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Erik Satie (Original 1895)
Selfportrait of Erik Satie. The text reads (translated from French): Project for a bust of Mr. Erik Satie (painted by the same), with a thought: "I came into the world very young, in an age that was very old"

Éric Alfred Leslie Satie (Honfleur, 17 May 1866 – Paris, 1 July 1925) was a French composer and pianist. Starting with his first composition in 1884, he signed his name as Erik Satie.

Satie was introduced as a "gymnopedist" in 1887, shortly before writing his most famous compositions, the Gymnopédies. Later, he also referred to himself as a "phonometrician" (meaning "someone who measures sounds") preferring this designation to that of "musician", after having been called "a clumsy but subtle technician" in a book on contemporary French composers published in 1911.[1]

In addition to his body of music, Satie also left a remarkable set of writings, having contributed work for a range of publications, from the dadaist 391 to the American Vanity Fair. Although in later life he prided himself on always publishing his work under his own name, in the late nineteenth century he appears to have used pseudonyms such as Virginie Lebeau and François de Paule in some of his published writings.

Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde. His work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd.

Contents

Life and work

From Normandy to Montmartre

Erik Satie's youth was spent alternating between living in Honfleur, Basse-Normandie, and Paris. When he was four years old, his family moved to Paris, his father (Alfred), having been offered a translator's job in the capital. After his mother (born Jane Leslie Anton, who was born in London to Scottish parents) died in 1872, he was sent, together with his younger brother Conrad, back to Honfleur, to live with his paternal grandparents. There he received his first music lessons from a local organist. When his grandmother died in 1878, the two brothers were reunited with their father in Paris, who remarried (a piano teacher) shortly afterwards. From the early 1880s onwards, Alfred Satie started publishing salon compositions (by his new wife and himself, among others).

Satie house and museum in Honfleur

In 1879 Satie entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he was soon labelled untalented by his teachers. After being sent home for two and a half years, he was readmitted to the Conservatoire at the end of 1885, but was unable to make a much more favourable impression on his teachers than he had before, and, as a result, resolved to take up military service a year later. However, Satie's military career did not last very long; within a few weeks he left the army through deceptive means.

In 1887 Satie left home to take lodgings in Montmartre. By this time he had started what was to be an enduring friendship with the romantic poet Patrice Contamine, and had had his first compositions published by his father. He soon integrated with the artistic clientèle of the Le Chat Noir Café-cabaret, and started publishing his Gymnopédies. Publication of compositions in the same vein (Ogives, Gnossiennes, etc.) followed. In the same period he befriended Claude Debussy. He moved to a smaller room, still in Montmartre (rue Cortot N° 6), in 1890. By 1891 he was the official composer and chapel-master of the Rosicrucian Order "Ordre de la Rose-Croix Catholique, du Temple et du Graal", led by Sâr Joséphin Péladan, which led to compositions such as Salut drapeau!, Le fils des étoiles, and the Sonneries de la Rose+Croix.

By mid-1892 he had composed the first pieces in a compositional system of his own making (Fête donnée par des Chevaliers Normands en l'honneur d'une jeune demoiselle), had provided incidental music to a chivalric esoteric play (two Prélude du Nazaréen), had had his first hoax published (announcing the premiere of Le bâtard de Tristan, an anti-Wagnerian opera he probably never composed), and had broken with Péladan, starting that autumn with the Uspud project, a "Christian Ballet", in collaboration with Contamine de Latour. While the comrades from both the Chat Noir and Miguel Utrillo's Auberge du Clou sympathised, a promotional brochure was produced for the project, which reads as a pamphlet for a new esoteric sect.

Satie and Suzanne Valadon, an artists' model and artist in her own right, and a long-time friend of Miguel Utrillo (and mother of Maurice Utrillo), began an affair early in 1893. After their first night together, he proposed marriage. The two did not marry, but Valadon moved to a room next to Satie's at the Rue Cortot. Satie became obsessed with her, calling her his Biqui, and writing impassioned notes about "her whole being, lovely eyes, gentle hands, and tiny feet". During their relationship, Satie composed the Danses gothiques as a kind of prayer to restore peace of mind, and Valadon painted a portrait of Satie, which she gave to him. After six months she moved away, leaving Satie broken-hearted. Afterwards, he said that he was left with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness". It is believed this was the only intimate relationship Satie ever had.

In the same year he met the young Maurice Ravel for the first time, Satie's style emerging in the first compositions of the youngster. One of Satie's own compositions of that period, the Vexations, was to remain undisclosed until after his death. By the end of the year he had founded the Eglise Métropolitaine d'Art de Jésus Conducteur (the Metropolitan Church of Art of the Leading Christ). As its only member, in the role of "Parcier et Maître de Chapelle" he started to compose a Grande messe (later to become known as the Messe des pauvres), and wrote a flood of letters, articles and pamphlets showing off his self-assuredness in religious and artistic matters. To give an example: he applied for membership of the Académie Française twice, leaving no doubt in the application letter that the board of that organisation (presided by Camille Saint-Saëns) as much as owed him such membership. Such proceedings without doubt rather helped to wreck his popularity in the cultural establishment. In 1895 he inherited some money, allowing him to have more of his writings printed, and to change from wearing a priest-like habit to being the "Velvet Gentleman".

Moving to Arcueil — cabaret compositions, Schola Cantorum

By mid-1896 all his financial means had vanished, and he had to move to cheaper lodgings, first at the Rue Cortot, to a room not much bigger than a cupboard, and two years later (after he'd composed the two first sets of Pièces froides in 1897), to Arcueil, a suburb some five kilometers from the centre of Paris (in the Val-de-Marne district of the Île-de-France).

At this period he re-established contact with his brother Conrad (in much the way Vincent van Gogh had with his brother Theo) for numerous practical and financial matters, disclosing some of his inner feelings in the process. The letters to Conrad made it clear that he had set aside any religious ideas (which were not to return until the last months of his life).

From the winter of 1898–1899, Satie could be seen, as a daily routine, leaving his apartment in the Parisian suburb of Arcueil to walk across Paris to either Montmartre or Montparnasse, before walking back again in the evening.

From 1899 on he started making money as a cabaret pianist (mostly accompanying Vincent Hyspa, later also Paulette Darty), adapting over a hundred compositions of popular music for piano (or piano and voice), adding some of his own. The most popular of these were Je te veux (text by Henry Pacory), Tendrement (text by Vincent Hyspa), Poudre d'or (a waltz), La diva de l'"Empire" (text by Dominique Bonnaud/Numa Blès), Le Picadilly (A March), Légende californienne (text by Contamine de Latour lost, but the music later reappears in La belle excentrique), and many more (probably even more have been lost). In his later years Satie would reject all his cabaret music as vile and against his nature[2] (although he revived some of the fun of it in his 1920 Belle excentrique), but for the time being, it was an income.

Only a few compositions that Satie himself took seriously remain from this period: Jack-in-the-box, music to a pantomime by Jules Dépaquit (called a "clownerie" by Satie), Geneviève de Brabant, a short comic opera on a serious theme, text by Lord Cheminot, The Dreamy Fish, piano music to accompany a lost tale by Lord Cheminot, and a few others (mostly incomplete, hardly any of them staged, and none of them published at the time).

Both Geneviève de Brabant and The Dreamy Fish have been analysed (e.g. by Ornella Volta) as containing elements of competition with Claude Debussy, of which Debussy was probably not aware (Satie not making this music public). Meanwhile, Debussy was having one of his first major successes with Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902, leading a few years later to ‘who-was-precursor-to-whom’ debates between the two composers (in which Maurice Ravel would also get involved).

In October 1905 Satie enrolled in Vincent d'Indy's Schola Cantorum to study classical counterpoint (while still continuing his cabaret work). Most of his friends were as dumbfounded as the professors at the Schola when they heard about his new plan to return to the classrooms (especially as d'Indy was an admiring pupil of Saint-Saëns, not particularly favoured by Satie). As for Satie's motivation for this step, there were probably two main reasons: first, he was tired of being told that the harmonisation of his compositions was erratic (a criticism he could not very well counter, not having completed any studies in music), and secondly, he was developing the idea that one of the most typical characteristics of French music was clarity (which could better be achieved with a good background knowledge of how traditional harmony was perceived). Satie would follow these courses at the Schola, as a respected pupil, for more than five years, receiving a first (intermediate) diploma in 1908.

Some of his classroom counterpoint-exercises would, after his death, be published (e.g., the Désespoir agréable), but he probably saw the En habit de cheval (published in 1911 as the result of "eight years hard work to come to a new, modern fugue") as the culmination of the Schola episode. Another summary, of the period prior to the Schola, also appeared in 1911: the Trois morceaux en forme de poire, which was a kind of compilation of the best of what he had written up to 1903.

Something that becomes clear through these published compilations is that Satie did not so much reject Romanticism (and its exponents like Wagner), as he rejected certain aspects of it. From his first composition to his last, he rejected the idea of musical development, in the strict definition of this term: the intertwining of different themes in a development section of a sonata form. As a result, his contrapuntal (and other works) were very short; the "new, modern" Fugues do not extend further than the exposition of the theme(s). Generally, he would say that he did not think it permitted that a composer take more time from his public than strictly necessary. Also Melodrama, in its historical meaning of the then popular romantic genre of "spoken words to a background of music", was something Satie avoided. (His 1913 Le piège de Méduse could be seen as an absurdistic spoof of that genre.)

In the meantime, other changes had also taken place: Satie had become a member of a radical (socialist) party, had socialised with the Arcueil community (amongst other things, he'd been involved in the "Patronage laïque" work for children), and he had changed his appearance to that of the 'bourgeois functionary' (with bowler hat, umbrella, etc.). Also, instead of involving himself again in any kind of medievalist sect, he channelled these interests into a peculiar secret hobby: in a filing cabinet he maintained a collection of imaginary buildings (most of them described as being made out of some kind of metal), which he drew on little cards. Occasionally, extending the game, he would publish anonymous small announcements in local journals, offering some of these buildings (e.g., a "castle in lead") for sale or rent.

Riding the waves

Erik Satie: project of bust, 1913

From this point, things started to move very quickly for Satie. First, there was, starting in 1912, the success of his new "miniature", humorous piano pieces; he was to write and publish many of these over the next few years (most of them premiered by the pianist Ricardo Viñes): the Véritables préludes flasques (pour un chien) ("Genuine Flaccid Preludes (for a dog)"), the Vieux sequins et vieilles cuirasses ("Old Sequins and Old Breastplates"), the Embryons desséchés ("Desiccated Embryos"), the Descriptions automatiques, and the Sonatine bureaucratique (a Muzio Clementi spoof), etc., all date from this period. His habit of accompanying the scores of his compositions with all kinds of written remarks was now well established (so that a few years later he had to insist that these not be read out during performances). He had mostly stopped using barlines by this time. In some ways these compositions were very reminiscent of Rossini's compositions from the final years of his life, grouped under the name Péchés de vieillesse.

But the real acceleration in Satie's life did not come so much from the increasing success of his new piano pieces. In fact, it was Ravel who (perhaps unwittingly) triggered something that was to become a characteristic of Satie's remaining years and part of each progressive movement that manifested itself in Paris over the following years. These movements succeeded one another rapidly, at a time in which Paris was seen as the artistic capital of the world (long before London or New York would achieve much significance in this regard), and the beginning of the new century appeared to have set many minds on fire.

In 1910 the "Jeunes Ravêlites", a group of young musicians around Ravel, proclaimed their preference for Satie's earlier work (from before the Schola period), reinforcing the idea that Satie had been a precursor of Debussy. At first Satie was pleased that at least some of his works were receiving public attention, but when he realised that this meant that his more recent work was overlooked or dismissed, he looked for other young artists who related better to his more recent ideas, so as to have better mutual support in creative activity. Thus young artists such as Roland-Manuel, and later Georges Auric, and Jean Cocteau, started to receive more of his attention than the "Jeunes".

As a result of his contact with Roland-Manuel, Satie again began publicising his thoughts, with far more irony than he had done before (amongst other things, the Mémoires d'un amnésique and Cahiers d'un mammifère).[3]

With Jean Cocteau, whom he had first met in 1915, Satie started work on incidental music for a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (resulting in the Cinq grimaces). From 1916, he and Cocteau worked on the ballet Parade, which was premiered in 1917 by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets russes, with sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso, and choreography by Léonide Massine. Through Picasso Satie also became acquainted with other cubists, such as Georges Braque, with whom he would work on other, aborted, projects.

With Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, and Germaine Tailleferre Satie formed the Nouveaux jeunes, shortly after writing Parade. Later the group was joined by Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud. In September 1918, Satie — giving little or no explanation — withdrew from the Nouveaux jeunes. Jean Cocteau gathered the six remaining members, forming the Groupe des six (to which Satie would later have access, but later again would fall out with most of its members).

From 1919 Satie was in contact with Tristan Tzara, the initiator of the Dada movement. He became acquainted with other artists involved in the movement, such as Francis Picabia (later to become a Surrealist), André Derain, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Hugo and Man Ray, among others. On the day of his first meeting with Man Ray, the two fabricated the artist's first readymade: The Gift (1921). Satie contributed writing to the Dadaist publication 391. In the first months of 1922 he was surprised to find himself entangled in the argument between Tzara and André Breton about the true nature of avant-garde art, epitomised by the failure of the Congrès de Paris. Satie originally sides with Tzara, but manages to maintain friendly relations with most players in both camps. Meanwhile, an "Ecole d'Arcueil" had formed around Satie, with young musicians like Henri Sauguet, Maxime Jacob, Roger Désormière and Henri Cliquet-Pleyel.

Finally he composed an "instantaneist" ballet (Relâche) in collaboration with Picabia, for the Ballets Suédois of Rolf de Maré. In a simultaneous project, Satie added music to the surrealist film Entr'acte by René Clair, which was given as an intermezzo for Relâche.

Other work and episodes in this last period of Satie's life:

  • Since 1911 he had been on friendly terms with Igor Stravinsky, about whom he would later write articles.
  • Le piège de Méduse (1913) had a unique position in Satie's oeuvre, as it was a stage work conceived and composed seemingly without any collaboration with other artists.
  • Sports et divertissements was a kind of multi-media project, in which Satie provided piano music to drawings made by Charles Martin. The work was composed in 1914, but not published or performed until the early 1920s. The individual pieces are characteristic Satie "miniatures": in all, there are twenty pieces - none over two minutes in length, and some as short as 15 seconds.
  • He got in trouble over an insulting postcard he had written to one of his critics shortly after the premiere of Parade; he was condemned to a week of imprisonment, but was finally released as a result of the (financial) intercession of Winnaretta Singer, Princess Edmond de Polignac.
  • Singer, who had learnt Ancient Greek when she was over 50, had commissioned a work on Socrates in October 1916; this would become his Socrate, which he presented early in 1918 to the Princess.
  • From 1917 Satie wrote five pieces of furniture music ("Musique d'ameublement") for different occasions.
  • From 1920, he was on friendly terms with the circles around Gertrude Stein, amongst others, leading to the publication of some of his articles in Vanity Fair (commissioned by Sibyl Harris).
  • Some works would originate under the patronage of the count Etienne de Beaumont, from 1922 onwards:
    • La statue retrouvée (or "Divertissement"): another Satie-Cocteau-Picasso-Massine collaboration.
    • Ludions: a setting of nonsense rhyme by Léon-Paul Fargue
    • Mercure: the subtitle of this piece ("Poses plastiques") suggests it might have been intended rather as an emulation of the tableau vivant genre than as an actual ballet, the "tableaux" being cubist, by Picasso (and Massine).
  • During his final years Satie travelled; for example, in 1924 to Belgium, invited by Paul Collaer, and to Monte Carlo for the premiere of a work on which he had collaborated.

Epilogue: the shrine of Arcueil

After years of heavy drinking, Satie died on 1 July, 1925, from cirrhosis of the liver.[4] At the time of his death absolutely nobody else had ever entered his room in Arcueil since he had moved there twenty-seven years earlier. What his friends would discover there, after Satie's burial at the Cimetière d'Arcueil, had the allure of the opening of the grave of Tutankhamun; apart from the dust and the cobwebs (which, among other things, made clear that Satie never composed using his piano), they discovered numerous items that included:

  • great numbers of umbrellas, some that had apparently never been used by Satie,
  • a total of four pianos: two of which were back to back, two of which sat upside-down on top of the other two
  • the portrait of Satie by Suzanne Valadon,
  • love-letters and drawings from the Valadon romance,
  • other letters from all periods of his life,
  • his collection of drawings of medieval buildings (only then did his friends see a link between Satie and certain previously anonymous, journal advertisements regarding "castles in lead" and the like),
  • other drawings and texts of autobiographical value,
  • other memorabilia from all periods of his life, amongst which were the seven velvet suits from his Velvet gentleman period.

Additionally, there were compositions that were totally unknown or which were thought to have been lost. They were found behind the piano, in the pockets of the velvet suits, and in other odd places. These included the Vexations, Geneviève de Brabant, and other unpublished or unfinished stage works, The Dreamy Fish, many Schola Cantorum exercises, a previously unseen set of "canine" piano pieces, several other piano works, often without a title. Some of these works would be published later as more Gnossiennes, Pièces froides, Enfantines, and Furniture music).

"Petit dictionnaire d'idées reçues" (short dictionary of preconceived ideas)

  • In MIDI file format:
    Carrelage phonique
    File:Carrelage phonique.MID
    Phonic Tiling, No. 2 of the first set of Furniture music
  • Problems listening to the files? See media help.

"Idée reçue" is a play on words; in French it is the normal term for "prejudice", but Satie used it as the non-material equivalent of found objects (as in readymades) — for example, when he incorporated odd bits of music by Saint-Saëns and Ambroise Thomas in his furniture music. This section treats some popular (mis)conceptions regarding Satie and his music:

Satie and furniture music: not all of Satie's music is furniture music. In the strict sense the term applies only to five of his compositions, which he wrote in 1917, 1920, and 1923. For the first public performance of furniture music see Entr'acte.

Satie as precursor: the only "precursor" discussion Satie was involved in during his lifetime was whether or not he was a precursor of Claude Debussy, but many would follow. Over the years Satie would be described as a precursor of movements and styles as varied as Impressionism, neo-classicism, Dada, Surrealism, atonalism, minimalism, conceptual art, the Theatre of the Absurd, muzak, ambient music, multimedia art, etc., and as taking the first steps towards techniques such as prepared piano and music-to-film synchronisation. Further, Satie became one of the first musicians to perform a cameo appearance — he was in a 1924 film by René Clair (see: a sample of the film (rm format) and the Entr'acte article).

All by himself Satie appears to have been the precursor to half of the avant-garde movements of the 20th century. Many of these "precursorisms" are possibly based on quite superficial resemblances only, while, on the other hand, he undeniably inspired and influenced many later artists, and their ideas. According to Milhaud, Satie had "prophesied the major movements in classical music to appear over the next fifty years within his own body of work." There is a website exploring that theory in detail: Erik Satie's Crystal Ball

Satie as humorist: many would be surprised to know how many of Satie's seemingly humorous compositions were at heart taken very seriously by him. When he forbade commentaries written in his partitions to be read aloud, he probably saw this himself as a means to safeguard the seriousness of his intentions. When, at the first public performance of Socrate, there was laughter, he felt hurt. Many other examples of his serious attitude can be found, but there's no doubt that Satie was a witty person, certainly not without many humorous idiosyncrasies.

Satie and compositions in three parts: although many of his compositions (e.g., most of the pre-war piano pieces) were indeed in three parts, there is no general rule in this respect. After his death, publishers would force more of them into an artificial three-part structure; Satie had actually already made a joke of such proceedings with his seven-part Trois Morceaux en forme de poire, which is French for "Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear."

Satie and (lack of) money: although Satie certainly knew periods of dire poverty, and was perhaps a little uncontrollable in his spending, in long periods of his life he had few worries in this sense. Although maybe not having much money in his pockets, he was (certainly from the second decade of the new century) often invited to expensive restaurants and to all sort of events, and was given financial help, by all sorts of people.

Satie as an opponent of other musical styles. The musical styles Satie opposed were allegedly numerous: Wagnerism, Romanticism (Saint-Saëns, Franck, etc.), Impressionism (Debussy and Ravel), Expressionism (later Ravel), Slavism (Stravinsky), post-Wagnerism (Schoenberg), cabaret music, etc. Apart from some animosities on the personal level (which can be seen as symptomatic of most adherents of avant-garde movements of those days), Satie's ideas on other music of his time generally had more subtlety; for example, about César Franck he could not be brought to write critically, but would avoid the issue with jokes ("Franck's music shows surprisingly much Franckism; Some even say César Frank was lazy, which is not a commendable property in a hard working man"). Perhaps the same can be said as above regarding "Satie as precursor": there is much empty discussion — for example, the debate with Debussy appears to have been over whether or not Satie was a precursor of Impressionism, which would not have made much sense if he had been opposed to Impressionism as such.

Satie and boredom. Satie often consciously disregarded the conception of development found in the German tradition (Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms). Satie's compositions tend to be very short; a typical movement of a Satie composition takes less than two minutes to play, and compositions with more than five movements are exceptional. Even his larger-scale works conforming to the genres known in his time would be two to five times shorter than the usual duration of such compositions (Socrate, a secular oratorio — or "symphonic drama" — lasting about half an hour, is the longest). In general, Satie thought it to be a great fault for a composer to bore his audience in any way. There are eight of his compositions that use repetition as a compositional technique, more than doubling the total duration:

  • Vexations: with 840 repetitions of the musical motif (and many more of the melody of the bass), this is definitely the longest single-movement work with a defined number of repetitions (note that, without the repetitions, the actual music takes less than two minutes to play). No explanation by Satie survives regarding the exceptional length of the piece. If excluding the Tango mentioned in the next point, performing the Vexations takes longer than all his other music played in sequence.
  • For Le Tango ("The Tango"), a rather catchy tune from Sports et divertissements, Satie indicates in the score perpétuel (i.e. something like a perpetuum mobile, which in French is "mouvement perpétuel"). There is little indication how Satie understood this "perpetual", apart that at the premiere, at least assisted by Satie, there was obviously nothing repeated ad infinitum, taken literally. When performed for a recording there is seldom more than one repeat of this part of the composition, making it one of the shortest tangos ever, something like a Minute Tango.
  • Five pieces of furniture music, which were intended as "background" music with no number of repeats specified. The circumstances in which such music was performed by Satie himself indicate, however, that the total playing times would be intended to be the usual 'intermission' time of a stage production (see Entr'acte). While the public was not expected to be silent, these compositions can hardly be seen as an experiment in boredom.
  • His music for the film Entr'acte has ten repeat zones in order to synchronise with the twenty-minute film (which has a very varied plot, so not much boredom is to be found there either).

Satie and sexuality: much has been said about Satie's sexuality, ranging from "hidden" homosexuality to "ordinary" heterosexuality. In fact, apart from the short-lived, and highly "idealised", Valadon period, Satie's behaviour appeared more or less asexual: he tended to be dismissive when the topic of sexuality came up. See also: Gymnopédie.

Media

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Recordings and arrangements

Piano works

Recordings of Satie's piano works have been released by Cristina Ariagno, Jean-Pierre Armengaud, Aldo Ciccolini, Claude Coppens (live recording), Reinbert de Leeuw, Eve Egoyan, Philippe Entremont, Frank Glazer, Olof Höjer, Michel Legrand, Jacques Loussier, Anne Queffélec, Bill Quist, Pascal Rogé, João Paulo Santos, Yuju Takahashi, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Daniel Varsano, among others.

Orchestral and vocal
Arrangements

Various composers and individual performers have made arrangements of Satie's piano pieces for chamber ensembles and orchestras, including Debussy. As well, Satie's works have been performed or adapted by various popular music artists and groups (e.g., Blood Sweat & Tears, Frank Zappa, Steve Hackett).

In 1968, Blood Sweat & Tears released their second album, which was a self-titled album. It included an adaptation of Erik Satie's Trois Gymnopédies (arranged by Dick Halligan) which they titled as Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie (First and Second Movements). Its instrumentation consisted only of flutes, an acoustic guitar and a triangle and the song's length was 2:35. In 1969, Halligan received a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Performance for "Variations On A Theme By Erik Satie" from the album Blood, Sweat & Tears.

In 1980, Gary Numan's 7" We Are Glass featured Trois Gymnopedies (First Movement) on the B-side.

In 1999, electronic music act Plaid's CD "Restproof Clockwork" included a track called "Tearisci" which is an uncredited version of Satie's "Pièces Froides, No.2: Danses De Travers: III. Encore".

In 2000, ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett released the album, "Sketches of Satie", performing Satie's works on acoustic guitar, with contributions by his brother John on flute. Frank Zappa was also a devoted fan of Satie, incorporating many elements into both his rock and orchestral works. The English electronic duo Isan recorded versions of the three Gymnopédies for a 2006 7-inch single, "Trois Gymnopedies" on the Morr Music record label.

In 2006 Eric Satie's Gymnopedie #1 was recorded and placed on the Japanese GBA Game MOTHER 3 the song was then renamed "Leder's Gymnpoedie" at the part of the game where Leder tells Lucas and his friends the historical events that happened during EarthBound to the future so forth.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "Je suis phonomètre avant d’être musicien" Aperçus phonométriques & autres sous-entendus
  2. ^ Erik Satie in a 17 January 1911 letter to his brother Conrad, quoted in Volta 1989 and in Gillmor 1992 (Chronology p. xxix)
  3. ^ English translations of these pieces were published in A Mammal's Notebook, see Sources section below.
  4. ^ Eric Satie - Biography at Humanitiesweb.org

Sources

In English, unless indicated:

Writings by Satie:

  • A Mammal's Notebook: Collected Writings of Erik Satie (Serpent's Tail; Atlas Arkhive, No 5, 1997) ISBN 0-947757-92-9 (with introduction and notes by Ornella Volta, translations by Anthony Melville, contains several drawings by Satie)
  • Correspondence presque complète: Réunie, établie et présentée par Ornella Volta (Paris: Fayard/Imes, 2000; 1265pp) ISBN 2-213-60674-9 (an almost complete edition of Satie's letters, in French)

Books on Satie:

  • Gillmor, Alan M., Erik Satie (Twayne Pub., 1988, reissued 1992; 387pp) ISBN 0-393-30810-3
  • Myers, Rollo H., Erik Satie. (Dover Publications, New York 1968.) ISBN 0-486-21903-8
  • Orledge, Robert, Satie Remembered (London: Faber and Faber, London, 1995)
  • Orledge, Robert, Satie the Composer Cambridge University Press: 1990; 437pp — in the series Music in the Twentieth Century [ed.] Arnold Whittall) ISBN 0-521-35037-9
  • Templier, Pierre-Daniel (translated by Elena L. French and David S. French), Erik Satie (The MIT Press, 1969, reissued 1971) ISBN 0-262-70005-0 and (New York: Da Capo Press, 1980 reissue) ISBN 0-306-76039-8
    • note: Templier extensively consulted Conrad, Erik Satie's brother, when writing this first biography that appeared in 1932. The English translation was, however, criticised by John Cage; in a letter to Ornella Volta (25 May 1983) he referred to the translation as disappointing compared to the formidable value of the original biography.
  • Volta, Ornella and Simon Pleasance, Erik Satie (Hazan: The Pocket Archives Series, 1997; 200pp) ISBN 2-85025-565-3
  • Volta, Ornella, transl. Michael Bullock, Satie Seen Through His Letters (Marion Boyars, 1989) ISBN 0-7145-2980-X
  • Whiting, Steven, Satie the Bohemian: from Cabaret to Concert Hall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999; 596pp)
    • a fully researched account of Satie's musical career in what then was regarded as popular music.

Other:

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Erik Satie, French composer

General Quotes

Satie made several versions of this small self-portrait, with the "thought" quote - these versions have also slight variations in the text
  • "I eat only white foods: eggs, sugar, grated bones, the fat of dead animals; veal, salt, coconut, chicken cooked in white water; fruit mold, rice, turnips; camphorated sausage, dough, cheese (white), cotton salad, and certain fish (skinless)."
    • Quoted by Rollo H. Myers (1968). Erik Satie, p.135. New York: Dover.
    • See also Socrate for the context of this quote.
  • "Étude pour un buste de M. Erik SATIE peint par lui-même, avec une pensée: je suis venu au monde très jeune dans un temps très vieux."
    • Translation: Study for a bust of Mr Erik Satie painted by himself, with a thought: I came into the world very young in a very old age.
    • (Written to accompany a self-portrait caricature drawn by himself - see image)
  • "It is divided into three movements, which closely approximate a symphony in form. The first, 'From Dawn to Noon on the Sea', begins with a thin, hauntingly grayed quality and grows animated in such a spiritual manner that it is hard to see how Debussy's friend Erik Satie could have forsaken his customary elegance to remark that he particularly enjoyed the part at a quarter past eleven."
    • From the (unattributed) sleeve-notes on the 1988 RCA Victor release of Claude Debussy's La Mer.
  • nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness.

Piano Works

Satie was well known for curious directions to the would-be performer of his piano works, and also a sort of "running commentary" which he inserted into his humouristic works.

  • Postulez en vous-même.
    • Wonder about yourself.
  • Munissez-vous de clairvoyance.
    • Provide yourself with shrewdness.
  • Seul, pendant un instant.
    • Alone, for one moment.
  • Très perdu.
    • Very lost.
  • Ouvrez la tête.
    • Open the head.
  • Superstitieusement.
    • Superstitiously.
  • D'une manière très particuliere.
    • In a very particular way.
  • Léger comme un œuf.
    • Light like an egg.
  • Citation de la célèbre mazurka de SCHUBERT
    • Citing of SCHUBERT's famous mazurka.
    • The piece in question that Satie was parodying was actually Chopin's Funeral March. Schubert never wrote any mazurkas that would have been well-known to his contemporaries, whereas Chopin wrote many of these pieces, that were very popular. Schubert was at the time however very often cited, for example, Satie's thentime friend Ravel had published Schubert-imitating Valses Nobles et Sentimentales in 1911.
  • Modéré, je vous prie.
    • Moderately, I insist.
  • Un peu chaud.
    • A little bit warm.
  • Très turc.
    • Very Turkish.

Simple English

File:Maisons Satie
Satie's house in Honfleur

Erik Satie (born Honfleur (France), 17 May 1866; died Paris, 1 July 1925) was a French composer. He is mainly remembered today for the strange ways he behaved. He often gave his music unusual titles such as Piece in the form of a pear. His best known musical compositions are the three piano pieces which he called Gymnopédies. The first of these pieces is a very famous piece of music: it is a simple tune over a gentle accompaniment. Satie sometimes used unusual instruments such as sirens and typewriters.

Satie was more than just an unusual man. He was very important in the development of music in France in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was important because of the ideas he had, and many people were influenced by him. Satie used ways of composing such as very chromatic music and Minimalism before many other people. These ways of writing music became more common later in the century. Satie was not a brilliant composer, but he was happy to compose well in a simple way. He was also interested in other arts such as literature and painting and he was associated with the new ideas called esprit nouveau (new spirit) which was fashionable in France around the time of World War I.

Contents

His Life

Early years

He was born Alfred Eric Leslie Satie, but as a grown-up he always spelt his name “Erik”. His father had been in the shipping business, but the family then moved to Paris. He was still quite young when his mother died and he was sent back to his birthplace, Honfleur, to be brought up by his father’s parents. However, his grandmother drowned, so he was sent back to Paris again where his father taught him. His father had married again. His new wife was a pianist and sent young Eric to have piano lessons at the Paris Conservatoire.

Satie hated his piano lessons. His teacher said that he was the laziest pupil in the Conservatoire. He was bad at sight-reading, but he continued with his lessons because this would make it possible for him to do just one year of military service instead of five. In fact, he did less than a year in the army because he deliberately got himself ill with bronchitis. While he was getting better he started to compose. His father published a few songs he had written. However, he did not get on well with his family and he left home in 1887.

The young Satie

Satie soon got to know many people in the famous cabaret Chat Noir. He grew his hair long and wore a frock coat and a top hat. He wrote a ballet which most people found shocking. He became friends with Debussy who was one of the only people who understood the serious reasons for Satie’s unusual behaviour.

In 1890 he moved to new rooms on a top floor of a house so that people to whom he owed money could not get at him. He tried to compose in a simple style and became interested in mystical religion and Gothic art. He inherited a small amount of money with which he bought himself seven velvet suits which were all exactly the same: one for each day of the week. He started a church called Église Métropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur (Metropolitan Church of Art of Conductor Jesus), but nobody belonged to the church except himself.

At the end of 1898 he moved to Arceuil, a suburb of Paris. He spent the rest of his life there. He stopped performing in public and earned money by playing the piano in cafés and pubs. Every morning he walked the 10 kilometres into Paris, stopping on the way at cafés to drink or compose. He wore a bowler hat, wing collar and always carried a rolled-up umbrella. If it was raining he kept his umbrella underneath his coat to keep it dry. He also carried a hammer in case anyone attacked him. Late at night he walked home again or took the last train back. His flat was a terrible mess.

Rise to fame

In 1905, at the age of 39, he became a student again and studied music at the Schola Cantorum. He wanted to become a better composer. He learned how to write fugues. He still liked to use parody in his music.

In 1911 Maurice Ravel played some of Satie’s piano pieces in public. Suddenly people began to take notice of Satie. They realized that he had been one of the first Impressionist composers. Debussy conducted his Gymnopédies in his arrangement for orchestra. Music critics started to write articles about Satie. He was at last becoming famous. He had some humorous piano pieces published. He was earning some money from his compositions, so he was able to give up playing in cabarets. He met Jean Cocteau who introduced him to Diaghilev for whom he wrote the music for Parade. Some people loved it, some hated it, but people were taking notice of him. He was asked to write more theatre music. He was a very important influence on the six composers who were known as Les Six. He was asked to write a symphonic drama which he called Socrate. Many musicians think it is his best piece.

Final years

In the 1920s he wrote many articles for newspapers and journals and became associated with the art movement known as Dada. His ballets Relâche and Mercure both shocked the audiences when they were first performed. Relâche is an early example of what later became the theatre of alienation.

Satie drank a lot of alcohol and became ill. He got cirrhosis of the liver and died in 1926. When his friends entered his flat after he died, there was so much mess that they had to throw away two cartloads of rubbish before they could get at his papers and manuscripts.

His music

Satie was involved with dance, theatre and cabaret for most of his life and that is what much of his music is written for. He was always trying out new ideas in his music. He was capable of writing in a late Romantic style with chromatic harmonies, but he also wrote in more modern styles, often using very simple ideas. He was always more interested in beautiful melodies than in writing complicated rhythms. His three Gymnopédies are still extremely popular. They seem to come from an old-fashioned world where there is great simplicity. His three Gnossiennes (1890) sound more Oriental, and Satie wrote some very strange remarks in the music. His piano piece Vexations (1893) is a short piece with strange, chromatic chords, which the pianist is then supposed to play 840 times. Uspud was an early example of what later became the “Theatre of the Absurd”. The text was all written in lower-case letters: the first time this had ever been done. He wrote many cabaret songs.

Later, after he had studied at the Schola Cantorum, he became famous, and then wrote lots of piano pieces with funny titles and strange comments (e.g. “like a nightingale with toothache”). Parade has strange instruments such as typewriters. Socrate was his most serious work.

After his death all the people he had insulted wrote about Satie that he was a bad composer. As a result he was almost forgotten until the 1960s when John Cage became interested in his music and made it popular again. Many Surrealist artists were often inspired by Satie’s music and ideas.








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