Satie, Erik (Alfred-Leslie)

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Satie, Erik (Alfred-Leslie)

Satie, Erik (Alfred-Leslie), celebrated French composer who elevated his eccentricities and verbal virtuosity to the plane of high art; b. Honfleur, May 17, 1866; d. Paris, July 1, 1925. He received his early music training from a local organist, Vinot, who was a pupil of Niedermeyer. At 13 he went to Paris, where his father was a music publisher, and received instruction in harmony from Taudou and in piano from Mathias; however, his attendance at the Cons. was only sporadic between 1879 and 1886. He played in various cabarets in Montmartre, and in 1884 publ, a piano piece which he numbered, with malice aforethought, op.62. His whimsical ways and Bohemian manner of life attracted many artists and musicians; he met Debussy in 1891; joined the Rosicrucian Society in Paris in 1892 and began to produce short piano pieces with eccentric titles intended to ridicule modernistic fancies and Classical pedantries alike. Debussy thought highly enough of him to orchestrate 2 numbers from his piano suite Gymnopédies (1888). Satie was almost 40 when he decided to pursue serious studies at the Paris Schola Cantorum, taking courses in counterpoint, fugue, and orchestration with d’Indy and Roussel (1905–8). In 1898 he had moved to Arcueil, a suburb of Paris; there he held court for poets, singers, dancers, and musicians, among whom he had ardent admirers. Milhaud, Sauguet, and Désormière organized a group, which they called only half-facetiously “École d’Arcueil,” in honor of Satie as master and leader. But Satie’s eccentricities were not merely those of a Parisian poseur; rather, they were adjuncts to his aesthetic creed, which he enunciated with boldness and total disregard for professional amenities (he was once brought to court for sending an insulting letter to a music critic). Interestingly enough, he attacked modernistic aberrations just as assiduously as reactionary pedantry, publishing “manifestos” in prose and poetry. Although he was dismissed by most serious musicians as an uneducated person who tried to conceal his ignorance of music with persiflage, he exercised a profound influence on the young French composers of the first quarter of the 20th century; moreover, his stature as an innovator in the modern idiom grew after his death, so that the avant-garde musicians of the later day accepted him as inspiration for their own experiments; thus “space music” could be traced back to Satie’s musique d’ameublement, in which players were stationed at different parts of a hall playing different pieces in different tempi. The instruction in his piano piece Vexations, to play it 840 times in succession, was carried out literally in N.Y. on Sept. 9, 1963, by a group of 5 pianists working in relays overnight, thus setting a world’s record for duration of any musical composition. When critics accused Satie of having no idea of form, he publ. Trois Morceaux en forme de poire, the eponymous pear being reproduced in color on the cover; other pieces bore self-contradictory titles, such as Heures séculaires et instantanées and Crépuscule matinal de midi; other titles were Pièces froides, Embryons desséchés, Prélude en tapisserie, Préludes flasques (pour un chien), Descriptions automatiques, etc. In his ballets, he introduced jazz for the first time in Paris; at the performance of his ballet Reláche (Nov. 29, 1924), the curtain bore the legend “Erik Satie is the greatest musician in the world; whoever disagrees with this notion will please leave the hall.” He publ, a facetious autobiographical notice as Mémoires d’un amnésique (1912); N. Wilkins tr. and ed. The Writings of Erik Satie (London, 1980).


DRAMATIC: Geneviève de Brabant, marionette opera (1899); le Piège de Méduse, lyric comedy (1913); Parade, ballet (Paris, May 18, 1917); Mercure, ballet (Paris, June 15, 1924); Relâche, ballet (Paris, Nov. 29, 1924). Also incidental music to Le Fils de étoiles (1891; prelude reorchestrated by Ravel, 1913), Le Prince de Byzance (1891), Le Nazaréen (1892), La Porte heroïque du ciel (1893), and Pousse l’Amour (1905). orch.: Jack in the Box (1900; orchestrated by Milhaud, 1920); En habit de cheval (1911); Cinq Grimaces (1914); Trois petites pièces montées (1919; also for Piano, 4-Hands, 1920); La belle excentrique (1920). chamber: Choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes) for Violin and Piano (1914). Piano : 3 Sarabandes (1887–88; orchestrated by Caby); Trois Gymnopédies (1888; Nos. 1 and 3 orchestrated by Debussy, 1896; No. 2 orchestrated by H. Murrill and by Roland-Manuel); Trois Gnossiennes (1890; orchestrated by Lanchbery; No. 3 orchestrated by Poulenc, 1939); Trois Préludes from Le Fils des étoiles (1891; orchestrated by Roland-Manuel); 9 Danses gothiques (1893); Quatre Préludes (1893; Nos. 1 and 3 orchestrated by Poulenc, 1939); Prélude de la Porte héroïque du ciel (1894; orchestrated by Roland-Manuel, 1912); 2 Pièces froides (1897); Valse, Je te veux (c. 1900; arranged for Violin and Orch.; also arranged for Orch. by C. Lambert); 3 Nouvelles Pièces froides (n.d.); Le Poisson rêveur (1901 arranged for piano and orch, by Caby); Trois Morceaux en forme de poire for Piano, 4-Hands (1903; orchestrated by Désormière); Douze Petits Chorals (c. 1906); Passacaille (1906); Prélude en tapisserie (1906); Aperçus désagréables for Piano, 4-Hands (1908–12); Deux Rêveries nocturnes (1910–11); En habit de cheval for Piano, 4-Hands (1911); Trois Véritables Préludes flasques (pour un chien) (1912); 3 Descriptions automatiques (1913); 3 Embryons desséchés (1913); 3 Croquis et agaceries d’un gros bonhomme en bois (1913); 3 Chapitres tournés en tous sens (1913); 3 Vieux Séquins et vieilles cuirasses (1913); Enfantines (1913); 6 Pièces de la période 1906–13; 11 Sports et divertissements (1914); Heures séculaires et instantanées (1914); Trois Valses du précieux dégoúté (1914; orchestrated by Green-baum); Avant- dernières pensées (1915); Parade, suite for Piano, 4-Hands, after the ballet (1917); Sonatine bureaucratique (1917); 5 Nocturnes (1919); Premier Menuet (1920). VOCAL: Trois Mélodies de 1886 for Voice and Piano (1886); Messe des Pauvres for Chorus and Organ or Piano (1895; orchestrated by D. Diamond, 1960); Trois Poèmes d’amour for Voice and Piano (1914); Trois Mélodies for Voice and Piano (1916); Sacrate for 4 Sopranos and Chamber Orch. (1918; Paris, Feb. 14, 1920); Ludions, 5 songs for Voice and Piano (1923)


P.-D. Templier, E. S.(Paris, 1932); R. Myers, E. S. (London, 1948); A. Rey, E. S.(Paris, 1974; rev. and aug., 1995); G. Wehmeyer, E. S. (Berlin, 1974); M. Brendel, E. S. (1982); V. Lajoinie, E. S. (Lausanne, 1985); J.-J. Barbier, Au piano avec E. S. (Paris, 1986); M. Rosenthal, S., Ravel, Poulenc: An Intimate Memoir (Madras and N.Y., 1987); A. Gillmor, E. S. (Boston, 1988); R. Orledge, S. the Composer (Cambridge, 1990); N. Perloff, Art and the Everyday: Popular Entertainment and the Circle of E. S. (Oxford, 1991); O. Volta, S. et la danse (Paris, 1992); G. Wehmeyer, E. S.: Bilder und Dokumente (Munich, 1992); R. Orledge, S. Remembered (Portland, Ore., 1995); L. Striegel, Schlaffe Präludien und verdorrte Embryos: Klavierspielen mit E. S. (Fernwald, 1997); G. Wehmeyer, E. S. (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire