Le boeuf sur le toit
, Op. 58 (English title, The Ox on the Roof: The Nothing-Doing Bar
) is a surrealist ballet made on a score composed by Darius Milhaud
Darius Milhaud was a French composer and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and make use of polytonality...
which was in turn strongly influenced by Brazilian popular music. The title is that of an old Brazilian tango, one of close to 30 Brazilian tunes (choro
Choro , traditionally called chorinho , is a Brazilian popular music instrumental style. Its origins are in 19th century Rio de Janeiro. In spite of the name, the style often has a fast and happy rhythm, characterized by virtuosity, improvisation, subtile modulations and full of syncopation and...
s) quoted in the composition. The piece was originally to have been the score of a silent Charlie Chaplin
Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, KBE was an English comic actor, film director and composer best known for his work during the silent film era. He became the most famous film star in the world before the end of World War I...
for violin and piano.)
Its transformation into a ballet (Pantomime Farce) was the making of the piece, with a scenario by Jean Cocteau
Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker. His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Kenneth Anger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Erik Satie, María...
, stage designs by Raoul Dufy
Raoul Dufy[p] was a French Fauvist painter. He developed a colorful, decorative style that became fashionable for designs of ceramics and textiles, as well as decorative schemes for public buildings. He is noted for scenes of open-air social events...
, and costumes by Guy-Pierre Fauconnet. There is no real story to speak of, but a sequence of scenes based on music inspired by Brazil, a country in which the composer spent two years during World War I. The stage set is that of a bar frequented by a number of characters: a bookmaker, a dwarf, a boxer, a woman dressed in men's clothing, a policeman who is decapitated by the blades of an overhead fan before he is revived, and a number of others. The first actors were in fact clowns from the Medrano
Medrano is a municipality in La Rioja, Spain. It is situated 17 km from the capital Logroño. There are 188 inhabitants and it covers 7.46 km².- External links :*...
circus, the Fratellini. The choreography was deliberately very slow, in marked contrast to the lively and joyful spirit of the music.
The premiere was given in February 1920 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is a theatre at 15 avenue Montaigne. Despite its name, the theatre is not on the Champs-Élysées but nearby in another part of the 8th arrondissement of Paris....
and comprised, besides the ballet, Adieu New York
by Georges Auric
Georges Auric was a French composer, born in Lodève, Hérault. He was a child prodigy and at age 15 he had his first compositions published. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Georges Caussade, and under the composer Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum...
by Francis Poulenc
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les six. He composed solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music...
and Trois petites pièces montées
by Erik Satie
Éric Alfred Leslie Satie was a French composer and pianist. Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde...
The version for chamber orchestra was followed by another for piano duet, subtitled Cinema Symphony on South American Airs
(its performance lasts about a quarter of an hour.)
The ballet gave its name to a celebrated Parisian cabaret-bar, Le Boeuf sur le Toit
Le Boeuf sur le Toit is the name of a celebrated Parisian cabaret-bar in Paris, founded in 1921 by Louis Moysés which was originally located at 28, rue Boissy d'Anglas in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. It was notably the gathering place for the avant garde arts scene during the period between...
, which opened in 1921 and became a meeting-place for Cocteau and his associates.
Milhaud's piece became a staple of the classical repertoire, but curiously there haven't been many stagings of the ballet itself. A TV staging was created by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and directed by Adrian Marthaler.
This Pantomime Farce was first staged by a Mime Company in 2004 when T. Daniel Productions (T. Daniel and Laurie Willets) produced, and directed, Jean Cocteau’s Le boeuf sur le toit
as part of the first Contemporary French Theatre Festival, "Playing French", in Chicago organized by The French Cultural Services of the Consulate General of France in Chicago. In this production, Darius Milhaud’s Four Hand Piano Version of the music accompanied the pantomime.
Another staging took place in Montreal on February 25, 2009 as part of the Montreal Highlights Festival whose theme was the city of Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
. Unlike Cocteau's plot director Alexandre Marine
Alexandre Marine is a Russian-born actor-director-playwright currently based in Montreal.. On April 23, 1993 he was recognized by the Russian government as a Distinguished Artist of the Russian Federation....
shifted the action to a brothel, with the bawdy house transforming to a "hospital" with the arrival of the Policeman. The production featured Montreal's I Musici de Montréal Chamber Orchestra and featured students of Montreal's École nationale de cirque
The National Circus School is a professional circus school located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It is a school for higher education in arts; after the great schools of music, dance and theatre, the NCS also offers academic subjects at the secondary and college levels...
The music for the piece cycles through keys in this manner: C, Cm, Eb, Ebm, Gb, F#m, A, G, Gm, Bb, Bbm, Db, C#m, E, D, Dm, F, Fm, Ab, G#m, B. Some of the minor keys are not played, but each of the twelve tones of the scale is the tonic at some point in the piece.