This is precisely why Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 is the most flat-out relaxing piece of piano music ever written

16 May 2016, 16:47

satie gymnopedie

Ask anyone what the most tranquil piano piece is, and chances are a fair number will say Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1. And they’re right, of course. But why is it so good?

First: LISTEN

 

It is SO. SIMPLE.

But don’t let that fool you. It might appear on the page to be nothing more than a series of plinky chords and crotchets (there are NO quavers in the whole piece), but it’s a piece that relies heavily on how sympathetic a musician you are.

 

It even looks abstract on the page

Look: there are hardly any notes!

satie gynopedie score

 

Anyone can play it, but also no-one can

We’ve established that the actual notes are very straightforward - but it’s how you play them that counts. Here are two different readings of the same work. How does it change things?

And now just a touch faster…

 

It’s all about those opening chords

That opening never quite resolves, does it? Even though it seems like there’s a finality to those two chords, they oscillate rather than conclude. How do you even think about finishing a piece like this?

But the more you listen, the more the second section speaks to you

Once those opening chords have embedded themselves in your head, you can turn your attention to the second half of the piece, where things actually start to become muddy, complex and spooky. In a way, it’s a misnomer to cite this piece as one of the most tranquil or relaxing in the piano rep - it’s actually a lot more gritty than that. Just look at these bad boys:

satie chords


At its core, it's about stillness

When it ends, despite all those colourful chords, you're still going to be like this:

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