Work: Gymnopédie no 3
About This Work
Written during the late 1880s while he was working as a cabaret pianist in Paris, Erik Satie's Trois gymnopédies (3 Gymnopédies) are famous pieces, recognizable to countless shoppers and restaurant-goers who have never heard of Satie
(the use of the music as background-sound is something of which Satie would have wholly approved). The third of the Gymnopédies, Lent et grave (slowly and solemnly), has achieved further fame as an orchestral work, having been orchestrated, along with the first, by Claude Debussy about ten years after Satie first composed it. It is in the Gymnopédies that Satie first revealed the unique and unusual style that would make him famous (or infamous) in European musical circles: simple but occasionally unexpected chords in the left hand, and a simple but curvaceous melody in the right -- and nothing else. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Satie was considered either an ingenious innovator and satirist or an untrained, even incompetent, charlatan, depending on whom one asked; and the debate still rages today. But, one way or the other, it is difficult not to like a piece such as the third Gymnopédie, when played as it was meant to be played -- as a simple, straightforward piece of stylized texture. The quiet, long, A minor lines and repetitive (even hypnotic, in a good pianist's hands) accompaniment rhythm conjure up an idealized ancient Greek atmosphere (explicitly suggested by the word "gymnopédie") and transport the listener straight into the bizarre, personalized world of Satie's craft.
-- Blair Johnston
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