Elegant and slightly dark, the simplicity of Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No 1 is both light and touching. Here the Elf King dances to mourn the passing of summer and to celebrate the arrival of autumn.
In all the Gymnopédies, there’s a wonderful sense of musical distillation: no note is extraneous; nothing is rushed; and it’s almost impossible to hear them and not feel relaxed afterwards. An almost meditative piece of music, the gentle notes and heart felt harmonies of Gymnopedies No 1 draw you outside of space and time to a place where you can feel the essence of things...
Éric Satie (French: [eʁik sati]; 1866–1925) was a French composer and pianist in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde. His work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd. Satie is one of the most famous Impressionist artists.
Satie's simplicity, innovative harmonies, freedom of form and mastery of musical understatement made a strong impression on composers like Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and later younger composers such as Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud and John Cage. His strange sparse scores, often written without bar lines in red ink are peppered with whimsical instructions : "Light as an egg", "Here comes the lantern", "Open your head", "Muffle the sound", "With astonishment", "Work it out yourself", etc......
Satie had attended the Paris Conservatoire twice, once as a musician, and the second time as a composer, but he was told that his work and playing was insignificant and worthless, by his teachers. He joined the army, but was discharged within a few, because he deliberately infected himself with bronchitis. He then moved to his father’s house in Montmartre, Northern Paris and composed “Trois Gymnopédies” at this important cross-road of his life. “Trois Gymnopédies” was his first published piece, after he began mixing with the different kind of artistic crowd that lived in northern Paris, away from the Paris Conservatoire.
The “Gymnopaedia” were dances performed at festivals in Ancient Greece by naked young men and this has given rise to some contention over his intention. However It is probable that Satie did not even know the historical meaning of “Gymnopedies.” The word was in a musical dictionary he had at home, and the given definition therein was “An event at a greek festival wherein maidens danced in the nude.”We have very little historical evidence to actually understand what those festivals actually were about. This is the composer who later said that the sensuous and violent “Salommbo” a blood thirsty novel by Gustave Flaubert. set in Carthage during the 3rd century BC, inspired these quiet Gymnopedies, and who named other pieces “Pear Shaped” and “Desiccated Embryos.” Satie was an 'Absurdist' to the core, and I don’t think there’s too much to read in his titles. If anything, they were more to joke at the high-flung archaic-themed works of the German Romanticists he was musically rebelling against.
The Gymnopedie pieces are then delicate and understated in emotional terms, and implicitly a critique of the overstated and bombastic style of the romantics, especially in Germany with the likes of Wagner and the poetry of Goethe. In further contrast The Elf King in my animation is not a villain as portrayed in Goethe's Der ErlKonig or The Elf King, but rather a guardian of the forest and a traveller between the realms of life and beyond - for this is what it mean to be an Elf.
Satie's early interest in Mediaeval music shows in the simple plainsong like harmonies of his famous 'Gymnopédies' and 'Gnossiennes'. In the 1890s he became interested in, and the official composer for, the religio-mystic-occult sect of Rosicrusianism which also had a strong Mediaeval leaning.
He was a close friend of Claude Debussy, and during World War 1 also befriended Cocteau, Diaghilev and Pablo Picasso. This association with the Cubists resulted in the ballet 'Parade' which he wrote in collaboration with Cocteau and Picasso. An eccentric and humorist, he was not well accepted by the general public of his time, despite efforts by Debussy and Ravel to promote his works. During the past 20 years his work has received worldwide appreciation and the recognition of his importance he so truly deserves.