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Chill with Satie

Erik Satie (1866-1925)

The French composer Erik Satie earned himself a reputationas an eccentric. Stravinsky described him as 'the oddest person he had everknown' but at the same time 'the most rare and constantly witty'. His musicalinnovations proved immensely influential on his nearer contemporaries Debussyand Ravel, and on a younger generation of composers and artists in the yearsafter the Great War of 1914-18.

Satie was born in 1866 at Honfleur on the Normandy coast.His father was a shipping broker at the time, and his mother was of Scottishorigin. The family moved to Paris but on the death of his mother in 1872 Satiewas sent back to Honfleur to the house of his grandparents. Six years later heentered the Conservatoire in Paris where he proved an unsatisfactory pupil,lingering on, it was alleged, to avoid the obligatory five years of militaryservice, reduced for students to one year.

After his discharge from the infantry Satie had his firstpieces published by his father, who now had a small publishing business. In theearly 1890s his preoccupation with the medieval age led him to establish hisown sub-religious movement, the Metropolitan Church of the Art of Jesus theConductor, of which he fancifully described himself as Parcier et Ma?«tre deChapelle, a title he had entirely invented. He started to publish LeCartulaire, a periodical in which he criticised those of whom he disapproved.This period also brought him into contact with Debussy, to whom he became veryclose.

In the early 1900s Satie earned a modest living as a cafepianist, after which he enrolled at the Schola Cantorum where for three yearshe tried to remedy his technical difficulties as a composer, particularly bythe study of counterpoint. It was not until the 1911 performance, under Ravel,of Satie's 1887 Sarabandes that the original nature of Satie's genius began tobe acknowledged. Further recognition came through his association withDyaghilev.  

In the years after the Great War he became the centre ofattention of a group of young composers known as Les Six. The group changed itsname in 1923 to the ?ëcole d'Arcueil, after the remote district of Paris where Satie chose to live in starksimplicity until his death in 1925.


Track 1 - Gymnopedie No. 1 (guitar/orchestra)

Track 5 - Gymnopedie No. 3 (guitar/orchestra)

Track 13 - Gymnopedie No. 1 (harp)

Track 18 - Gymnopedie No. 1 (orchestral)

Track 19 - Gymnopedie No. 2 (orchestral)

Track 20 - Gymnopedie No. 3 (orchestral)

Satie's famous Gymnopedies derive their name from the'Gymnop?ªdia' which was an Apollonic celebration in ancient Sparta where men ofall ages danced unarmed.

Within his Gymnopedies, Satie found a thin, ascetic, \naked"piano structure in which lonesome and singularly expressive melodies circlelike falling autumn leaves. There is a monotonous, low bass line accompaniment,and against it softly dissonant chords in the middle register, constantlyrepeating the same rhythm-pattern. Together this creates an atmosphere of vaguemelancholy, of mysticism and exoticism. Perhaps there is also a fin-de-si?¿clefeeling, even some nostalgia. His Gymnopedies, originally for piano, have sincebeen arranged for orchestra, guitar and harp and they still evoke the samefeelings of sentimental yearning.

            Ifyou would like to explore the arrangements of Satie's Gymnopedies further thentry:

            8.550088      GymnopediesNos. 1 & 2 (for Orchestra)

                       Slovak RSO

                       Ondrej Lenard

                       Keith Clark

            8.550480      GymnopediesNos. 1 & 2  (arranged forGuitar and Orchestra)        

                       Gerald Garcia (Guitar)

                       CSFR State Philharmonic Orchestra(Ko˘ sice)

                       Peter Breiner

            8.554166      GymnopediesNos. 1-3 (arranged for Flute and Harp)        

                        NoraShulman (Flute)

                        Judy Loman (Harp)

Track 2 - Premi?¿re pensee rose + croix

Track 15 - Sonneries de la rose + croix: Air de l'ordre

Track 16 - Sonneries de la rose + croix: Air du grand ma?«tre

Track 17 - Sonneries de la rose + croix: Air du grand prieur

Satie's methods changed during the period of his involvementwith Sar Peladan's Rosicrucian sect. His interest in liturgical chant becamemore apparent in his melodies, and the harmonies included more chords byfourths. The Trois Sonneries de la Rose + Croix is an excellent example of theapplication of Satie's interest in chant in his own religious work. Of the setof three pieces, two of them open with a sequence of chords in crotchets. Thisis followed by a melody in octaves which corresponds exactly to the number ofbeats of the chordal section and uses only the notes of the chords whichcorrespond to each beat. The second piece of the set does this in reverse(melody, then chords). The third section of all three pieces is a fusion ofmelody and harmony and there is another repetition of each of the chordalpassages. 

Track 3 - Avant-derni?¿res pensees

I. Idylle - II. Aubade - III. Meditation

These three brief works were written in 1915 for Debussy,Paul Dukas and Albert Roussel. From a purely musical point of view, thesepieces are written with detached clarity and clockwork precision. Each of thethree Avant-derni?¿res Pensees (Fore and Afterthoughts) is built around anostinato: a 4-quaver figure in the 'Idylle'; a figure comprising three rolledquaver chords, separated by quaver rests in the 'Aubade'; and a 6-quaverrocking motif in the 'Meditation'. Over these constant bases Satie is veryinnovative in his use of melody, which at times becomes quite chromatic.

            Ifyou would like to explore more of Satie's piano works then try:
Disc: 1
3 Gymnopedies
1 Gymnopedie No. 1
2 Premiere pensee rose + croix
3 I. Idylle - II. Aubade - III. Meditation
4 Caresse
5 Gymnopedie No. 3
6 Nostalgie - Froide songerie - Facheux exemple
7 Lent
8 Avec etonnement
9 Lent
10 4ieme Gnossienne. Lent
11 La Nuit
12 [Priere] Fragment - Vexations - Harmonies
13 Gymnopedie No. 1
14 Nocturne No. 4
15 Air de l'ordre
16 Air du grand maitre
17 Air du grand prieur
18 Gymnopedie No. 1
19 Gymnopedie No. 2
20 Gymnopedie No. 3
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