To whom it may concern:
My name is Count Étienne de Beaumont, and I am inquiring about adding a premiere work to my renewal season of “Soirée de Paris”. I produced Les Soirées last year, an extremely prestigious audience was brought to your theatre, and the avant-garde mingled with the wealthy in their work. As you know, Les Soirées de Paris were at the forefront of artistic life in May and June of 1924. This new work, entitled Café, is a tableaux ballet with a small orchestra of only twenty to fit the size of the pit at La Cigale.1 Think of the prestige of the audience, and what that would say about La Cigale! The attendees of the Soirée last year including French aristocracy, the King and Queen of Romania, and many other noble people of Europe.2
I commissioned many avant-garde artists for the original season, some of which I met at one of my post-war masked balls centered around themes of fashionable amusement.3 These artists include: Milhaud, Braque, and Massine, who premiered Salade; Sauget, Marie Laurencin, and Massine, who premiered Les Roses; Derain and Massine, who premiered Gigue; Tristan Tzara and Loïe Fuller, who premiered Mouchoir de nuage; Cocteau, who premiered his tableaux Romeo et Juliette; and last but definitely not least Erik Satie, who premiered his Mercure4. All these young artists, brimming with avant-garde sensibilities deserve a place to work alongside aristocrats. Last year I commissioned nine new works in six weeks! There were so many new performances that one could come every weekend, spend anywhere between ten and three-hundred francs, and see a new show every time. Let’s see Diaghilev top that artistic sensationalism!5
Café will bring avant-garde artists together with aristocrats once again in Montmartre. Montmartre provides a perfect get-away for my Parisian friends. The café-concert halls were wildly popular in the past decade. These events “‘aestheticized’ the discourse of political resistance, by confining it safely to the rituals of modernist middle-brow entertainment”6, what better a place than a dance-hall-turned-music-hall in Montmartre7 to host another event to bring together the higher class to see what the avant-garde scene has to show them?
What better a place to make yet another premier happen than in Montmartre than La Cigale. As a wealthy French aristocrat, I brought together many different artists using my affluent influence at the Soirée. My goal with the project last year was to produce theater in the same scope as Sergei Diaghilev. Given the success of the Soirée, I can bring Café into the world of ballet with some of the dancers of the Ballets Russes that attend my Paris-famous parties.8 I look forward to collaborating with you on the details of our future production soon!
Thank you for your consideration,
Comte Étienne de Beaumont
Dear Comte Étienne de Beaumont,
With much respect, we at Theatre de la Cigale will not grant you, Count Étienne de Beaumont, your request to produce another premiere at our music-hall. Our decision stands on social and artistic grounds. Your former activity at our theater, the response to these performances, and the importance of the artistic licenses of everyone involved with production are our reasoning. Aristocrats like yourself can longer have such a close and involved role in production and providing audience for avant-garde artists in this, the 1920’s. To remind you of your correspondence, we have included the formal request you sent.
Your unprofessional behavior towards performers and creative team is well documented. Hosting dance rehearsals in your home by bribing dancers with champagne and snacks is absurd. The “surprise” factor that you had intended for your audience is not intended to be kept from your commissioned artists. As I recall in a letter to Erik Satie answering his question of what you were envisioning for the finale of Mercure, you wrote: “Ah, mon bon cher ami, that’s very difficult because it’s a surprise!”9 The technical difficulty of staging a production at La Cigale are difficult enough without having your production team in the know or playing puppet-master and withholding communication.
“I’ve finished the whole orchestration of the Aventures de Mercure last Friday…I’ve been to the rue Duroc several times to deposit this last part, but I couldn’t leave it, since I didn’t find anyone in charge to give it to. Anyway, I want to give it into the hands of the good Count himself, for reasons of an economic nature of the most monetary kind,”10
wrote Satie to Roger Desormiere, conductor, on Sunday 11 May 1924. La Cigale will not stand to have another Comte de Beaumont production.
With a member of the aristocracy like yourself inviting your kin, the artist’s intended audience may not be reached. The artists that you employed as well as the ones that allied themselves with the aristocracy were chasing filthy lucre and vain celebrity.11 The artists on your payroll and, in your case, misguided production, of the wealthy aren’t truly expressing their art so much as catering to the high social class. Their artistic licenses are being shortened, their avant-garde originality is being stifled, and they are losing ownership over their work.
About your audience members: Our theater holds around a thousand seats and on at least one occasion, your own mother had bought out the entire theater and she was the only person in the audience. She forgot to hand out the tickets.12 This kind of behavior from your aristocratic and frivolous kin is not acceptable, but this is not the only scandal we’ve seen from you. Madeleine Milhaud, wife to Darius, states in an interview with Roger Nichols on 9 December 1993, “…at the premier of Mercury. The audience began to shout and scream ‘A bas Satie! A bas Satie! Vive Picasso! Vive Picasso!’ These were the Surrealists shouting.”13 There were multiple occasions of both the Dada school of art, which Satie is certainly a member, as well as the Surrealist school of art, among the initiators of this particular outrage.
The avant-garde create art that defies the conservative and traditional model that the aristocracy upholds. The opposite is also true: the aristocratic audience you filled our theater with was paying generously for art that was neither heart-felt nor purposefully scandalous. The commercialization of the avant-garde that took place at La Cigale with your Soirée caused the music to be boring, false, and lacking scandal.14 Catering to the whims of the aristocrats is not of the agenda that we at La Cigale run for our artists.
Thank you for your correspondence with La Cigale.
1 Orledge, Robert. “Erik Satie’s Ballet Mercure (1924): From Mount Etna to Montmartre.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association: 229-49, 235.
2 Hentea, Marius. “The Aristocratic Avant-garde: Le Comte Étienne De Beaumont and “Les Soirées De Paris”.” Neohelicon, 2014.
3 Orledge, Robert. Satie Remembered. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1995: 179.
4 Orledge, Robert. “Erik Satie’s Ballet Mercure (1924): From Mount Etna to Montmartre.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association: 229-49, 234.
5 Orledge, Robert. “Erik Satie’s Ballet Mercure (1924): From Mount Etna to Montmartre.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association: 229-49, 234.
6 Gendron, Bernard. “The Song of Montmartre.” In Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-garde. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, 54-55.
7 Orledge, Robert. Satie Remembered. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1995. La Cigale opened in September 1887 as a cafe-concert on the site of the old Boule Noire. Its second director, the revue authore Leon Nunes, turned it tinto a music-hall that could accommodate theatrical performances in October 1894.
8 Satie, Erik, and Ornella Volta. Satie Seen through His Letters. London: M. Boyars, 1989: 168-169.
9 Harding, James. Erik Satie. New York: Praeger, 1975, 210-214. “Ah, mon bon cher ami. C’est très difficile, parce que c’est une surprise!”
10 Satie, Erik, and Ornella Volta. Satie Seen through His Letters. London: M. Boyars, 1989, p.171.
11 Hentea, Marius. “The Aristocratic Avant-garde: Le Comte Étienne De Beaumont and “Les Soirées De Paris”.” Neohelicon, 2014, “Les Soirées de Paris: positioning prestige”.
12 Steegmuller, Francis. Cocteau, a Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970. 330-331.