In my piece on Joséphin Péladan and the Salons de la Rose + Croix, I devote some space to Erik Satie’s astonishing score for Péladan’s mystical drama Le Fils des Étoiles, which was produced in conjunction with the first Salon in 1892. I first discovered the work as a teen-ager; I had bought a copy of the Dover compendium of Satie piano music, and became inordinately fascinated with what was described inscrutably as a “Wagnérie Kaldéenne de Sâr Péladan.” I used to play the opening six-note chords at ear-splitting volume, somewhat in defiance of the instruction “En blanc et immobile.” Not until I commenced work on my long-gestating book Wagnerism did I attempt to come to terms with Péladan’s writing. Needless to say, there will be a sizable section on Péladan in the fourth chapter of the book, titled “Grail Temple: Mystic, Decadent, and Satanic Wagner.”
What many people don’t realize about Le Fils des Étoiles — to the extent they realize anything about this still obscure score — is that the three Preludes printed in standard Satie editions are only a portion of the music that Satie wrote for the play. There is actually about an hour of music extant: one can see the complete work in a fine Bärenreiter Urtext edition of Le Fils des Étoiles. The pianist Steffen Schleiermacher prepared the text and supplied performing notes; he has also made a recording, for the MD+G label. It is not clear how Satie’s music was configured with the play; perhaps it was played in the background during the three acts, which are titled “The Vocation,” “The Initiation,” and “The Incantation.” Péladan made a further mysterious comment to the effect that the music was played by harp and flute — an impossibility given the chromatic nature of Satie’s writing. There are significant differences between Satie’s original manuscript and the published version, which appeared in 1896: 1) the piece was described as a Pastorale Kaldéenne, not a Wagnérie; 2) the original has bar lines and time signatures, while the later edition has none; and 3) the original lacks such markings as “En blanc et immobile” and “Pale et hiératique.”
Few people took notice of Les Fils des Étoiles upon its first appearance, and what comments there were tended to be negative. The critic and novelist Henry Gauthier-Villars, Colette’s husband, called it “faucet salesman’s music,” triggering a long, absurd feud with Satie that culminated in threats of a duel. Ravel was said to have made an orchestration of the three Preludes, or at least was working on one; alas, this version subsequently disappeared, if it was ever completed. It must have made a gorgeous din. An orchestration by Alexis Roland-Manuel serves as a decent substitute.

from Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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