The seed of this project was planted by a conversation I had in 2012. I wrote a couple of Satiean pieces during my time at Brunel University; pieces which Sally Goodworth, Brunel’s wonderful piano teacher, was kind enough to record for me. After the recording session, Sally encouraged me to publish the compositions because today “everyone loves Satie’s music but has heard it a million times before”. I heeded this advice, and with 2016 being the 150th anniversary of Satie’s birth, it seemed an appropriate time to celebrate his unique music.
The inspiration for the pieces came from the life of Satie himself. The first pieces in the collection are the only ones that directly acknowledge works by the composer. The works in question are his much loved ‘Gnossiennes’. There are several theories as to why Satie chose this peculiar name; the predominant one being his association with a gnostic sect. In naming my own ‘Knossiennes’, I decided to take influence from another potential source of the name: the excavations in Knossos that were taking place around the time Satie composed his works. The ‘K’ is also a reference to Satie’s uncommon spelling of his first name.
There are five pieces that explore the composer’s unusual personality. “Sea-Bird” was the nickname given to his uncle Adrien, an eccentric figure and an important person in Satie’s early life. I have tried to capture this eccentricity by juxtaposing moody, dramatic chord progressions with enigmatic, playful melodies. A little known fact about Erik Satie is that he was an avid walker. He would regularly walk from his home in Arcueil to the lights and attractions of Paris and back; a journey of around ten kilometres. This strange behaviour caught my imagination. In ‘A Walk to Le Chat Noir on a Snowy Day’ I imagined a solitary figure, distinctively dressed, tentatively making their way across the snow to the centre of the French capital. The three pieces that make up ‘The Velvet Gentleman’ were written to acknowledge Satie’s interesting collection of piano miniatures. Each one has been influenced by a characteristic item with which he is associated.
Throughout his whole life, Satie was only known to have had one relationship. ‘Biqui’ was the pet name he gave to Suzanne Valadon, an artist’s model and painter. The relationship lasted six months. Afterwards, the heartbroken musician declared he was left with “nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness”. This devastating description provided me with inspiration for three compositions. Each one has two tempo markings; it is up to the player which marking they choose to follow. Indeed, the performer may explore both tempos during one playing of the piece. A similar, bleak theme was the inspiration behind ‘Monsieur Le Pauvre’. I found the nickname (“Mr. Poor”) both poignant and saddening.
I decided to name the last piece in the collection – ‘Sylvie’ – after one of three poems written by Satie’s friend J.P. Contamine de Latour that Satie put to music in 1886.
The pieces in the book have been written without bar lines and time signatures. This is a style of scoring that Satie used for much of his career. The visual effect this has on the music reinforces its expressive nature and gives the performer freedom to experiment with different interpretations.
This collection has been written for all fans of Satie’s music. Chances are if you are reading this then, like me, you have had countless hours of pleasure playing or listening to his work. 150 years after his birth, I have tried to keep his creative spirit alive so that new pleasure can be found in his distinctive sound.