About this Recording

Chill with Satie

Chill with Satie


Erik Satie (1866-1925)

The French composer Erik Satie earned himself a reputation as an eccentric. Stravinsky described him as ‘the oddest person he had ever known’ but 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 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 Scottish origin. The family moved to Paris but on the death of his mother in 1872 Satie was sent back to Honfleur to the house of his grandparents. Six years later he entered the Conservatoire in Paris where he proved an unsatisfactory pupil, lingering on, it was alleged, to avoid the obligatory five years of military service, reduced for students to one year.


After his discharge from the infantry Satie had his first pieces published by his father, who now had a small publishing business. In the early 1890s his preoccupation with the medieval age led him to establish his own sub-religious movement, the Metropolitan Church of the Art of Jesus the Conductor, of which he fancifully described himself as Parcier et Maître de Chapelle, a title he had entirely invented. He started to publish Le Cartulaire, a periodical in which he criticised those of whom he disapproved. This period also brought him into contact with Debussy, to whom he became very close.


In the early 1900s Satie earned a modest living as a café pianist, after which he enrolled at the Schola Cantorum where for three years he tried to remedy his technical difficulties as a composer, particularly by the 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 to be acknowledged. Further recognition came through his association with Dyaghilev.  


In the years after the Great War he became the centre of attention of a group of young composers known as Les Six. The group changed its name in 1923 to the École d’Arcueil,  after the remote district of Paris where Satie chose to live in stark simplicity until his death in 1925.





Track 1 – Gymnopédie No. 1 (guitar/orchestra)

Track 5 – Gymnopédie No. 3 (guitar/orchestra)

Track 13 – Gymnopédie No. 1 (harp)

Track 18 – Gymnopédie No. 1 (orchestral)

Track 19 – Gymnopédie No. 2 (orchestral)

Track 20 – Gymnopédie No. 3 (orchestral)


Satie’s famous Gymnopédies derive their name from the ‘Gymnopædia’ which was an Apollonic celebration in ancient Sparta where men of all ages danced unarmed.


Within his Gymnopédies, Satie found a thin, ascetic, “naked” piano structure in which lonesome and singularly expressive melodies circle like falling autumn leaves. There is a monotonous, low bass line accompaniment, and against it softly dissonant chords in the middle register, constantly repeating the same rhythm-pattern. Together this creates an atmosphere of vague melancholy, of mysticism and exoticism. Perhaps there is also a fin-de-siècle feeling, even some nostalgia. His Gymnopédies, originally for piano, have since been arranged for orchestra, guitar and harp and they still evoke the same feelings of sentimental yearning.


            If you would like to explore the arrangements of Satie’s Gymnopédies further then try:

            8.550088      Gymnopédies Nos. 1 & 2 (for Orchestra)

                       Slovak RSO

                        Ondrej Lenárd

                       Keith Clark

            8.550480      Gymnopédies Nos. 1 & 2  (arranged for Guitar and Orchestra)        

                       Gerald Garcia (Guitar)

                       CSFR State Philharmonic Orchestra (Ko˘ sice)

                       Peter Breiner

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

                        Nora Shulman (Flute)

                        Judy Loman (Harp)



Track 2 – Première pensée rose + croix

Track 15 – Sonneries de la rose + croix: Air de l’ordre

Track 16 – Sonneries de la rose + croix: Air du grand maître

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


Satie's methods changed during the period of his involvement with Sar Péladan's Rosicrucian sect. His interest in liturgical chant became more apparent in his melodies, and the harmonies included more chords by fourths. The Trois Sonneries de la Rose + Croix is an excellent example of the application of Satie's interest in chant in his own religious work. Of the set of three pieces, two of them open with a sequence of chords in crotchets. This is followed by a melody in octaves which corresponds exactly to the number of beats of the chordal section and uses only the notes of the chords which correspond 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 of melody and harmony and there is another repetition of each of the chordal passages. 



Track 3 – Avant-dernières pensées

I. Idylle - II. Aubade - III. Méditation


These three brief works were written in 1915 for Debussy, Paul Dukas and Albert Roussel. From a purely musical point of view, these pieces are written with detached clarity and clockwork precision. Each of the three Avant-dernières Pensées (Fore and Afterthoughts) is built around an ostinato: a 4-quaver figure in the 'Idylle'; a figure comprising three rolled quaver chords, separated by quaver rests in the 'Aubade'; and a 6-quaver rocking motif in the 'Méditation'. Over these constant bases Satie is very innovative in his use of melody, which at times becomes quite chromatic.


            If you would like to explore more of Satie’s piano works then try:

            8.550696         Piano Works Vol. 1

            8.550697         Piano Works Vol. 2

            8.550698         Piano Works Vol. 3

            8.550699         Piano Works Vol. 4

            8.550305         Piano Works (Selection)



Track 4 – Caresse


This posthumously (1968) published sketch with title by Robert Caby, is a softly sensual meditation distantly related to the Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes, interrupted in the middle in an almost surrealistic way by a sudden, ephemeral "quake".



Track 6 – Musiques intimes et secrètes: Nostalgie – Froide songerie – Fâcheux exemple Track 12 – Pages mystiques: [Prière] fragment - Vexations - Harmonies


In Musiques intimes et secretes (“Intimate and Secret Music”) and the famous Vexations, Satie describes the conceptual nature of human mental activity and then requires the performers to experience and scrutinize, simultaneously, the exact moments of shifting psychological states. Vexations for piano is a forefather of Minimal music. The piece consists of two lines of chromatic, diminished triads. The resulting melody has to be played slowly and takes a minute or two to play. What makes it radical minimalist music is the performance instruction to play it 840 times which can easily result in a performance time of 24 hours.



Track 7 – Trois Gnossiennes: Lent

Track 8 – Trois Gnossiennes: Avec étonnement

Track 9 – Trois Gnossiennes: Lent

Track 10 – 4ième Gnossienne: Lent


In the Gnossiennes we see a further musical and pianistic development of the style of the Gymnopédies. The structure is similar: lonely melodies against an accompaniment of long bass notes in combination with chords in the middle register. In the Gymnopédies this was often coloured by the dissonance - here it is almost continuously based on simple triads. The refined atmosphere of Greek antiquity of the Gymnopédies has been replaced by a kind of plaintive exoticism. This is especially true of Gnossiennes Nos. 1-3. In the fourth, dated January 22nd 1891, Satie found a different structure: against a slow and monotonously undulating accompaniment of broken triads, a melody filled with a long “Oriental” melisma is placed.



Track 11 – Mercure - Poses plastiques en trois tableaux


Satie collaborated with Cocteau, Picasso and Massine in 1924 for his second ballet. The adventures of Mercury are musically depicted by cabaret-style tunes, brassy outbursts and some serene melodies.


            If you would like to explore Satie’s orchestral works further then try:

            8.554279       Orchestral Works

                                    Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy, Jérôme Kaltenbach



Track 14 – IV. Nocturne


Satie’s Nocturnes are the last of his compositions for the piano. Their harmonies rely on fourths and fifths and each shows a characteristic simplicity of texture. By this stage of his life, Satie's compositional technique had altered somewhat and the Nocturnes, like most of his works from the 1890s onwards, are made up of juxtaposed fragments of themes.



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