist or dadaist excursion from self-fellatio

     to self-buggery, and the 'whorl' that is to been

     seen 'curling above' the groin of the Acrobat in

     Picasso's costume-design is duly unveiled as the

     impudent 'master emblem of the whole ballet'.

     It would perhaps be sentimental to remark that

     there's another and larger 'whorl' curling round

     the Acrobat's heart area (master emblems should

     aim higher than that, or lower). Take your

     choice - one reader's impudent whorl could be

     another's humdrum violin scroll, and that, after

     all, had been a basic element in the iconography

     of Picasso's Cubism since 1911.

     The coiled tale of Picasso's Acrobat, and

     Cocteau's too, has many endings. Untwisting the

     Serpent has another one up its sleeve, as we shall

     discover. But the discordancies within the col-

     laboration remain the primary concern. Gide's

     comment on Cocteau (at the time of the 1920

     revival) is more benign than Satie's seven years

     later: 'He knows that the sets and costumes are by

     Picasso, and the music by Satie, but he wonders

     if Picasso and Satie are not invented by him.'7

     Greater artists than Cocteau - Stravinsky for one,

     Brecht for another - were to entertain similar

     fancies about their creative partners. Yet the

     proprietory instinct may not be entirely misguid-

     ed. Satie for his part was unfair, and deliberately

     so, in attributing to Cocteau only the few lines

     of the printed scenario.

     Already in 1918, Le Coq et l'Harlequin had

     provided evidence of Cocteau's wider and

     deeper involvement with Parade than the final

     and concise version of the scenario suggests.

     That evidence has been amply corroborated by

     the intensive researches that began in the early

     1970s, some ten years after Cocteau's death in

     1963. By then Satie's music had infiltrated the

     'subculture' of the day; and as soon as its public

     and commercial success was confirmed - a

     process not unconnected with the expiry of

     copyrights - scholarly attention was drawn to it.

     Citing Steegmuller's fine Cocteau (1986) as well

     as Rothschild's monograph, Albright leaves no

     doubt as to the extent and suggestiveness of

     Cocteau's draft scenario and its appendages. Yet

     his selections of evidence are inevitably restricted

     by the preemptive 'Figures of Dissonance' rubric

     and its tendency - reinforced by a well-chosen

     quote from Artaud - to over-determine his

     conclusion that in Parade the 'constituent arts

     refuse to fit together'. It therefore becomes

     obligatory to argue, or rather, to assert, that

     Satie 'paid little attention to the content of

     Parade, as Cocteau imagined it'.

     Surprisingly, there is no mention in Untwisting

     the Serpent of an artist and stage-designer who

     played a crucial role as intermediary between

     Cocteau and Satie. Valentine Gross - later married


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     10 The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     to the artist Jean Hugo, with whom Cocteau

     was to collaborate on several ballets and stage

     pieces - was held in the highest esteem and

     affection by Satie. Cocteau recognized that her

     diplomatic powers were superior to his. In the

     edited form quoted by Ornella Volta in her

     invaluable SATIE - As Seen Through His Letters,

     Cocteau's letter to Gross (dated 4 September

     1916) begins as follows:

     Make dear Satie understand, through the haze of

     aperitifs, that I do after all have some part in Parade

     and that he's not alone with Picasso. I believe Parade

     to be a kind of renewal of the theatre and not a mere

     'opportunity' for music. He hurts my feelings when

     he jumps up and down and shouts to Picasso: 'It's

     you I follow You're my master ' He seems to be

     hearing for the first time things I've been telling him

     over and over again.'

     Later in the same letter, however, Cocteau

     reports that 'Picasso is thinking up wonders and

     Satie's American Girl is almost finished'.The

     letter ends (in Volta's published version) with an

     unexpected shaft of light that seems to indicate

     something of what Satie may have grasped 'for

     the first time':

     The little American girl in Parade makes her entry like

     this: on the 47th floor an angel has made her nest in

     the dentist's office - and there's this little song: 'Tic

     tic tic the ti-ta-nic, sinking lights ablaze into the sea'.9

     It's a song worth remembering. Though Satie

     never set it, Cocteau inscribed his text at the

     appropriate point in the non-autograph copy of

     the full score.

     Parade was first published in Satie's own

     arrangement for piano 4 hands. In a place of

     honour, after the title page and before Cocteau's

     brief synopsis, comes an unheaded manifesto

     with Satie's name in capitals at the start, and

     Picasso's in the second sentence. Although

     Cocteau's name does not appear, his style and

     taste are omnipresent, and several formulations

     are traceable directly to him. The only acknow-

     ledged author, 18 years old at the time of the

     premiere, is Georges Auric.

     Satie's art, declares Auric, affords 'a new vision

     of the individual, at the height of his powers,

     pitching camp beside astonishing personages who

     make one dream of Rimbaud and predict, with

     some foreboding, a future without boredom'.

     In the 'Parade' of Les Illuminations the 'etonnants

     personnages' are innumerable - 'Chinese,

     Hottentots, gypsies, idiots, hyenas, Molochs, old

     insanities, sinister demons, all mingling their

     popular and maternal tricks"' with bestial poses

     and caresses'. The Managers of Satie's and

     Cocteau's Parade can only afford a cast of four,

     and it's the Chinese Conjuror who begins their

     outdoor show. The second turn is introduced

     by the Manager from New York, wearing the

     cubist skyscraper designed by Picasso; it features

     the popular but hardly maternal tricks of the

     American Girl - a proto-Nabokovian ingenue,

     as posed for the famous photo of the original

     dancer, Marie Chabelska.

     According to Cocteau, the American Girl

     knows all about Chaplin and the unending Perils

     of Pauline. Clearly, Rimbaud's 'nice girl' songs

     ('chansons "bonnes filles"') won't fit the bill;

     instead there's a 'Packet-boat Ragtime' that

     predicts a 'future without boredom', until the

     orchestral coda's sirens and submarine gurgles

     remind the American Girl in her sailor-neck

     shirt of the 'little song' Cocteau had intended

     for her.

     The last tricks are performed by the two

     Acrobats, and surrealistically listed by Cocteau

     in a note for Satie that begins thus:

     Medrano - Orion - two biplanes in the morning... the

     archangel Gabriel balancing himself on the edge of the

     window... the diver's lantern... Sodom and Gomorrah

     at the bottom of the sea..."

     Already alerted to the 'master emblem for the

     whole ballet' and its veiled impudence, the reader

     of Untwisting the Serpent is likely to emulate the

     author's dash for the diver's lamp. What con-

     nexion, asks Albright, might archangels and the

     Cities of the Plain have with Cocteau's

     Acrobats? An answer is found in Chabrier's and

     Verlaine's circus operetta, Fisch-Ton-Kan - one

     of their two jeux d'esprit of 1863-64. (Like its

     companion piece, Fisch-Ton-Kan first saw the

     light of day in the subfusc Paris of April 1941).

     Chabrier's tender lament for a fallen acrobat and

     his 'baton poll' - a fitting partner, it would seem,

     for Satie's apostrophe to 'le petit trou' in his

     drinking song of 1920 - leads Albright to a song

     in which the impudence of Verlaine's text is

     'even more outrageous'. So far so good. But the

     trail comes to an abrupt stop: 'the homosexual

     subtext of trapeze art was entirely excluded from

     the finished Parade'.'2

     Reading between the lines is often less

     rewarding than reading the lines themselves.

     One might, for instance, start with the first word

     in Cocteau's memo to Satie, and somersault

     backwards to 1899 and Louis Ganne's successful

     operetta, Les Saltimbanques. The Circus Director,

     Malicorne, has brought his circus to a field near

     Versailles. In front of his box-office is an apron-

     stage, on which he presents his artistes to the

     public. The local Baron has his eye on Mme.

     Malicore and says he'll buy a season ticket. The

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     The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso 11

     general public is bored with the parade, and

     Malicorne tells his singer to ginger things up.

     Her chanson is a hit. Dispatched to collect cash

     from the crowd, she rejects a generous offer from

     an aristocratic young Lieutenant, and boxes the

     ears of the Baron, who has propositioned her.

     Malicorne is beside himself. His Strong Man,

     Grand Pingouin, takes the Singer under his wing,

     and together with the Clown and the Actress,

     they abscond. After alternative employment in

     Normandy - as street-singer, dog-clipper, chair-

     mender, and fortune-teller respectively - the four

     return to the circus, heavily disguised as the

     long-overdue Italian acrobat troupe, the

     Gigolettis. When the real Gigolettis arrive,

     things look bad for the impostors. The ensuing

     complications are resolved by the Comte des

     Etiquettes, who entertains the disappointed

     Gigolettis at his Chateau, and invites Malicorne

     to pitch his circus in the grounds. To his great

     surprise Malicome recognizes among the Count's

     guests a familiar face from distant times: that of

     Mme. B., his former trapeze-artist. To the

     assembled company he announces that his errant

     Singer, one of the false and recently un-masked

     Gigolettis, is the long-lost love-child of Mme. B.

     and the Count. Socially upgraded, the Singer is

     now free to marry the Lieutenant. The Count,

     overjoyed, buys the circus from Malicorne and

     gives it to the Clown, the Strong Man, and the


     Innocent fun, to be sure, and further removed

     from Picasso's sorrowful or threatening Saltim-

     banques of the early 1900s than from the Cirque

     Medrano to which Cocteau clearly refers at the start

     of his memo to Satie. In March 1915 Cocteau

     had been planning a production (by Gabriel

     Astruc) of his new version of A Midsummer

     Night's Dream. It was to have been staged at the

     Medrano, with real circus clowns (the Fratellinis),

     and a new score specially written for the circus

     orchestra. In charge of the musical arrangements

     was Edgar Varese, who had returned to Paris in

     1913 after several years in Berlin working with

     Max Reinhardt (among others). On patriotic

     grounds as on others, Cocteau's circus Dream

     ranged itself against Reinhardt's historic pre-war

     productions in Vienna and Berlin, and therefore

     against Mendelssohn's score. Satie was to provide

     a five-piece framework; and additional numbers

     were requested from Ravel, Stravinsky, and

     Florent Schmitt.

     The project came to nothing. The Cocteau

     translation has vanished, and the only remnants

     are the five little pieces Satie drafted in full score.

     The draft is dated 2 April 1915, but the final

     'Retraite' is incomplete. A year later Varese

     asked Satie to send him the score in New York

     as he wanted to include it in one of his concerts.

     Satie sent something else instead, and the pieces

     remained in manuscript, untouched, until his

     death. Subsequently completed and re-arranged

     (by Milhaud), they were published as Cinq

     Grimaces pour 'Le Songe d'une nuit d'ete'. Not

     grimaces at all, but a set of wooden pieces for toy-

     town soldiers and huntsmen, they are musically

     negligible, but critically important in relation to

     Cocteau's ideas for Parade only a year later.

     'There we may rehearse more obscenely and

     courageously', Bottom the Weaver had once

     declared, 'Take pains; be perfect; adieu'.

     Satie hadn't taken pains. On the contrary, he

     had been cast as Cocteau's Peter Quince, and

     seems almost deliberately to have botched what

     little carpentry was required of him. By 1916 he

     was not for hire on Cocteau's terms. Only in his

     dingy room in the suburb of Arceuil-Cachan -

     a room from which his 'artistic' friends were

     strictly excluded - could he read Les Illuminations

     with his own insight as well as Cocteau's, and

     declare, after Rimbaud, 'j'ai seul la clef.

     Other doors, other keys. Albright has many, and

     one of his doors is Artaud's. Cocteau's 'flimsy ante-

     theatre', he writes, 'advertises an unseen theatre of

     dismemberment, human sacrifice, and bestiality';

     but Cocteau, he continues, took Rimbaud's

     goodies and put them in the foreground, while

     suppressing his baddies (the Molochs, the bleeding

     faces, and so forth), which nevertheless 'bulge

     out from behind a curtain that is never opened'.

     'Never' is a matter of opinion. In the silence and

     solitude of his rooms, Satie could and surely did

     open the curtain. Up in colourful Montmartre,

     it's a different scene.

     The picture is clearer in the black and white

     of the piano-duet version, where Albright's

     fanciful suggestion that 'Parade is what Erwartung

     sounds like with its tongue torn out' can finally

     be abandoned. The piano describes the view from

     22 rue Cauchy. But up in the Montmartre

     fairground, a circus orchestra larger than the

     Medrano's has acquired - with help from Cocteau

     and perhaps Varese - a Modernist-Futurist

     array of percussion and scenic noise. Having

     liberally annotated the master-copy of Satie's

     score, Cocteau is able to watch the savage

     parade from a new vantage-point; and he knows

     exactly where it has come from. 'The noises of

     war were never far from the ears of Paris', writes

     Albright, 'and Parade's method of dealing with

     terror through cultivated apathy makes it one

     of the profoundest artistic responses to the

     Great War'.

     No stranger to terror, Satie found a better way

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     12 The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     of dealing with it than providing a 'cultivated'

     excuse for the defeatism, surrender, and collab-

     oration that would one day blight his homeland.t

     As if drawn on the empty pages at the end of

     the Goyaesque war pieces for two pianos which

     Debussy called En blanc et noir (1915), the key-

     board Parade is the plan and model for the

     orchestra's offensive-defensive emplacement.

     The verticals are rigid, the horizontals are

     mobile platforms.


    For Albright and his generously acknowledged

     predecessors, Parade recommends itself as a

     response 'to avant-garde art, from within avant-

     garde art'. Citing Jeffrey Weiss's 1994 study

     The Popular Culture of Moder Art: Picasso, Duchamp,

     and Avant Gardism, he notes that by 1917 Picasso

     was aware that the cubist painter had 'become a

     figure of fun on the popular stage', and concludes

     that he made Parade his excuse for joining the

     enemy and showing that he too could 'enjoy

     weightlessness and frivolity'.

     In today's fashionable context of a modernist

     critique of modernism by way of anti-elitist

     popularism, Parade is a vote-winner and Mercure is

     not. Whatever the claims for Picasso's 'calligraphy',

     they are spoiled by the subject and its suspect

     neo-classicism; and even if the Cocteau satire is

     recognized for what it is - a joke for insiders,

     and one that explains why Satie and Picasso went

     to such lengths in keeping their choice of subject

     a secret even from the Count de Beaumont - its

     point is now lost beyond recovery. Moreover,

     Satie himself dispenses with it in the final scene's

     'Nouvelle Danse', where an almost Faure-like

     chamber-music (and late Faure at that) pays

     sincere tribute to Bacchus's choreographer and

     Satie's message-bringer. Mercure is that notable

     rarity, a mixed-art collaboration from which one

     of the principals is absent throughout.

     In Untwisting the Serpent there's a jump-cut

     from Parade to Satie's last work, Relache - whose

     title is the conventional billboard notice indicating

     that the theatre in question is closed. Which

     theatre did Satie and Picabia have in mind?

     Cocteau's road show of 1917, once its Managers

     had been bankrupted or arrested? Etienne de

     Beaumont's, now that Mercure and other treasures

     had been sold to an unenthusiastic Diaghilev?

     Or just the theatre that will soon re-open as a

     cinema and eventually end up as a bingo-hall?

     Relache resisted closure by embracing the movies.

     Rene Clair's Entr'acte cinematographique is much

     longer than Act 1 of the ballet, and the same

     length as Act 2. Not only did it outlive the

     ballet itself; after its rediscovery in 1945, solemn

     analyses by French and Italian cineastes preceded

     a non-stop run in festivals, film schools, and

     university departments. Then came a big-screen

     re-mastering with analogue recording, and finally

     a digital epithalamium for endless replay.

     In the present electronic circumstances,

     Reldche remains the poor relation from a bygone

     age. Regrettably but not surprisingly, Untwisting

     the Serpent perpetuates the notion that the ballet

     score is cut from the same matrices as the film

     score' whereas in actual fact it is so direct a

     development from Mercure that it could almost

     be performed as its continuation. Relache is as

     different from Entr'acte as Mercure from Parade.

     Combining Picasso's former functions as

     designer with Cocteau's as scenarist, the painter

     Francis Picabia was an ideal partner for Satie in

     1924 (as Tate Modem can show). Reldche 'doesn't

     want to say anything', he declares in his fore-

     word to the piano reduction of the score,

     published a year after Satie's death. He goes on

     to recall that Satie had 'loved' Relache much as

     he had 'loved kirsch and gigot of lamb'. There

     is no mention of Entr'acte - ostensibly because it

     was published separately in Milhaud's piano-duet

     arrangement, but also, surely, because neither

     love nor kirsch, nor slices of lamb, belong in the

     machinery of a score that ignores the film

     images and montages even or especially at the

     two junctures where it pretends to follow them:

     the dancer whose pasjetes on plate-glass are filmed

     from below in slow motion, and the 'hilarious'

     funeral procession with the runaway hearse.

     Detached from the film and heard with full

     musical attention as a quite un-Schoenbergian

     'Accompaniment to an Imaginary Film Scene',

     Entr'acte reveals itself as Satie's most radical

     score - the one closest to a 'future without

     boredom' that's also without a musical culture

     worth hanging on to. Blocks of static harmony

     and vestigial melody are repeated, juxtaposed, and

     re-arranged according to a rhythmic and tonal

     programme whose purpose is to create an effect

     of randomness while raising the expectation of an

     unforeseeable denouement. The abrupt change

     of gearing at mid-point coincides with the start

     of the film's funeral procession, and of the

     music's expansion and extension in quite another

     direction. For the second time in his life, Satie is

     recalling Chopin's great funeral-march, but this

     time he is in earnest: there's an orchestra to

     prove it, and harmonized plainsong to re-affirm

     it. As if summoned from his own cathedrale

     engloutie, memories of the Angelus and the Messe

     des Pauvres - the quotidian and the spiritual - are

     thrust aside by the last repeat of the familiar

     ritomello, with a new continuation leading to its

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     The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso 13

     own annihilation: a harmonic/rhythmic black-

     out supposedly synchronized with Clair's parting

     shot and end-title.

     Only the inane logic of the final A major triad

     supports the pretence that such a music celebrates

     the resurrection of the top-hatted dancer and

     choreographer who has finally emerged from the

     helter-skelter coffin. The second act of Relache is

     due to begin. Yet Entr'acte is a 'last work' to end

     them all; and its proper place is after the D major

     curtain-music for Reldche, in which Satie returns

     to Act 1 and its threefold reminder, crescendo, of

     the motif for the Chinese Conjuror in Parade.

     The Reldche that 'doesn't wish to say anything'

     has actually been saying something quite simple

     about a complex question: fixed identity, binary

     opposition, and the familiar stereotypes of gender.

     The variation-techniques that distinguish Relache

     from Mercure are precisely those which in the

     later score quietly subvert the traditional mascu-

     line/feminine typologies of the Conservatoires.

     Figures identified in Picabia's scenario as L'Homme

     and La Femme are encouraged to exchange

     musical roles in which dressing, undressing, and

     cross-dressing are so effortlessly accomplished

     that a staging could be superfluous or worse. A

     climactic and wholly serious pas de deux in 5/4

     time is laconically identified as 'Dance of the


     In 1949, two years before his death, Constant

     Lambert included Mercure in an all-Satie pro-

     gramme he conducted for the BBC. Yet it was

     Reldche and its gender-poetics that related more

     closely to his own forthcoming project: the

     ballet Tiresias (1950-51).

     According to the version of the myth

     Lambert drew upon, Tiresias encounters two

     snakes as they are mating, strikes the female one

     and finds himself transformed into a woman.

     Seven years later she meets the same copulating

     snakes, strikes the male, and becomes a man again.

     Zeus and Hera call upon him to settle a dispute

     as to the relative pleasures of sex for woman and

     for man. By a factor of nine, Tiresias declares in

     favour of women. Hera, who had argued the

     contrary, strikes him blind; Zeus compensates

     him with the gift of prophecy.

     Lambert had composed nothing substantial

     since the Horoscope ballet of 1937, and was in poor

     health by the late 1940s. Tiresias was planned in

     1950 as a satirical piece lasting half an hour. It

     ended as a serious and confused one lasting more

     than twice as long - most of it orchestrated at

     the last moment by a team of faithful friends and

     colleagues, including Elisabeth Lutyens and Denis

     Aplvor. The premiere in July 1951 was poorly

     received, and Lambert died a few weeks later.

     The score of Tiresias remains in manuscript to

     this day, and with good reason: after a promising

     start - well matched by the original backdrop

     depicting a massive Cretan bull, before which the

     female athletes performed the gymnastics devised

     by Frederick Ashton - the score already begins

     to fall apart. Despite an assertively 'masculine'

     motto-theme that has its corresponding inversion,

     there is little integration and no sign of any lessons

     that might profitably have been learned from

     Reldche or indeed from the highly successful Opera-

     bouffe - a form Lambert appreciated - which had

     had its premiere in Paris less than three years

     before the inception of Tiresias.

     Poulenc had composed Les mamelles de Tiresias

     in 1944-45, the year of the Liberation. A land-

     mark piece without being intended as such, it

     now has a special place in the affections of its

     composer's countless admirers, and rightly so.

     Apollinaire had written his so-called 'drame

     surrealiste' of the same name in 1903, but it had

     remained unpublished until 1917, the year of

     Parade. A friend and vociferous supporter of Satie

     (his senior by 14 years), Apollinaire was chosen

     by Diaghilev to write an introductory note on

     Parade - there's a fine sketch by Larionov of

     them sitting together at a rehearsal. The note

     duly appeared in the Paris press a week before

     the premiere on 18 May 1917. A month later

     Apollinaire's Les mamelles de Tiresias was staged

     for the first time - without the incidental music

     by Satie he had originally been hoping for.

     Around that time, or soon after, Poulenc was

     introduced to the poet by Valentine Gross.'4

     The first of his posthumous collaborations with

     the poet was Le Bestiaire (au cortege d'Orphee).

     Not quite the last, but much the most ambitious,

     was Les Mamelles de Tiresias.

     For Albright's purposes in Untwisting the Serpent,

     the play and the music are a godsend worthy of

     Four Saints in Three Acts. (Bernanos and

     Dialogues des Carmelites don't rate a mention -

     but neither does the Cocteau of La voix

     humaine). Technically, his reading of the play

     lives up to his description of it as 'the ideal

     Saussurean drama'. In itself a bravura exercise, it

     fulfils a higher purpose on the musical level,

     where a form of double hearing and reflective

     memory acutely sympathetic to Poulenc's own,

     leads to the very heart of what makes Les

     mamelles de Tiresias so much more than the

     entertainment it undeniably is. 'Ma blessure'

     (my wound) groans the tree in Ravel's L'enfant

     et les sortileges; 'bois meurtri' (murdered woods)

     reply the a cappella chorus in Poulenc's setting

     of Eluard's wartime and war-damaged poems,

     Un soir de neige (1944). Beyond question, Poulenc

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     14 The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     was at some level recalling Ravel - though

     whether that constitutes a 'theft' is another

     question. In any event, the intertextual reference

     proves revelatory in relation to the passage

     following the Husband's expostulations about

     the male figure who has seemingly usurped the

     role of his wife. Tiresias concedes that although he

     is no longer a woman, he remains Th6erse. Here

     (as a music example unerringly demonstrates)

     the voices of Ravel's wounded tree and

     Poulenc-Eluard's murdered woods are an audible

     background, with implications deeper than even

     Albright suggests. Were Therese simply 'to insist

     on her injured dignity', Poulenc's gesture would

     be disproportionate; for dignity and its injuries

     have been the stuff of comic opera since its

     beginnings. In the blind but prophetic eye of

     the classical Tiresias, and surely in Poulenc's

     understanding, Th&erse's loss of her rights and

     satisfactions is a real injury, a deep wound.


    The British premiere of Les mamelles de Tiresias

     was given by the English Opera Group at the

     Aldeburgh Festival on 13 June 1958, in a pro-

     duction designed (like its EOG predecessors) for

     the tiny Jubilee Hall. The director and translator

     was John Cranko, who had recently been

     responsible for the scenario and choreo-graphy

     of Britten's full-length ballet The Prince of the

     Pagodas (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,

     January 1957). Poulenc's quite lavish orchestra-

     tion was replaced by an arrangement for two

     pianos, prepared for the occasion by Britten,

     who was also one of the pianists. Poulenc was to

     have partnered him, but had had to withdraw,

     and was unable to attend the Festival.

     Poulenc's and Britten's friendship dated back to

     their first musical collaboration in January 1945,

     when they appeared together on the platform of

     the Royal Albert Hall (London) as joint soloists

     in Poulenc's 2-piano concerto (1932) - the centre-

     piece in one of three concerts sponsored by de

     Gaulle's French National Committee. Three

     months later Britten and Pears visited Paris for

     the first time since the liberation, and gave three

     concerts under the auspices of the British

     Council. One of their programmes included the

     French premiere of Britten's Les Illuminations -

     the cycle he had begun in England in March

     1939, and completed in Amityville, Long Island,

     in October 1939.

     On 21 January 1954 Britten wrote to Poulenc

     inviting him to that year's Festival: 'I have heard

     so much about the wonderful lecture of [sic]

     'Les Six' that you give with exquisite illustra-

     tions on the piano [...]. If the Couraud Choir

     comes we hope [...] they will give a perfor-

     mance of a big work or works by you, in which

     case perhaps you would accompany them on the

     piano[...]'." The plan didn't materialize. 'Mon

     cher Francis', wrote Britten on 14 July 1954, at

     the end of the Festival, 'Je suis tres desole de lire

     que vous etes si malade'. In the same letter, he

     commends to Poulenc 'un grand ami de moi',

     John Cranko, and mentions the ballet project

     that would become The Prince of the Pagodas.

     Work on the ballet began early in 1955, very

     soon after Poulenc's 2-piano concerto - with its

     Balinese daydreams - had reunited Britten and

     Poulenc in a performance conducted by John

     Pritchard (at the Royal Festival Hall on 16


     It was not until 1956 that Poulenc was able

     to attend the Aldeburgh Festival, deliver his

     talk, and appear on the concert platform- as

     soloist in a performance, under Paul Sacher, of

     his 1929 Aubade for piano and 18 instruments.

     After the Festival, Britten wrote to express his

     appreciation on behalf of all concerned: 'Both

     your talk and the Aubade were a great pleasure

     and excitement for all concerned, and your

     presence was both a delight and an honour'. He

     went on to say that he had asked his publishers

     to send Poulenc a score of The Turn of the Screw.

     'Your words about this opera', he continues,

     have touched me deeply; praise from you is some-

     thing really to be treasured May I say also that I have

     had tremendous pleasure from the record of "Les

     Mamelles". Last night after a tremendous day of work,

     feeling very depressed and exhausted, I played it

     through, and it made me laugh aloud, and also

     touched me (a rare combination)."

     The idea of an English Opera Group production

     of Les mamelles de Tiresias germinated for nine

     months or so. In a tentative form it was then

     conveyed to Poulenc by a mutual friend, the

     cellist Maurice Gendron. On receiving a

     favourable report from Gendron, Britten wrote

     to Poulenc (2 July) explaining that there was no

     room for an orchestra in the Jubilee Hall, and

     adding 'I am sure you & I can make up for that

     with our 20 nimble fingers We could fix the

     piano arrangement ourselves, couldn't we?'7

     Poulenc replied on 1 August:

     YES, YES, YES, withjoy, for Les Mamelles, both of them.

     I want Peter for the husband (there is a tenor version).

     I shall try to make a brilliant transcription '"

     On 25 September Poulenc wrote to Britten

     saying that he had just finished the orchestration

     of La voix humaine, and was going to Venice to

     hear Stravinsky's Threni. The 'marvellous photos

     of Tiresias' had just arrived.

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     The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso 15

     The well-known photo of Pears as night-

     gowned Husband staring aghast at his trans-

     formed wife - Jennifer Vyvyan bearded like

     Baba the Turk - is a worthy companion to the

     one showing the befrocked and lorgnetted

     Husband, wearing a frilly apron and interviewed

     by his son, The Journalist, against a backdrop

     by Osbert Lancaster after the manner of Dufy.

     Understandably, perhaps, these photos have

     retained their place in the popular operatic

     imagination, while their immediate and wider

     contexts have tended to be overlooked. For

     Britten, the summer of 1958 was marked in the

     first place by the composition of the Sechs

     Holderlin-Fragmente and the Nocturne (finished in

     September); for the audience that came to the

     Jubilee Hall to see and hear Tiresias (that being

     the announced title) there had to be and there

     was a double bill. Unmentioned in Humphrey

     Carpenter's Benjamin Britten - A Biography,

     where the reader is informed that Peter Pears

     'was to take the part of a husband who has a sex

     change and gives birth to a multitude of babies','9

     is the fact that the second work in the pro-

     gramme was Monteverdi's not inconsiderable I

     Ballo delle ingrate.

     The ingrate of the title are identified by

     Rinuccini's courtly Italian as inflexible and stony-

     hearted in matters of love; in Carl OrfFs 1931

     version they are translated as die Sproden,

     which adds an appropriate hint of primness or

     prudishness. Whereas two world wars and their

     massacres are the implicit background of

     Poulenc's 'comic' opera and the 1917 version of

     Apollinaire's play - hence the cheerfully philo-

     progenitive message with which they both

     end - the marriage of Duke Francesco Gonzaga

     to Margarita of Savoy, and the subsequent

     festivities in the Mantuan court, were the only

     pretext for II Ballo and for the opera Arianna

     which preceded it. But when Pluto orders the

     ingrate to return to Hades - after the brief respite

     on earth which Venus, with the encouragement

     of Amor, has secured for them - one of their

     number begins a farewell to the world, its light

     and its serenity, 'Aer sereno e pura, Addio per

     sempre'. Closely akin in style and tone to the

     famous Lamento di Arianna, her solitary farewell

     becomes a madrigalian lament when the other

     ingrate take up the burden: 'Si ch'io vorrei morire'.

     It was surely to the composer of (for instance)

     'Linien des Lebens' in the Holderlin cycle and

     the Owen-setting (with its Lucretia-like cor anglais

     obbligato) in the Nocturne that Monteverdi's

     great valediction was thinkable by way of

     introducing a staging of Les mamelles de Tiresias.

     Though the audience at the Jubilee Hall may

     still have liked to hear, and been encouraged to

     see, Therese and her Husband through the eyes

     and ears of a middle-aged and thoroughly bour-

     geois Albert Herring repatriated to the land of

     Maupassant and undergoing some of the trials

     of marriage, Britten himself was by that time

     already on his way to A Midsummer Night's

     Dream and Curlew River. In the Poulenc-

     Monteverdi double bill, the levity of the opera

     belonged to a postwar past, the gravity of I Ballo

     to a still uncertain future.

     In music as in the other arts, the momentum

     of the time was inexorable. Britten's awareness

     of that is perhaps less evident in the public

     statement of War Requiem than in the relative

     seclusion of the Shakespeare opera and Curlew

     River. After three decades of intensive research

     by Britten scholars, his path to Noh theatre and

     Motomasa's Sumidagawa can no longer be mis-

     taken for a detour, still less a flight from the

     unexpected success of War Requiem. Irrespective

     of the courses and discourses of Modernism,

     Curlew River is inseparable from the arterial

     systems of his own work since the late 1930s -

     and from music-history in general since that

     work's Aldeburgh Festival premiere in June 1964.

     Britten's first and tenuous link with Noh-

     theatre came about through Ronald Duncan

     (1914-82). A dedicated pacifist, Duncan had

     visited Gandhi soon after his graduation. His

     collaboration with Britten, and his long if uneasy

     friendship with him, began in the autumn of

     1936, when he provided the text for Britten's

     Pacifist March - a 4-minute piece for chorus and

     orchestra, completed in January 1937 and pub-

     lished by Peace Pledge Union. From Ezra Pound,

     whom he had visited in Rapallo, Duncan

     obtained an introduction to Stravinsky, with a

     view to his participating - as composer and

     conductor- in an anti-war concert in London.

     In January 1938 he published the first issue of

     Townsman, a quarterly to which Pound - who

     had encouraged and supported him in this

     venture - contributed articles on music. In return,

     Duncan secured the loan of the Mercury Theatre

     in Notting Hill Gate for Pound to give a reading,

     in October 1938, of one of his Noh-play trans-

     lations, with help from a female dancer and a

     gong-player sought and found, at Duncan's

     request, by Britten. Despite a further personal

     connexion through Henry Boys (who had

     recommended the dancer), there is no evidence

     that Britten attended the Pound evening. More-

     over, his letter to Elizabeth Mayer of 6 August

     1944 - some six years later - refers to Pound as

     a very remarkable poet, whom I only started on the

     other day.20

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     16 The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     To Duncan on 13 September of the same year,

     he writes (from his Old Mill at Snape, Suffolk)

     that 'Since reading Pound's A.B.C.' - the ABC

     of Reading, published in 1934 -

     I've gone all Chaucerian [...] can't anything be done

     about helping Pound - he's obviously a great man, &

     we haven't so many that we can go around spilling

     their blood?

     Since the fall of Mussolini and especially since

     the Allied advance on Rome, Pound had been

     in increasing personal danger on account of his

     propaganda broadcasts to the USA. American

     troops finally caught up with him in Genoa in

     May 1945. After a period of incarceration near

     Pisa - where he wrote his Pisan Cantos - he was

     taken to the USA, stood trial for treason, and

     began his 12-year confinement in St Elizabeth's

     Hospital in Washington, D.C. Released in 1958,

     he was allowed to return to Italy. It was there

     that representatives of BBC's Third Programme

     re-established the lines of communication that had

     been severed in 1939. The BBC's production in

     1930 of Pound's self-styled 'opera' Le testament -

     billed as The Testament of Franfois Villon - had been

     one of the early triumphs of creative broadcast-

     ing in the UK. It was a classic example of the kind

     of achievement that had helped define the aims

     and cultural priorities of those responsible for

     establishing the BBC's Third Programme in 1946.

     A new production of Pound's Testament was

     commissioned by the Third Programme and

     broadcast on 28 June 1962. The producer was

     D.G. Bridson, one of the outstanding talents in

     radio drama and 'features', and already recog-

     nized as such in the late 1930s - though Britten

     had a poor impression of Bridson's King Arthur,

     for which he wrote music in 1937. 2 A new

     performing edition of Pound's score had been

     commissioned from the Canadian composer and

     editor Murray Schafer during his extended

     residence in England.2 It replaced the one made

     for Pound in December 1923 by his protege of

     the time, the then 23-year-old George Antheil.

     Le testament was not Villon's 'will', but Pound's;

     and in the Paris of December 1923, Antheil

     was a useful witness to it. Having successfully

     launched his European career in Germany, he

     had moved to Paris in June 1923, firmly set on

     making his name as composer and pianist in the

     city where Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Satie and

     Cocteau were the arbiters, and the first generation

     of Nadia Boulanger's American pupils had yet to

     emerge (with Copland as acknowledged leader

     but Virgil Thomson more closely identified

     with Left Bank moderism). As an artist-manager

     in the best American style, and Parade's style too,

     Pound had excelled himself with Antheil during

     the Paris saison of 1923-24 - sponsoring his Paris

     debut as composer-pianist, commissioning two

     violin sonatas for Olga Rudge (Pound's lifelong

     friend) to premiere at the same concert, and last

     but not least, simultaneously publishing, in a

     magisterially exclusive edition limited to 40 copies,

     a volume sonorously entitled Antheil and the Treatise

     on Harmony. Only one of its four sections is

     centred on Antheil.

     Like the actual Treatise - a significant if eccen-

     tric document best read in the context of the

     early writings of Henry Cowell - Le testament was

     Pound's means of positioning himself in relation

     to the Parisian musical avant garde. More

     importantly, it was a development by other means

     of his and Yeats's overwhelming discovery of

     Noh theatre in the year before World War 1. In

     the 'Parisian' Villon of the testaments (the 'small'

     and the 'great'), Pound had an ideal travelling

     companion for his further explorations of the

     poetry and music of the 15th-century troubadours.

     Cocteau got the giggles, Albright tells us, when

     Pound sang Le testament to him; but the little

     white-note song for 'l'me due bon feu, maistre

     Je(h)an Cotard' was an affectionate enough tribute

     in its day.2 It was quite another day to which

     the Third Programme's Testament belonged; and

     Antheil, who had died in Hollywood in

     February 1959, had not been taken 'seriously'

     since he entered the penumbra of Hollywood

     film studios, only to emerge with his symphonic

     glosses on the wartime Shostakovich (perhaps

     more interesting nowadays than his notorious

     Ballet Mecanique - despite the attendant Dudley

     Murphy/Femand Leger film, made with Pound's

     blessing and running still at Tate Modern).

     Even were it true that 'Pound actually intro-

     duced Britten to the Noh theatre in 1938'2 it

     would be misleading to say so without adding

     that the introduction had little or no point for

     Britten at that time, except in so far as Duncan

     was the intermediary. Duncan's affiliations were

     with Paris and its theatre (Cocteau's included),

     Britten's with the Group Theatre, via Auden and

     Isherwood. Their theatre had its roots in Weimar

     Germany and its contemporary affiliations with

     the emigre Left, and particularly the post-

     Expressionist Ernst Toller. Auden's Paul Bunyan

     was to turn its giant's back on most of that while

     Britten was composing it (November 1939 to

     April 1941); and when Britten resumed his col-

     laboration with Duncan in the early months of

     1946, the choice of Andre Obey's Le viol de

     Lucrece as the basis for their first and only oper-

     atic collaboration was in effect an affirmation of

     an essentially French form of anti-realist theatre -

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     The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso 17

     the form associated with the ideas of Jacques

     Copeau and the work of Michel Saint-Denis,

     whose tours with his Compagnie des Quinze

     had made a considerable impression in pre-war

     England, even before his 1936 London produc-

     tion of Obey's Noah (with John Gielgud in the

     title role).

     By comparison with that indisputable link, it

     is simply a matter of record that in 1948 Britten

     turned to John Gay's Beggar's Opera in 1948 with-

     out overt reference to Brecht's and Weill's Die

     Dreigroschenoper - an English version of which he

     had heard and been profoundly unimpressed by

     when Edward Clark conducted it in 1935 in

     one of his BBC contemporary music concerts.26

     As for Weill's 'school opera' DerJasager - based

     on Arthur Waley's free adaptation of the Noh

     play Taniko, via a strict German translation by

     Elisabeth Hauptmann and a few refinements by

     Brecht - it was virtually unknown in England

     until Jacques-Louis Monod conducted its pro-

     fessional premiere at a BBC Invitation Concert

     in December 1965. Curlew River was composed

     in the early weeks of 1964, and Sumigadawa had

     been in Britten's mind since William Plomer

     first discussed it with him in 1957.

     Usefully overriding chronology while doing

     so under a misapprehension regarding the Pound

     connexion, Untwisting the Serpent introduces

     Curlew River in the immediate context of the

     Pisan Cantos, and after considering The

     Threepenny Opera with reference to Brecht's

     'embezzlement' of Villon, concludes 'Figures of

     Consonance among the Arts' with an impressive

     account of DerJasager. Given that the actual and

     effective disputes between drama, sources, text,

     and music in Der Jasager are as extreme as any

     under consideration in the region of 'Dissonance',

     Curlew River might seem relatively harmonious.

     But not to Albright:

     ... Britten was a Christian; indeed, his work can be

     taken as a profound meditation on the theme of orig-

     inal sin. In 1950 Hans Keller described in print

     Britten's musical personality as a dialectic between

     sadism and repression of sadism; and Britten commended

     Keller's perspicacity [editorial italics] What is frighten-

     ing about Britten's many representations of abused

     children is the feeling that the composer sometimes

     seems as sympathetic to the child abuser as to the

     child: Britten's children are often knowing, brutal,

     beautiful, good to kiss, good to beat.2

     For a clear and balanced account of these topics,

     and a perspective that extends from Britten to

     the Noh-related music-theatre of Alexander

     Goehr, the reader is referred to W. Anthony

     Sheppard's Revealing Masks (University of

     California Press, 2001). Meanwhile, an imagi-

     nary dialogue between Keller and Britten has

     been concocted from a single well-accredited

     source which in this instance happens to be


     The source is Humphrey Carpenter's Benjamin

     Britten. In Carpenter, a substantial quotation from

     Keller's 1952 Britten essay on 'The Musical

     Character' ends with a full stop where Keller is

     still in mid-sentence. The silent omission of

     Keller's complementary clause seems to have

     two purposes - first in relation to Imogen Holst

     and her partially quoted diary entry of 4

     December 1952, secondly in relation to the

     statement that 'Ten years later Britten was asked

     by an interviewer what he thought of Keller's


     The 'interviewer' was none other than Murray

     Schafer, author and editor of British Composers in

     Interview, published in 1962, the same year as the

     Third Programme's broadcast of his performing

     edition of Pound's Testament. Though brief,

     Schafer's quotation from Keller is as scrupulous

     as Britten's response:

     SCHAFER: You are a pacifist. In an absorbing article on

     your music Hans Keller has written: 'What distinguish-

     es Britten's musical personality is the violent repressive

     counter-force against his sadism; by dint of character,

     musical history and environment, he has become a

     musical pacifist too.' How does Keller's observation

     strike you?

     BRITTEN: It is difficult, if not impossible, to comment

     objectively on what is written about oneself. But I

     admire Keller's intelligence and courage enormously,

     and certainly about others he is very perceptive 8'

     By interrupting Keller's sentence at its semicolon,

     Carpenter (p.317) allows 'sadism' to become the

     subject of his own continuation:

     Imogen Holst wrote of this in her diary that Britten

     'read out a terrible sentence about sado-masochism '.

     What Holst actually wrote in her diary was:

     Showed me the copy of the book about him, and then

     read out a terrible sentence about sado-masochism .

     The sentence can only be the one in the para-

     graph preceding the paragraph from which

     Schafer quotes. Referring to Schoenberg's concept

     of'a new sound symbolizing a new personality',

     Keller asks what this 'new personality might be',

     and continues:

     It does not show Bart6k's straightforward sadism. It

     does not show Stravinsky's equally uncomplicated

     sado-masochism.... [cf. Adorno, 1949]

     The 'new personality' for Keller- not supplanting

     but complementing Schoenberg and his 're-

     sexualization of music' - was of course Britten.

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     18 The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     But 'Britten is a pacifist', he continues, not

     because he himself was opposed to pacifism

     (though indeed he was), but because he is prepar-

     ing for the crucial phrase which Carpenter omits: dint of character, musical history, and environ-

     ment, he has become a musical pacifist too. This, I

     think, is the solution to the manifold solutions he has

     effected upon our war-worn and war-weary musical

     scene, to the paradox of his ruthless, yet beauty-con-

     scious search for the truth.

     In 'real' life, pacifism (as distinct from scientific

     research into, and consequent peaceful organization of,

     aggression) is an illusion. In art, and especially in our art,

     pacifism is realism par excellence, producing as it can the

     quickest possible communicability of new discoveries.

     The only guarantee, to be sure, that pacification will

     not degenerate into compromise is genius.29

     No wonder Britten was only able to commend

     'Keller's perspicacity' with regard to others:

     courtesy and modesty also had a place in his

     (musical) character. Sure enough, the nominal

     purpose of Untwisting the Serpent has become

     nugatory at exactly the point where Curlew River

     might profitably have encountered DerJasager-

     in certain superficial respects, by far the cruellest

     work of one who was, at the time, an ardent


     Early in October 1939 - approximately a month

     after the outbreak of war in Europe - Britten

     mentions, in a letter to Ralph Hawkes from his

     temporary haven in Amityville, New York, his

     plan for a work to be called Sinfonia da Requiem.

     On the 19th of that month he writes again to

     Hawkes saying he has completed his Rimbaud

     cycle Les Illuminations for high voice and strings,

     and that 'instructions as to how to sing it' would

     now be sent to the Swiss-born soprano Sophie

     Wyss, for whom it was written. That same day

     he sends a long and affectionate letter to Sophie

     Wyss, giving a song-by-song account of the

     cycle, with no 'instructions', but tactful sugges-

     tions where appropriate.30 The conclusion is


     BEING BEAUTEOUS. No one in the world could

     tell you how to sing this one.

     PARADE you will enjoy, because it is a picture of the

     underworld. It should be made to sound creepy, evil,

     dirty (apologies ), and really desperate. I think it is the

     most terrific poem and at the moment I feel the music

     has got something of the poem After this,

     DEPART should be sung quietly, very slowly, and as

     sweetly as only you know how. [...]

     The 'clue to the whole work', Britten suggests

     to Wyss, is 'to be found' in the last line of

     'Parade' - 'J'ai seul la clef de cette parade'. This

     line, he goes on to explain, occurs three times:

     first at the end of the opening 'Fanfare', then at

     the end of the interlude following 'Marine', and

     finally in 'Parade' itself. As he well knows, finding

     a clue is not synonymous with solving it. That he

     leaves that to his fellow musicians. The real ones.

     For instance Oliver Knussen. In 1995 Knussen

     contributed a characteristically elegant musical

     manuscript to the symposium On Britten and

     Mahler - published as a Festschrift for Britten's

     musical executor, Donald Mitchell, on the

     occasion of his 70th birthday." Knussen calls his

     deceptively simple but almost self-explanatory

     musical text 'The Key to the Parade'. Since

     Britten's 'clue' is in fact the rebus, the solution

     to the rebus is elsewhere, though close at hand:

     precisely in the 'Fanfare' that ends with the

     setting of Rimbaud's 'clef. Knussen's solution

     duly embraces every number in Les Illuminations,

     ending with 'Depart' and the setting of 'Assez

     vu/La vision s'est rencontree a tous les airs' -

     'airs' understood not only as expressions or aspects,

     but also in the musical sense.

     Rimbaud's 'Assez vu' becomes 'Assez eu' and

     finally 'Assez connu'. Britten's visionary com-

     prehension of 'tous les airs' is likewise - as

     Knussen's 'Key' implies - an extension from

     thematic-motivic demonstration and (pacific)

     remonstration to a 'purely' musical experience

     whose essence is a profound belief in the pos-

     sibility of reanimating functional tonality rather

     than merely disinterring the relics of its previous

     incarnation. That belief is inconsistent with

     modernist criteria of any sort, including those

     flexible enough to find a place for Poulenc. Aside

     from his present and understandable popularity,

     and irrespective of his close affiliations with fig-

     ures whose Moderist credentials are impecca-

     ble, Poulenc earns his keep in the grace-and-

     favour homes of modernism by virtue of his

     stubborn disregard for the kind of compositional

     resources and continuities that were fundamental

     to (say) Britten and the greatest of his musical

     friends, Shostakovich.

     Poulenc died in 1963. Curlew River was first

     performed at the 1964 Aldeburgh Festival, in

     Orford Church on 12 June. A month or so later

     Britten travelled to Aspen, Colorado, to receive

     the first Robert O. Anderson Award which had

     been established 'to honour the individual any-

     where in the world judged to have made the

     greatest contribution to the advancement of the

     humanities'. The Citation read: 'To Benjamin

     Britten, who, as a brilliant composer, performer

     and interpreter through music of human feelings,

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     The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso 19

     moods, and thoughts, has truly inspired man to

     understand, clarify, and appreciate more fully his

     own nature, purpose and destiny'.

     Britten's acceptance address has stood the test

     of time, a test implicit in his arresting thought

     that 'the richest and most productive eighteen

     months in our music history is the time when

     Beethoven had just died, when the other great

     nineteenth-century giants, Wagner, Verdi, and

     Brahms had not begun.' The period he had in

     mind was that of Schubert's Winterreise, the C

     major symphony, the last three piano sonatas, and

     the C major quintet. It is in that light that there

     is nothing finite about his final and undoubtedly

     sincere disclaimer - 'I do not write for posterity

     [...] I write music, now, in Aldeburgh, for people

     living there, and further afield, indeed for any-

     one who cares to play it or listen to it'.32 Yet his

     last thought was of the next and after-next

     generation of British composers.

     In 1965 the English Opera Group commis-

     sioned from the 30-year-old Harrison Birtwistle

     an opera for performance at a future Aldeburgh

     Festival. The result was Punch andJudy, 'a tragical

     comedy or a comical tragedy', to a libretto by

     Stephen Pruslin. 'This tale is told, the damage

     done', sings Choregos in the Epilogue, 'The hurly-

     burly's lost and won'. The battle lost and won

     by Punch andJudy at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh,

     in 1968 was not against Britten (though it was

     widely thought to be). It was against the world

     represented by Poulenc's gentrification of

     Apollinaire - funny and touching, certainly, but

     none the less a gentrification. Punch and Judy

     was a predictable yet unexpected eruption of the

     volcanic modernism whose origins went back to

     the Cirque Medrano of Varese and Cocteau in

     1915, to Parade in 1917 (though not to Mercure,

     of which Birtwistle was to make an arrangement

     in 1980), and especially to the farmyard vanities

     and violence of Renard.

     A theatre of dismemberment but a musically

     constructive one, Punch and Judy was sure to

     weather well, and it has. Like other notable

     achievements of its time - Maxwell Davies's

     Taverner for instance, or Goehr's masked theatre -

     it had the good luck to be born before the era

     that was to exploit and vulgarize the most

     comprehensive cultural and critical revolution

     since the dawn of Modernism. It was in a

     supposedly post-Modem world - the careful

     orthography is Albright's - that the Pretty-Poll

     songs and tic toc pendulum of Parade may have

     seemed to be making a lustier noise than The

     Triumph of Time or Worldes Blis. But no sooner

     had it become possible to imagine what Karl

     Miller has called 'a generally stoical response to

     the death of the avant-garde' than the sense that

     'there's an actually existing common culture [...]

     to which an actually surviving avant-garde

     belongs'33 began to assert itself. Whereupon

     Vulgar Postmodernism - a genuinely popular

     form and none the worse for that - struck back.

     Only to find that Adoro had been rehabilitated.

     Whether it was called Ballet Mecanique 75 years

     ago or as-you-like-it the other day, the oppor-

     tunistic twaddle of modem-minded persons is

     all of a piece, and mercifully buries itself until

     eager academics need to unearth it. The same

     goes for the trivia of much larger figures who

     can't be recognized as such lest they upset the

     value-free apple-cart (read Albright on Le boeuf

     sur le toit). It's all too easy to forget that even the

     finest critical and academic work is at best a

     side-show, not the show itself. Whether it's

     just a parade of vanities or whether it's about

     (for instance) matters of some musical or poetic

     import, it remains a parade. Inside the theatre

     there's a real show, still going on.

     David Sawer's opera From Morning to Midnight,

     and the production of it which Richard Jones

     has directed for the English National Opera,

     have scored a notable public and critical success.

     The opera is based on a Modernist 'classic' by

     Georg Kaiser that was precisely contemporary

     with Pierrot Lunaire and Picasso's cubist violins.

     Dramaturgy, composition, and direction skilfully

     incorporate techniques drawn from the silent

     film era. Relevant enough. But why this partic-

     ular Kaiser play rather than another and better

     one? Why Kaiser at all?

     From Morning to Midnight deserves a long run,

     and reflects credit on all concerned. Yet the neo-

     Modemism it dispassionately espouses is not so

     much a new phenomenon as a new development

     - a fifth terminal for popular postmoderism.

     Landings and departures will continue unabated

     out there. Meanwhile it takes an ever-young

     Elliott Carter to show where true learning,

     mastery and invention can lead. From him, an

     opera buffa called What Next? was sure to amount

     to more than a characteristically pithy and

     reasonable expostulation. In the event, it leaves

     Poulenc's Apollinaire standing - unharmed of

     course - by the wayside.

     Carter remains the outstanding representative

     in any of the living arts of an inclusive and

     eminently rational Modernism whose culture

     was at once classical and Franco-American. Punch

     and Judy had waged war with the alarming

     heritage of irrationalism; and now Gerald Barry's

     The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit (1995) restores

     the Reason of Handel's time in order furiously

     to denounce and obliterate it before finally

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     20 The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso

     making peace under the banners and blankets of

     Pleasure and Beauty. And where are the Acrobats

     of yesteryear if not on the high wire of Andrew

     Toovey's recent orchestral piece of that name,

     suspended as it is between the heritage of

     Feldman and the current work of the painter

     John Davies?

     Britten in one way, and his quizzical friend

     and colleague Michael Tippett in another, lent

     their support to younger composers as generously

     as they themselves had once been supported. It's

     a tradition that needs to be fought for, daily,

     fiercely, always and everywhere. 'In recent times

     the bestiality of the music industry has extolled

     the performer over the composer'. That was

     Pound. In Meridiano di Roma. In 1941.34


     The author expresses grateful thanks to the following:

     Andrew Kurowski and Stephen Plaistow for assistance

     with data regarding BBC Third Programme broad-

     casts; DrJenny Doctor, Director of the Britten-Pears

     Library; Rosamund Strode, formally Benjamin

     Britten's assistant; and the Editor of Tempo, for kindly

     making available relevant passages from his forthcom-

     ing book on Varese (London: Kahn & Averill).

     The quotations from the diaries and letters of

     Benjamin Britten are ? copyright the Trustees of the

     Britten-Pears Foundation and may not be further

     reproduced without the written permission of the



     Albright, Daniel. Untwisting the Serpent,

     Chicago/London, 2000

     Britten, Benjamin. On Receiving the First Aspen

     Award, London 1964

     Britten, Benjamin. Lettersfrom a Life - Selected Letters

     and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, Volume One 1923-39,

     Volume Two 1939-45; ed. Donald Mitchell and Philip

     Reed, London 1991, revised paperback edition 1998

     Britten, Benjamin. A Catalogue of the Published Works,

     compiled and edited by Paul Banks, Aldeburgh 1999

     Britten and the French Connection, programme book of

     the Aldeburgh October Britten Festival, 20-23 October


     Carpenter, Humphrey. Benjamin Britten, A Biography,

     London 1992

     Cooke, Mervyn. Britten and the Far East - Asian influences

     in the music of Benjamin Britten, Woodbridge, Suffolk


     Gillmor, Alan M. Erik Satie, London 1988

     Hell, Henri. Francis Poulenc, London 1959

     Mitchell, Donald and Keller, Hans (ed.). Benjamin

     Britten: a Commentary on his works from a group of special-

     ists, London 1952

     Orledge, Robert. Satie, the Composer, Cambridge 1990

     Oulette, Fernand. Edgard Varese, London 1968

     Rothschild, Deborah Menaker. Picasso's "Parade", From

     street to stage, New York/London 1991

     Satie, Erik. The Writings ofErik Satie, edited and trans.

     Nigel Wilkins, London 1980

     Satie, Erik. Correspondance presque complete, reuni et

     presentee par Omella Volta, Paris 2000

     Schafer, Murray. British Composers in Interview, London


     Schafer, Murray. Ezra Pound and Music - the Complete

     Criticism, edited with commentary, London 1978

     Sheppard, W Anthony. Revealing Masks - Exotic Influences

     and Ritualized Performance in Modernist Music Theater,

     California 2001

     Varese, Louise. Prose Poemsfrom the Illuminations, New

     York 1946

     Volta, Ornella. Satie, Seen Through His Letters, trans.

     Michael Bullock, London 1989

     Whiting, Steven Moore. Satie the Bohemian - From

     Cabaret to Concert Hall, Oxford 1999


     'Volta, pp. 165-166; 'Compared with Petrushka...' p. 143

     2Wilkins, p. 84

     Volta, pp.186-187

     See Whiting pp.522-523, and Orledge, p.39 and p.339,

     note 2, for accounts of Mercure in terms of the erotic tableaux

     vivants of music-hall revues, with particular reference to the

     description of Massine's ballet as 'poses plastiques' and to the

     fact that his Three Graces were danced by men in drag.

     5 Gertrude Stein, Picasso, London: 1946, p. 37-38.

     Wilkins, p.72; below, '1916 etc', p.74

     ' Andre Gide, Journal 1913-22, Rio de Janiero 1943, p.375.

     Gide begins: Avant mon depart, ete voir Parade - dans on ne

     sait ce que'il faut admirer le plus: pretention ou pauvrete.

     8Volta, p.120

     Volta, p.121; song-text correlated with version inserted by

     Cocteau himself in the ms copy of Satie's full score - see

     Rothschild, p.89, for original text.

     '?'ils melent les tours populaires materels'. Albright (p.199) has

     'they all mingle their popular, maternal circus-acts' which adds

     a twist to 'tour' in the sense of turn or rotation; 'tricks' is the

     generally accepted rendenrng of'tours' - see e.g. Varese, who

     justifiably translates 'parade' as 'side-show' both in the title and

     the key line (p.97).

     Rothschild, pp. 83, 85

     2 Albright, p.214

     t See Satie's remarkable letters to Dukas in Correspondance,

     pp.211-223; eg. those of 18 August 1915 ('Pour moi cette

     guerre est une sorte de fin du Monde plus b&te que la veritable')

     and 5 October 1915 ('Les "braves militaires" sont 6tonnants').

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  • 8/18/2019 savage parade.pdf


     The Savage Parade -from Satie, Cocteau, and Picasso 21

     3 Albright, p.225

     4 Hell p.10

     5 Britten and the French Connection, p.9

      , ibid, p.12

     7 ibid, p.12

     ibid, p.13

     '9 Carpenter, p.384

     3C Britten, Lettersfrom a Life, Vol 2, 1998 edition, p.1217

     ibid, p.1222

     22 Britten, Lettersfrom a Life, Vol 1, 1998 edition, p.486.

     2See Shafer, Ezra Pound and Music, p.465. Shafer visited

     Pound in the summer of 1960, having already elicited the

     interest of the Third Programme. Pound was then staying in

     the castle near Merano (Italian Tirol) owned by his daughter

     and her husband. According to Shafer (pp.243-245), Antheil

     had 'assisted the poet in the notation and orchestration of Le

     Testament, substituting for the "two tins and wash-board" an

     idiosyncratic little orchestra of brass, winds, a couple of strings,

     and mandolin'.

     24 See Shafer, Ezra Pound and Music, p.244, for evidence that

     the 'lecture' of Villon (as Cocteau calls it) took place in

     September 1922. Cocteau's message to the poet-musician is

     extremely cordial.

     25 Albright, p.88

     Bntten's diary entry