Alfred Éric Leslie Satie (born 17 May 1866)

"Satie playing the harmonium". Charcoal drawing by Santiago Rusiñol, 1891

“Satie playing the harmonium”. Charcoal drawing by Santiago Rusiñol, 1891

Starting with his first composition in 1884, he signed his name as Erik Satie.

A colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-gard, he referred to himself as a “phonometrograph” or “phonometrician” (meaning “someone who measures (and writes down) sounds”), preferring this designation to that of “musician,” after having been called “a clumsy but subtle technician” in a book on contemporary French composers published in 1911.

French composer and pianist (Honfleur, 17 May 1866 – Paris, 1 July 1925).

Arguably the eccentric composer’s most popular and well known works, Trois Gymnopédies, published in Paris starting in 1888, are three short, atmospheric pieces in 3/4 time, with each sharing a common theme and structure. Collectively, the Gymnopédies are regarded as the precursors to modern ambient music – gentle yet somewhat eccentric pieces which, when composed, defied the classical tradition.

Listen here to Erik Satie: Trois Gymnopédies 

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4 thoughts on “Alfred Éric Leslie Satie (born 17 May 1866)

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I first heard of Erik Satie almost 50 years ago, from a (then) young Englishwoman who said he was her favorite composer. I’d never heard of him, and always had the name tucked away in the back of the mind, although I never did anything to hear his works myself. I settled down curiously with your music and discovered — that I knew the first piece very very well! It was so familiar that I think it must have been the background for many movies I’ve seen. French movies, in my imagination, with large country homes of echoing empty rooms, and only the murmuring sound of raindrops breaking the silence — Or perhaps as background in some setting almost Zen like, but not exactly. If Downton Abbey on TV were ever sold and they wanted music to go along on a last solitary camera tour, this would be perfect. I loved it all! Again, thank you!

  2. The Gymnopédies, published in Paris starting in 1888, are three piano compositions written by French composer and pianist, Erik Satie. These short, atmospheric pieces are written in 3/4 time, with each sharing a common theme and structure. Collectively, the Gymnopédies are regarded as the precursors to modern ambient music – gentle yet somewhat eccentric pieces which, when composed, defied the classical tradition. For instance, the first few bars feature a disjunct chordal theme in the bass – first, a G-major 7th in the bass, and then a B-minor chord, also in the lower register. Then comes the one-note theme in D major. Although the collection of chords at first seems too complex to be harmonious, the melody soon imbues the work with a soothing atmospheric quality. Satie himself used the term “furniture music” to refer to some of his pieces, implying they could be used as mood-setting background music. However, Satie used this term to refer to only some of his later, 20th century compositions, without specific reference to the Gymnopédies as background music. From the second half of the 20th century on, the Gymnopédies were often erroneously described as part of Satie’s body of furniture music, perhaps due to John Cage’s interpretation of them.

    • Charlotte P Wyatt – following a now familiar pattern – has pasted a bunch of interesting material about Erik Satie’s “furniture music” into the comment slot as a means of promoting a web-site about interior design.

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