Erik Satie was a French composer born in the late 1800s. And while, oftentimes, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of French Impressionistic composers is a creative yet prim-and-proper type, it is clear that Mr. Satie was anything but. Satie was dubbed “Mr. Precursor” by Debussy himself, because of his odd, repetitive style of music. But before we delve deeper into his compositions, let’s talk about the other aspects of his life. Particularly, his collections.
A Collector at Heart
Satie had a thing for velvet suits…The same velvet suit. In fact, he collected the exact style of grey suit, seven times over. He wore nothing but this outfit, for twenty years on end. For some reason, he also really had a thing for umbrellas and handkerchiefs. After he passed, those closest to him found stacks upon stacks of the same items, unopened, in his closet. He also always carried a hammer for self-defense. But these aren’t the only surprising things about this French composer.
He Was a Mystic
Erik Satie was a certified Rosicrucian. But that isn’t what they were called back then. Satie joined France’s first occult group- The Mystical Order of the Rose and Cross of the Temple and Grail. He did so alongside other famous French musicians, such as Debussy. The Rosicrucians were practicing Christian mystics, and there are actually still formations of this group left today.
Trois Sonneries de la Rose+Croix is a piano piece inspired by his involvement with his religious organization. He eventually went on to develop his own subsection of the movement, and then, his very own church. But wait, it gets much weirder…
He then decided that he would take up only eating foods that were the colour white (sugar, turnips, egg whites, etc.), as an extension of his specific “flavour” of religious practice.
Furniture Music is a genre invented by Satie. While most composers wanted their music to be at the forefront of the room, at one point, Satie decided that he wanted the exact opposite. The intention of Furniture Music was for the composition to be present in the room, but not the main focus. Much like how a marble end table might sit inside a lavish living room, fitting, yet unnoticed. In fact, he was also dubbed the creator of Modernism as well.
A Judicious Jazz Musician
Erik Satie’s variety doesn’t stop here. While Satie is not a wildly popular classical composer today, he is fairly well known for his contributions to Impressionism, as well as pre-minimalism. A little-known fact about the composer is that he was actually a very skilled jazz musician. Many say that his compositions lay in the space between jazz and classical.
High Tides for Satie
Despite having invented a genre as well as a movement, Satie was not well-liked during his lifetime. Whether it was his time spent studying at the Paris Conservatory, or the release of his two operas, his music went largely applauded. He was called lazy and died a penniless man. All of this aside, several of his works have made their way into popular culture.
Gymnopédies is a three-movement work for piano. The word Gymnopédie may sound French, but it is actually about a Greek festival where men danced and played games naked. Of the three movements, the first is the most popular. It is often still played today and is very accessible for the intermediate pianist.
Gymnopédie can be found everywhere. From YouTube to movies to even games. Of the three movements, the first is by far the most well-known.
Vexations is a piece for keyboard. It has a very different tone than that of Gymnopédie. It feels far more haunting and unsettled. While it wasn’t actually intended to be published, the directions say to repeat it a whopping 840 times. This was written shortly after his relationship with the painter Suzanne Valadon ended. The woman who broke his heart reportedly wore a carrot corsage.
Though Satie was a little more than strange, I truly believe that he paved the way for many twentieth-century musicians. I hope you have enjoyed learning about one of my favourite oddball composers.
Aleah Fitzwater is a private music teacher, as well as a blogger for https://scan-score.com/en/ where she makes music digitizing tutorials. In her free time, she loves to research odd composers, make creme brulee, and garden.