SATIE: Piano Works, Vol. 1 (Ibolya Toth/ Klara Kormendi) (Naxos: 8.550696)
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Erik Satie (1866 - 1925)
Piano Works Vol. 1
The French composer Erik Satie earned himself a contemporaryreputation as an eccentric. Stravinsky later described him as the oddest person he hadever known and at the same time the most rare and constantly witty. His musicalinnovations proved immensely influential on his nearer contemporaries Debussy and Raveland on a younger generation of composers and artists in the years after the war of 1914.
Satie was born in 1866 at Honfleur, on the coast of Normandy.
His father was at the time a ship's broker, while his mother was of Scottish origin.
Something of his later eccentricity seems to have been acquired from his paternal uncle,Adrien Satie, known in Honfleur as a character. The family moved to Paris, but on thedeath of Satie's mother in 1872 he was sent back to Honfleur to the house of hisgrandparents. Six years later he returned to Paris, where in 1879 he entered theConservatoire. There he proved an undistinguished and unsatisfactory pupil, lingering on,according to one friend, in order to avoid the obligatory five years of military service.
His status as a student allowed him a period of one year in the 33rd Infantry, cut shortby a severe attack of bronchitis that he had deliberately courted.
Satie's few months of soldiering were followed by the firstpublications of his music, two piano pieces, and then a set of five songs, settings ofpoems by his friend Contamine de Latour, published by his father, who now had astationer's shop and small publishing business. Inspired by his reading, in the early1890s Satie came for a time under the influence of the extraordinary Josephin Peladan,self-styled S?ór Merodack of the Rose + Croix, an eccentric exponent of Rosicrucianismwith whom he had broken by 1892. Eclectic medieval preoccupations led him to establish hisown mock religion, the Metropolitan Church of the Art of Jesus the Conductor. Of this hedescribed himself fancifully as Parcier et Ma?«tre de Chapelle, the first title sheerinvention, issuing his publication Le cartulaire,in which critical enemies were attacked in appropriate style. At the same time,paradoxically, he was involved with Rudolf Salis and his bohemian cabaret, the Chat Noir.
The same years brought contact with Dubussy, with whom he remained on good terms in theyears that followed, in spite of the latter's tendency to patronise him.
In 1905, after a period in which he had been compelled to earnhis living as a cafe pianist and a composer of appropriate music, Satie enrolled as astudent at the Schola cantorum, where his teachers included Vincent d'Indy and Roussel.
Here he attempted to make up for his technical deficiencies as a composer by aconcentration on traditional counterpoint. He completed his studies in 1908, but onlybegan to win some success through the agency of Ravel, who in 1911 performed the threeSarabandes that Satie had written in 1887, establishing the originality of Satie's earlywork. The following years brought his compositions before a wider public, but it wasthrough the advocacy of Jean Cocteau that Satie's fame was more firmly established,particularly with collaboration in the Dyagilev ballet Parade, with choreography by Massinand decor by Picasso. The scandal of the first performance, in May 1917, made Satie a heroto a younger group of composers, to be known as Les Six. In 1923, under the inspiration ofDarius Milhaud, his collaborator in musique d'ameublement, furniture music, that was notsupposed to be listened to, he became the centre of another group of younger composers,the Ecole d' Arceuil, its name derived from the poor and relatively remote district ofParis where Satie lived a life of the utmost simplicity, his room furnished with a chair,a table and a hammock, the last heated in winter by bottles filled with hot water placedbelow and looking, according to Stravinsky, like some strange kind of marimba. He died on1st July 1925, after an illness of some six months.
Satie planned in 1919 a set of six Nocturnes, of which onlyfive were completed and a group of three published. These, the last of Satie'scompositions for the piano, rely in harmony on fourths and fifths and show acharacteristic simplicity of texture, if little of the mood of Chopin or Field suggestedby the title. The Premi?¿re pensee Rose + Croix andthree Sonneries de la Rose + Croix, Air de l'Ordre, Air du Grand Ma?«tre and Air du Grand Prieur, were written in the early 1890s,during the period of Satie's association with Peladan, music to be used in the ceremoniesof the order, until Satie publicly declaredhis independence in a letter to the paper Gil Blas couched in archaic French. Themusic, written without bar-lines, reflects something of the alternative mystical influenceof the painter Puvis de Chavannes, a reproduction of one of whose works was used on thecover of the published Sonneries.
Satie's R?¬verie del'enfance de Pantagruel, a whimsical reference to Rabelais, was written atabout the time of the Nocturnes, arelatively late work, while the Reverie du pauvre,a title not of the composer's making, reflects a period at the turn of the century thatfound him in some hardship. In 1898 he had moved out to Arceuil, and here "Monsieurle Pauvre" expressed his awareness of "le sejour mysterieux de Notre-DameBassesse" (the mysterious presence of Our Lady Humility), perhaps in the solemnsimplicity of this Reverie. The two Reveries Nocturnes, written in 1910 and 1911, thefirst of the pair without bar-lines, are of subtle lucidity, with their gentle evocationof mysterious night.
Prelude de la porte heroique du ciel,written in 1894 and dedicated by Satie to himself, belongs to the early period ofeccentric mysticism that followed his involvement with Rosicrucianism. The piece wasintended as an introduction to a play by Jules Bois, founder and editor of a publication Le Coeur. In the play Christ appears urging a poet todethrone the Virgin and put Isis in her place. This mingling of the ancient Egyptian withthe medieval is characteristic of the kind of esoteric mysticism in which Satie wasinvolved. The opening of the Prelude ismarked "Calme et profondement doux" (Calm and profoundly sweet) and typicaldirections to the performer continue. The second line is to be played superstitiously andlater passages are marked "Avec deference" and "Tres sincerementsilencieux" (Very sincerely silent), "En une timide piete" (With timidpiety), "Sans orgueil" (Without pride), before the curtain rises.
The four Ogives,published in 1886, echo Satie's fascination with the Gothic and medieval, and inparticular with the architecture of Notre Dame.
The three Sarabandes, later revealed to a wider public by Ravel, were products of 1887,but anticipate in their adventurous and novel harmonies music that Debussy was to write atthe dawn of the next century.
The Hungarian pianist Klara Kormendi was born in Budapest andstudied under Kornel Zempleni at the Bartok Conservatory, later becoming a student ofpeter Solymos at the Liszt Academy, where she received her diploma with distinction in1967. She enjoyed early success in a number of international competitions, beforeembarking on a career that has taken her to the major musical centres of Europe, withbroadcasts in Vienna, Paris and London, as well as Basle, Cologne, Lausanne and Ljubljana.
Klara Kormendi has a wide repertoire, and has always shown particular interest incontemporary repertoire, both Hungarian a