French composer and pianist
Born on the 17th of May 1866 in Honfleur, Eric Alfred Leslie Satie was son to a ship-broker father and a Scottish mother who would sadly pass when Eric was only 6 years old. Later living with his grandparents and father, after Satie took lessons with his local organist he would learn of 13th-century Gregorian music, the style of which would heavily influence him.
In 1878, Satie moved to Paris. Though his father would remarry to a woman of great musical aptitude, her conventional attitude towards music would often cause conflicts with the more bohemian young Satie. Despite somewhat capitulating to the norm and attending the Paris Conservatoire, he was soon dismissed by the institution, likely due to his rebellious musical nature. After joining the military in 1886 a run in with poor health would also push him from this path, though knowing that his future lay in music, Satie would soon begin to compose.
Erik Satie was a true maverick of contemporary classical music. With his compositions being deceptively simple yet soaked in charisma, he actively resisted the stale conventions of European romanticism and had a profound impact on the twentieth-century modernist movement.
Immersed in medieval music and the gothic around the 1880s, this led Satie to write the four piano pieces Ogives: an ode to gothic architecture. Later befriending the Spanish poet Contamine de Latour, Satie wrote music to accompany his verse, and he would consequently transition from his dour medieval style to a more kinetic, colourful sound. 1888’s Gymnopedies was even dedicated to an ancient Greek celebratory rite of naked dancing, making Satie quite the controversial Parisian at the time.
Following this with the piano pieces Gnossiennes, Satie would also compose for the novelist Joséphin Péladan after their meeting in 1890 and would work for his Rose et Croix society until 1895. Meeting the legendary Claude Debussy around 1891, the progressive Satie helped to invigorate his sound. In 1893’s infamous Vexations for piano, he was even daring musicians to play his work ‘840 times in successions’ as per a note at the top of its score.
Later moving to Arcueil and enrolling at its respected Schola Cantorum in 1905, after his graduation Satie began writing once more using increasingly satirical titles; Shape of a Pear being a response to the accusation that his music was ‘formless’. Also writing memoirs and sketching through this time, recognition during the early 20th century gave him some financial support, and by 1917 he started work on his symphonic drama Socrate, which debuted publicly in 1920.
Satie wrote pieces throughout his 60s, such as Musique d’ameublement (Furnishing Music) and a collaboration with Francis Picabia and Rene Clair for the motion-picture ballet Relache (Theatre Closed). Sadly passing away from liver failure in Paris on the 1st of July 1925, the works of this counter-culture genius have only continued to be analysed and admired throughout the years.
Did You Know?
Ever the subversive comedian, Satie was known for his wickedly wry sense of humour. After creating his first compositions at the incredibly conservative Paris Conservatoire, he would forgo titling his initial work as the expected ‘Opus 1’ and misleadingly dub it ‘Op. 62’!
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