The Exquisite Piano Music

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Gnossienne No. 5. 3'56. £ Gnossienne No. 6. 1'34. $ The Dreamy Fish, music for a tale by Lord Cheminot, alias Latour. 6'24. % Le Picadilly (La transatlantique).



Erik Satie 1866-1925 Trois Gymnopédies

1 No. 1: Lent et douloureux (Slow and full of suffering) 2 No. 2: Lent et triste (Slow and sad) 3 No. 3: Lent et grave (Slow and solemn) 4 Je te veux (I Want You)


Trois Gnossiennes

5 No. 1: Lent (Slow) 6 No. 2: Avec étonnement (With astonishment) 7 No. 3: Lent (Slow) Sonatine bureaucratique (Bureaucratic Sonatina)

8 I. Allegro 9 II. Andante 0 III. Vivache ! @ £ $ %

[9’44] 3’37 3’06 2’54

Gnossienne No. 4 Gnossienne No. 5 Gnossienne No. 6 The Dreamy Fish, music for a tale by Lord Cheminot, alias Latour Le Picadilly (La transatlantique)

[7’16] 2’58 1’47 2’22 [4’16] 1’09 1’29 1’38 4’09 3’56 1’34 6’24 1’45


[8’18] 2’59 2’11 3’02

^ No. 1 & No. 2 * No. 3: Un peu mouvementé (A little faster) ( Poudre d’or (Gold Dust)


Embryons dessechés (Dried-Up Embryos) ) I. D’Holothurie ¡ II. D’Edriophthalma ™ III. De Podophthalma

[6’35] 2’14 2’45 1’32

Pièces froides (Cold Pieces) Airs à faire fuir (Airs to Make You Run Away) No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 Danses de travers (Crooked Dances) No. 1 No. 2 No. 3


# ¢ ∞ § ¶ •

2’56 1’42 3’00 1’15 1’14 1’56

ª Allegro

0’20 Total Playing Time Stephanie McCallum piano




M. Erik Satie was born in Honfleur (Calvados) on 17 May 1866. He is considered to be the strangest musican of our time. He classes himself among the ‘fantasists’ who are, in his opinion, ‘highly respectable people’… After having essayed the loftiest genres the eminent composer now presents some of his humoristic works. This is what he says about his humour: ‘My humour resembles that of Cromwell. I also owe much to Christopher Columbus, because the American spirit has occasionally tapped me on the shoulder and I have been delighted to feel its ironically glacial bite.’ 1

accoutrements… No-one ever saw him wash – he had a horror of soap. Instead he was forever rubbing his fingers with pumice. He was always very poor, poor by conviction, I think. He lived in a poor section and his neighbours seemed to appreciate his coming among them: he was greatly respected by them.’ 2 Actress Madeleine Milhaud, wife of Darius Milhaud, one of the group of composers in the 1920s known as Les Six, had similar memories. ‘He looked like a solicitor’s clerk from the 1910s: a pince-nez, tiny mischievous little eyes, a beard that was always impeccably cut. He spoke slowly, breaking the syllables up. His delivery seemed artificial in contradiction with what he said, which was spontaneous… In fact this man, whose thoughts were the epitome of the antibourgeois, was dressed just like one with his dark suit and bowler hat.’ 3

As the formal style of this note gradually slides into parody the reader may suspect – correctly – that the description is Satie’s own. The habitual irony and characteristic strangeness are confirmed by many. Stravinsky, who met him in 1913, wrote:

It was to fall to the Milhauds to be among those who supported Satie during his final illness. As they took him to hospital by ambulance for cirrhosis of the liver, Madeleine recalls that, as they passed by one of his many favourite bars, Satie hospitably suggested they stop for a drink.

‘He was certainly the oddest person I have ever known, but the most rare and consistently witty person, too. I had a great liking for him and he appreciated my friendliness, I think, and liked me in return. With his pince-nez, umbrella and galoshes he looked a perfect schoolmaster, but he looked just as much like one without these 1

2 3

Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: the origins of the Avant Garde in France. 1885 to World War I (Vintage Books: New York, 1955), 113-114. Igor Stravinsky, Stravinsky in Conversation with Robert Craft (Penguin Books: Harmondsworth, 1958), 81-82. Roger Nichols, Conversations with Madeleine Milhaud (Faber and Faber: London, 1996), 77-78.


‘He gave me a mark of confidence which greatly touched me. He asked me to go and fetch some linen from [his apartment in] Arcueil. So I went there and saw the miserable building in which he lived. The concierge handed me the bundle and I left without asking any questions, though I should very much have liked to do so. Satie at once had a look at what I had brought back. He counted the handkerchiefs. Two were missing – there were only eighty-six!’ 4

Although his sense of irony attracted fashionable attention, Satie’s musical aesthetic stressed classical simplicity and above all the centrality of melody. In 1917 he wrote: ‘Do not forget that the melody is the Idea, the outline; as much as it is the form and the subject matter of a work. The harmony is an illumination, an exhibition of the object, its reflection… If there is form and a new style of writing, there is a new craft… Great Masters are brilliant through their ideas, their craft is a simple means to an end, nothing more. It is their ideas which endure… The Idea can do without Art.’ 6

Satie’s eccentricity is more than simply a source of amusing anecdotes: his wit, irreverence and tenacious originality were significant influences on the generation of French composers who turned away from the dominating influence of Wagner in search of lively wit and vivid humour. In his entertaining and informative study of the period, The Banquet Years, Roger Shattuck points out that Satie effectively had two careers: first, as a notable bohemian eccentric whose individuality exerted an influence on both Ravel and Debussy in the fin-de-siècle hothouse of La Belle Epoque, and secondly, after a concerted effort to improve his skills with further study at the Schola Cantorum, as a successful theatre composer working with such figures as 5 Cocteau, Diaghilev, Massine and Picasso. 4 5 6 7

Although written nearly thirty years after his Trois Gymnopédies, such a statement could scarcely describe better the exploration of melodic shape which lies at the soul of those pieces. The title Gymnopédie refers to a festival in ancient Sparta (Gymnopaidiai ) in which naked young boys danced and performed gymnastic exercises. Eric Frederick Jensen has pointed out that Satie’s adoption of it appears to have arisen from a deliberate predilection for the arcane and the obscure among the Symbolist movement with whom he associated at the time.7 In 1887 Satie left his father’s house to live in Montmartre, close to Le Chat Noir, a bohemian

Ibid., 80. The Banquet Years, 113. Robert Orledge: ‘Satie, Erik’, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 10 August 2007), Eric Frederick Jensen, ‘Satie and the “Gymnopédie”’, Music and Letters, Vol. 75, No. 2 (May, 1994), 236-240.


cabaret run by Rodolphe Salis, who later employed Satie as a pianist and conductor to accompany shadow plays by Henri Rivière. According to Satie’s friend, the poet J.P. Contamine de Latour, the introduction between Salis and Satie was made by another poet, Vital-Hoquet, who introduced him as ‘Erik Satie, Gymnopédiste’, to which Salis responded: ‘Truly a fine profession!’ 8 The word also appears in a poem by Latour, although Jensen puts the view that it was probably Satie who first adopted it, perhaps having found it in a music dictionary. The manuscripts of the Gymnopédies are dated 1 February, 1 March and 2 April of the following year, 1888. Given Satie’s later penchant for titles displaying absurdist humour, it would be a mistake to try too hard to hear anything pictorial: the pieces are certainly far removed from anything gymnastic. Each of them is based on a floating melody in calm even notes over an accompaniment reminiscent of a very slow waltz. By subtle use of dynamics and wide spacings between the bass and melody, Satie mixes simplicity, serenity and strangeness in a way which has achieved enduring popularity, particularly since Debussy orchestrated the first and the last piece in 1898. The success of Debussy’s orchestrations at a concert which he conducted in 1911 was to be a cause of tension 8 9 10 11

and jealousy between the two in what was otherwise a close musical friendship, lasting until Debussy’s death in 1918. Shortly after their meeting in 1891, Debussy presented Satie with a copy of his Baudelaire songs with the inscription, ‘For Erik Satie, gentle medieval musician, strayed into this century for the happiness of his very friendly Claude Debussy.’ 9

environment and the cabaret style was to influence his musical language throughout his life. Je te veux, which achieved popularity through performances by Paulette Darty, and Poudre d’or, both dating from around 1901, could be seen as typical of the slow waltz-song style, while Le Picadilly from 1904 is in the style of a quick march.

Satie’s employment at Le Chat Noir was the first of a series of positions he held in the fashionable cabarets of Montmartre during the 1890s and beyond. After quarrelling with Salis, he moved to the Auberge du Clou (where he and Debussy reputedly first met) and then to the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes, the haunt of Dégas, Renoir, Pissarro and Gaugin.10 His role in such work was to accompany singers (notably the satirist Vincent Hyspa, and later the more famous Paulette Darty, ‘Queen of the Slow Waltz’), play waltzes and entertain. In addition to his nineteen cabaret songs, Satie made numerous arrangements for those he worked with and his notebooks indicate a large number of ideas for works which may have formed part of his performances without ever being turned into finished pieces.11 Satie may have also tried out many of his non-cabaret pieces, such as the Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes, in this

The six pieces known as Gnossiennes were all written in the period 1890-1893, during which time Satie became associated with Joséphin Péladan and the offshoot Rosicrucian organisation, the Ordre de la Rose-Croix. Satie published the first three Gnossiennes independently in 1893 with the numbers ‘1’, ‘6’, and ‘2’ and then as a set in 1913. The title, Satie’s own, has been translated by some as ‘Dances of Knossos’, a reference to ancient Crete, and, according to this interpretation, the pieces could be seen as a continuation of Satie’s attempt in the Gymnopédies to imagine a musical language based on supposed ancient modes and dances. Others have suggested that the title may refer to Gnosticism. Whatever its origin, it appears consistent with Satie’s pose of esoteric mysticism during this time. The first of the Gnossiennes, in F minor, exploits ornaments and a raised fourth scale degree to impart an austere exotic quality. In what was to become a hallmark of his piano writing Satie adds enigmatic performance directions: Très luisant (‘very shiny’), Questionnez (‘ask’), Du bout de la pensée (‘from the tip of thought’) and Postulez

Ibid, 239. William Austin, ‘Satie before and after Cocteau’, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 48 (1962), 224. The Banquet Years, 121. Steven Moore Whiting, ‘Erik Satie and Vincent Hyspa: Notes on a Collaboration’, Music and Letters, Vol. 77, No. 1 (February, 1996), 64-91.


en vous-même (‘Postulate within yourself’). No. 2 in E minor has a free, spirally descending melody over a comparably consistent accompanying figure, while the third, in A minor, has the modal features (including the raised fourth degree) of the first. The second set was written at the same time but not published until 1968, well after Satie’s death. It is not absolutely clear how many of such pieces Satie envisaged although the original numbering (‘6’) of what is now known as the second lends support for the posthumous publication as a continuation of the 1893 series. No. 4 adopts a spread arpeggiated accompaniment pattern against a similar style of free descending melody while the Fifth, the only one of the six which is notated with conventional barlines, adopts a more complex ornamental style in a dreamy reminiscence of the Baroque. In the sixth, Satie returns to the barless notation of the others although the regularity and stable accompaniment pattern could easily accommodate barlines. The Sonatine bureaucratique (1917) is an ironic take on the popular pedagogical Sonatina in A major, Op. 36 No. 1, by Clementi. Satie’s parody chiefly consists of shortening Clementi’s ideas, changing the harmonies and adding burlesque commentary. As a sarcastic recomposition of an 18th-century work, this lampooning piece anticipates Stravinsky’s more chiselled neo-classical remake of the 18th century in Pulcinella (1920) by two years. 7

The Dreamy Fish: Music for a tale by Lord Cheminot, alias Latour was written during the same exploratory period of Satie’s life as his opera Geneviève de Brabant, also to a libretto by Lord Cheminot. Just under a decade earlier, during his Rose-Croix period, Satie had agitated strongly for a performance of his ‘Christian’ ballet Uspud, and, given the fierce efforts over that project, it is surprising that he never sought to have this completed score performed. Ornella Volta has argued that this period of Satie’s life is characterised by an internalised artistic competition with Debussy and that the Geneviève project fell victim to Debussy’s success with his own opera Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902. In any event, a substantial part of Geneviève, the ‘Petit air de Geneviève’ (Genevieve’s Little Air), ended up as the central section of The Dreamy Fish.12 Though sometimes capricious and changeable in tone, it is Satie’s most extended piano piece.

Madeleine Milhaud, who had frequently been a narrator for works such as Stravinsky’s Perséphone, makes it clear that Satie regarded such commentaries as a private joke and would have objected to them being read aloud during the performance, which he would have regarded as a distraction:

Allegro. There he goes. He walks gaily to his office ‘gavillant’. Content, he wags his head. He loves a pretty, very elegant lady. He also loves his penholder, his lustrous green sleeves, and his Chinese cap. He takes long steps. He rushes up the stairs and mounts them on his back. What a wind! Sitting in his armchair, he is happy and shows it. Andante. He dreams of his promotion. Perhaps he will have a rise in salary without needing promotion. He hopes to move next term. He has an apartment in mind. If only he is promoted or receives a raise! New dream of promotion. Vivache (Clementi’s marking is Vivace). He sings an old Peruvian melody which he collected in Lower Brittany at the home of a deaf mute. A nearby piano plays some Clementi. How sad it is. He ventures to waltz (he, not the piano). All this is very sad. The piano resumes its work. Our friend interrogates himself benevolently. The cold Peruvian melody goes to his head again. The piano continues. Alas, he has to leave his office, his good office. Courage: he says, let’s go. 12

In the five Nocturnes of 1919 (the first three of which are included on this recording), Satie sets his customarily ironic tone aside in favour of ‘absolute’ works which could be seen as a tribute to Chopin (whom Satie admired). As Robert Orledge has pointed out, taken together with his symphonic drama, Socrate, the Nocturnes are his only late works which abjure the cabaret style altogether.13 Satie’s

Robert Orledge, review of Geneviève de Brabant by Erik Satie, ed. Ornella Volta. Music & Letters, Vol. 71, No. 4 (November, 1990), 620-21.


section of the Funeral March from Chopin’s Piano Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, Satie writes: ‘They all begin to cry (quotation from the famous mazurka by Schubert). Poor beasts. How well he spoke. A great moaning.’ The third piece describes the Podophthalma (creatures such as crabs and lobsters with eyes on stalks), who, Satie claims, are ‘skillful and tireless hunters’. It concludes with an ‘obligatory cadenza (by the composer)’ in F major, an apparent spoof of the close of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. On the score he wrote: ‘This work is absolutely incomprehensible, even to me. Perhaps I wanted to be humorous. That would not surprise me and would be pretty much in my manner.’ 16

sketchbooks suggest the Nocturnes did not come easily to him and both Orledge and Courtney Adams note a mixture of experimentation and a preoccupation with melody.14 These works could be seen as a manifestation of Satie’s essentially classical bent without a hint of the neo-classical irony of the Sonatine bureaucratique two years earlier. Embryons desséchés is at the other extreme and finds Satie’s sense of humour at its most absurd and Dada-esque. The embryos in question are crustaceans and Satie parodies a different piece in each movement. In the first, The Holothurian (‘Ignorant people,’ says the preamble, ‘call it “sea cucumber”’) there is a reference to a popular song of the day by Louisa Puget, Mon rocher de Saint-Malo: Satie says that he observed his Holothurian ‘in the Gulf of SaintMalo between Normandy and Brittany’.15 The texture has a continuous undulating pattern in the left hand – ‘Like the cat, this sea animal purrs.’ The pattern is broken just towards the end of the middle section ‘like a nightingale with a toothache’. The second piece, D’Edriophthalma, describes crustaceans with immobile eyes. In the middle section, which parodies the central 13


15 16

Satie’s Pièces froides take us back to 1897 and comprise two sets, each consisting of three pieces – ‘Airs to Make You Run Away’ and ‘Crooked Dances’ – all strongly interrelated in texture and motivic ideas. The ironic wit is there in the titles and in the performance instructions (in No. 3 of the Airs à faire fuir, for example: ‘Invite yourself. Don’t eat too much’) but the style of Satie’s writing reveals an exploratory mind investigating new possibilities. The pieces show a remarkable capacity to jump key, so that

Robert Orledge, ‘Satie's Approach to Composition in His Later Years (1913-24)’, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 111 (1984-85), 174. Courtney S. Adams, ‘Satie's Nocturnes Seen through His Sketchbooks’, The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Autumn, 1995), 454-75. Steven Moore Whiting, Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1999), 368-73. The Banquet Years, 178.


a simple phrase will suddenly be answered by another which, though entirely plausible in itself and consistent with the surrounding material, will also sound like a non-sequitur. Constructed with precision, poise and carefully crafted irrelevance, one could imagine that Satie was trying to find the musical equivalent of the anarchic humour which so delighted his friends.

Stephanie McCallum Stephanie McCallum is known both for her performances of virtuosic music of the 19th century, particularly the music of Liszt and Alkan, and for her advocacy of demanding contemporary solo and ensemble scores. Her CDs of the music of Liszt, Weber, Alkan, Magnard, Boulez, Xenakis and of contemporary Australian composers have received widespread national and international acclaim.

The Allegro of 1884 is included here as postscript. The work was written on a summer holiday in Satie’s birthtown of Honfleur in Normandy. (Satie was living with his father and stepmother in Paris at the time.) As Steven Moore Whiting describes, Satie apparently celebrated the homecoming with an allusion to a popular song of the day, Frédéric Bérat’s Ma Normandie.17 (The tune happens also to be the anthem of the Bailiwick of Jersey in the Channel Islands, which, despite being a British dependency, is historically part of Normandy, and has French as an administrative language. Whether Satie was aware of this association, however, is not clear.) As Satie’s first work for the piano, its conciseness, melodic charm and use of the popular idiom display the seeds which were to form the basis of Satie’s singular pianistic journey. Peter McCallum


Stephanie McCallum is a Senior Lecturer in piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, where she had herself studied with Alexander Sverjensky and Gordon Watson. After advanced studies in England with noted Alkan exponent Ronald Smith, she presented a critically acclaimed Wigmore Hall debut in 1982 where she gave what is believed to be the first performance of Alkan’s Chants, Op. 70. Ronald Smith’s book Alkan: The Music (Kahn and Averill: 1987) credits her with the first complete performance of Alkan’s Trois grandes études, Op. 76, in London. Her live performances of the Concerto, the Symphonie, and other works from the Douze études dans les tons mineurs have been described by critics as ‘titanic’, ‘aweinspiring’, ‘stupendous’, ‘virtuosic pianism of the highest calibre’ and ‘one of the glories of Australian pianism’.

She has appeared extensively as a soloist in the United Kingdom, France and Australia, and has toured Europe with the Alpha Centauri Ensemble. She has made many appearances as soloist in the Sydney Festival, performed in the Brighton, Cheltenham, Huddersfield and Sydney Spring Festivals, and was a founding member of the contemporary ensembles AustraLYSIS and Sydney Alpha Ensemble (being joint Artistic Director of the latter since its inception). Stephanie McCallum has performed with such groups as the Australian Chamber Orchestra, ELISION and the Australia Ensemble, and has appeared as soloist on two CDs by the Sydney Alpha Ensemble, Strange Attractions and Clocks (featuring works of Elena Kats-Chernin).

Executive Producers Robert Patterson, Martin Buzacott Recording Producer and Editor Ralph Lane OAM Recording Engineer Christian Huff-Johnston Mastering Virginia Read Editorial and Production Manager Hilary Shrubb Publications Editor Natalie Shea Booklet Design Imagecorp Pty Ltd Cover Photo Hidcote Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) © Craig Knowles/Getty Images Piano Technician and Tuning Curtis Wilkinson Recorded 26 February, 2 and 15 March 2007 in the Eugene Goossens Hall of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ultimo Centre, Sydney. ABC Classics thanks Alexandra Alewood, Melissa Kennedy and Lyle Chan.

Stephanie McCallum gave the world premiere of Kats-Chernin’s Displaced Dances, a piano concerto written especially for her, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in 2000; she has also performed concertos with the Sydney, Adelaide, Tasmanian and Canberra Symphony Orchestras. Her solo recordings for ABC Classics include a two-disc set of the complete piano sonatas of Weber; Illegal Harmonies: The 20th Century Piano; Perfume, a best-selling disc of rare and exquisite French piano music; and two CDs of music by Liszt, The Liszt Album and From the Years of Pilgrimage. She is the first pianist to record all 24 of Alkan’s Etudes in the major and minor keys: the major-key études, Op. 35, on the Tall Poppies label, and the minor-key études, Op. 39, released in 2006 by ABC Classics.

 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. © 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Universal Music Group, under exclusive licence. Made in Australia. All rights of the owner of copyright reserved. Any copying, renting, lending, diffusion, public performance or broadcast of this record without the authority of the copyright owner is prohibited.

Satie the Bohemian, 64.