Gymnopedie

Gymnopedie No. 1 Erik Satie (1866-1925)

Erik Satie was a French pianist and composer during the Impressionist period (early 20th century). After his mother’s death when Satie was 6, he and his younger brother were sent to live with his grandparents. There he received his first music lessons from a local organist. When he was 12 his grandmother died, and the two brothers were reunited in Paris with their father, who married a piano teacher shortly afterwards. From the early 1880s onwards, Satie started publishing salon compositions by his step-mother and himself, among others.

Satie attended the Paris Conservatoire twice, once as a pianist, and the second time as a composer, but he was told that his work and playing was insignificant and worthless by his teachers. He joined the army, but was discharged within a few months because he deliberately infected himself with bronchitis. Somewhere along the way Satie joined the Rosicrucians, and at age 25 he was the official composer and chapel-master of the Rosicrucian Order “Ordre de la Rose-Croix Catholique, du Temple et du Graal”, but by age 30 it appears he had completely turned his back on all matters religious.

He was friends with Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky, who sometimes steered work his way when Satie’s fortunes were flagging. Satie eventually died from cirrhosis of the liver caused by too much alcohol and absinthe.

Satie is notorious for strange pieces with even stranger titles: “Genuine Flabby Preludes for a Dog”, “The Dreamy Fish”, “The Bureaucratic Sonatina”, and a piece called “Vexations” which is supposed to be repeated 840 times (a performance in 1963 by a tag-team of pianists led by John Cage took almost 19 hours). But amidst all the sarcasm if not downright nihilism of Satie’s music, his lovely Gymnopedie No. 1 has earned a permanent place in the repertoire — you’ll recognize it immediately. Sometimes a lot of chaff (in the opinion of some) results in lovely wheat in the end.