About This Work
Smarting from his failure to interest Stravinsky in a scenario strutting King David through a fairground setting -- a parade of tableaux -- Jean Cocteau, on furlough from driving ambulance at the front, heard Satie's Trois Morceaux en forme de poire
performed by Ricardo Viñes at a Paris concert on April 18, 1916, and immediately recognized them as the ideal music for his project. Satie had other ideas -- "Let's do something new, right? No joke." A tortured collaboration began, picking up Picasso in the summer for set, costumes, and (for Cocteau) an unwelcome hand in the scenario, and the interest of Diaghilev, who stimulated Satie's desultory inspiration with cash advances. In a piano duet version, the music was completed January 9, 1917, while the orchestration occupied Satie until May 8 -- ten days before the premiere. Playing under 15 minutes, Parade may be Satie's richest score -- it is certainly his most finely wrought. Palindromic in form, beginning and end essay an eerie fugato complementing Picasso's red curtain, and depict a curtain drawn to reveal performers at leisure. Before the conclusion of the curtain music, the entrance and collapse of the Cubistically costumed Managers are heralded by an obstreperous cakewalk raising the curtain not only on the show, but on one of the great aesthetic preoccupations of the early twentieth century, namely, the interplay of antitheses called forth by art -- interior and exterior, fantasy and reality, or (in Goethe's phrase) poetry and truth. The show proper begins with a Chinese conjuror, balanced, after the centerpiece, by Acrobats. The central, compactly elaborate act is the Little American Girl enacting (choreography by Massine) tropes from American films -- typing, six-gun blazing, a Chaplin-esque shuffle, and so on. Irving Berlin's 1911 ragtime knock-off, That Mysterious Rag, is deliciously parodied, while Parade is suffused throughout with popular and music hall gestures alternating eldritch evocations with brisk vivacity. Satie is often credited with Parade's extra-musical effects -- sirens, foghorn, typewriter -- though they were, in fact, included at Cocteau's insistence. As Satie wrote to Diaghilev, "I don't much like the 'noises' made by Jean, but there is nothing we can do here. We have before us an amiable maniac." The ballet's premiere on May 18, 1917, provoked hostilities.
-- Adrian Corleonis
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