The Strange Case of Erik Satie Author(s): Rollo H. Myers Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 86, No.

1229 (Jul., 1945), pp. 201-203 Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 21/08/2010 05:45
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his stepmother wrote little piano pieces under the name of Eug6nie SatieAt the age of seventeen Erik Barnetsche. . if they had never met... (Excellent recordings of these exist.... ...... made by H.. Miscellaneous .. MYERS precise) which have elapsed since the birth of Erik Satie no personality has arisen in the world of music presenting quite such baffling characteristics.M..... and so on. for the moment.... cool to the ear.. Notes and News ... Anderson Church and Organ Music : . ... Harrow Philharmonic Society Herbert Thompson (1856-1945).. a great many distinguished writers and artists have held other views. .. fragile fragrance .... . ...... undulating rhythm and subtly-bare harmonies.. London Concerts . Myers . However. . . and it is obvious that a musician who enjoyed the friendship and admiration of men like Debussy.. and it may well be doubted whether we shall ever again be confronted with a comparable phenomenon. his mother.' of which the first and last were orchestrated by Debussy......... then.. . too.THE TIMES MUSICAL AND SINGING-CIASSCIRCULAR JULY 1945 CONTENTS Page 201 204 206 207 208 211' 213 213 214 215 Page Letters to the Editor .. he was still determined to be a composer. The twentieth anniversary of Satie's death which occurred this month (he died on July 1. Milhaud...... W.. . that Debussy (whom Satie first met during his Montmartre period at the famous 'Auberge du Clou') was captivated by their charm and freshness. ... Harris....) These little pieces exhale an extraordinary. .. entered the Paris Conservatoire. .. Round about Radio. ... 216 218 219 219 220 220 221 221 .. Forming a Music Club........ By George Linstead ....... a tributary... and left after a year of unhappiness... notably unresolved 'ninths... ..' bien pensant circles both during his lifetime and ever since... The Strange Case of Erik Satie By ROLLOH.. . .. .. Grimes Peter ' .. . in a sense......... Royal College of Organists . By Frank Ferneyhough ... . . . died when he was six .. ..... Well-known examples of these literary quips (to quote only a few-they are mostly untranslatable) are: ' Du bout de la pens6e.. ... . ... ....' Then came the ' Sarabandes ' in which he anticipated the kind of harmonic sequences. and decided then and there to compete no more in that field. and even to the main current of music to which he was... .. . . .. By Rollo H... suggest the tracing of some graceful arabesque by the naked feet of dancers under an early-morning Mediterranean sky.... Roussel.. Picasso.. MUSIC Peace I leave with you.... R. Notes. . ..... Stravinsky..... humourist. The Amateurs' Exchange . . Recitals ' . ... . . . their lilting.' ' Sur la langue. . 1866. And this brings us to the question of what . ... and by the addition of a verbal running commentary superimposed upon the music... characterized by such eccentricities as the suppression of timeand key-signatures and bar-lines.. it was with the 'Trois Gnossiennes' (1890) that he inaugurated what we may call the 'unbridled' epoch. nie Jane-Leslie Anton. .... . Small wonder. .. .' and so forth..... .. .... Academy and College Notes .... who then put away his own unfinished opera.. in 1886.. H.. .' By W.. ........ Cocteau. Erik Alfred Leslie Satie (what Frenchman thus baptized could hope for a quiet life ?) was born at Honfleur on the Normandy coast. and see if we can somehow relate this strange figure to the times in which he lived. Honegger and many others cannot possibly be dismissed as either a fumiste or still less as a nonentity.. Nevertheless.. . let us forget about the 'respectable' musicians and critics.V.... ... By W. small wonder. Music in the Provinces Britten's Festival Te Deum......' ' Ouvrez la tete.... .. ... Alphonse Allais ?) French. By McNaught Gramophone .. . was an obscure music publisher. . Koechlin.. but failed to impress any of his teachers there...... to which he gave the somewhat strange DURING the eighty years (seventy-nine to be title of ' Ogives.' whether ' Pell6as et M61isande' would ever have taken shape in Debussy's brain ? For its conception is said to have been the direct outcome of a suggestion made by Satie. (Is it a coincidence that Honfleur was also the birth-place of another famous French His father. and two years later. that he was attracted by their composer's personality-and who knows. though either ignored or derided in 'respectable. A Hundred Years Ago .... The Strange Case of Erik Satie.' ' Postulez en vous-m6me.. 1925) would seem to provide us with an opportunity of recalling some facts about this now almost legendary figure who was at one time the object of a somewhat hieratic cult.... .. . and if Satie had not discussed with Debussy the opera he was then planning to write on the text of Maeterlinck's ' La Princesse Maleine.. he published his first piano pieces. a Scotswoman. on March 17. and these were followed by the three charming 'Gymnop6dies.. but to strike out an entirely new line for himself and create a 'new music. So... ...' Up to then Satie's music had been original but not eccentric..' which were afterwards to become a characteristic of Debussy's style.

static. in our age.202 THE MUSICAL TIMES July 1945 importance we may suppose the composer to have attached to these wisecracks. though embracing a somewhat limited field. because one of Satie's charms is that he offers so little encouragement to deification ' . I believe myself that he adopted these peculiar methods partly.' etc. and relied for its effect upon a certain hypnotic quality induced by repetition and the use of harmonies if not derived from. And that suited Satie's book very well. In fact. and proof.' ' Chapitres tourn6s en tous sens.' Alfred Cortot. if not.. if any were needed. This would account.g. the result of Satie's three years' course as a student at the austere Schola Cantorum which he entered. after describing her brother as having been always 'difficult to understand. Jean Cocteau who ' put over' Satie and what he stood for so brilliantly in ' Cock and Harlequin' with aphorisms such as the following: 'Satie teaches what. but those who are not hopelessly alienated by the tomfoolery with which it amused Satie to surround his work will be able to separate the authentic gold from the indisputable dross. which was to last for close on twenty years. to study harmony and counterpoint under d'Indy and Roussel. so hit upon the idea of giving his music funny names so as to If they were disarm the critics in advance. while. for the fact that in his ' Rose Croix ' period Satie was under the impression that he was working under the direct guidance of some medieval cleric whose fanatical piety he had inherited from beyond the grave. after the first German war. For he loved mystification. if a precedent were needed. in order to 'protect his works from persons obsessed by the sublime. like Beethoven's (he adds: 'et r6v6rence parler '). and is the conscious expression of an ideal-of a desire for simplicity of outline and brevity of statement which may be looked upon as a reaction against the excessive preciosity and complexity of the Romantic and Impressionist schools. then it would be easy for them to dismiss it all as a joke. from 1916 to his death in 1925. and the 'Prl61ude B la Porte H6roique du Ciel' (1894).' and the These 'Pr6ludes Flasques (pour un chien). Satie was elevated to the position of chef d'dcole ' by the young men who were launching the new movement ' in French music. In the next stage. what the ' Douanier ' Rousseau was doing for painting Satie was doing for music . with whom. and wrote incidental music to P61adan's play 'Le Fils des Etoiles' (1891) . may be divided into three distinct periods : from 1886 to 1895. Sar and High Priest of the 'Rose Croix. at the age of forty. points out that Satie's ceuvre. Satie was also in revolt against the excessive cult of Germanic music then prevalent. in allusion to a famous suite for piano duet (which Satie wrote after being rebuked by Debussy for . we see the composer-' Monsieur le Pauvre '-as he then called himself-turning his back on this 'musique h genoux ' and launching out on a career as a musical humourist. is clearly not without method.' And. the years of ' clowning' and eccentricities.' latter represent. discerning enough they could see the real value of the music underneath.' Satie felt he had something new to say. he could always claim to be merely following the example of the eighteenth-century clavecinists. and. For after all. is the greatest audacity 'The cult of Satie is difficult -simplicity'. both verbal and physical. as a publicity ' stunt. At any rate Satie became the official composer of the group. e.g. the extremely intriguing personality of the composer whose madness when all is said and done. from 1897 to 1915. ' Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut. A strange act of abnegation. The music of this period was decorative. no doubt.' And so it is easy to see how. the tendencies of which it is symptomatic. above all. As regards the ' mystical ' side of the composer his sister (Madame Olga Satie-Lafosse). His art. of April 1938.. To this phase belong the numerous piano pieces (nearly always grouped in threes) with droll titles: e. but he was at bottom shy about himself. on occasion a deliberate desire to parody the somewhat 'precious' titles favoured by Debussy and the Impressionists. 'Airs k faire fuir.' but mainly as Cocteau suggests. At this time the only contemporary critic who mentioned Satie's name was Gauthier-Villars (' Willy '). in short. and also to the comic titles he gave to his music.' has expressed the opinion that he was a ' spiritist rather than a true mystic' (' plus spirite que vraiment mystique ').' or ' Les vieux galants et les Tr6soribres surann6es. and nothing gave him greater pleasure than upsetting the critics and putting them off the scent.' ' Embryons dess6ch6s. in a sense. It was their leader. the period of the ' musique d'ameublement. finally. the period of mysticism and mediaeval influences . Paradoxically enough. Unequal it may be. is yet governed by a definite philosophy.. he re-introduced a kind of primitive purity and directness of vision which had been overlaid by the accretions of tradition and a highly-developed technique. and notably Couperin. what interests us primarily in Satie is perhaps not so much the actual musical value of his works (though that is by no means negligible) as the 'attitude' which underlies it. it was while Satie was playing the piano at the 'Chat Noir' on Montmartre (where he had been engaged by Rudolf Salis as 'second pianist ') that he came under the influence of Josephin P61adan. hence his remark to Debussy that it might be a good thing to have a little French music for a change-' if possible without sauerkraut. the 'Trois Sonneries de la Rose Croix' (1892). who was very fond of such titles as ' Le tic-toc-choc ou les Maillotins. of Satie's essentially serious devotion to his art.'' Les coucous b6n6voles. incidentally. in a fairly exhaustive study of Satie published in the Revue Musicale. As to the intrinsic value of all this music opinions will differ. of course. It is like an inspired village band. at least evocative of Plain Song. Satie had several encounters. 'Satie's orchestra charms without the use of pedals. In addition there was.' and founder of the ' Chaldman Confraternity' whose aim was somehow to regulate the arts according to supposedly Wagnerian asthetics.' ' Croquis et agaceries d'un gros bonhomme en bois.' and also of the principal works for the stage. perhaps.

ceur mer-veil-leu - foundation of yet another 'group. and which might be compared to an easy chair (' quelque chose d'analogue h un bon fauteuil '). From this deeply reflective work.' He was only fifty-nine when he died. Satie composed twelve poems. For he went everywhere on foot. eyes glinting through his pince-nez and his his inevitable his shrewd umbrella." ' The third and final phase in the evolution of Satie's enigmatic art was inaugurated in 1917 when he was commissioned by Diaghilev (with his usual flair for the latest 'thing ') to write the music for the first Cubist Ballet. relying on an internal equilibrium rather than on violent contrasts of mood and style. The programmes gave a rough survey of British vocal chamber music from Elizabethan times to the present. For reasons which now appear obscure the Dada-ists created such a disturbance in the theatre on the first night that the curtain had to be brought down in the middle of the performance. and of which 'Socrate' is the outstanding example.r The English Singers Quartet has recently returned from a tour of Spain.' libretto by Jean Cocteau and Raymond Radiguet. while conforming to the painter's definition. he was often to be seen trudging through the streets of Paris engaged on who knows what mysterious errands. Before he died Satie had completed the score of yet another operatic work. which flows quietly and inevitably along like an uneventful stream.' which applies to many of the third period works. and an undoubted masterpiece in its genre . . It was sponsoredby the British Council. I make a short quotation (see next column) to illustrate the simplicity and limpidity of the style..' with scenario by Picabia and produced by Jean Borlin's Swedish Ballet. cherish and torment is Erik Satie who walks every night from Montmartre or Montparnasse to his home at Arcueil-Cachan--a miracle which cannot be explained unless the angels carry him.' devised by Cocteau with d6cor and ' constructivist' costumes by Picasso. but he was already venerated. 'Parade.' for which the d6cor and costumes were designed by Picasso. . who declared that he dreamed of an art without any distracting subject-matter. which remains unpublished. There seems to be here a kind of Attic purity. . a freshness and candour which remind one of the inscription Satie wrote under his self-portrait: ' Je suis venu au monde trbs jeune dans un temps trbs . bewhiskered face crowned invariably by a bowler hat.' certainly helped very largely to make it so. flecked here and there by little eddies and swirls of subdued emotion. . is also rich in poetic content. The same year saw the production (at Count Etienne de Beaumont's 'Soir6es de Paris ') of 'Mercure. the 'Ecole dArcueil' so-called because Satie lived at and achieved some civic notoriety in the small Parisian suburb of Arcueil-Cachan. The term 'musique d'ameublement. and Satie's profoundly original score. . owes its origin to a statement made by the painter Matisse. In 1921 came the incidental music written for ' Le Pi ge de M6duse. and entitled the whole: " Morceaux en forme de poire. which is Satie at his best. this was 'Paul et Virginie.' followed in 1924 by ' Rel&che.' short-lived though it proved to be. Carrying .' a setting of passages from the Dialogues of Plato for voices and a chamber orchestra of strings. wind and harp) were for the theatre. and it was this idiosyncrasy that drew from Cocteau this touching tribute which might well serve as an epitaph to his memory :' Another poet whom the angels guide. and lived to see the P et la but a-vec u-ne tran-qui-li-te et u-he Aou- 1 I NIIeII etc. From now on Satie's chief compositions (if we except the noble ' Socrate.July 1945 THE MUSICAL TIMES 203 neglecting form): 'The impressionists cut a pear into twelve pieces and gave each the title of a poem. In ' Socrate ' Satie seems to have 'found' himself completely and to have produced music which. It is unnecessary to labour the metaphor-what is clearly indicated is a form of art which unfolds itself calmly and untouched by emotions. quizzical. in which (to quote Cocteau again) 'he seems to have discovered an unknown dimension thanks to which one can listen simultaneously both to the " parade " (the scene represents a booth at the circus) and to the show going on inside. This ballet is unique. Spanish musical societies gave the Quartet an enthusiasticand cordialwelcome.

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