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Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie)
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Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie
A paper by Matthew Shlomowitz. As part of his Ph.D. at the University of California at San Diego, USA. © 1999: Reprinted with kind permission.
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It is possible that Vexations might never have been performed if it had not been for John
Cage. For the reader unfamiliar with this piano piece by Erik Satie, Vexations, composed in 1893, is a "short" piano piece that is to be played 840 times in succession. A performance takes on average around 18 hours. Before Cage discovered the piece in 1949, few knew that it existed. This claim is easily supported: the first two biographies on Satie (by Templier,1932; Meyers, 1948) make no mention of it, not even in the "catalogue of works" of Meyers’s book. Soon after he discovered the score, Cage had it printed in Contrepoints. Furthermore, and of even more significance, in New York in 1963, Cage organized the work’s premier performance, seventy years after it was composed! (1) Vexations is now one of Satie’s most famous pieces. It has been performed many times all over the world; equally, a literature on it has developed. Testimony to this development, is that even the shortest articles about Satie in music dictionaries make mention of it. It is impossible, of course, to know what the fate of Vexations would have been if it were not for Cage. Possibly, at another time, someone else would have made it public. Or possibly, it would have been lost. This counterfactual question, however, will not be the focus of this paper. Rather, I will be examining why Satie was of interest to Cage, and how this interest manifested itself in Cage’s work - composition and writing. Secondly, I will investigate to what extent John Cage enlivened interest in the music of Erik Satie, in America and worldwide. And thirdly, I will explore to what extent Cage’s enthusiasm for Satie has effected the reception of that composer. Vexations then is simply the best example of how Cage brought interest to Satie, and likewise changed, or at least broadened, the way people think about him. Satie’s influence on Cage Fellow American composer Virgil Thomson probably introduced Cage to the music of Satie. Interestingly, Thomson was introduced to Satie whilst studying at Harvard by S. Foster Damon, a Masters student in the English department. Damon was a music lover, and he wrote some "insightful articles defending popular music and called attention to the music of Erik Satie, then dismissed by cerebral Harvard composers as a negligible eccentric"(2), that were published in the Harvard Musical Review. Thomson went on to meet Satie in 1921 whilst studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger; and he, like Cage, was a life-long advocate of Satie's work. The first evidence of Cage’s interest in Satie was in 1945: he made a two-piano arrangement of the first movement of Satie’s Socrate for Merce Cunningham’s ballet Idyllic Song . Next, whilst teaching at Black Mountain College (North Carolina) in the summer of 1948 he organized a twenty-five concert festival of Satie’s music.(3) The structure of the festival was simple: after dinner a half-hour concert of Satie’s music was given, often with a pre-concert talk. Most impressively, the theatre piece Le Piège de Mèduse was performed with Cage playing piano, Willem and Elaine de Kooning providing décor, and Buckmister Fuller playing Baron Mèdusa. The most important document that survives from the festival is the text of one of the preconcert talks Cage gave. It was not printed until 1968, when it finally appeared in Kostelanetz’s book "John Cage" under the title "Defense of Satie". This article is interesting
com/web/article8. as it is the opposite of sound "and. Skulsky denies having said such a thing in his reply.html 2/13 . But. For one. be it through "means of the twelve-tone row" or "secundal intervallic control". Cage believes that there is has been only one new idea since Beethoven. and it is so important to be in agreement about it. he concluded that it is only structure (the works 'parts that are clearly separate but that interact in such a way as to make a whole') that today’s composers should come to "general agreement" about. as we have said. he planned its harmonic structure.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) for different reasons. however. and material with words. as Jann Pasler suggests. Beethoven. Cage rebukes Skulsky’s idea that the humor in Satie’s music was a "mask" which Satie hid behind to cover up his technical limitations as a composer. in defining these terms. it is worth taking in the worthy commentary offered by Michael Nyman: "After giving his most convincing exposition of the distinctions between structure. Silence is important. the other categories being free. and influenced by. method. form.(4) Before we examine the content of this text. where structure is defined in terms of time lengths. With Satie and Webern they were defined by means of time lengths.(7) And he states that there is a "new contemporary awareness of form: It is static rather than progressive in character. and material. and the prepared piano (himself) to name just a few.(5) Before we look at the article ourselves. The only new structural idea to emerge since Beethoven is to be found in the work of Satie (and early Webern). Cage sees the big development in methodology as the ability to create "continuous invention". electronic instruments (Varèse). Cage maintains he planned its movement from one key to another. method and material have radically developed in the twentieth century music. the second in April 1951) in response to an article about Satie by Abraham Skulsky. aside from a few pieces. defined the structure of a composition by means of harmony. Cage defines these terms here as he wants to show that form. therefore. His argument is that the only "characteristic" which both sound and silence share is duration. that is. material and structure."(10) Cage is even more pugnacious in two letters that were printed in Musical America (the first in December 1950. is that it is the clearest exposition of Cage's conception of form. He writes: "And that new idea can be perceived in the work of Anton Webern and Erick Satie. a necessary partner of sound.satie-archives. The structure then is what makes all sonnets identifiable as being "sonnets". Satie’s music is not humorous at all. As Nyman states. aside from Satie's innovations (and also Webern's early works). which is what makes all sonnets identifiable. He uses the analogy of poetry." (6) Another reason why this paper has been of great interest to Cage scholars. Cage equates method with syntax. "The point is not what Satie did. that one might ask: Was Beethoven right or are Webern and Satie right? I answer immediately and unequivocally. Continuing the analogy. it is important to note that Cage’s radical interpretation of Satie's music (and Beethoven's) does not seem to have been supported by any one else. in particular the sonnet. but how Cage uses the Satie example to help him define structure in these terms". The form is the way the poet uses the structure. it is as an excellent example of Cage’s early writing style. and his influence.(11) Cage believes that."(8) When it comes to structure. The music by."(9) Cage believed that the "fundamental" aspect of music is duration. Before Beethoven wrote a piece. Beethoven was in error. has been deadening to the art of music. With Beethoven the parts of a composition were defined by means of harmony. For one. Cage states that many new materials have emerged in the twentieth century: quarter tones (Hába). www. has not. whereas structure. and the form is what allows one sonnet to be different from other sonnets. The first letter attacks several of Skulsky's ideas. which has been as extensive as it is lamentable. method. this article is written in "a style of logical and polemical argument that he abandoned in his later aphoristic-mosaic lecture writings". The sonnet has a structure. The question of structure is so basic.
1. etc."Now. Likewise. making love. reading and working to the sound of the wireless. in his "Defense of Satie". Following Skulsky’s diplomatic reply. the " musique d’ameublement" which will be played during the intermissions."(14) Clearly. Skulsky’s information (and incidentally Musical America’s too). Cage gave a course on Satie at the New School. in this letter. ad infinitum (business may also provide a way of life. You will be trying it out. This music. We urge you to take no notice of it and to behave during the intervals as if it did not exist. Delgrange. Namely. In the academic year beginning in 1957."(13) 2. Cage wrote a second letter that in addition to being pugnacious is also rather enigmatic and autobiographical. "Cage’s polemic teetered on the edge of universalizing his own practical and aesthetic predilections.(12) Cage also rebukes Skulsky’s claim that Satie cannot be considered a great composer on the grounds that. specially composed for Max Jacob’s play claims to make a contribution to life in the same way as a private conversation. for Satie. for Mr.(18) This manifested itself in Cage’s work the empty spaces that are incorporated into many of Cage’s works during the 1950s. Furniture Music would be a part of the sounds of the environment. He was particularly interested on this research trip on finding out more about musique d’ameublement (Furniture Music). rather than the work itself. It is 'musique d'ameublement'. The first is again to do with the matter of a composer’s output."(16) Furniture Music was the first ever "Muzak". getting bitten by a monkey. sweeping the floor. he wrote an article simply titled "Erik Satie" for the journal "Arts News www. let it be said that art is not a business. Cage also disputes Skulsky's idea that Satie's importance to musical history is his influence over other composers. Furniture Music was important. his output contains no "big" works (aside from Socrate). or the exigencies of a particular phase in the development of music.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) rather.html 3/13 . the second is about "art". For Cage. In 1949 went to Paris with a grant to do some research on Satie.(17) And although today it disturbs many of us that Muzak is so ever present (that it is the soundtrack to our lives). this time the Haiku poetry of Japan. "Satie was right: nowadays. as it was a new context for music. And in 1958.. as Milhaud wrote."(15) Nonetheless. he believes that Satie was "art’s most serious servant". Varèse doesn’t. the content becomes less about Satie and more about Cage’s views about musical scholarship. the customers are drenched in an unending flood of music. it has nothing to do with profit and loss). and a context that broke from the traditions of the concert hall. but in that case. but not listened to".satie-archives. directed by M. to show that size does not matter. Art is a way of life. In collaboration with Milhaud. Satie was very much at the forefront of Cage’s mind during this period between 1948 and 1951. or the chair which you may or may not be seated."he [Satie] wrote circa fourteen hours of music [not including Vexations] which is nothing to sneeze at (Webern wouldn’t have sneezed. picking flowers. if it is. we learn more about Cage (the way he conceives form and structure for instance) than we do about Satie. in the 1920s this was a revolutionary idea. Erik Satie and Darius Milhaud will be at your disposal for any information or commissions. MM. children and housewives fill their homes with unheeded music. The best example of this is 4’33". Furniture Music is best explained by the creators: "We are presenting today for the first time a creation of Messieurs Erik Satie and Darius Milhaud. And in all public places. a painting in a gallery.com/web/article8. Skulsky. who has a cold when it comes to Satie) ‘cannot concede that if Satie’s work contains the elements that justify calling its composer great. heard. Here are two excerpts. the noise of the environment are the music. reading a book. whereas for Cage. It is for all the world like taking a bus. it is "swinishness" (I quote Antonin Artaud) and nothing more. large stores and restaurants. but Mr. It was also important in a way that Satie had not conceived. Cage again uses poetry in his argument. As David Revill states.
Cage wrote Cheap Imitation. was not granted by the copyright holder. as Cage explains: "It is an imaginary conversation between Satie and myself. neither of us hears what the other says. It seems that the first performance of Vexations undertaken by a single performer was Richard Toop at the Arts Lab in London. The connection here with Satie is the repetition (Vexations) and the "typewriter" which Satie famously used as a musical instrument in his ballet suite Parade. What is interesting. the transposition the phrase would be played at. at least from the point of view of helping us understand Satie’s place in music around the middle of the century. Cage organized other performances of Vexations. The performer must www. and within each phrase Satie's music is re-written into different modes. is that he makes it clear to us that Satie is not an interest of the European avant-garde. At the beginning of each "song" is an inscription informing whether the "song" is "relevant" to Satie or Thoreau. In 1969 Cage arranged the second and third movements of Socrate. or sometimes both. to complete the project he had begun in 1945. it was reprinted in 1973 in his now classic book "Silence". and sometimes "irrelevant" to either. this is "the best-known and most influential performance of Vexations…". with the typewriter amplified by a microphone. The second determined what the first note would be. University of California at Davis (1967). It is often referred to as the "imaginary conversation". Because he died over thirty years before. Perhaps Cage’s biggest project involving Satie is the Songbooks (1970). whereas Satie had only the Group of Six and was called La Maître d’Arcueil. Permission to use the arrangement.15. there were initially only supposed to be ten. for example: Berlin (1966). he undertook this task at the request of Merce Cunningham who wanted to set the arrangement to dance. The instruction to the performer is to type any sentence by Satie on a typewriter 38 times.(23) Twelve pianists (including Cage) where involved in the performance. This performance lasted twenty-four hours.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) Annual". The performer is then to draw the notes randomly out of the containers. Satie's music is filtered through the I Ching in such a way that random transpositions occur between phrases. it was done all over the world. Nor Stockhausen: I imagine he has not yet given Satie a thought . Again the text says is as much about his own views. As Bryars states.html 4/13 . Here are two examples of "songs" which are "relevant" to Satie: No."(24) So instead of aborting the project altogether. each one taken from somewhere in Satie’s music. as it does about Satie. and so the arrangement was not used. Cunningham stated in his article "Music and Dance" that he and Cage "started with the idea that what was common between music and dance was time. No. and thus. writing each one in the order that they came out on a new piece of music paper. but two were substituted during the course of the performance. The total duration was 18 hours and 40 minutes. And finally.(25) That is. however. His method was to use the different phrase lengths to structure his dance. a piece that retains the phrase structure of Socrate. As in 1945. from Sydney (1970) to Stockholm (1972)."(20) This line continues. Vexations was performed at the Pocket Theatre in New York.80. ending with the rhetorical question. He writes: "Who’s interested in Satie nowadays anyway? Not Pierre Boulez: he has the twelve tones. . "Is Satie relevant in midcentury?"(21) In this article he reiterates much of what he said about Satie before ("timestructures for example). governs La Domaine Musicale. Cunningham had already invested effort into choreographing the score."(22) In 1963. Consisting of ninety "songs". it contains an often quoted line: "It's not a question of Satie’s relevance.com/web/article8. He applied two procedures to each phrase. the "subjects" of the Songbooks are Satie and American writer Henry Thoreau. Cage presents the performer with a piece of music that has 55 musical notes. His remarks are ones he is reported to have made and excerpts from his writings."(19) In this text Cage is as antagonistic as ever. In the decade or so after Cage first did Vexations. He’s indispensable. The first determined which of the seven whitenote modes the phrase would be re-written into. The performer is instructed to cut-up each note (again this act – cutting – is to be done amplified) and then place each one into a different container. . under Cage’s organization.satie-archives.
Erik Satie: An Alphabet". Completed in 1993. a music. The project was conceived of as a "gift" to Satie. the imaginary conversation "Erik Satie". Cage explains why he was attracted to Joyce. Dickinson states that since www. I have admired his choice of materials and his independent sense of form. I think I know all that. then the piece is over. with reflections of aspects of Satie. In the preface to the text. The premise for it was Satie’s statement: "Show me something new. Incidentally. I’ll begin all over again. Marcel Duchamp. And at the same time it would neutralize the street noises which so indiscreetly enter into the play of conversation. Indeed. and first appearing on the internet in 1994. there are "inserts" of normal prose. which will be part of the noises of the environment. I have also studied wild mushrooms so that I won’t kill myself when I eat what I find. In 1981. To make such a noise would respond to need. a word which does not appear in the Third Edition of the Webster New World College Dictionary (1997). Joyce and Duchamp’s work. Here is an example from this text: satieE goes in seaRch of sunlIght he comes across haydn bill anastasi is loo King at haydn through a lorgnetter If we remember Nyman’s comment with regard to "Defense of Satie" ("a style of logical and polemical argument that he abandoned in his later aphoristic-mosaic lecture writings") this then is that later style. that is. if the audience gives applause at the end of the "song" then the performer must repeat the song. no get-togethers.com/web/article8. He says of Satie: "I have analyzed his music and found it structured rhythmically. "Mesostic". no social affairs of any kind without Furniture Music…. softening the noises of the knives and forks. But it does me no good. Duchamp and Satie. will take them into consideration. he quotes Satie’s (a passage he also quoted in the imaginary conversation) sermon-like statement: "We must bring about a music which is like furniture.Don’t get married without Furniture Music. Have no meetings." And in another insert.satie-archives. can be seen as a transition point between these two styles." Cage’s final major Satie project was The First Meeting of the Satie Society. The same is true each time I hear Satie well-played. I think of it as a melodious. The literature on Satie Frenchman Pierre-Daniel Templier published the first biography on Satie in 1932. He writes emphatically of Furniture Music : "Insist upon Furniture Music . Anyone who hasn’t heard Furniture Music as no idea what true happiness is. is a particular way of structuring your text where words may be read vertically as well as horizontally. By this time some substantial books and articles had been printed in English. this project involved artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and poet Chris Mann.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) then sing this new product. in regard to scholarship on Satie. if the audience does not applaud."(26) The project is made up of 7 new things. It would spare them the trouble of paying attention to their own banal remarks." Throughout the mesostic. not imposing itself. I am always amazed how exiting it is in any season anywhere to see just any mushrooms growing once again. Cage wrote a mesostic titled "James Joyce. not dominating them. Stay out of houses that don’t use Furniture Music. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometimes fall between friends dining together.html 5/13 . I fall in love all over again. His method it seems to me is a marriage of mode and the twelve-tones. It was not translated into English until 1969.
Here. Lambert (1905-51) was born and spent his life in English. "Music Ho!: A Study of Music in Decline" has become somewhat of a classic."(33) To be fair. "the Gymnopédies are three in number – each one representing a different ‘facet’. he writes. both use the classic threesection structure: the life. as Cage did later (it is possible that Cage came to this view via Lambert’s) that "no composer. He writes of these pieces. he completely abolishes the element of rhetorical argument and even succeeds in abolishing as far as possible our time sense. while presenting a different and www. there is no mention of the kind of temporal structuring that Cage read into Satie’s music. each make it clear that Satie’s music has a poor status in the music world. a revolutionary idea in 1887. the second part is titled " Post-War Pasticheurs". which causes the piece to fold in of itself.com/web/article8. the man. as it were of the basic idea which gives them unity but of which nevertheless each Gymnopédie supplies a variant. Erik Satie. The purpose of each seems to be to document and defend Satie’s life and music.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) Templier "most of the pioneering has been done by the British and North Americans". Perhaps. as we will discuss later. Cage’s point that Satie’s supporters have attempted to validate his work through its influence on other composers rather than focussing on the work itself is certainly true here. Meyer is even more corny. it does not become a queen through having traveled to the other side of the board. For instance."(30) In Lambert’s chapter. And. like Satie (as well as Poulenc."(31) What Lambert is essentially saying here is that Satie’s music involves parallax rather than development. and the melody seems to have a strange aerial quality as if suspended between earth and sky. and was part of his peculiarly sculpturesque views of music. Both Templier and Meyer’s biographies are very conventional. albeit only in passing. Ravel and Stravinsky) wrote ballet scores for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. "The harmonic texture. James Harding as well surveying the way Satie is written about in music dictionaries and encyclopedias. Virgil Thomson. One writer who did focus on the music was Constant Lambert. Indeed. modal in character. In this five part book. He. It is as though we were moving slowly round a piece of sculpture and examine it from a different point of view. Rollo Meyers. the works. he says that the three Gymnopédies "are a miracle of intuition. we will now examine some of those English speaking scholars and writers. Meyer does make mention of more important issues.(29) Lambert believed. as it were. And under this heading is the chapter "Erik Satie and his Musique d’ameumblement". That is. "English critics have been unanimous in their disapproval" of that "much-maligned and misrepresented figure. such as Constant Lambert. a sad melodic line is sketched over a rhythmic background of delicately dissonant chords". when Templier talks about the music it is corny. It took place in his art of dramatic development. We do not feel that the emotional significance of a phrase is dependent on its being placed at the beginning or end of a particular section. Wilfred Mellers. Lambert gives us a feel for Satie’s marginalized place in music society. Prokofiev. His book.html 6/13 . For instance."(34) In regard to the same piece.satie-archives. is light and transparent. Lambert supports his statement quoted above: "Satie’s habit of writing his pieces in groups of three was not just a mannerism.(27) With the intention of putting Cage’s thoughts on Satie in context. especially in the final cadences. On Satie’s chessboard a pawn is always a pawn. and thus the narrative account of his life and work is told with a tone of making a case for redressing the situation."(28) Lambert saw himself as arguing against the establishment view that Satie was a "farceur and an incompetent dilettante". rather than a musicologist. He states.(32) There is no mention of the fact that the three pieces are conceived as different versions of the same piece. this was because Lambert (like Cage) was a composer. took a more essentially serious view of his art. though there is an interesting passage about Satie’ sense of form: "By his abstention from the usual forms of development and by his unusual employment of what might be called interrupted and overlapping recapitulations. not even Debussy. When we pass from the first to the second Gymnopédie … we do not feel that we are passing from one object to another. This idea is not discussed in Templier’s book.
)". Norman Demuth.(36) Mellers principal focus is Satie’s functional music. Satie is best remembered as the composer of the ballet Parade. and only fleeting reference to Furniture Music: "the deliberately ludicrous ‘musique d’ameublement". earlier statements about Satie generally make much of the fact that he was opposed to Romanticism and Impressionism. The next biography on Satie was not until James Harding’s in 1975. the line they follow extends to infinity. and then became famous and important (as well as notorious) during the late 60s. The other important contribution to the literature on Satie. in the Webster music dictionary entry on Satie. He does mention it in the text. as specified.satie-archives. Webern. It does not matter which way you walk around a statue and it does not matter in which order you play the three Gymnopédies.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) possible less interesting silhouette to our eyes. different writers have had different takes on Satie. that Satie was the "father of Stravinsky’s Appolon Musagete". needless to say. is most praiseworthy of Socrate. Meyers stated in 1948. musicologists have shifted their emphasis on how they perceive Satie to be important. though the focus is more on the ‘life’ and the ‘man’. but only fleetingly and derisively: "In some quarters."(38) Satie’s music has been written about very differently in various music textbooks. Socrate is generally regarded as Satie’s "biggest" achievement. He even states. outside a small group of specialists. the Gymnopédies was apparently the most known of his works. in scope and scale. Perhaps the most extreme is www. it also contains acute observations. Hába and Varèse. would last twenty-four hours. This. which received no attention for so long. For instance. Relâche. Harding does not document Vexations in the "List of Works" he supplies as an appendix. Amazingly. from before 1950. This article makes no mention of Vexations. Vexations and the Furniture Music receive more coverage than any other piece. however. to some extent. He writes.com/web/article8. is of equal importance to our appreciation of the work as a plastic whole.html 7/13 . For instance. encyclopedias and dictionaries. viewing him as a precursor for developments later in the century. is Wilfred Mellers’ 1942 article "Erik Satie and the ‘problem’ of contemporary music". aged forty. his analysis of a piece like the Gymnopédies isn’t very interesting. The life-man-works biographical style of Templier and Meyer’s is all combined into a single unfolding narrative here. especially with regard to his place in music history. Of course. in his book "Musical Trends in the Twentieth Century".(37) And again. (Mr John Cage estimates. these pieces are only more popular still. quite remarkably. can be explained as a shift of emphasis over the course of the twentieth century."(35) As we can see. the pieces themselves are familiar to most. And now it has been institutionalized. in particular the score he composed for René Clair’s film Entr’acte. gravely. This shift in emphasis can also be seen through examining which of Satie's works have been of interest in a particular time. such as. David Cope in his "New Directions in Music" places Satie in the "Experimental tradition" of Ives. And they have made some dubious connections with Satie and other composers of the time. considering the amount of performances it had had received by this time. let alone the composer’s name."(39) In his lifetime.(41) And then there is the story of Vexations. Jack-in-the-Box) which he states are "among the high-jinks of music". And he downplays his ballet scores (Parade. that the complete performance. Later writers. have place Satie in a very different context. although Harding cites Lambert’s book in the bibliography. even though many people unfamiliar with Classical music would be unable to tell you the piece’s title. they are overheard. That is.(40) Demuth emphasizes the famous counterpoint training Satie. that "In England. rather tenuously methinks. Socrate does not even get a mention. Although they are complete in themselves. "Their unforgettably haunting tone has put them among Satie’s best-known works. undertook with D’Indy. Minimalism. Lambert’s writing does not only defend (and heap praise on) Satie’s music. They are not heard. Meyers's "Music in the Modern World" is a good example of this standpoint. And today. and the other neo-classic works such as Mercure. and that he promoted the incorporation of jazz and vernacular music. this labored joke [Vexations] has been taken seriously. For instance.
but at least he is always given a place. Berg. Whether he did."Although widely considered a composer of modest technical accomplishments…".satie-archives. then we are left with nothing but conjecture and speculation. in which Satie is essentially written out of the grand narrative of twentieth century music. Other authors are not always positive about Satie. romanticized."(42) In terms of his place in music history.(48) A further characteristic has been to place Satie. Griffiths places him both in the context of neo-classicism (thus. Meyer writes. in a context www."…dismissed by most musicians as an uneducated person who tried to conceal his musical ignorance with persiflage. Another characteristic of these biographers is a tendency to praise Satie on the grounds of his influence on other composers. Nyman and Bryars are all composers.remember Harding's skipping over of Vexations).(44) 3. and we can also add Virgil Thomson. Stravinsky and Webern are each the focus of respective chapters. prose each wrote regarding Gymnopédies. Schoenberg. have written about Satie very differently to Satie's biographers."(43) 2. read Lambert. but it is certainly possible that Cage could have got hold of it. We can see from the following quotes that the music establishment believes that Satie had little compositional craft: 1. or did not. Paul Griffiths writes. "Poulenc’s works of the 1930s and 1940s. Bartok. Cage.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) Otto Deri’s book "Exploring Twentieth Century Music". there are weighty passages on Poulenc and Milhaud. it is surprising that he has attracted such mundane biographers. however. It is quite amazing the degree to which Satie is neglected in this book. historically. In what is perhaps the seminal text book of twentieth century music "Modern Music: a concise history". Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars. Templier's. Cage’s place in Satie’s reception The question of how Cage has affected Satie's place in history is a difficult one to answer. Hindemith. It is difficult to know if Lambert's book was being read in the USA at this time. Yet. have changed Satie’s prankishness into something both more seductive and more perturbing. It is not that they necessarily attempt to remove. what we can say more assertively is that these two. Thomson. And yet if we try too hard to avoid this problem."(45) It is an interesting phenomenon when such negative positions become establishment. It is interesting that Lambert. The problem is that the question risks what Hacket-Ficher calls "The Fallacy of Metaphysical Questions" in his book "Historian's Fallacies"(47). Clearly."They [Delius and Satie] can make an impression with limited technical means.html 8/13 . Myers's and Harding's books are all very straight-forward biographies. but a great prophet". and eccentric a composer that Satie was. is the above examples of the flowery. they (Meyer's and Harding's particularly) just don't quite capture the spirit. rather than promoting the work itself. and they are also all Englishmen or Americans. the opposite "problem" to Satie. there are some striking parallels. For instance. Another sufferer is Max Reger. "They" seem to have decided that his music is not "great" because of its "opaqueness of expression"(46) – interestingly. the attempt to resolve a non-empirical question empirically. ignore or justify Satie's eccentricities (though there are examples of this too . When one considers how interesting. is perhaps irrelevant.com/web/article8. in terms of what each has written about Satie. that is. against Impressionism and Romanticism) as well as being a precursor for composers such as Cage. Debussy. "A lesser musician than that other great figure in twentieth century. a middle ground needs to be found where we can bring together the findings of the above and then make some observations To suggest that there is a connection between Lambert and Cage is problematic as to my knowledge there is no evidence to support it. A good example of this. but Satie is only mentioned twice (indirectly) throughout.
without reference to surroundings. the revival of fugal devices – all these typical traits of the post-war movement [viz. such as Three Flabby Preludes. The best example of his lack of veneration for tradition and the musical establishment is his ballet Relâche. neoclassicism or romanticism. the first American performance of Socrate (tenor and piano arrangement) in the mid 1920s. Cage never discussed Satie in the context of impressionism. The same group arranged a performance of the silent film Cinéma (Entr’acte) with the live music Satie composed for it. pictorialism. "a critic – especially when he is considering a composer of the past – must take into account various factors of historical development. he promoted Satie’s work by organizing concerts of the music. Satie has not been embraced whole-heartily as a neoclassicist probably for the simple reason that he did not take the old forms "seriously" as Stravinsky did. the latter tends to regard the works of the former as musically valid in themselves. Virgil Thomson did not. Rather. at the premier of this work. and as we have shown above with his statements regarding parallax in Satie’s work. not colour [sic]. He must try to find out whether the subject of his judgement was a man of his time. writing works that were valid only for some later generation. And as a critic for various publications. He states that the music is completely lacking in "romanticism. on the curtain was written the words "Erik Satie is the greatest musician in the world. or to see that composer as a forerunner for developments that occurred later . or whether he was ahead of his time. And as we saw with Cage. time. but clearly with Satie.com/web/article8. and the "reaction against Impressionism with its appeal to the nerves."(53) Criticism has certainly changed since 1951 when Skulsky wrote these words. Stravinsky and Satie where the "representative figures in modern music. Skulsky (the author of the article about Satie printed in Musical America that Cage responded to) sums it up beautifully in his response to Cage’s first letter. So as musicologists have found it difficult to label Satie a neo-classicist. often a composer’s take on this music is very personal and says as much about them as it does their subject. write about Satie. it was his belief that Schoenberg.(50) But he does not dwell on this categorization.satie-archives. He writes. Stockhausen) had written their version of this statement at a premier of their work. absurdity was the point and the fun."(51) That Satie has been written about differently by composers is perhaps no surprise. The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music. namely Debussy's impressionism and Wagner's romanticism. in scholarly terms. "When a composer is related to another composer in character and aesthetic. And furthermore. Constant Lambert does advance the idea that Satie was a neoclassicist. Thomson always spoke highly of Satie’s work. Interestingly. or social significance. we can see a certain lack of reverence for tradition. Most notably he organized. the development of popular melodies and forms. Now if Wagner or Scriabin (or in modern times. de-contextualized. organized the first performance of the orchestral version in America. clarity of form) he also had a love of the absurd and a problematic relationship with tradition. he has some striking insights into the music itself. Music historians are typically interested in positioning a composer – whether that be to pigeonhole a composer in a movement of the time. we would have thought that it was an expression of their gigantic egos. in a sense our definition of what a neo-classicist is takes Stravinsky as its model. yet equally by titles of the resulting works. To my knowledge.whereas composers are generally more interested in the music.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) of being a kind-of neo-classicist. the insistence on line. And in 1936. which translates as "This Show is Closed". indeed. of which he was a member.. or dramatic atmosphere"(49). it has been easier to simply to say that he was against things. Although he clearly had the sensibility of a classicist (predilections for heterophony. neo-classicism] are found in Satie …". In our time.html 9/13 . the judged composer becomes a centrifuge of enthusiasm for the judging composer. and this is a model Satie does not fit into. and as a pianist played in. whoever disagrees with this notion will please leave the hall". transparency of texture. On one hand the middle-aged Satie thought enough of tradition to go back to school to learn counterpoint."(52) While on the contrary. with a normal place in society as it then existed. we have become increasingly self-conscious and suspicious of assumptions that lay tacit in www.
(55) There is. the music of all of these composers was suddenly of no interest to the young generation of composers that sprung up around the Darmstadt Festival of New Music. Nonetheless. Furthermore. Stockhausen etc. and the many people that have taken an interest in Cage have also taken an interest in his interests. a progressive. Brahms’ place in the music world is far more solid than Satie’s. That is.. In Place of a Conclusion John Cage has affected Satie’s reception. "Almost every twentieth century French composer has acknowledged some debt to him …". than the facts themselves. As Peter Dickinson states.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) scholarship. is that in a sense it was a different "Satie". so it is not surprising that Schoenberg’s article didn’t have the same effect. whereas. This is not always the case. Most text books will tell you that the important young composer’s of this time . is a product of this shift.) have taken an interest in Brahms. be it by musicologists or composers. Cage’s engagement with Satie was extensive. Satie’s legacy amongst French composers would have been guaranteed if it were not for the colossal compositional shift following the World War II.satie-archives. Hindemith. Cage. is also interesting. p81. contrary to the established view. "'Vexations' and its Performers" in Contact.com/web/article8. of course. And though he died earlier. and we have seen how passionately Cage was interested in Satie at this time. in the decade or so before Satie’s death. this paper. the emphasis of this paper is on what has happened to Satie’s work rather than on the work itself. Varese and Webern. Footnotes (1) Gavin Bryars. Spring 1983. Boulez. with his friendship with Thomson and Sauguet (the composer who showed Cage Vexations) is a connection between each of these generations. And as we saw with Vexations. Honneger (1955). Following the second world war. but almost invariably dramatically down-played. when broad interest in Satie re-surfaced in the mid 1960s it was largely in America and England. W. that is.(54) Indeed. Skulsky’s observation remains relevant. 1997. Schoenberg. what we can assert. For instance. is that the "Satie" that was so fascinating to this new group of enthusiasts. Durey (1979). Without wanting to be accused of another of Hacket-Ficsher’s fallacies – The Fallacy of the Fictional Questions (i. Virgil Thomson: On the Aisle. Clearly. the well documented Les Six which featured (and you can see by their year of death in parentheses how for the legacy reached in this group of enthusiasts): Auric (1983). counterfactuals) – it is interesting to ponder what the fate of Satie’s reception would have been if it where not for the Darmstadters. As I have been at pains to point out throughout. we can not say that the people who took an interest in Schoenberg (e. as most of the scholarship we have discussed was written before this shift.html 10/13 . (2) Anthony Tommasini. Cage’s interest in Satie is alluded to in these text books. Nonetheless.W. Ravel (1937) also promoted Satie’s work. composers even of the stature of Debussy. as Debussy (1918) had done earlier. – were inspired by the modernists of the first half of the twentieth century: Berg. lest someone-like Satie. has been done by English rather than French speakers. But then again Schoenberg only wrote a solitary article about Brahms. New York. and reception history generally. Milhaud (1974). Poulenc (1963) and Tailleferre (1983).Norton & Co. Prokofiev. The most extreme angle on this is when writers such as Michel Foccault become more interested in the way facts are interpreted in a particular time. as we have seen. composer. What is especially interesting about the Vexations phenomenon. p12-20. The fact that so much of the writing about Satie. and wrote a famous article on how Brahms was. and involved every aspect of his musical life as a writer. fell completely out of favor. and concert organizer.g. www. although Schoenberg was interested in Brahms. many young French composers became interested in Satie.Boulez.e. Nono. the degree to which we can assert this is difficult to quantify. pianist. that Lambert and Thomson were promoting. Stockhausen etc. is that Cage was a committed enthusiast of Satie’s work. John Cage.
1970. p80. in John Cage (edited by Richard Kostelanetz). Connecticut. (17) Darius Milhaud quoted in: Orledge. (26) Satie quoted in: Cage. p90.31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) (3) David Revill. (23) Bryars. 1970. (7) John Cage. (13) Cage. Fall 1991.html 11/13 . "Defense of Satie" in John Cage (edited by Richard Kostelanetz). (6) Nyman. p70. p115. p93. No. (15) Revill. "Satie Controversy". Chicago. Perloff and C. p89. University of Chicago Press. p45. p80. p81. (14) Cage. review in Music Quarterly. in John Cage: a composer in America (ed. 1992. 1993. "Inventing a Trdition: Cage’s composition in retrospect". Juckermann). (8) Cage. p68. "Satie Controversy". London. "Erik Satie". "Erik Satie". Silence. 1994. www. (4) Michael Nyman. "Erik Satie". "Satie Controversy". M. p104. Vol. Robert. The Roaring Silence. Satie Remembered . 1985. p92. p68. 1973). The University of Michigan Press. p81. 1973. Praeger Publishers. p 82. "Erik Satie" (first appeared in the 1958 Art News Annual). Music Ho!. Praeger Publishers. (9) Cage. 1976 (first pub. "Satie Controversy". "Erik Satie". (18) Nyman. (27) Peter Dickinson. p76.com/web/article8. Hogarth Press.satie-archives. (22) Cage. MIT Press. p94. 1969 (original 1932). (29) Lambert. Elena L. "Defense of Satie". New York. p66. p77. French and David S. p95. (11) John Cage. (25) Nyman. p77. "Cage and Satie" in Musical Times. Massachusetts. New York. "Music and Dance" in Writings About John Cage (edited by Richard Kostelanetz). "Defense of Satie". (21) Cage. p115. 1995. Bloomsbury. Portland. London. (19) John Cage. (16) Erik Satie quoted in: Pierre-Daniel Templier. Erik Satie (trans.75. Wesleyan University Press. (20) Cage. (5) Jann Pasler. Amadeus Press. (24) Merce Cunningham. p15. French). (10) Cage. (12) Cage. (28) Constant Lambert. "Defense of Satie".1. p81.
p31. Culder and Boyars.W Norton & Co. (43) Twentieth Century Music (edited by Rollo Meyers). p8. (42) Paul Griffiths. p12. Greenwood Press. London. Manchester. Erik Satie. (50) Lambert. 1975.html 12/13 . Erik Satie. (40) Norman Demuth. in John Cage (edited by Richard Kostelanetz). p5. (48) Meyers. p223. p25. Dennis Dobson. 1994 (first published in 1986). Vol. 1948. p287. no. Erik Satie (trans. Historian's Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. Modern Music: A Concise History. p119. Manchester University Press. p69. New York. New York. (44) Robert P Morgan. p76. MacMillan. (49) Lambert. p127. 1991. "Erik Satie (1866-1925) in The Music Review. Musical Trends in the Twentieth Century. (32) Pierre-Daniel Templier.2 (May 1967). p18. Erik Satie. New York. p431. (37) James Harding. (39) Meyers. (54) Richard Kearney. (53) Skulsky. www. New York. 28. French and David S. New York. 1968. 1975 (first published in 1952). p117. Modern Movements in European Philosophy. (41) Demuth. Erik Satie. New York. Elena L. 1970. Praeger Publishers. p115. MIT Press. (52) Abraham Skulsky. Massachusetts. p91. Harper and Row Publishers. (51) Tommasini. Praeger Publishers. p115. 1970. p139. p91.3 (July 1942). 1969 (original 1932). (38) Harding. (55) Peter Dickinson. p119. French). 1994 (first published in 1974). p69. Twentieth Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe. p5.com/web/article8. Vol 23. (33) Rollo Meyers. p50. W. (36) Wilfred Mellers.satie-archives. (46) Webster's New World Dictionary of Music. p70. Connecticut. "Erik Satie and the ‘problem’ of contemporary music" in Music and Letters. (45) Webster's New World Dictionary of Music (edited by Richard Kassel). (47) Hacket Fischer. p459. "Satie Controversy".31/03/13 Erik Satie: article (Cage’s Place In the Reception of Satie) (30) Lambert. (34) Meyers. (35) Lambert. (31) Lambert. Erik Satie. Thames and Hudson. No. p43.
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