SATIE: Piano Works, Vol. 2 (Ibolya Toth/ Klara Kormendi) (Naxos: 8.550697)
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Erik Satie (1866 - 1925)
Piano Works Vol. 2
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 Massin and decor by Picasso. The scandal of the first performance, inMay 1917, made Satie a hero to a younger group of composers, to be known as Les Six. In1923, under the inspiration of Darius Milhaud, his collaborator in musique d'ameublement,furniture music, that was not supposed to be listened to, he became the centre of anothergroup of younger composers, the Ecole d' Arceuil, its name derived from the poor andrelatively remote district of Paris where Satie lived a life of the utmost simplicity, hisroom furnished with a chair, a table and a hammock, the last heated in winter by bottlesfilled with hot water placed below and looking, according to Stravinsky, like some strangekind of marimba. He died on 1st July 1925, after an illness of some six months.
Many of the titles Satie chose for his compositions wereidiosyncratic in the extreme. The three short pieces that make up the Musiques in times etsecretes (Intimate and Secret Music), written between 1906and 1913, have their general andindividual titles provided by a later editor. Nostalgie(Nostalgia), Froide songerie
(Cold Dreaming) and Facheux exemple
(Annoying Example) are characteristically simple. Caresse too, written in 1897, has beengiven a fitting editorial title, in common with the twelve very brief chorales of 1906.
The first of the Danses detravers (Crossed Up Dances) not published by Satie, is thought by its editor tobelong rather to the Airs ?á faire fuir ofthe same year, 1897. The published dances and the Airs?á faire fuir (Airs that chase away) form a collection of far from cold Pieces froides (Cold Pieces), a typically eccentricchoice of title. The three Danses de travers
are dedicated to Madame J. Ecorcheville, wife of the editor of the revue of the societeinternationale de musique. These published pieces contain the customary eccentricdirections to the performer. The first of the dances, written, as are all these Pieces froides, without bar-lines, starts with aninstruction to the player to have a good look (en y regardant ?á deux fois), and later togive the word, play flat out, white, then still. The second dance tells the performer togo on, then to play du coin de la main, with the corner of the hand, ?¬tre visible unmoment, to be visible for a moment, and finally to offer music that is un peu cuit, mediumrare. Similar instructions appear in the score of the third dance, which follows at once,since the first two dances lack double bar-lines or final cadences. Amazingly, very good,perfect, the composer remarks, as the dance progresses, and then, a caution, N'allez pasplus haut, don't go too high, sans bruit, noiselessly and, at the end, tr?¿s loin, faroff.
There is nothing particularly deterrent in the Airs ?á faire fuir, dedicated to the pianist RicardoVines, friend of Ravel and teacher of Poulenc. The performer should play d'une manieretres particuli?¿re, in a very unusual manner, and then is commanded to obey, to descend,settle down and not worry: enigmatic, Satie adds, and then dans le fond, rock bottom, withfascination and far away. The second air follows without pause, marked Modestement,modestly, to be played sans sourciller, without frowning: then it is something a sucer, tosuck on, followed by a passage dans le plus profond silence, in the deepest silence. Thethird air opens with the direction Invitingly, before the performer is commanded not toeat too much, a stricture repeated as the piece comes to an end. The three Nouvelles pieces froides (New Cold Pieces), writtenbetween 1906 and 1910, have their general title from their editor, the first Sur un mur (On a wall), the second Sur un arbre (On a tree) and the third Sur un pont (On a bridge), titles of no apparentrelevance to the musical content.
The Quatre preludes flasques
(Four Flabby Preludes), for a dog, are particularly unflabby in mood and texture. Theywere written in 1912. Voix d'interieur
(Interior Voice) is followed by Idylle cynique
(Cynical Idyll), a play on the Greek canine derivation of cynique. There is a Chansoncanine (Canine Song) and a final piece Avec camaraderie (With Comradeship). The three Nouvelles pieces enfantines (New Children's Pieces)were edited and published posthumously, with the titles Levilain petit vaurien (The Wretched Little Goo