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Cabaret---from entertainment to art form: Focusing on the evolution of the cabaret song in the hands of Satie and Schoenberg

Adrienne C Dickson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Toward the end of the nineteenth century, artists of all kinds were growing weary of the decadent opulence of art. They viewed this “higher artform” as nonrealistic and too pretentious. Art had lost its audience and its intimacy. The French chanson was a principle form of entertainment in French cafés. One problem with these concerts was that conditions were difficult to work in as the “audience” came to the café for drink, conversation with friends, and background entertainment. ^ A group of Parisian literary artists began meeting weekly to exchange ideas and perform for each other. “Cabaret” originated from those meetings and spread all over Europe. Erik Satie was an accompanist in both the first established cabaret (Le Chat Noir) and “spin-off” cabaret L’Auberge de Clou. His compositions are reflective of his complete immersion in the bohemian world. His Neuf caf’ conc chansons show how he transformed the chanson into an artform rather than mere entertainment. ^ In Germany, cabaret arrived after various German artistic types had been abroad to Paris and were exposed to the Parisian cabaret. Similar to the French, German literary artists first had the idea to start a cabaret. Entertainment in Germany was either very base or so painfully “artistic” and lengthy that it was losing its audience. Further, much of the writing for the most popular type of entertainment, the music hall, was very poor. Otto Bierbaum decided to have many his contemporary writers contribute to his Deutsche Chansons so that there would be a collection of highly artistic, yet usable poems/songs available for the current music halls. ^ Although this collection was popular, the German public seemingly wanted simplistic, tuneful music to accompany these poems. Many composers were willing to supply simplistic music, but Schoenberg was not. He too wanted to raise the level of music in popular entertainment. His cabaret songs were highly complex and expressed the text on multiple levels. This was, unfortunately, too much for the cabaret audience to bear, so he was not successful in the cabaret. However, his expressive and quite complex Brettl-Lieder paved the way for future artistic cabaret song composers. ^

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Dickson, Adrienne C, "Cabaret---from entertainment to art form: Focusing on the evolution of the cabaret song in the hands of Satie and Schoenberg" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3355615.