Erik Satie


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 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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Satie: Complete Works For Piano 4 Hands / Duo Campion-vachon
Release Date: 12/12/1995   Label: Analekta  
Catalog: 23040   Number of Discs: 1
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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, Ravel: Gymnopédies, Nocturnes, Etc / Francine Kay
Release Date: 10/26/2006   Label: Analekta  
Catalog: 23146   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Gymnopédie no 1


About This Work
One imagines that Erik Satie -- a man who wrote an absurd autobiography detailing his day's activities down to the minute, a man whose apartment was filled with dozens and dozens of umbrellas at the time of his death, a man who had the notion to Read more compose "wallpaper music," music meant to be absolutely ignored by the audience -- might be tickled to death to know that his best-known pieces, the Gymnopédie and the Gnossiennes for solo piano, are now recognized by thousands upon thousands the world over. They are heard in soundtracks, over restaurant speakers (something to which they are admirably suited, considering that their composer worked as a café pianist). Very few people, however, know anything at all of the eccentric subtitles and indications that Satie wrote on his scores. The first of the three Gymnopédie, for instance, is a "Spartan dance of naked youths and men" (rather a tame description by comparison with some of Satie's others).

The three Gymnopédie were composed during 1888; No. 1 is marked Lent et douloureux (slow and mournfully). Its steady 3/4 meter music falls into to nearly identical halves, with an accompaniment that sets up a regular rhythm (short-long, short-long) in the first bars and then veers from that rhythm only at the very end of each half. Atop this gently swaying background is a melody of the most peculiarly expressive kind; its quarter notes are translucent, its longer notes somehow hollow at their center (but not cold). The end of the second half is made to spin around a low E pedal (the dissonance of the F naturals above the pedal is absolutely empty -- there is, amazingly, almost no harmonic tension to it, and the pianist is well advised not to overlay any) before winding down to a glasslike modal cadence. Love it or hate it (and there are countless on both sides), only Satie could have written this piece.

-- Blair Johnston Read less

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