Erik Satie

La diva de l'Empire, song for voice & piano

    Description by Meredith Gailey

    Aside from influencing the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie also played a lead role in the Parisian avant-garde movement and left his mark directly on the musical world by initiating the "cult of the music hall," with works like La Diva de l'Empire (The Star of the Empire) (c. 1900). Known as the "cafe-concert" songs, this work and its accompanying two others, Tendrement and Je te veux, became his most popular pieces for voice. The works were written while Satie was attempting to avoid living in poverty by supporting himself as a pianist in a Montmartre cabaret. The songs were written for Paulette Darty, "Queen of the Slow Waltz." They marked a shift in his career away from the Rosicrucian idealism and his more serious works and toward a period of humor and mischief.

    La Diva de l'Empire was originally written for voice and piano, but it was the transcription for solo piano by Hans Ourdine that made the work famous. La Diva was not a "waltz chantee," Darty's typical repertoire, but a cakewalk song, with a strutting rhythm. Using a moderate march tempo, the music depicts a diva of Napoleon's time; however, Satie later gave it the humorous subtitle, "American intermezzo." Making their way through the work's several interpretive problems, the pianist is required to maintain a strict rhythm, while the vocalist sings with her distinctive "rubato de diva." Slightly imitative of the imperial era of Offenbach's music, this brisk, cheerful song, which is touched by cynicism and filled with Anglicisms, is best summed up by one of its lines -- "C'est à la fois très très innocent et très très excitant" (It is at once very, very innocent and very, very exciting).

    Although La Diva de l'Empire was probably quite popular in its original form in the cabaret clubs, Satie chose to later create a version for beer-hall orchestra. In retrospect, the work may appear a bit dated; however, considering the fact that it was completed nearly 15 years prior to the time when serious composers began experimenting with jazz techniques, its originality is quite remarkable. In 1903, shortly after these "cafe-concert" pieces were written, Satie, nearly 40 years old, decided to work over his technique by modestly registering as a student at the Schola Cantorum, where he studied with Vincent d'Indy and Albert Roussel. After receiving his diploma, which gave him the "authority" to compose, he continued on the path he had initiated with La Diva de l'Empire, creating works which were slightly comic in nature, while furthering his reputation as a unique, yet bizarre man.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Sony Classical 88875177492
    2016 MDG MDG 6131926
    2016 Zefir Records ZEF 9645
    2016 Symphonia ERM 1036
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95350BR
    2015 Erato / Warner Classics 0825646047963
    2014 Fleur de Son / Fleur de Son Classics FDS 58022
    2014 Solo Musica SM 208
    2014 Harmonia Mundi HMX 290871015
    2014 Unseen Worlds UW 12CD
    2013 Praga PRD 250299
    2012 Warner Classics
    2011 Parlophone
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990723
    2011 EMI Classics
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968582
    2010 Jaro / Zebralution
    2009 Decca
    2009 Harmonia Mundi 902017
    2009 Harmonia Mundi HMC902017/18
    2007 Marquis Records 812172
    2005 Cedille Records 90000070
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 86320
    2003 Ensayo 9702
    2003 Decca 000023002
    2003 Philips 000121702
    2002 Eroica Distribution 3102
    2002 Decca 470290
    2001 Kleos Classics 5108
    2000 Forlane 16760
    2000 Naxos 8 556688
    1999 Unicorn-Kanchana 9055
    1999 Calliope 9884
    1999 Aura Records 146
    1998 Sony Music Distribution 60577
    1998 Gasparo Gallante 1004
    1997 Decca 455 370-2DH
    1996 Walsingham 8022
    1995 Naxos 8 550699
    1993 Denon Records 1289
    Classic CD 81
    Asv 643
    Arsis 99031
    Erato 85827
    Pearl 9590
    Philips 412216
    King 135
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 9836
    Vox 5107
    Gallo 831