Satie by France Clidat – Complete Piano Works / Gnossiennes.. + Presentation (Century's recording)
The most important image that posterity has retained of Satie is that of a humorist, a whimsical composer devoted to provocation. extravagance and even audacity, as much in his music as in his behaviour Many of the titles which he gave to his compositions for piano have tended to accentuate this reputation even further. Could a musician who composed like “Airs à faire fuir” (“Airs to make you run away”) “Préludes flasques” (“Limp preludes”). “Embryons desséchés” (“Shrivelled embryos”) etc.. be anything but a likeable, irrational person ? Throughout his life, Erik Satie was not quite in keeping with the current musical styles nor with the wishes of his friends. He enjoyed paradoxical situations and came close to scandals Satie, the recluse, was associated with the clamorous movements of his time, more or less an accomplice of them and more or less claimed by them. A mysterious, complex character, one cannot be indifferent to him and depending on the person and the period, he gave rise to contradictory opinions, from extravagant eulogies to contemptuous rejection Today, John Cage the American composer, did not hesitate in asserting that : “To be interested in Satie you have to start by being disinterested, accept that a sound is a sound and that a man is a man, renounce to the illusions one has about the ideas of order, the expression of feelings and all the other aesthetical claptrap which we have inherited. It’s not a question of knowing whether Satie is valid or not he is indispensable.” Born in 1866 in Honfleur (Calvados), Erik Satie studied at the Conservatoire de Paris. He resided in Montmartre and lived as well as he could from his piano, at first as the second pianist at the Chat Noir night-club, the meeting-place of bohemian, then as the dance pianist at the Clou Tavern he made friends with Debussy At this tilt he also composed the ‘Ogives’, ‘Sarabande’, ‘Gnossienne’ and ‘Gymnopédies’. In the 1890’s the Rosicrucian brotherhood was fashionable. This sect, founded by Joseph Péladan, was concerned with aesthetics, defended the cause of beauty and attacked all forms of ugliness Did Satie really join this movement ? In any case he was seen in its company and in the circle of Péladan’s friends. To accompany Pélandan’s writings he composed the “Preludes du Fils des Etoiles” (“Preludes for the Son of the Stars”) and a “Hymne au drapeau” (“Hymn to the Flag”), then, still in the spirit of this movement, his “Sonneries de la Rose-Croix” (“Rosicrucian Calls”) His “Prélude de la porte héroïque du Ciel” (“Prelude of the Heroic Gates of Heaven”) belongs to the same period. Years of relative silence ensued with occasionally a few compositions such as “Pièces froides” (‘’Cold Pieces’’). This was a time of solitude, poverty and a kind of oblivion in his lodgings in Arcueil. He was sick and tired of sadness In 1905 when he was nearly forty years of age. he decided to study music “seriously” and went to the Schola Cantorum to study with Professors Vincent d’Indy and Albert Roussel. He left a few years later having been awarded a diploma which he passed with distinction As soon as his academic education was completed he launched out in an avant-garde direction. In a concert of the International Music Society, in 1911, Ravel himself brought to the forefront a few works by the musician who, two years later, he called a “brilliant precursor” Ravel also orchestrated the theatre music ‘Fils des étoile’ (‘Son of the Stars’). Then Roland-Manuel orchestrated the “Prelude of the Heroic Gates of Heaven” and Debussy orchestrated and conducted his 1st and 3rd Gymnopédies At this time Satie wrote to his brother “About this, it’s up to the “young people” to organize an anti-Indyist movement and to have the ‘Sarabandes’, ‘Son of the Stars’, etc. performed, works which in the past were considered as the result of great ignorance, wrongly, according to these “young people” That’s life old chap. Impossible to understand.” Now he was up-to-date, “with it”. In three years he wrote about sixty pieces for piano, pieces which through their titles or their forms, continued to exploit parody, mockery and farce Then came the attraction for the theatre, the association with Jean Cocteau, the “Parade”, “Relâche” (“No Performance”) and “Mercure” (“Mercury”) ballets, the symphonic drama “Socrates”, “Musique d’ameublement” (“Furnishing Music”), the music for the film “Entr’acte” by René Clair. . . Erik Satie died in 1925 in the Saint-Joseph hospital in Paris from an excess of drinking or pneumonia A man of dry and ironical humour with a caustic mind, but also poetical and eager for innovation, Satie was opposed to things in order to assert himself. He parodied the sublime in Wagner, flourished mock-heroism against the Impressionists’ refinement The Group of Six chose him as their leader and the School of Arcueil (of which Henri Sauguet was a devotee) was formed around him This was eagerness for a simplicity of expression reaching the “art of essential”, so much in vogue with the young in the years 1920-30. Numbering about a hundred, often in groups of three (a favourite number for Satie), the pieces for piano reflect the musician’s evolution wherein a constant search for the essential and a certain ‘awkwardness’ of style can be felt His irony is always present and is manifest in the writing, in the titles and his sardonic derision aimed at particular composers of his time Was he a dedicated humorist. through self-defence, through necessity, to reply to the image which others had made of him ?
Satie and his works will still have a great deal of difficulty in ridding themselves of the reputation which sticks to them like glue Yet Satie’s genius is something quite different, it is also “this insidious audactiy, this feeling for exceptional sonorities and uncommon determination, for artfully ambiguous aggregation” which Alfred Cortot justly revealed But all the same. let us not forget this tenderness and nostalgia so dear to the modern world. END