The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







For Entr'acte, the film by René Clair, and Relâche, the ballet by Erik Satie see 4th example below.

Entr'acte is French for "between the acts". It can have the meaning of a pause between two parts of a stage production, synonym to intermission, but is more often used to indicate that part of a theatre production that is performed between acts as an intermezzo or interlude. Originally entr'actes resulted from stage curtains being closed for set and/or costume changes: to kill the time, or in order not to halt the action, or to make a transition from the mood of one act to that of the next, and/or to prevent the public from getting noisy, during the several set changes that some stage works required, the action could be continued in "Entr'actes" in front of the closed curtain (only players, no other scenery than the curtain, and a minimum of props). In this sense of taking the action from one part of a large-scale drama to the next by fitting in a part of the story that completes the missing links, an entr'acte is not unlike an interquel (which is a much later concept however, and indicates an "interlude" of the same kind of resources and magnitude as the parts it joins).

In traditional theatre also incidental music could be used to bridge the 'closed curtain' periods: as well in Ballet, Opera and Drama there is a rich tradition of such musical interludes. The German word for this kind of interludes (Verwandlungsmusik) still refers to its original function during changing of the scene. Eventually entractes (or intermezzi) would develop into a separate genre of short theatrical realisations (often with a plot completely independent from the main piece), that could be produced with a minimum of requisites during intermissions of other elaborate theatre pieces (thus distinctly intended to break the action with something of a different mood, e.g. comedy or dance; also allowing the chief players of the main piece to have a break). When eventually the idea of being an insert into a greater whole gets looser, interlude sometimes has no other connotation than a "short play".

When the insert was only intended to shift to another mood before returning to the main action, without a change of scene being necessary, authors could revert to a "play in the play" technique, or have some accidental guests in a ballroom perform a dance, etc... In this case the insert would rather be named divertimento (in French: divertissement) than entr'acte. In the French opera tradition of the end of the 17th century and early 18th century (Rameau, etc...) such divertissements would become compulsory in the form of an inserted ballet passage, a tradition that continued till well in the 19th century, eventually parodied by Offenbach, e.g. the Cancan ending the Orphée aux enfers. By the middle of the 18th century a divertimento had become a separate genre of light music too (that could be used for interludes in stage works, but for many of the divertimenti composed in the last half of the 18th century the relation to the theatre appears to have been lost, the music in character only having to be a "diversion" in one or another way).

Some famous examples of more or less elaborate and/or independent Entr'actes or Intermezzi (in some cases eclipsing the theatre productions for which they were originally written):

  • La serva padrona , a two-act Opera Buffa by Pergolesi, was intended to break the seriousness of his Opera Seria "Il prigioner superbo" (1733). Eventually the Intermezzo would get more attention than the large-scale work to which it was added (see querelle des buffons ).
  • Mozart shows his mastery in the finale of the first act of Don Giovanni, where he mixes the divertimento-like dancing (accompanied by a small ensemble on the scene), with the actual singing: the characters mingle performing light dances, while actually they're supposed to be chasing each other for murder and rape: so the diversion and the drama become a single multi-layered item.
  • Rosamunde is nowadays not remembered as a theatre play, but as the name of some intermezzi Franz Schubert composed for that play.
  • A two part film that was actually named Entr'acte, was premiered as entr'actes for the ballet Relâche in 1924. This short film was directed by René Clair with the music for both the ballet and the film composed by Erik Satie (actually this would be the last music he composed). For this theatre production the surrealists/dadaists collaborating to the project had invented a new, one-time, flavour of surrealism: instantanéisme . The complete film takes about 20 minutes using such techniques as watching people run in slow motion, watching things happen in reverse, looking at a ballet dancer from underneath, watching an egg over a fountain of water get shot and instantly become a bird and watching people disappear. The cast included cameo appearances of Francis Picabia, Erik Satie, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. The musical direction of the orchestra at the premiere was in the hands of Roger Désormière. The film is included on the Criterion Collection DVD of À Nous la Liberté. The two parts of the film are (note that time indications are approximations while neither film nor music techniques at the time of the premiere allowed exact temporisation in a public performance):
    • A sequence of about 90 seconds, starring Satie and Picabia firing a cannon from the top of a building. This sequence, that can be downloaded here (rm format) as silent movie, was played at the beginning of the ballet, right after the little ouverture ("Ouverturette"), and before the curtain raised ("Rideau"). The music to this part of the film is called "Projectionnette", and is included as 2nd item in the Relâche partition. A performance of this music, taking 36 seconds, can be downloaded here: in mp3 format (mpeg 284 KB) or in ram format (realaudio 71 KB). There appears no real effort for music to film synchronisation in this part of the film. Probably the "Projectionnette" music was played two or three times before proceeding to the "Rideau" part of the music.
    • The rest of the film was played as entr'acte between the two acts of the ballet. The score for this part of the film is not included in the Relâche partition, but was written down by Satie in a separate score, titled "Cinéma". This part of the music contains "expandable" repeat zones, in order to match the start of a new tune with certain events in the film (and thus it was one of the earliest examples of music to film synchronization). In the score Satie names 10 sections, that are associated with scenes in the film.
  • A comparable 'filmic' interlude was foreseen in the early 1930s by Alban Berg for his Opera Lulu between the two scenes of the central act. In this case Berg only composed the music and gave a short schematic scenario for a film, that was not yet realised when he died in 1935. The Lulu interlude film, contrary to the previous example, was intended to chain the action between the first half and the second half of the opera. Because of the completely symmetrical build of this opera, the filmic interlude of Lulu is as a manner of speech the axis of the opera.
  • Interludes of the divertimento kind can be found in Leos Janacek's last, and sombre, opera From the house of the dead (1928): releasing the tension after Skuratov's disheartening tale at the centre of the second act, two "play in play"'s (an "opera" and a "pantomime") are executed consecutively by a cast of prisoners, both presentations a farcical variation on the Don Juan theme, and mirroring the religious ceremony divertimento before the Skuratov tale.
  • Also the first publicly performed furniture music composed by Erik Satie was premiered as entr'acte music (1920 - the play for which it was written fell in oblivion), with this variation that it was intended as background music to the sound a public would usually produce at intermission time, walking around and talking. To which allegedly the public did not obey (they kept silently in their places and listened, trained by a habit of incidental music), much to the frustration of the avant-garde musicians that tried to save their idea by inciting the public to get up, talk, and walk around.
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46