Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Letters in Music: "Gymnopédies"

I am by no means a classical music expert, that's why in this case I will copy part of the entry from Storyacious, an online-only literary, arts and music magazine which included an excellent review of Erik Satie's Gymnopédies.

"There are some pieces of classical music that, when you listen to them, feel as if every nerve, muscle, tissue in your body is gently unfurling under soft waves of cool, flowing water. If you ever need one of those slow-yourself-down moments, try Erik Satie’s  (1866-1925) brilliant Gymnopédies.

Satie said that he was inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s novel, Salammbô, for these particular musical compositions. And, you get the impression, as you listen, that, like Flaubert’s obsession to find the right word (le mot juste) in his story-writing, Satie, as fellow countryman, must have obsessed over just the right notes and progressions in his composing.

Interestingly, Debussy, another popular French composer and friend of Satie’s, orchestrated the music — #s 1 and 3 — but transposed them. So, what we listen to now as #1 was actually composed as #3.

Satie’s music did not adhere to any aesthetic during his time. He was a minimalist to the extreme, though. And, he greatly influenced Debussy and Ravel, two other great French composers, who we will also get to soon. Some consider Satie’s work to be the precursor to the ambient music movement because of the smooth, haunting and melodic arrangements. Also, he’s often called the “father of cabaret” for his piano-playing at that most famous of Montmartre night-clubs, Le Chat Noir.

Known for his dry wit and humor, in his compositions, he often had little absurd notes for the performers like “Think like a pear.” And, he named his compositions with titles such as ‘Flabby Preludes for a Dog’ and ‘Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear’.

Satie wrote some 400 letters between 1892 and 1925 to many people, including himself (for future reminders). Many are still in private collections and unpublished. However, this published letter collection is a lovely window into him and his world. They do not include the unsent love letters to the only love of his life, his friend and neighbor, Suzanne Valadon, with whom he had a 6-month affair. She was an artist as well as an artist’s model for many famous artists at the time — e.g. Renoir. Bundles of those love letters were discovered under his bed and secreted around his Paris apartment after he died of cirrhosis of the liver from too much alcohol at age 59 years. "

I told you, you shouldn't save your letters.

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