The Bitter Ballet Battle


The celebrated French composers were not getting along. In 1924 Francis Poulenc received good reviews for his ballet Les Biches and so did his friend Georges Auric shortly afterward for his ballet Les Fâcheux. Most vocal among their admirers was Louis Laloy, who had been a good friend of the late Claude Debussy.

Enter a fourth composer, Erik Satie, a generation older than Auric and Poulenc, and a sworn enemy of Laloy’s. He sent a letter to Poulenc warning him to have nothing to do with Laloy.

He closed it with a compliment to Poulenc: “Don’t forget that you are a thousand times superior to him.”

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But when Auric wrote a lukewarm review of Satie’s new ballet Mercure, the vitriolic Satie wrote a response that pitted him against both Auric and Poulenc:

All right, my little friend, let him go on. Let him Laloy himself as much as he wants. Then we’ll see what we shall see. What crime have I committed? I don’t care for his cobbled together, trussed up Fâcheux. Those who tell me that this former friend of mine is merely an old flat-foot are overstating his merits. He is merely an Auric (Georges)–which is more than enough for a man, if he is a man, to admit.

Soon afterward, Poulenc was in a Paris shop looking for some playing cards when he caught sight of a child’s rattle with an attached bearded head that looked like Satie. He told Auric, who bought the rattle and sent it to Satie.

Satie did not take the implied insult well. Six years earlier, feeling slighted, he had sent an insulting letter to the dying Debussy, and, in 1925, when Satie was on his deathbed, and a mutual friend of the feuding composers tried to bring about a reconciliation, the unyielding Satie said, “What can be the use of seeing them again? Debussy himself died without my seeing him again.”

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