Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cabaret Voltaire

In this post I will talk about how Dadaism came into being and the people who brought it into being. I will focus mainly on the happenings of the Cabaret Voltaire and the philosophies, performances and literature that arose from the evening’s presentations. I will also try to convey how and where Dadaism continued to grow after the original collaboration in 1916 of the Cabaret Voltaire.

In 1915, after World War I was declared in Europe, a number of artists including the future Dadaists converged in Zurich, Switzerland because of Switzerland’s remaining neutrality to the war. Zurich became a place of retreat and the ideal breeding ground for these artists’ manifestations against war, jingoism and outmoded aesthetical traditions. These artists were Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings both German Poets, Jean Arp, an Alsatian painter, sculptor and poet, and Rumanians, Marcel Janco, a painter, and Tristan Tzara, a poet, among others. They all shared an antimilitaristic, antiaesthetic attitude which was conditioned in part by the horrors of World War I, but also, in a more professional way, by a revolt against the established traditions in art and literature.

At the beginning of 1916 Hugo Ball rented an empty hall belonging to Ephraim Jan, an elderly Dutch sailor. There, Ball planned to open his own cabaret together with his wife Emmy Hemmings, who was a vocalist as well as a poet. For a name they chose the “Cabaret Voltaire”. They asked Jean Arp, Marcel Janco and Tristan Tzara, members of their circle, to collaborate, and the cabaret was opened on February 5th, 1916.

The cabarets premise was the idea of artists’ club, exhibition room, pub, and theatre, combined into one. The performances consisted of works, which had never before been seen or heard. Noise music, simultaneous poems recited by four to seven voices speaking all at once, avant-guard dances in unusual masks and outrageous costumes, interrupted by readings of German and French sound verses, and solemn incantations of texts by the mystic Jacob Bohme as well as Loa-Tse. Paintings were presented by artists whose names had been mostly unknown until then: Arp, Paolo Buzzi, Cangiullo, Janco, Kisling, Mack, Marinetti, Mopp, Picasso, van Rees, Slodki, Segal,Wabel, and others.

On May 15th, 1916, Hugo Ball published a pamphlet entitled “Cabaret Voltaire”, which contained a collection of artistic and literary contributions by many of the above-mentioned artists and writers. In his introduction, Ball wrote these programmatic words:
When I founded the Cabaret Voltaire, I was of the opinion that there ought to be a few young people in Switzerland who not only laid stress, as I did, on enjoying their independence, but also wished to proclaim it. I went to Mr. Ephraim, the owner of the “Meierei” restaurant and said, ‘Please Mr. Ephraim, let me have your hall. I want to make a cabaret’. And went to the friendly press of Zurich and said, ‘Write a few notes. It shall be an international cabaret. We want to do some beautiful things’. And they gave me pictures, and they wrote the notes. So, on February 5th, we had our cabaret. Mrs. Hennings and Mrs. Laecote sang French and Danish songs. Mr. Tristan Tzara recited Romanian verses. A balaika band played some charming Russian folk songs and dances. Much support and sympathy came from Mr. Slodki, who designed the poster for the Cabaret; and from Mr. Hans Arp, who placed at my disposal a few works by Picasso, in addition to his own works, and who also got me some pictures from his friends: O. van Rees and Arthur Segal. There was also much assistance from Messrs. Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco, and Max Oppenheimer, who willingly expressed their readiness to appear at the cabaret. We organized a Russian soiree, and soon after a French one as well (with works by Appollinaire, Max Jacob, Andre Salmon, A. Jarry, Laforgue, and Rimbaud). On February 26th, Richard Huesenbeck came from Berlin, and on March 30th we performed fabulous Negro music (always with the big drum, boom, boom, boom-drabatja mo gere drabatja mo booonoo…). Mr. Laban was present at the performance and was quite enthusiastic. Thanks to the initiative of Mr. Tristan Tzara, who along with Huelsenbeck and Janco, performed for the first time in Zurich and, indeed, in the whole world, simultaneous verses by Messrs. Henri Barzum and Fernand Divoire, as well as a simultaneous poems of their own composition. For the little pamphlet we are publishing today, we have to thank our initiative and the assistance of our friends in France, Italy and Russia. It is to exemplify the activities and the interests of the cabaret, whose whole endeavor is directed at reminding the world, across the war and various fatherlands, of those few independent spirits that live for other ideals. The next aim of the artists united here is to publish an international periodical. This will appear at Zurich and will be called ‘DADA Dada Dada Dada Dada Dada.’” (-Hugo Ball, Zurich, 15 May 1916)

The word Dada first appeared in print in this publication and designated a forthcoming publication, “Dada”. On July 14th, 1916, the first Dada Soiree took place at the “Waage” hall; and in the same month a series of books called the “Collection Dada,” began to appear. Other collaborations began to develop, some of which are, “The First Heavenly Adventure of Mr. Febrifuge,” by Tzara with illustrations by Marcel Janco, Huelsenbeck’s “Fantastic Prayers” and “ Schalaben Schalomai Schalamezomai,” and Tzara’s “25 Poems,” all illustrated by Arp.

On March 17th, 1917, the “Galerie Dada” was opened taking the place of the Cabaret Voltaire, which had been closed, prior. “Strum-Soirees” were offered and among them was a performance of Kokoschka’s play “Sphinx and Man-of-Straw,” and an “Evening of New Art,” exhibitions of ancient and modern art. From July 1917, to May 1919, four issues of the new periodical “Dada” were published with Tzara as editor. In February 1919, Picabia published No.8 of his ‘vagabond periodical’ “391” with collaborations from the Zurich Dadaists. October 1919 saw the publication of the last Zurich dada periodical “Der Zeltweg,” edited by Otto Flake, Walter Serner, and Tristan Tzara.

After the war when the borders between the countries of Europe had been re-opened, links with Berlin, Cologne and Paris were established. Huelsenbeck founded a dada-group in Berlin, Arp and Max Ernst founded one in Cologne. On Tzara’s initiative a particularly active group sprang up in Paris. Dada extended to Holland through van Doesberg, and Schwitters founded “Merz,” his own version of DaDa, in Hanover. And the influence of DaDa extended to Italy, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Spain, Russia, and the United States.

Dada was more than a movement, whose activities have been amply documented. Dada was also a state of mind and the original manifesto of the Cabaret Voltaire by Hugo Ball expresses this. The group who gathered together to create the Cabaret Voltaire claimed to be independent people, beyond war and nationalism, who lived for “other ideals”. This original group of brave and devoted artists who created the Cabaret Voltaire are a great source of inspiration for my own art. I feel challenged to drive my artistic work beyond the boundaries of the old and onto the frontiers of the new.


Nimuwe said...

Hello! I'm researching dada music, just for fn and came across your blog. This was a really interesting post. I've been looking for descriptions or examples of the music that Cabaret Voltaire produced and not coming across much, your descriptions are some of the best I've seen on the net. Do you know if any their music was ever recorded? Do you know of any other early dada musicians?

Tara Jones said...

Thanks, the Cabaret Voltaire featured music that represented a return to nature such as traditional folk songs, african music and jazz. There were also some composers that were considered dada and they were Erwin Schulhoff, Hans Heusser and Albert Savinio, you should be able to find some of their recordings.



Nimuwe said...

Cool, thanks!