Soiree du Coeur a Barbe: Festival Paris Dada

Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen

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Soiree du Coeur a Barbe: Festival Paris Dada Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

Dada was an international art revolution, the boundaries of which stretched from New York to Iasi, with several Dadaist figures functioning in multiple congresses. Such cross-pollination of talent and widespread cooperation among artists in varying disciplines had never been seen before in the world of art. Although often cited as a short-lived phenomenon, Dada had a good run; if one pegs its beginnings from the early collaborations in 1911 between wet-behind-the-ears youngsters Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco, then Dada lasted for 12 years. Though the long shadow of Dadaism stretches into the arts of the twenty-first century, the original movement came to a great, crashing halt during the mob scene that attended the Dadaist Soirée du Coeur à Barbe (Evening of the Bearded Heart), held at the Théâtre Michel in Paris on July 6, 1923.

The Paris branch of Dada ultimately proved the most productive in terms of music, and LTM's Festival Dada Paris: Soirée du Coeur à Barbe attempts to pull together a representative sequence of pieces heard at specific Dadaist events held in the city of light between 1920 and 1923. Pianist Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen pulls together a highly interesting program that includes works by well-known composers who were associated with Dada -- Satie and Stravinsky being obvious inclusions -- in addition to experimental musical works written by Dadaist painters. These are fascinating as they foreshadow -- probably unintentionally -- compositional techniques that would become part of the avant-garde musical landscape of a much later era.

Marcel Duchamp's Musical Erratum (1912-1913) are reasonably well-known and have been recorded at various times; more expanded realizations of these pieces are found on LTM's disc devoted to Duchamp than the short encapsulation Beijersbergen van Henegouwen includes here. However, one might be surprised to find the name of Francis Picabia among the listing on Festival Dada Paris: Soirée du Coeur à Barbe; Picabia's La nourrice Americaine (1920) consists of three rising notes only "repeated to infinity." This strategy is very close to Philip Corner's C major Chord (1965), a Fluxus piece that was one of the building blocks of minimalism. Although Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes is best known as a graphic artist and contributor to the periodical 391; he, too, experimented in composing music, using a roulette wheel and other devices to string together pitches by chance. Most of Ribemont-Dessaignes' music has been lost, and Beijersbergen van Henegouwen plays here what remains; it is both strangely musical and practical, suggesting that Ribemont-Dessaignes had some proficiency in music before he became an artist, a question that warrants further investigation. Another surprise is Georges Auric's very early and uncharacteristically biting Adieu New York (1923), Darius Milhaud's notorious "shimmy" and first jazz-inspired work Le Caramel Mou (1923), music of totally unknown composer E.L.T. Mesens, and a number of other treasures, including Marcelle Meyer's 1925 recording of Stravinsky's Rag-Time.

The Soirée du Coeur à Barbe was disrupted by members of the fledgling Surrealist group, some of whom had jumped ship from the Paris Dadaists; police were called, people were ejected, fights broke out, and it was a disaster. To say that Dada succeeded in passing the torch in a musical sense, apart from Satie's involvement and works in that vein, would not be quite right; most of these things we are only hearing now with releases such as this one. However, good ideas never die, and the Dadaists' notions of rejecting perceived norms of art and embracing the un-artistic -- Readymades, collages, process-oriented pieces, and downright ludicrous ridiculousness -- were all good ideas, especially following the collapse of old Europe in the First World War. It is no surprise that the Dadaists should stumble, however blindly, into the music of the future, and we can be grateful to LTM and Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen for finally making this historically important work available at last.

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