Bohemian Paris Lates: Music at the Cabarets Artistiques

Dr Charlotte de Mille, Freelance Music Curator at The Courtauld Institute of Art

In tribute to our Bohemian Paris Lates (Thursday 3 July and 14 August, 6-9pm) I have put together a Spotify playlist inspired by music from the era.

‘Do not forget what we owe to the Music-Hall, to the Circus’. 

So Erik Satie admonished the younger generation of composers. Nonetheless, Satie’s own creative output was mainly at the smaller, more intimate ‘cabaret artistique’.

The larger music hall and café-concert venues mixed circus entertainment with a public dance floor, whilst the esoteric design of the cabaret artistique offered a mixture of poetry, chansons, operettas and shadow theatres. 

Cabaret Artistique: The Chat Noir

Cabaret Artistique: The Chat Noir

For this playlist, I’ve concentrated on music written for and played at the cabaret artistiques, the Chat Noir, and the Auberge du Clou.

First introduced to the charismatic owner of the Chat Noir Rudolphe Salis in 1887 as ‘Erik Satie, gymnopédist!’, it was at the Chat Noir that the Gymnopédies, Gnossienes, and Ogives probably had their first hearing.

The three series of pieces for solo piano were advertised in Le Chat Noir journal in 1888, ‘conceived in the mystical-liturgical genre’ by the ‘sphinx-man.’

In contrast to the lavish spectacles of the Moulin Rouge or Folies-Bergère, the Chat Noir’s theatricality was orchestrated through medieval décor, and Satie’s Chanson Medieval is one musical example of this.

But Satie’s pieces for solo piano were often interspersed with movements from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli. I’ve therefore followed suit in the playlist (watch out!) . Debussy’s Proses lyriques (1893) were dedicated to Vital Hocquet, humorist famous for introducing Erik Satie to Rudolphe Salis at the Chat Noir cabaret in 1887.

Whilst in this context the medievalizing content of “De Rêve” possibly owes a debt to the décor of the Chat Noir, dream, loss, and the passing of time are recurrent themes across all four songs.

Writing for Hyspa and the singer Paulette Darty, Satie produced a number of songs specifically for the Chat Noir. Of the twenty-eight manuscripts, Je te veux (1897 or 1901), Tendrement (1902), La Diva de l’Empire (1904) are perhaps the most well known.

Where Tendrement has been described as a ‘sung waltz’, perhaps written under the influence of Darty’s usual Viennese composer, Rodolphe Berger, La Diva de l’Empire is a classic cakewalk with the syncopated rhythm of rag-time America, introduced to Paris through Sousa marches.

Debussy occasionally played the piano at the cabaret Auberge du Clou, where Satie encouraged him to make use of a cabaret style: the result a song, La Belle au bois dormant (July 1890), to a text by Vincent Hyspa.

At the Chat Noir, the shadow-theatre regularly demanded up to twenty-three instrumentalists and fourteen singers.

In contrast to these extravagant orchestrations, cabarets at both the Chat Noir and Auberge du Clou also provided a nursery for poète-chansonniers (singer-songwriters) such as Yvette Guilbert who would later grace the stage in vaudeville tours de chant of some larger café-concerts such as the Casino de Paris.

Bohemian Paris Lates, Thursday 3 July and 14 August 2014, 6-9pm

Read more about Music in Montmartre  [PDF]