Erik Satie is acclaimed to be the world’s weirdest, most eccentric composer. He followed a strict routine and rigidly stuck to the specific bizarre time cues for a daily activity. For example, Satie would awake at 7:18am exactly, he would be inspired from 10:23 until 10:47, took to horse back from 1:19pm until 2:53 etcetera. After Satie’s death in 1925, his friends discovered in his apartment, a large collection-amounting over one hundred- lost, or perhaps stolen umbrellas and various other incongruous items. This peculiar man has carved an influence into the world of music today.
His uniqueness and integration of minimalistic music within classical brought a new canvas to musical experimentation paving the way for future century composers. Satie also represents marginal people: growing up in the era of the great composers Mahler and Brahms, Satie and his music appears simplistic and easy. This seemingly degrading trait is what makes Satie so approachable; his works are simplistic with an emotive twist and consist of varied repetition. Usually, shorter in length and usually has a soother, more melodic tone to it.
Satie was born in 1866, Honfleur and returned there, age six, with his brother from two years in Paris after the death of his mother. At the age of thirteen, Satie was sent back to Paris, to attend the ‘Paris Conservatoire of Music’. Here he was undervalued; being named as ‘the laziest student in the conservatoire’, ‘worthless’ and ‘indolent’. Satie however harshly unrecognized at the conservatoire, did have a musical gift. He was already producing music with his stepmother from around the beginning of 1880s. After a two and a half years of attending, Satie was dismissed from the conservatoire. However, Satie persevered and returned, aged 19, to the conservatoire but failing miserably to elevate his music or please the teachers there, Satie found himself on the more physical path of the army. The army life did not warm to Satie at all and the initial hope for a career in it died in a period of a few months with self-inflicted Pneumonia caused by a voluntary freezing outside one night causing a victory dismissal. Satie returned to Paris in 1887 then went on to live in Montmartre to be nearer to his painter friends.
Le Chat Noir
Le Chat Noir could’ve possibly been one of the first Cabaret clubs to exist, opening in 1881. Here, the wayward poets, musicians and artists as such could enjoy entertainment and immediately feedback to the performer by booing or cheering. It was here Satie regained his musical confidence amongst the outcast and peculiar, finally feeling like his individualism was publicly valued. His first performance of Gymnopédie no.1 took place on Le Chat Noir’s stage, which proved very popular amongst the crowd. As well as gaining a value for his music, Satie also became friends with other musicians such as Stravinsky, Debussy and Paganini.
Gymnopédie no. 1
In 1888, after a regain in spirit at Le Chat Noire, Satie composed one of his most well-known pieces: Gymnopédie no.1. The piece was a series of three with the first and third orchestrated by Debussy. Despite its signature simplicity, Gymnopédie no.1 is remarkably profound and deeply emotional. Its melody is almost hypnotic and has a sense of timelessness, an element in many of Satie’s pieces. The piece doesn’t particularly develop strongly, creating a mesmerizing circular movement. This was a contemporary technique compared to the 19th century method of enhancing music to create a stronger sense of dialogue and gripping emotion. Satie’s circular formation almost creates a realm of a universe itself, lodging the listener into it as a planet on a rotating axis.
Composed in 1893, Satie instructed this piece to be played 840 times before performance in complete silence and severe immobility. A reason towards these obscure directions was to overcome boredom. Satie believed to defeat boredom one must immerse themselves in it. After a long duration of time, the person would become so bored by the process they would forget the dullness and monotony therefore un-bored! Here is the 840 repetitions of vexations.
Satie had a passion for the duration and intensity of sounds which he used his phonometer for (a device used for measuring the concentration of a sound). Satie would sit for hours measuring the works of Beethoven, Verdi etcetera.
In 1898, poverty drove Satie out of his Monmartre home and into an economical rented room in an impoverish Paris sub-urb. Satie was to be seen tapping a drainpipe with his cane outside his housing complex and explaining aloud the different sounds produced. These explanations would sometimes last until around midnight, upsetting the other residents of the building who would sometimes throw vases of water at him to silence him. The years of 1898 and beyond were Satie’s years of desolation. At the age of 39, Satie became despairingly uninspired and questioned whether or not he had a musical gift in the first place. Satie thought God was to blame at the loss of musical gift and failings at composition. He disagreed that God was the ‘good Lord’ and instead a ‘a dirty old man’ who hid behind his power. Instead of music, Satie took up studying counterpart- a study musicians commonly turn to during a musical blank.
In 1917, overcoming his musical block, Satie collaborated with Pablo Picasso in a ballet which was one of the most offensive scandals of pre-war France.
In 1924, Satie composed his final piece of music for the ballet: ‘Relâche’.
Satie’s gnossiennes are particularly good also. Here is the first one: