Erik Satie
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To play this motif 840 times in succession, it would be advisable
to prepare oneself beforehand, in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.

This enigmatic instruction, on a single page of music bearing the title Vexations, has turned the strange piano piece into a legend in the annals of experimental music.
The work emerged from obscurity in 1949 when Henri Sauguet, a friend of Satie in his last years, drew it to the attention of John Cage. At first Cage found it interesting as a concept but dismissed the possibility of a performance: "True, one could not endure a performance of Vexations ...but why give it a thought?". Nevertheless, in September 1963 Cage organised the first 'complete' performance of Vexations at the Pocket Theatre, New York. Since that occasion, Vexations has been performed numerous times by individuals and groups.

In short, Vexations is as puzzling to the eye as it is to the ear. This accounts for the phenomenon, noted by Gavin Bryars, that performers - even after repeating the piece many times - have difficulty remembering it and must maintain intense concentration to avoid errors. The deliberate notational obfuscation compels the performer to confront the piece anew with each repetition.

Stephen Whittington