Erik Satie

Relâche (No Performance Today), ballet for orchestra (also piano version)

    Description by Alexander Carpenter

    Erik Satie is often attributed with anticipating many, if not most of the major movements in French art in during the early decades of the twentieth century, including Cubism, Surrealism, and Dadaism. Relache, a ballet, is thought by some musicologists, Satie scholar Alan Gillmor among them, to be an early Dadaist work, predating Dadaism by a good ten years. The work was conceived and created in collaboration with the poet and painter Francis Picabia, and theatre and ballet impresario Rolf de Mare. Picabia and Satie were well-met as collaborators; both were unconventional and iconoclastic, with a flair for the irreverent and a taste for controversy. The ballet was intended to rail against convention, and to provoke. The title alone, a term which may mean "No Performance," or "Theatre Closed," already hinted at the ballet's connections with Dadaism, and its nontraditional (anti-traditional) nature.

    Relache was Satie's last work. It is a ballet in two acts, with a film, Entr'acte, intended to be shown after the overture and then again between acts. Satie also provided the music for Entr'acte. Shot by film critic Rene Clair, the experimental film is full of humorous, surrealistic images, and outrageous scenes. Filmed in Paris, Entr'acte includes scenes in which a ballerina with a beard and moustache dances, a hunter shoots a large egg with a shotgun, only to be shot in turn by Picabia, and a mock funeral procession with a camel-drawn hearse causes havoc in the streets. The music for the film, which Robert Orledge describes as "revolutionary," consists of yet another example of Satie's forward-looking style. The score for Entr'acte includes ad lib. repetitions of discrete, "self-contained segments," perhaps an early manifestation of indeterminant music. It is also an excellent early example of film music, as the different segments of the music reflect and support, as Gillmor notes, "the rhythm of the action," serving as "a kind of neutral rhythmic counterpoint to the visual action." The film score consists largely of juxtaposed units of ostinati, and is scored for small orchestra.

    Satie referred to Relache, as a pornographic or obscene ballet, and indeed, some of the staging, which included large silver breasts with light bulb nipples along with a coterie of half-naked dancers, certainly supports this designation. The work is essentially plotless, with a central female character dancing with changing numbers of male characters--including a paraplegic in a wheelchair--all of whom wander in and out of the audience while images are projected onto a screen, balloons are released, and clothes are removed. Throughout the ballet, a man dressed as a fireman wanders about on the stage, passing water from on bucket to another. Musically, the ballet proved shocking to audiences and critics, perhaps even more so than the provocative staging and choreography, but, this kind of music was nothing new to Satie. Most of the music for Relache was adapted from popular, generally bawdy tunes, including a number of very raunchy army songs. While the ballet seems by all accounts to have been a nonsensical, fragmented spectacle, the music is much more unified and symmetrical, using reoccurring motives which are overlapped, transformed, and recontextualixed to connect the twenty-two numbers of the work. As expected, the work provoked scandal, and was only performed about a dozen times. It was despised by critics, who attacked the stupidity of the staging, and the paucity of the score.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Ouverture
    2. Projection - Rideau
    3. Entrée de la Femme
    4. Musique entre l'entrée de la Femme et sa 'Danse sans musique'
    5. Entrée de l'Homme
    6. Danse de la Porte tournante (Dance of the Revolving Door)
    7. Entrée des Hommes
    8. Danse des Hommes
    9. Danse de la Femme
    10. Final
    11. Musique de Rentrée
    12. Rentrée des Hommes
    13. Rentrée de la Femme
    14. Les Hommes se dévêtissent
    15. Danse de l'Homme et de la Femme
    16. Les Hommes regagnent leur place et retrouvent leurs paressus
    17. Danse de la Brouette (Dance of the Wheelbarrow)
    18. Danse de la Couronne (Dance of the Coronet)
    19. Le Danseur depose la Couronne sur la tête d'une spectatrice
    20. La Femme rejoit son fauteuil
    21. Petite Danse Finale; La Queue du Chien (The Dog's Tail)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Sony Classical 88875177492
    2015 Erato / Warner Classics 0825646047963
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967815326
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990723
    2010 EMI Classics / EMI Classics / Warner Classics 50999906820
    2007 LTM 2474
    2007 Apex
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 41444
    2005 Artemis Classics 1612
    2004 Hyperion 55176
    1999 Naxos 8 554279
    1993 Disques Pierre Verany 792091
    1993 Vanguard 4030
    1989 Hyperion 66365
    FNAC Music 592292