Erik Satie (1866-1925)
The manFor some people, Erik Satie is known as an eccentric who gave his works odd titles that seem almost derisive and ridicolous:
Chilled Pieces, Drivelling Preludes (for a Dog), Dried up Embryos ...
Many believe that this was not only a result of his bizarre wit but also a way of offending the music critics at the time. It was known that Satie didn't like music critics and that the feelings were mutual.
Those performing his works are well aware of his weird instructions to the performer.|
The instructions are meant as a dialogue between the composer and the performer only:
To whoever. I forbid anyone to read the text aloud during the musical performance. Failure to obey to my instruction will provoke my just indignation against anyone so presumptuous. No exception to this rule will be granted.
From the short piano piece, titled Vexations (1893):
To play this motif 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.
This instruction has been taken seriously by many prominent piano performers. Many performances have been made worldwide with great success. But perhaps he was only trying to fool the performer? After all, it isn't an instruction that the performer must play it 840 times. He just stated, "To play this motif 840 times..." Of course, we will never know what was his true intention as the piece wasn't published during his lifetime.
Satie was also a collector. Once someone asked him what he wished for birthday present. He replied - I saw this beautiful handkerchief the other day.... After his death they found in his wardrobe 84 identical handkerchieves, besides 12 identical velvet costumes and dozens of umbrellas.
Satie was considered as an outsider, a lone wolf with projects of his own. For example he founded his own church. As a result he valued his privacy very highly and never let anyone see his apartment in Arceuil, where he lived for the last 27 years of his life. He only had one known relationship in his life - an intense love affair in 1893 with the model, painter and former trapeze artiste Suzanne Valadon.
Satie lived as a true artist, for his music and his ideals. He had no respect for money and lived a poor life for many years. He was never afraid of expressing his true opinion. If he found someone to be a jerk he made this perfectly clear (and took the consequences).
His musicEven though Satie was a fascinating person in many ways, it is his music that is the major reason for his popularity. He was very creative and had a great influence on his colleagues Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc. Because his music was ahead of his time and regarded as timeless, he also has great influence on many modern composers.
Satie was a forerunner to minimalism. He experimented with what he called furniture music, meant to be in the background rather than listened to. He composed music to be listened at different angles, similar pieces divided into several parts. Many of his compositions have influences from medieval music and from French composers.
His most famous works are the serene Gymnopédies (three similar piano pieces), the mystical Vexations (short piano piece repeated 840 times), the popular piano suite Trois Morceaux en forme de Poire (duet), the ballet Parade (with some very odd instruments) and the ballet Relâche (with film sequences included).
His music was rather unknown and underrated until the 1960s. His popularity has grown ever since.
Cefalophones (by Erik Satie)2 flutes with keys (F sharp)
1 alto overcoat (C)
1 duckbill (E)
2 stroke clarinets (G flat)
1 siphon in C
3 keyboard trombones (D flat)
1 bass in leather (C)
Chromatic tub in H
Instruments belonging to the remarkable group cefalophones, with 30 octaves extent, completely unperformable. An amateur in Vienna tried in 1875 to handle the siphone in C; after having jared with a piercing drill, the instrument burst, broke the spine on the executor and scalped him completely. Since then no one has dared to concern oneself with the powerful assets that cefalophones contain and the state has forbidden all schools teaching the instruments.
The true musician (by Erik Satie)He grows in wisdom...He is brilliant...He learns to do without
and is prepared to make great sacrifices...enormous sacrifices...
if I may say...His energy is tremendous...
In other words he is prepared for the struggle...and with honesty he shall fight it...
The performance of an Art demands complete self-denial...
A true musician must subordinate himself his Art; ...he must place himself above human suffering; ...he must draw courage from within...and only from within.
What I amEveryone will tell you I am not a musician. That is correct.
From the very beginning of my career I class myself a phonometrographer. My work is completely phonometrical. Take my Fils des Étoiles, or my Morceaux en forme de Poire, my En habit de Cheval or my Sarabandes - it is evident that musical ideas played no part whatsoever in their composition. Science is the dominating factor.
Besides, I enjoy measuring a sound much more than hearing it. With my phonometer in my hand, I work happily and with confidence.
What haven't I weighed or measured? I've done all Beethoven, all Verdi, etc. It's fascinating.
The first time I used a phonoscope, I examined a B flat of medium size. I can assure you that I have never seen anything so revolting. I called in my man to show it to him.
On my phono-scales a common or garden F sharp registered 93 kilos. It came out of a fat tenor whom I also weighed.
Do you know how to clean sounds? It's a filthy business. Stretching them out is cleaner; indexing them is a meticulous task and needs good eyesight. Here, we are in the realm of pyrophony.
To write my Pièces Froides, I used a caleidophone recorder. It took seven minutes. I called in my man to let him hear them.
I think I can say that phonology is superior to music. There's more variety in it. The financial return is greater, too. I owe my fortune to it.
At all events, with a motodynamophone, even a rather inexperienced phonometrologist can easily note down more sounds that the most skilled musician in the same time, using the same amount of effort. This is how I have been able to write so much.
And so the future lies with philophony.
TheatricalitiesI have always had it in mind to write a lyric play on the following specific subject:
At that time I was taken up with alchemy. One day I was having a rest, alone in my laboratory. Outside the sky was leaden, livid and sinister - really ghastly!
I was feeling sad without knowing why; almost afraid without knowing the cause. Into my head came the idea of amusing myself by counting on my fingers slowly from 1 to 260,000.
This I did: and very boring it was. I stood up, took hold of a magic nut and gently placed it in a casket of alpaca bone studded with seven diamonds.
Straightaway a stuffed bird took flight; a monkey's skeleton ran off; a sow's skin climbed along the wall. Then night descended, covering up objects, destroying shapes.
But someone is knocking on the far door, the one near the Median talismans, the talismans a Polynesian madman sold me.
What is it? Oh god! Do not forsake thy servant. He is indeed a sinner, but is repentant. Have mercy on him, I beseech Thee.
Now the door opens, opens, opens like an eye; a silent and shapeless being comes nearer, nearer, nearer. Not a drop of perspiration remains on my quaking skin; moreover I am very thirsty, very thirsty.
In the shadows a voice is heard:
- Sir, I think I have second sight.
I do not recognize this voice. It says:
- Sir, it is I, it is only I.
- Who? comes my terrified reply.
- I, your servant. I think I have a second sight. Did you not just place a magic nut gently in a casket of alpaca bone studded with seven diamonds?
Suffocated, I can only reply:
- Yes, my friend. How do you know?
He draws near me, a gliding shadow in the darkness of the night. I feel him trembling. He is probably afraid that I may take a shot at him.
With a sob, like a little child, he murmurs:
- I saw you through the keyhole.
Odd corners of my lifeThe origins of the Saties probably go back to ancient times. Oh yes... I can't confirm anything on this point - but neither can I unconfirm it.
However, I presume that the family was not part of the nobility (nor even the papacy); that its members were good and humble serfs, and that was once an honour and a pleasure (for the serf's overlord, of course). Oh yes...
I don't know what the Saties did in the Hundred Years War; nor have I any information on their attitude and the part they played in the Thirty Years War (one of our loveliest wars).
Let the memory of my ancient ancestors rest in peace. Oh yes...
Let us pass on. I shall come back to this subject later.
As for me, I was born in Honfleur (Calvados), in the Pont-l'Evêque district, on 17 May 1866... So that makes me a quinquagenarian, and I might as well be called that as anything else.
I'm burning to give you my description here (enumeration of my physical particulars - the ones I can mention decently, that is):... Hair and eyebrowns dark auburn; eyes grey (probably clouded); hair covering forehead; nose long; mouth medium; chin wide; face oval. Height 1 metre 67 centimetres.
Following a rather short adolescence, I became an ordinary young man, tolerable but no more. At that moment in my life I began to think and to write music. Oh yes.
As a person, I am neither good nor bad. I waver between the two, so to speak. So I have never really done harm to anyone - nor good, come to that.
LiteraturePrices from Amazon's website as of January 5, 2001. Most of these books, sorted in chronological order by newest first, are out of print but can be found in many libraries. You can also find some of these hard-to-find books at several book dealers and auction sites, for example zShops, Barnes & Noble and Ebay. You can get some information on forthcoming books on Ornella Volta's webpage. Some of these books with English translations are also available in French and in some cases even in other languages, for example Ornella Volta's "Satie seen through his letters" and Anne Rey's "Erik Satie".
- Correspondance presque complète, Imec/Fayard, 2000
(French, 1262 pages)
Steven Moore Whiting
Wilfried H. Mellers
Where to go from here
On this site:The Erik Satie news group
Find an answer to any question regarding Satie. Follow the discussions.
Articles on Erik Satie
Archives de la Fondation Erik Satie
External links - Satie resources on the Internet:Most webpages below are stored by me for retrieval in case of sudden disappearance.
Muzikaal programma 'SATIrE'
From the Erik Satie news group, November 15, 1997:
Erik Satie's Crystal Ball
From the the Erik Satie news group, May 17, 1998:
Erik Satie Homepage
Michael Furstner's page about Erik Satie
Flabby Preludes for a dog - an Erik Satie primer.
Russell McNeil provides links to important book resources and libraries.
Cordélia Canabrava-Arruda, Brazilian pianist and representant of the Archives de la fondation E S. Here you can read about her complete Satie recordings.
Find a grave.
Stephen Hodge has 3 slideshows on Satie on his site and some sounds.
Martin Fuchs has a long article on Satie, in German and complete lists of compositions with playing time for each work.
Steven Whiting, musicologist and an important researcher of Satie, released his comprehensive book Satie the Bohemian in 1998.
David Kirshner finished a PhD. at the University of Brighton on Erik Satie's "Musique d'ameublement". A resume of the text and some illustrations.
KHA, Italian independent record company describes their recording Allessandra Celletti - Esotérik Satie.
Teatro Miela in Trieste, Italy, celebrate Satie's birthday every year since 1993. Here you can read about their celebrations and even buy the CD or video from their celebration evenings 1995-96. See also 1999 and 2000. They also supplied some information in our news group.
The great photographer Man Ray took several photos of Satie during his visits in Paris:
How about a pop version of Gymnopédies? This simple arrangement is performed by Satie Groove. Flute arrangements by Herbert Laws and Mats and Johannes Möller. Finally, a version for the guitar by Stevan Pasero.
Gnossienne No. 1 recording performed by Pascal Rogé.
If you are looking for a Satie CD - ask Amazon.com. If they don't have it, they will get it. Music samples at their site:
Nyanpoko provides a unique SatieAmp WinAmp browser skin and a couple of music samples on his Japanese site.
Creative Quotations from Erik Satie by Franklin C. Baer.
"Satie & Suzanne"
Vanished linksThese webpages are no longer available. I have retrieved these so that you can see what they used to look like.
SatieMart - recommended Satie Listening and Curiosities
Original link: http://sequel.dragonfire.net/satie/
The site owner, Dick Burger, has been unreachable since May, 1999. Dick Burger was a true devoted Satie fan and made many contributions to the news group and became a friend of mine, although we never met.
Lots of pages with pictures and reviews of Satie recordings, some music samples, links.
From the Erik Satie news group, November 19, 1998:
Erik Satie Internet Midi Archive - compiled by Gary Murphy.
LP covers of Erik Satie recordings
Orchestrations of Satie works on music sheets from G. Schirmer, Inc. and Associated Music Publishers, Inc. in North America. They are not selling any of these anymore. Some descriptions of duration, original publisher and the name of the orchestration editor. Original link: http://www.schirmer.com/orchestral/orch_u.html
Background to the Satie pagesThanks to the support from AF (Akademiska Föreningen - the Academic Society) at Lund University, I made my first Satie pages in March 1996. I included a "news group" to make it possible for Satie fans all over the world to share their knowledge and thoughts about the composer.
I have realized the importance of the pages as an information central for Satie researchers and fans all over the world. No doubt, the Internet is a superior information source thanks to the convenience of finding quick and current information.
I will keep improving the pages as long as time, and AF, permits it. I am open to any suggestion of how to improve the pages.
The Satie pages are mainly designed for use with Netscape version 2.0 and later. Also compatible with Internet Explorer version 4.0 and later. Audio clips are playable using RealPlayer and most MP3 players, WinAmp for example.
About meI have been a Satie fan since 1984. I was at the time fascinated by his Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes and played them often on the piano. I went to the libraries and listened to all of his works and I read every book about him that was available. In 1988 I went to Honfleur (his birthplace) and Paris. There I managed to get in to Biblioteque National, with the false identity of a music teacher (!), and studied some of Satie's original manuscripts.
This page was last updated on June 6, 2001.