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Erik Satie

Biography

Born: May 17, 1866; France   Died: Jul 1, 1925; France   Period: 20th Century
Erik Satie was an important French composer from the generation of Debussy. Best remembered for several groups of piano pieces, including Trois Gymnopédies (1888), Trois Sarabandes (1887) and Trois Gnossiennes (1890), he was championed by Jean Cocteau and helped create the famous group of French composers, Les Six, which was fashioned after his artistic ideal of simplicity in the extreme. Some have viewed certain of his stylistic traits as Read more components of Impressionism, but his harmonies and melodies have relatively little in common with the characteristics of that school. Much of his music has a subdued character, and its charm comes through in its directness and its lack of allegiance to any one aesthetic. Often his melodies are melancholy and hesitant, his moods exotic or humorous, and his compositions as a whole, or their several constituent episodes, short. He was a musical maverick who probably influenced Debussy and did influence Ravel, who freely acknowledged as much. After Satie's second period of study, he began turning more serious in his compositions, eventually producing his inspiring cantata, Socrate, considered by many his greatest work and clearly demonstrating a previously unexhibited agility. In his last decade he turned out several ballets, including Parade and Relâche, indicating his growing predilection for program and theater music. Satie was also a pianist of some ability.
As a child Erik Satie showed interest in music and began taking piano lessons from a local church organist, named Vinot. While he progressed during this period, he showed no unusual gifts. In 1879 he enrolled in the Paris Conservatory, where he studied under Descombe (piano) and Lavignac (solfeggio), but failed to meet minimum requirements and was expelled in 1882. Satie departed Paris on November 15, 1886, to join the infantry in Arras, but he found military life distasteful and intentionally courted illness to relieve himself of duty. That same year his first works were published: Elégie, Trois Mélodies, and Chanson.
The years following his military service formed a bohemian period in Satie's life, the most significant events of which would be the beginnings of his friendship with Debussy, his exposure to eastern music at the Paris World Exhibition, and his association with a number of philosophical and religious organizations (most notably the Rosicrucian Brotherhood).
In 1905 he decided to resume musical study, enrolling in the conservative and controversial Schola Cantorum, run by Vincent d'Indy. His music took on a more academic and rigorous quality, and also began to exhibit the dry wit that would become hallmarks of his style. Many of his compositions received odd titles, especially after 1910, such as Dried up embryos and Three real flabby preludes (for a dog). Some of his works also featured odd instructions for the performer, not intended to be taken seriously, as in his 1893 piano work, Vexations, which carries the admonition in the score, "To play this motif 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities."
In 1925 Satie developed pleurisy and his fragile health worsened. He was taken to St. Joseph Hospital, where he lived on for several months. He received the last rites of the Catholic Church in his final days, and died on July 1, 1925. Read less
Satie: Piano Works / Klara Kormendi
Release Date: 10/29/2013   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8505237   Number of Discs: 5
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Satie: Parade, Trois Gymnopédies, Etc / Kaltenbach, Et Al
Release Date: 08/31/1999   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8554279   Number of Discs: 1
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Satie: Avant-Derničres Pensées - Solos & Duos / Alexandre Tharaud
Release Date: 02/10/2009   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 902017   Number of Discs: 2
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Satie: Piano Works Vol 2 / Klára Körmendi
Release Date: 06/28/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550697   Number of Discs: 1
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Satie: Piano Works Vol 3 / Klara Körmendi
Release Date: 01/01/1995   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550698   Number of Discs: 1
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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 Read more (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 Read less

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