Story of Music no.34 – Satie
Erik Satie was a French composer born in 1866. He was a leader of ‘Les Six’ (The Six), a French ‘school’ of composers. He started composing around the time of Wagner’s death, however, his style was very different. As Satie was at the end of the Romantic period, he had heard many works by composers such as Wagner, where experimentation of all aspects of music, especially dynamic range and instrumentation, was very popular. However, Satie did not imitate Wagner’s style. The French composers wanted to avoid Wagner’s style because they feared German culture invading French culture. Satie was more a part of the music that followed him, perhaps influenced by him. His impressionistic style of music involved minimalism and simplicity of texture and melody. This style was also noted for its use of neoclassicism and understatement. Other French composers at this time were Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc.
Satie’s most famous works are piano compositions, such as the three ‘Gymnopédie’ and the six ‘Gnossiennes’. Many French composers at this time were organists, which would explain why piano compositions were popular, as a similar instrument to organs.
Gymnopédie no. 1 Brief Analysis
Expression: Slowly and mournfully
Metre: 3/4, simple triple, no time signature changes
Dynamics: Minimal dynamic range. Starts at pianissimo and uses long crescendos without indicating the dynamic at the end of the crescendo to give the performer some freedom of interpretation.
Melody: stepwise contour mixed with large intervals. Several ‘naturals’ to indicate the changes in harmony. Melody does not seem to lead anywhere.
Pedal used throughout to help create indistinct melody.
Rhythm: use of longer note values (e.g. crotchets, dotted minims)
Use of 9th chords