Erik Satie (1866–1925) was a French composer and pianist. Today he is best known to us through his well-loved Gymnopédies, the small melancholic piano pieces from 1890, but at the time of his death in 1925, Satie was barely known beyond the city limits of Paris.
Life and Music
Erik Satie, the well-loved yet eccentric composer of piano miniatures, was born on May 17th 1866 in Honfleur, Normandy, the son of a French music publisher.
Aged 18, Satie moved to Paris where he studied briefly at the Paris Conservatory and found his first musical voice as the official composer of the Rosicrucian movement.
Only a select few from music circles of the time knew that he was an influence on the composer group Les Six, which included Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc. Following Satie’s lead, they tried to write simple and clear music. Satie was also an influence on the Impressionist composer Debussy, a life-long friend.
Besides the influence he had on his contemporaries, he was best known for his eccentric behaviour. Some of his odd antics included never allowing anyone to enter his apartment, and some of the instructions he asked performers to follow during a performance of a work would be, playing a piece of music as ‘light as an egg’.
He finally achieved a degree of success that had long eluded him with ‘Parade’, a collaboration with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and the director of Les Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, Serge Diaghilev. The score was compelling, and the inclusion of guns, car horns, sirens, and typewriters was so innovative and raucous as to cause an opening night riot that brought Satie to the public's attention.
Satie died in 1925, his music faded into obscurity for almost 50 years until the 1960s when it was rediscovered by the modern minimalist composer John Cage, who found Satie an inspiration and influence on his own music.
Did you know?
Satie wrote a piece for piano with one hundred and eighty notes, which had to be repeated eight hundred and forty times. When it was presented in New York in 1963, five different pianists had to play in relays all night long to give it a full performance.