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Work

Erik Satie

Erik Satie Composer

Mercure (ballet)   

Performances: 3
Tracks: 19
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Musicology:
  • Mercure (ballet)
    Year: 1924
    Genre: Ballet
    Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
    • Act 1
      • 1.Marche Ouverture
      • 2.La Nuit
      • 3.Danse de tendresse
      • 4.Signes du Zodiaque
      • 5.Entree de Mercure
    • Act 2
      • 6.Danses des Graces
      • 7.Bain des Graces
      • 8.Fuite de Mercure
      • 9.Colere de Cerbere
    • Act 3
      • 10.Polka des Lettres
      • 11.Nouvelle Danse
      • 12.Le Chaos
      • 13.Rapt de Proserpine
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.



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