When the Russians (Stravinsky, Prokofiev) got too famous and so too expensive, Diaghilev commissioned his new ballets from the younger – and therefore cheaper – generation of French composers. A group of young musicians had formed around the wonderfully eccentric figure of Erik Satie. Originally named (by Satie) Les Nouveaux Jeunes they soon became known as Les Six. It was mainly to this group*, famed – in their early years, anyway – for their irreverent attitude to the sacred cows of classical music, that Diaghilev turned for up-to-the-minute and (hopefully!) shocking post war repertoire.
Poulenc’s Les Biches is a revisiting of Watteau’s paintings of the fêtes galantes i.e. royal goings-on in the Parc aux Biches [Deer Park (biche=doe)] in Versailles (see above). The ballet’s set in a nineteen-twenties house party, where the guilded youth, the jeunesse dorée, desport themselves. To quote from the composer, “twenty or so beautiful and coquettish women frolic with three athletic fellows in rowing costumes”: the rest, for the moment, I leave to your imagination (biche=doe=coquette).
Flirtatious rich kids are also the subject of the Train Bleu by Darius Milhaud, but the setting this time is a beach on the Côte d’Azur, the Riviera. There’s a tennis player (oh no! not more tennis!), a golfer, an acrobat…
* Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre and Louis Durey
Part 3 of the Daphnis libretto/themes is now available for viewing below and for download from the box on the right.
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