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8.550698 - SATIE: Piano Works, Vol. 3
Erik Satie (1866 - 1925)
The French composer Erik Satie earned himself a contemporary reputation as an eccentric. Stravinsky later described him as the oddest person he had ever known and at the same time the most rare and constantly witty. His musical innovations proved immensely influential on his nearer contemporaries Debussy and Ravel and 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 the death of Satie's mother in 1872 he was sent back to Honfleur to the house of his grandparents. Six years later he returned to Paris, where in 1879 he entered the Conservatoire. 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 short by a severe attack of bronchitis that he had deliberately courted.
Satie's few months of soldiering were followed by the first publications of his music, two piano pieces, and then a set of five songs, settings of poems by his friend Contamine de Latour, published by his father, who now had a stationer's shop and small publishing business. Inspired by his reading, in the early 1890s Satie came for a time under the influence of the extraordinary Joséphin Péladan, self-styled Sâr Merodack of the Rose + Croix, an eccentric exponent of Rosicrucianism with whom he had broken by 1892. Eclectic medieval preoccupations led him to establish his own mock religion, the Metropolitan Church of the Art of Jesus the Conductor. Of this he described himself fancifully as Parcier et Maître de Chapelle, the first title sheer invention, 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 the years that followed, in spite of the latter's tendency to patronise him.
In 1905, after a period in which he had been compelled to earn his living as a cafe pianist and a composer of appropriate music, Satie enrolled as a student 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 a concentration on traditional counterpoint. He completed his studies in 1908, but only began to win some success through the agency of Ravel, who in 1911 performed the three Sarabandes that Satie had written in 1887, establishing the originality of Satie's early work. The following years brought his compositions before a wider public, but it was through 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, in May 1917, made Satie a hero to a younger group of composers, to be known as Les Six. In 1923, 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 another group of younger composers, the Ecole d' Arceuil, its name derived from the poor and relatively remote district of Paris 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 placed below and looking, according to Stravinsky, like some strange kind of marimba. He died on 1st July 1925, after an illness of some six months.
The two early pieces Valse ballet and Fantaisie-valse were written in 1887 and are dedicated to Madame Clement Le Breton and Contamine de Latour respectively. The pieces were published in Musique des familles, and described there as Satie's Opus 62, with a nineteen-year-old's pardonable exaggeration. Both pieces were described by their publisher as elegantly done, with a tendency to dreaming and rhythmic asymmetry. Petite ouverture à danser, written before the turn of the century, is in similar vein, while Je te veux, another waltz, is in origin a music-hall song written for and dedicated to the Montmartre cafe singer Paulette Darly. This is here followed by Premier menuet, a First Minuet.
The three Valses distinguées du précieux dégoûté (Three Distinguished Waltzes of a Jaded Dandy), written in 1914, have an inescapable literary concomitant. The first of the waltzes, Sa taille (His Figure), is dedicated to Roland Manuel, a young musician whom Satie had met in 1911 at Paulette Darty's. Satie adds a quotation from Les caractères of La Bruyère: Those who hurt the reputation or fortune of others, rather than miss a witticism, deserve disgrace and punishment: that has not been said and I dare to say it. The music, spare, as ever, in texture, is accompanied 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: who will dare to say that he is not the most handsome? Is not his heart tender? He puts his hands on his hips and is delighted. What will the pretty marquise say? Wait a moment. She will struggle but will be conquered: yes, madame: is it not written? The second waltz is for Mademoiselle Linette Chalupt and has the title Son binocle, (His Pince-nez). Satie adds a quotation from Cicero's De republica: Our old customs forbade a young man to appear naked in the baths, and modesty thus cast its deep roots in our souls. The performer is told to play very slowly, if he please, and to bend gently, while the action is 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 beautiful lady (Grow faint), such a nice souvenir, but ...(In the pit of the stomach). A great sadness comes over our friend: he has lost the case for his pince-nez. The third waltz is for the poet Rene Chalupt and has the title Ses jambes (His Legs). A preliminary quotation from Cato's De re rustica (On Country Life) is added: The first care of the land-owner, when he arrives at his farm, must be to pay reverence to the house-gods: then, the same day, if he has time, he should go round his domain, inspecting the state of the fields, the work finished and that not yet complete. The dandy is very proud of his legs: they only dance special dances: they are nice slender legs. In the evening they are dressed in black: he wants to carry them under his arms: they slide along, quite sad. Here they are indignant, very angry (Do not cough): often he kisses them and embraces them: how good it is for them! He absolutely refuses to buy leggings, like a prison, he says (Continue, without losing consciousness).
The Avant-dernières pensées (Next-to-last Thoughts) has a similar parallel commentary. The first, Idylle, is dedicated to Debussy, with the opening direction to the performer: Moderately, I beg you. What do I see? The brook is all wet and the wood dry and inflammable as sticks: but my heart is very small. The trees look like great ill-shaped combs, and the sun, like a bee-hive, has fair golden rays: but my heart shivers in fear: the moon has blended with its neighbours and the brook is soaked through to the bone. Aubade, the second piece, is dedicated to Paul Dukas. When the melody is heard in the lower register the performer is told to sing seriously, very down-to-earth. Do not sleep, sleeping beauty: listen to the voice of your beloved: he is plucking the notes of a rigaudon. How he loves you! He is a poet: do you hear him? He is making fun, perhaps? No, he adores you, sweet beauty! He takes up a rigaudon again and a cold. You would not love him? But he is a poet, an old poet! Meditation is dedicated to a third composer of contemporary distinction, Albert Roussel. The poet is shut in his old tower: here is the wind. The poet is meditating, without appearing to: all of a sudden he has goose-flesh. Why? It is the Devil! No, it is not: it is the wind, the wind of the spirit passing by. The poet's head is full of it, of the wind! He smiles wickedly, while his heart weeps like a willow: but the Spirit is present, looking at him with an evil eye, a glass eye. And the poet becomes humble and blushes. He can meditate no more: he has indigestion, from bad blank verse and bitter disillusion!
Carnet d'esquisses et de croquis (Note-book of Drafts and Sketches), an editorial title, includes a series of short pieces written between 1899 and 1913. These include The Surly Prisoner, sketches for The Great Monkey, fragments of Dreaming for Jack, a little prelude for La mort de Monsieur Mouche (The Death of Monsieur Mouche), the first of two Montmartre pieces, followed by the capers of Gambades.
The four posthumously published preludes were written between 1888 and 1892. The first is a Celebration given by Norman knights in honour of a young girl, an evocation of the eleventh century. The second Prélude d'Eginhard, is followed by two Preludes of the Nazarene, written in 1892, all three originally incidental music.
Sports et divertissements (Sports and Diversion), written in 1914, includes a number of short pieces, for which a text was provided, to be read between the pieces. The work opens with an Unappetising Chorale, crabbed and cantankerous, written in the morning of 15th May 1914 on an empty stomach. In a preface Satie explains that he has included a sober and apt chorale for the shrivelled up and stultified, a sort of bitter preamble, a way of introducing the work that is austere and lacking in frivolity. With In a Swing, the writer's heart swings and never becomes dizzy: what tiny feet it has! will it want to come back to my breast? In Hunting we are asked if we hear the rabbit singing: what a voice! the nightingale is in her earth: the owl suckles her young: the wild boar is going to marry, and as for me. I shoot walnuts with a rifle. The Italian Commedia dell'arte is evoked in Neapolitan style: Scaramouche boasts of the beauties of army life: he says that you learn your way around: you frighten civilians and what romantic adventures and all that! Awakening the Bride opens with the arrival of the wedding procession. voices calling and there are guitars made of old hats: a dog dances with his fiancée. Blind Mans Buff (Colin Maillard) is to be played diminutively. Find him, mademoiselle, the one who loves you is two paces away: how pale he is: his lips tremble. You laugh? He holds to his heart both hands, but you pass him by without suspecting. In Fishing there are murmurs of the water at the bottom of a stream: a fish arrives, another, two others. What is it? It is a fisherman, a poor fisherman. Thanks. They all go home, even the fisherman. Murmurs of the water at the bottom of a stream.
Yachting exclaims on the weather: the yacht dances like a little fool: the sea is out of control: with luck she will not break up on a rock. No-one can control her. I do not want to stay here, says the pretty passenger, it is not amusing: I prefer something else: call me a cab. In Sea Bathing the sea is wide, madame, at least it is deep enough: do not sit on the bottom, it is damp: here are some nice old waves: they are full of water: madame, you are all wet: yes, monsieur. In Carnival confetti is falling: that one has a sad mask: a drunken pierrot tries to behave: graceful masked ladies come in: people push to see them: are they pretty? Golf, played with enthusiasm, introduces the colonel, dressed in bright green tweeds: he will win: his caddy follows him, carrying his clubs: the clouds are surprised: the holes are all trembling: the colonel is there! See how he prepares his shot: his club breaks in pieces!
The Octopus (La pieuvre) is in her cavern, playing with a crab and chasing it: she swallows it the wrong way, turns pale and steps on her feet: she takes a glass of salt water for her stomach: this drink does her good and makes her feel better. At the Races there is weighing in and buying a programme by the crowd: twenty each way: at the starting-place: they are off. Some go the wrong way: here come the losers, noses up and ears down. With Puss in the Corner (Les Quatre-Coins) the four mice, the cat, the mice tease the cat: the cat stretches and jumps: the cat has her corner. For the cheerful Picnic everyone has brought very cold veal: you have a fine white dress: look, an aeroplane! But no, it is a storm.
On the Water Chute, if you have a strong heart, you will not be too ill: it will seem to you like falling from scaffolding: you will see how strange it is. Look out! Do not change colour. I do not feel well. That shows that you will need some amusement. The Tango is the dance of the devil: it is the dance that he prefers: he uses it for cooling off: his wife, daughters and servants are cold. Sleighing (Le traineau) starts in bitter cold: ladies nose in furs: the sleigh slides: the countryside is very cold and cannot stay still. In Flirtation they say pretty things, modern things, to one another: am I not pleasing? Let me alone! You have such big eyes. I wish I were on the moon. He sighs. He shakes his head. For Fireworks (Le feu d'artifice), how dark it is! a rocket! a blue rocket! everyone admires it: an old man goes mad: the cluster of light! Tennis starts with due ceremony. Play? Yes! A good service: w hat fine legs he has! What a fine nose! An ace! Game!
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