SATIE: Piano Works, Vol. 3 (Ibolya Toth/ Klara Kormendi) (Naxos: 8.550698)
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Erik Satie (1866 - 1925)
Piano Works Vol. 3
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.
The two early pieces Valseballet and Fantaisie-valse werewritten in 1887 and are dedicated to Madame Clement Le Breton and Contamine de Latourrespectively. The pieces were published in Musique desfamilles, and described there as Satie's Opus 62, with a nineteen-year-old'spardonable exaggeration. Both pieces were described by their publisher as elegantly done,with a tendency to dreaming and rhythmic asymmetry. Petiteouverture ?á danser, written before the turn of the century, is in similarvein, while Je te veux, another waltz, is inorigin a music-hall song written for and dedicated to the Montmartre cafe singer PauletteDarly. This is here followed by Premier menuet, aFirst Minuet.
The three Valsesdistinguees du precieux dego??te (Three Distinguished Waltzes of a JadedDandy), written in 1914, have an inescapable literary concomitant. The first of thewaltzes, Sa taille (His Figure), isdedicated to Roland Manuel, a young musician whom Satie had met in 1911 at PauletteDarty's. Satie adds a quotation from Les caract?¿res ofLa Bruy?¿re: Those who hurt the reputation or fortuneof others, rather than miss a witticism, deserve disgrace and punishment: that has notbeen said and I dare to say it. The music, spare, as ever, in texture, isaccompanied by descriptions of the actions suggested. At first the dandy looks at himself,then hums a fifteenth century tune, before paying himself a restrained compliment: whowill dare to say that he is not the most handsome? Is not his heart tender? He puts hishands on his hips and is delighted. What will the pretty marquise say? Wait a moment. Shewill struggle but will be conquered: yes, madame: is it not written? The second waltz isfor Mademoiselle Linette Chalupt and has the title Sonbinocle, (His Pince-nez). Satie adds a quotation from Cicero's De republica: Our old customs forbade a young man to appearnaked in the baths, and modesty thus cast its deep roots in our souls. Theperformer is told to play very slowly, if he please, and to bend gently, while the actionis described: he cleans his pince-nez every day, silver-framed with lens of smoked gold(Don't make a face, he adds, for the pianist). The pince-nez were given him by a beautifullady (Grow faint), such a nice souvenir, but ...(In the pit of the stomach). A greatsadness comes over our friend: he has lost the case for his pince-nez. The third waltz isfor the poet Rene Chalupt and has the title Ses jambes (HisLegs). A preliminary quotation from Cato's De rerustica (On Country Life) is added: Thefirst care of the land-owner, when he arrives at his farm, must be to pay reverence to thehouse-gods: then, the same day, if he has time, he should go round his domain, inspectingthe state of the fields, the work finished and that not yet complete. The dandyis very proud of his legs: they only dance special dances: they are nice slender legs. Inthe evening they are dressed in black: he wants to carry them under his arms: they slidealong, quite sad. Here they are indignant, very angry (Do not cough): often he kisses themand embraces them: how good it is for them! He absolutely refuses to buy leggings, like aprison, he says (Continue, without losing consciousness).
The Avant-derni?¿respensees (Next-to-last Thoughts) has a similar parallel commentary. The first, Idylle, is dedicated to Debussy, with the openingdirection to the performer: Moderately, I beg you. What do I see? The brook is all wet andthe wood dry and inflammable as sticks: but my heart is very small. The trees look likegreat ill-shaped combs, and the sun, like a bee-hive, has fair golden