In my piece on Joséphin Péladan and the Salons de la Rose + Croix, I devote some space to Erik Satie's astonishing score for Péladan's mystical drama Le Fils des Étoiles, which was produced in conjunction with the first Salon in 1892. I first discovered the work as a teen-ager; I had bought a copy of the Dover compendium of Satie piano music, and became fascinated with what was described inscrutably as a "Wagnérie Kaldéenne de Sâr Péladan." I used to play the opening six-note chords at ear-splitting volume, somewhat in defiance of the instruction "En blanc et immobile." Not until I commenced work on my long-gestating book Wagnerism did I attempt to come to terms with Péladan's writing. Needless to say, there will be a sizable section on Péladan in the fourth chapter of the book, titled "Grail Temple: Mystic, Decadent, and Satanic Wagner."
What many people don't realize about Le Fils des Étoiles — to the extent they realize anything about this still obscure score — is that the three Preludes printed in standard Satie editions are only a portion of the music that Satie wrote for the play. There is actually about an hour of music extant: one can see the complete work in a fine Bärenreiter Urtext edition. The pianist Steffen Schleiermacher prepared the text and supplied performing notes; he has also made a recording, for the MD+G label. It is not clear how Satie's music was configured with the play; perhaps it was played in the background during the three acts, which are titled "The Vocation," "The Initiation," and "The Incantation." Péladan made a further mysterious comment to the effect that the music was played by harp and flute — an impossibility given the chromatic nature of Satie's writing. There are significant differences between Satie's manuscript and the published version, which appeared in 1896: 1) the piece was originally a Pastorale Kaldéenne, not a Wagnérie; 2) the manuscript has bar lines and time signatures, while the 1896 edition has none; and 3) the original lacks such markings as "En blanc et immobile" and "Pâle et hiératique."
Few people took notice of Les Fils des Étoiles upon its first appearance, and what comments there were tended to be negative. The critic and novelist Henry Gauthier-Villars, Colette's husband, called it "faucet salesman's music," triggering a long, absurd feud with Satie that culminated in threats of a duel. Ravel apparently made an orchestration of the three Preludes, or at least was working on one; alas, this version subsequently disappeared, if it was ever completed. It must have made a gorgeous din. An orchestration by Alexis Roland-Manuel serves as a decent substitute.
Discerning commentaries on Le Fils des Étoiles can be found in Robert Orledge's Satie the Composer, Steven Moore Whiting's Satie the Bohemian, Caroline Potter's Erik Satie: A Parisian Composer and His World, Grace Wai Kwan Gates's "Satie's Rose-Croix Piano Works," and Patrick Gowers's "Satie's Rose Croix Music (1891-1895)." The classic book on Péladan is Christophe Beaufils's 1993 biography, Joséphin Péladan: Essai sur une maladie du lyrisme. I also found much of value in Robert Pincus-Whitten's Occult Symbolism in France, Mary Slavkin's Dynamics and Divisions at the Salons of The Rose-Croix: Statistics, Aesthetic Theories, Practices, and Subjects, and Roland van der Hoeven's "L'idéalisme musical: Musique et musiciens autour du Sâr Péladan."