It was at the end of 1916 in Montparnasse that Max and composer Erik Satie met, with pianist Marcelle Meyer, and became fashionable friends of Satie and Jacob: that is, with estrangement and reconciliation. Their friendship begins with an argument.
The premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet of “Parade”, the avant-garde ballet choreographed by Leonide Massine for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with an argument by Jean Cocteau, music by Erik Satie, conducted by Ernest Ansermet and sets by Pablo Picasso, caused a scandal almost as big as Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in 1913. A music critic, Jean Poueigh, maliciously attacked Satie’s music, “an affront to French taste” (he clearly didn’t understand the composer’s approach).
>> To see “Parade”, ballet written by Jean Cocteau, with music by Erik Satie. Here with sets and costumes reconstructed after original models by Pablo Picasso. Taken from the show “Europa Danse Picasso et la danse”, 2012
Satie, extremely susceptible, replies to him on a postcard: “Sir and dear friend, you are only an ass, but an ass without music.” Jean Poueigh filed a complaint for defamation, Satie was in court and was sentenced to eight days in prison and a heavy fine of 800 francs. Why? Because the use of a postcard breaks the confidentiality of the comments: the critic’s janitor could have read it. Satie is disgusted, and Max finds nothing better than to treat the matter lightly, without any empathy, and advise him to repent and Christian resignation.
He writes: “I tried to reason with him, but he suffers and wants to suffer! I have given him examples of great artists who have been in prison without breaking their lives…” We can imagine the scene and Satie’s anger. Fortunately, the French musician’s friends, including Cocteau and Picasso, avoided jail and a fine for the composer. And in 1919 Satie writes that he is friends with Max Jacob again.
We have the one and only letter from Erik Satie to Max Jacob dated Thursday October 9, 1919, here it is:
You were at the wedding. Chic! I would have loved to see you. I saw your friend Fels. He told me that your poems are with Bertin for me.
Good. Very good.
Thanks again and again.
Your old Erik Satie.
Unfortunately we do not know which wedding the two men are talking about, the only significant wedding in the artistic milieu of Montmartro-Montparnass is that of Picasso with the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova, but it was in July 1918 and Apollinaire, still alive, was witness at Max.
On the other hand, we know that Max, the music lover and amateur musician, admired Satie’s music. And his dream is for his friend to set his poems to music. Satie is in no rush to do it, to the point that he won’t do it at all!
Portrait of Max Jacob painted by Amedeo Modigliani. [Portrait de Max Jacob peint par Amedeo Modigliani vers 1916. DP]However, the two men work together once, but separately, as it were, at the initiative of actor Pierre Bertin, a good friend of Max. In 1920, Bertin organized two literary and musical evenings and a morning at the Galerie Barbazanges. One is devoted to a play by Max Jacob, “Ruffian always, truand never”, played by Pierre Bertin, and Erik Satie wrote the intermission music which he called “Musique d’Ameublement”. He probably hasn’t even read Max’s play. This is how he “hears” his furniture music: it is not made to listen to, but to “decorate”. The audience is invited to walk around without paying attention to this repetitive background noise.
At the premiere of Ruffian, the audience doesn’t play the game, Satie may shout “But speak, move, don’t listen!”, the audience is silent, he listens. Everything is missed! However, Max Jacob was not present at this event, because when he was going to a performance of Manuel de Falla’s “Tricorne” by the Ballets Russes in late January 1920 with set and costumes by his friend Picasso, he was run over by a car on Place Pigalle and spent several months in hospital after which he was recovering.
>> To listen: “A living room”, taken from “Musique d’Ameublement” by Erik Satie
Finally, this beautiful evocation of Satie by Max Jacob:
“Satie was my friend. He looked like his portraits. He had the face of a merry satyr and was always mad at someone… He put his hand to his mouth to laugh mysteriously, wore false straight collars, seldom ate and” Returned to Arcueil on foot at night. He had great common sense like all geniuses, reason, calm and always humorous formulas.’
>> Listen: the radio chronicle “Monsieur Max: Max Jacob and Erik Satie”