Erik Satie

(1866—1925) French avant-garde composer

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(b Honfleur, 1866; d Paris, 1925).

Fr. composer and pianist, son of Fr. father and Scottish mother. Moved to Paris 1878. Worked as pianist in 1888 at Montmartre cabaret. In same year wrote his Gymnopédies for pf. Met Debussy in 1890. In 1891 joined Catholic Rosicrucian sect and comp. several works for it. Shortly afterwards seemed almost to have retired from comp., writing fewer than 10 works in 12 years. In 1905 entered Schola Cantorum as pupil of d'Indy and Roussel, leaving in 1908. From about 1910 became something of a cult among young composers attracted by the eccentric, humorous titles of some of his works, e.g. Trois Morceaux en forme de poire (Three Pear‐shaped Pieces). Strongly influenced group of young composers known as Les Six. Meeting with Cocteau in 1915 led to Diaghilev ballet Parade (1917), in which jazz rhythms are used and the instrumentation incl. typewriter, steamship whistle, and siren. Later, was assoc. with Surrealists and Dadaists. Satie's importance lay in directing a new generation of Fr. composers away from Wagner‐influenced impressionism towards a leaner, more epigrammatic style. His harmony is often characterized by unresolved chords, which may have influenced Debussy (or he may have learned the device from Debussy—nobody knows). Melody is simple, sometimes slightly archaic, and scoring economical, with few tutti passages. Socrate is the most ambitious of his works, most of which are comparatively short, the majority being for solo pf. He anticipated many later avant‐garde trends; e.g. in Gnossiennes (1890) there are no bar‐lines and the score contains verbal instructions bearing little relation to the mus. But beware—behind the clown's mask is a serious composer. Prin. comps.:


Le Fils des Étoiles

, incidental mus. (1891, prelude re‐orch. Ravel 1913);

Genéviève de Brabant

, marionette opera (1899);

Le Piège de Méduse

, lyric comedy (1913);


, ballet (1917);


, ballet (1924);


, ballet (1924).


En Habit de cheval


Cinq Grimaces


Trois petites pièces montées

(1919, also for pf. 4 hands, 1920);

La belle excentrique


Jack‐in‐the Box

(1900, unperf. pantomime, orch. Milhaud 1926).


Messe des Pauvres

, with organ or pf. (1895, orch. version by D. Diamond 1960);


, 4 sop.. small orch. (1918).

voice & piano:

3 Mélodies de 1886


3 Poèmes d'Amour


3 Mélodies



(5 songs) (1923).

violin & piano:

Choses vues à droit et à gauchesans lunettes

() (1914).


3 Sarabandes

(1887–8, orch. Caby);

3 Gymnopédies

(1888, Nos. 1 and 3 orch. Debussy 1896, No.2 orch. H. Murrill and by Roland‐Manuel);

3 Gnossiennes

(1890, orch. Lanchbery; No.3 orch. Poulenc 1939);

Trois PréludesLe Fils des Étoiles

from (1891, orch. Roland‐Manuel);

Valse, Je te veux

(c.1900, arr. for v. and orch., also arr. for orch. by C. Lambert);

9 Danses gothiques


4 Préludes

(1893, Nos. 1 and 3 orch. Poulenc, 1939);

Prélude de la porte héroïque du Ciel

(1894, orch. Roland‐Manuel 1912);

2 Pièces froides


3 Nouvelles pièces froides


Le Poisson rêveur

(1901; version for pf. and orch. by Caby);


Subjects: Music.

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