Erik Satie

Mercure, ballet in 3 scenes

    Description by Alexander Carpenter

    Mercure is a ballet in three tableaux, with a text by Pablo Picasso. It was first performed at the theatre de la Cigale in June of 1924, along with Darius Milhaud's ballet Salade. Satie and Picasso collaborated with the Russian-born dancer Léonide Massine on Mercure; the end result was a falling out between Massine and Satie, who felt rushed and undermined by Massine during the production of the ballet. Satie's play Le Piege de Medusa (Medusa's Trap), of more than a decade earlier, is said to be one of the first Surrealist dramas, and Mercure likewise pointed the way to what was coming next: it is an early Cubist creation, as can most obviously be seen in the abstract collages of tableau three.

    The ballet was commissioned for one of Comte Étienne de Beaumont's Soirées de Paris, in Robert Orledge's words, "a series of chic, but ill-organized spectacles." The work as originally conceived by Picasso was a mere eight minutes long, but after Satie began composing the music, the result was a fifteen-minute-long ballet. There is little musical repetition in this work, for Satie sought to make the music fit Picasso's series of changing "poses plastiques." Some of the music in the ballet is borrowed from Satie's early years at the Scuola Cantorum, in particular from a "Fugue-Valse" from 1906. As Orledges notes, this self-borrowing shows that Satie was indeed pressed for time by Massine.

    Just before the premiere of Mercure, Satie noted that "[t]hough it has a subject, this ballet has no plot. It is a purely decorative spectacle." While Mercure represented a collaboration between composer and visual artist, the work was first and foremost a visual production, a spectacle, as Satie indicated. Satie's contribution consisted of music to fit Picasso's images and the movements of the dancers. The composer was drawn to this collaboration for several reasons, the most important being the abstract nature of the piece, with its posed figures and plotless structure. There is also the importance of calligraphy: the ballet scenery consisted largely of calligraphy superimposed upon cutout images, and Satie, as is well known, loved calligraphy.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Marche Ouverture
    2. La Nuit
    3. Danse de tendresse
    4. Signes du Zodiaque
    5. Entrée de Mercure
    6. Danses des Grâces
    7. Bain des Grâces
    8. Fuite de Mercure
    9. Colère de Cerbère
    10. Polka des Lettres
    11. Nouvelle Danse
    12. Le Chaos
    13. Rapt de Proserpine

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95350BR
    2016 Erato 555263
    2015 Erato / Warner Classics 0825646047963
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967815326
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990723
    2011 EMI Classics
    2009 Naïve V5162
    2008 EMI Classics 5863982
    2007 LTM 2406
    2005 Artemis Classics 1612
    2004 Hyperion 55176
    1999 Naxos 8 554279
    1996 London 443897
    1993 Vanguard 4030
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 62878
    1989 Hyperion 66365