Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gymnopédie #3

Here’s the third & final installment of Satie’s Gymnopédies as performed by the Alice in Wonder Band, a fun ensemble Eberle & I belonged to from 2001-2004. If you’d like to learn a bit more about the Alice in Wonder Band, just click here—you’ll find a band history, as well as some more tunes & some pictures.

The Gymnopédies date from quite early in Satie’s career, with the first & third being published in 1888; oddly the second Gymnopédie wasn’t published until 1895. The pieces were based on the following by J.P. Contamine de Latour, from his poem Les Antiques (The Ancients):

Oblique et coupant l'ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d'or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d'ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie

in English:

Slanting and shadow-cutting a flickering eddy
Trickled in gusts of gold to the shiny flagstone
Where the ambre atoms in the fire mirroring themselves
Mingled their sarabande to the gymnopaedia

Wikipedia has a discussion about the meanings of the word & which of those may have attracted Cotamine & Satie:

  • dance - probably, as he mentions it alongside another dance, the saraband(e);
  • antiquity - supposedly, given the title of the poem. This however does not yet give a clear picture of how antiquity was perceived in late 19th-century France (see below);
  • nudity - maybe, although words like "gymnastique" (gymnastics) and "gymnase" (gymnasium) based on the same Greek word for nudity (γυμνός - "gymnos") were common in those days, but had lost any reference to nudity;
  • warfare (as in Ancient Greece the word indicated a war dance) - probably not; little war-like intent is apparent in the poem;
  • religious ceremony/festivity (which was the context of the Ancient gymnopaedia) - probably neither; there seems to be no allusion made to them in the poem.

The Wikipedia editor goes on to suggest that the antiquity & exoticism of the word may have been its main appeal to Satie. Wikipedia then relates how Satie described himself in the 1880s as a “gymnopedist”:

The anecdote of Satie introducing himself as a "gymnopaedist" in December 1887 runs as follows: the first time Satie visited the Chat Noir cabaret, he was introduced to its director, Rodolphe Salis, famous for serving sharp comments. Being coerced to mention his profession, Satie, lacking any recognisable professional occupation, presented himself as a "gymnopaedist", supposedly in an attempt to outwit the director.

Hope you enjoy the music.


  1. What did he mean by the title? A man who could write 3 Pieces in the Form of a Pear (there's actually 7, as I remember) could mean anything. A really interesting post.

  2. Hi Dominic: Great point-- actually, I've always thought 3 morceaux in forme de poire was my favorite Satie title of all time. I don't recall the form of it very well, but I do know it was originally composed as a 4 hands duet.

  3. alas there is no sound on the computer at my sister-in-law's house (how can she manage)... I do believe I have an addiction to satie's gymnopedies....when I put it on, I can't stop listening to it...over and over and over...

    wv: preci

    like how precious satie is????

    happy earth day!!

  4. Hi Kimy:

    Happy Earth Day to you also! Hope you have a chance to listen in soon. Fun wv.

  5. Wonderful. As soon as I saw the post title, I went to refresh my morning coffee. I was already humming the tune by the time I got back. I do love Satie's music - and the Wonder Band performance, as well.

  6. As a Satie music Newbie....I Love This........Its Fresh Relaxing yet oddly familiar.The Images complement the Sound.

  7. Hi Sandra & Tony:

    Thanks to you both!

    Sandra: Satie with your coffee is great; glad you liked our kinda quirky arrangment.

    Tony: Good encapsulation of Satie's appeal. Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. Me again. This time I had time to watch the video. Made my morning. One of the great things about blogging is that it enables one to draw attention to things that are worth paying attention to.

    I thought the shells in the slide drew attention to the almost spiral shape of some of the phrases in the tune.

  9. Thanks Dominic:

    I had a lot of fun putting those slide shows together; glad you liked it.


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