CABARET PER NULLA. Music by JOHN CAGE and ERIK SATIE
S A B I N A M E Y E R - SOPRAN
M A R C O D A L P A N E - KLAVIER
Man muss eine Musik erfinden, die eher unserem Mobiliar gleicht: eine Musik, die zuden Geräuschen unserer Umgebung gehört, die von ihnen ausgeht.
Ich kann sie mir äusserst melodiös vorstellen, mit der Fähigkeit ganz diskret den Lärm unserer Gabeln und Messer zu dämpfen.
Sie würde die schwere Stille füllen, die sich manchmal unter Freunden, die gemeinsam bei Tisch sitzen, ausbreitet, sie würde ihnen die Mühe ersparen, auf die gegenseitigen banalen Anmerkungen zu achten. Und gleichzeitig würde sie den Strassenlärm neutralisieren, der auf so indiskrete Weise die Konversation stört.
Eine solche Musik zu entwerfen, würde einem tiefen Bedürfnis entsprechen.
Imaginäre Konversation John Cage und Erik Satie, Art News Annual, 1958.
La finalité de la musique de Satie n’est pas de démontrer où d’illustrer quelque chose: elle est d’investir des territoires, d’imprimer des sensations, d’être le théâtre d’une prière mimée de l’interieur ou de créer des objects de l’immaginaire qui deviennent de curieux objects musicaux aimantés par le compositeur: préludes flasques, pièces froides, embryons desséchés, danses de travers…L’art de Satie est donc bien sur le plan esthétique et moral un art révolutionnaire.
Jean-Pierre Armengaud, Les plus que brèves d’Erik Satie, 1988
Cabaret for the Void
Let us begin with the title of this recital. Where does it lead us? Perhaps in the intentions of the two artists there was a desire to create a Play for our ears (in fact, during their live performances, Sabina Meyer and Marco Dalpane, often present themselves within a subtle theatrical setting) that aims at meaninglessness so as to delude anyone expecting a theatrical entertainment rich in narrative innuendoes. Songs and notes that leave their mark and create anxiety for their fading quality. They leave traces, while not wishing to do so - John Cage loved saying that after hearing a special piece of music in a special settings, no one would remain unchanged, or at least that is what he claimed after hearing the premier of Vexations by Satie, performed from 6 pm on the 9th of September, 1963 to 12,40 pm the next day, by twelve pianists at the Pocket theatre in Manhattan. They are subtle breaths of air and particles of sound matter in a void. After all isn’t a cabaret that denies reality, close to the Dada/anarchic spirit of both Satie (who, incidentally had enrolled in the French Communist Party in 1921) and Cage. We have the beauty of rediscovering nihilism as an antidote to indifference, the “Void” today is made of immaterial productions and radical communications-for-insurgence in a network, among invisible and undefined subjects, that will one day be seen in a clear and blinding light.
Maybe this is what the titles tells us and maybe we find all of this on the CD, I don’t wish to deny it. On the contrary it is intriguing to imagine the performance by Sabina Meyer and Marco Dalpane of these seventeen tracks, or eleven works if we wish to consider the three song cycles, by Satie, Trois poèmes d’amour (1914), Trois autres melodies (1888) and Trois melodies de 1886, as single pieces, which they are not, in this light.Yet a different interpretation comes to mind, apparently more banal and literal.Something along the lines of: is this Cabaret? Not at all. This is an interpretation that I wish to unite and mix with the previous one, but which is in effect incorrect. In terms of a critical analysis Meyer and Dalpane treat these light, amiable and provocative works, of which only Aria (1958) by Cage can evoke the drama one can imagine in the physical and mental/emotional space of a cabaret, with a non-cabaretistic approach. They don’t evoke in their music the cabaret because they choose other tones and other moods. Committed, as they are, to the music in a more complex and fundamental way.
Let us take She is asleep (1943), appropriately chosen as the opening track, and let us extend the discourse to, say The wonderful widow of eighteen springs (1942). We have an heretic approach to singing the works of a heretic Cage. It’s a coherent and logical combination without unnecessary changes, free from discipline or definition, yet not eclectic in approach to conversational pronunciations (as in daily speech), which points to an evocative-esoteric cosmopolitan orient; a cultured vocal style not dogmatically against the schools of singing.
Marco Dalpane’s approach to the prepared piano, compared to other interpreters of Cage’s music, is far closer to the way that Cage would have desired it: dry,extremely stark without being whimsical, and purely percussive. Very distant from any cabaret! There are wonderful examples, wonderfully perverse examples, of how to use, possibly cabaretistically, this instrument other than the pianoforte-pianoforte, starting with the many performances by Giancarlo Cardini. Admirable. Important. But Marco, most likely inspired by his muse Sabina, chooses another path.
Talk about muses. A similar role was played for Satie’s vocal works by the musical-hall singer-diva Paulette Darty, (she can be heard if you google on the pages of La Chanson française à la Belle époque, and it’s certain that Sabina Meyer was not inspired by her) Satie wrote various songs for Darty,including La diva de L’Empire (1903) and Je te Veux (1897 or 1902). What a great occasion that was to express a typically cabaret style! Sabina’s Diva on the other hand displays a ruthless canto in a romantic-modernist style. It’s, if you wish, the most “cultured” Satie style one can expect and this is true also of Hymne (Salut drapeau, 1891). In Diva, certain dark tones suggest a contained sensuality, the rest is in a precious-gracious-thoughtful balance between the music of today (songs, that is) and slightly mundane romances from other times. It’s in Les fleurs, one of the tracks of Trois autres mélodies that we find the greatest sense of a colloquial style and the abandonment of academic vocal flourishing.
We go from Satie to Cage and back again. In a landscape (1945) for solo piano (or solo harp) has often been interpreted as a post-literary ambient piece, for example by Stephen Drury, in a CD entitled with that tracks name (Catalyst/BMG 1994). Dalpane performs it as if were a…Satie, and a piece by …Cage. He plays it the way Cage thought Satie ought to be played, that is with the inflections of an amiably and erratic composer, in the way he probably expected his own music to be performed, being himself, in tune with Saties, an amiable and erratic composer. Without the excessive “expressivity”, even though, it’s admittedly hard to resist the fascination of Drurys approach. Cage was a composer who was not unfamiliar with the inebriating hardness of the avanguard after Webern. Yet, in certain pieces like this one, his reaction to his own question of how to resolve any form or musical process, reminiscent of a tonal approach, was surprisingly melodic.
Listening to this CD of non-cabaret, one is pleasantly surprised to hear Sabina Meyer approach Cage through the experience of Michiko Hirayama and Giacinto Scelsi. That is what takes place in her interpretation of Aria. Meyer studied with Hirayama, who was a muse for the vocal music of Scelsi. Cage himself was a friend of Hirayama and an admirer of Scelsi. Hirayama recalls of Cage “whenever he came to Rome he would ask me to accompany him to certain food stores, then he would ask to be accompanied to visit Scelsi, he adored his music”.
It’s easy to understand Sabina’s reasoning, yet one can’t help but feel moved by the bravery. Again we are faced with a complexity, not only of artistic approach, but also with its correspondence to (real) life, in the difficult attempt to go beyond and transform the mundane. Containing something of the profound psychotic, or psychedelic, aspect of Scelsi (Canti del Capricorno, for example), something of the subversive irrationality of Cage and something of Sabina’s own theatrical background, never, as now, put into play. One could add that these qualities were all already in Cage, but that would be untrue because it’s known that in Cage, especially for the interpreter, there never is everything, but almost always, a lot and a little at the same time.
From Cage to Satie, from Satie to Cage, the musical ping-pong proposed by this CD is exciting. It was Cage that pointed to Satie as an innovative composer, who anticipated Marcel Duchamp,and in so doing indicated an ideal bond between Satie and himself. It’s not rare, therefore, that concert programs or recordings unite the two,what is rare is the ease and frequency heard here, of the exchange between them. A play list of a high order, but there is more. The premise for this recording entersthe heart of a conflict of ideas in Contemporary music. Cage, pro-Satie, was considered revolutionary. Pierre Boulez, who at first was in good relation with Cage, then in open conflict, considered Satie a banal neoclassicist and Cage himself, like Satie, nothing other than a dilettante, a clown that perpetually repeats himself andan eternal adolescent. The question of Satie, posed by Cage, is not secondary to the break-up of their friendship and the lose of esteem (the primary reason being thequestion of chance) as is clearly detailed in the recent volume of correspondence and documents between Pierre Boulez and John Cage (published by Archinto, 2006), which favours Boulez’s view in the introduction and conclusion. Meyer and Dalpane, instead wish to favour Cage’s (and Satie's) view. To do so they work on the hypothesis of Cage and Satie as being composers of volatile and irregular sounds united by the sublime art of lightness. That which is needed today.