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8.550697 - SATIE, E.: Piano Works, Vol. 2 (Körmendi)

Erik Satie (1866 - 1925)
Piano Works Vol. 2

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.

Many of the titles Satie chose for his compositions were idiosyncratic in the extreme. The three short pieces that make up the Musiques in times et secretes (Intimate and Secret Music), written between 1906and 1913, have their general and individual 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 been given a fitting editorial title, in common with the twelve very brief chorales of 1906.

The first of the Danses de travers (Crossed Up Dances) not published by Satie, is thought by its editor to belong rather to the Airs à faire fuir of the same year, 1897. The published dances and the Airs à faire fuir (Airs that chase away) form a collection of far from cold Pieces froides (Cold Pieces), a typically eccentric choice of title. The three Danses de travers are dedicated to Madame J. Ecorcheville, wife of the editor of the revue of the societe internationale de musique. These published pieces contain the customary eccentric directions to the performer. The first of the dances, written, as are all these Pieces froides, without bar-lines, starts with an instruction to the player to have a good look (en y regardant à deux fois), and later to give the word, play flat out, white, then still. The second dance tells the performer to go on, then to play du coin de la main, with the corner of the hand, être visible un moment, to be visible for a moment, and finally to offer music that is un peu cuit, medium rare. 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 pas plus haut, don't go too high, sans bruit, noiselessly and, at the end, très loin, far off.

There is nothing particularly deterrent in the Airs à faire fuir, dedicated to the pianist Ricardo Vines, friend of Ravel and teacher of Poulenc. The performer should play d'une maniere tres particulière, 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, with fascination 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, to suck on, followed by a passage dans le plus profond silence, in the deepest silence. The third air opens with the direction Invitingly, before the performer is commanded not to eat too much, a stricture repeated as the piece comes to an end. The three Nouvelles pieces froides (New Cold Pieces), written between 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 apparent relevance to the musical content.

The Quatre preludes flasques (Four Flabby Preludes), for a dog, are particularly unflabby in mood and texture. They were 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 Chanson canine (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 Le vilain petit vaurien (The Wretched Little Good-for-nothing), Berceuse (Lullaby) and La gentille toute petite fille (The Pretty Little Girl), while the Petite musique de clown triste (Little Music of the Sad Clown) seems, in its title, to echo the musical rôle Satie had chosen for himself.

Pages mystiques is made up of three pieces, the fragmentary Prière (Prayer), Vexations, ready for the endless repetitions of a piano marathon, and Harmonies. Prélude en tapisserie (Embroidered Prelude) was written in 1906, but published posthumously, as was the capricious Les pantins dansent (The Jumping-jacks Dance) of 1913 and the Danses gothiques (Gothic Dances) of 1893. These last are described in Satie's descriptive title as a Novena for the greatest calm and tranquillity of his soul and dedicated, on the feast of St. Benedict, 21st March 1893, the sun being over the earth, to the transcendant, solemn and representative ecstasy of St. Benedict, preparer and organiser of the very powerful order of Benedictines. They belong to the period of the composer's life when religious preoccupations of one sort or another, however seriously held, were of apparent importance to him. The first Gothic Dance is written on the occasion of great torment, the second invokes the fathers of the very true and very holy church, the third is for an unhappy man, the fourth for St. Bernard and St. Lucy, the fifth for poor sinners, the sixth for occasions when pardon is necessary for injuries received, the seventh in pity for drunkards, those in disgrace, the dissolute, the imperfect, the disagreeable and perverters of the truth of all kinds. The novena continues with an eighth fragment in the high honour of the venerated St. Michael, the gracious Archangel, and a final ninth after having obtained remission of his faults. The nine Gothic Dances are each of very short duration.

Klára Körmendi
The Hungarian pianist Klára Körmendi was born in Budapest and studied under Kornel Zempleni at the Bartok Conservatory, later becoming a student of peter Solymos at the Liszt Academy, where she received her diploma with distinction in 1967. She enjoyed early success in a number of international competitions, before embarking on a career that has taken her to the major musical centres of Europe, with broadcasts in Vienna, Paris and London, as well as Basle, Cologne, Lausanne and Ljubljana. Klára Körmendi has a wide repertoire, and has always shown particular interest in contemporary repertoire, both Hungarian and foreign. Her recordings for Hungaroton include music by Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio and Heinz Holliger. For Naxos she has recorded works by Debussy and Ravel and will also record the complete piano music of Satie.

Erik Satie

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