Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Last week I posted the Alice in Wonder Band’s take on Satie’s Gymnopédie #1; here’s the same treatment of the second Gymnopédie. There’s also a bit more background on how we came to perform & record these pieces at last week’s post.
In addition to being a marvelous composer, Satie was a character in the old sense of the word. He was a wash-out at the Paris Conservatoire—his teacher’s considered him most unpromising—& after leaving school began a bohemian life in the Montmartre district of Paris. He wore a priest-like habit & introduced himself as a “gymnopedist.” Satie was a habitué of Le Chat Noir Café-cabaret, a meeting place for the avant-garde in fin de siècle Paris, & counted Debussy, occultist Joséphin Péladan & painter Suzanne Valadon among his circle. Satie had an intense 6-month relationship with Valadon; it’s conjectured that this was the only intimate relationship of his life. When Valadon left him, Satie said he was left with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness."
Satie began publishing his work (including the Gymnopédies) in the 1880s, & also served as the official composer & chapel-master of the Péladan’s Rosicrucian Order "Ordre de la Rose-Croix Catholique, du Temple et du Graal." In the 1890s, Satie turned to work as a cabaret pianist, accompanying various popular singers. In addition, he wrote theatrical music: Jack-in-the-box was music for a pantomime by Jules Dépaquit, while Geneviève de Brabant was a short comic opera—of course, stating that one of Satie’s compositions is “short” is a redundancy of sorts—he had no taste for extended works, perhaps associating these with Wagner, whom he despised.
In the early twentieth century, Satie returned to school, attending the Schola Cantorum to study counterpoint. While his compositions gained some popularity, Satie always remained a member of the avant-garde, associating himself with such figures as Jean Cocteau & later the Dadaists—Tzara, Man Ray, Duchamp & Picabia.
Besides such obvious online sources of information as Wikipedia (the Satie article is here) & this excellent Satie site, I’d strongly recommend Roger Shattuck’s The Banquet Years (Vintage Books). Although Shattuck has a bit of an axe to grind (contrasting the “good” avant-gardism of the turn of the century to the “decadent” avant-gardism of the surrealists—one suspects somehow that the surrealists’ political affiliations may factor into Shattuk’s equation), he nonetheless paints compelling portraits of Satie, Henri Rosseau, Alfred Jarry & Guillaume Apollinaire.
Hope you enjoy the music.