These "Satie Notes" are a revised version of a program booklet that I created for the 1991 Summergarden Concert Series of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. The major typographical revisions bring to the fore an aspect ignored in the original i.e. that these notes represent a three-voiced conversation. Satie always speaks in italics, and if he himself used italics, we add an underline. My comments are in normal type. "Everyone else is within quotation marks". A PDF of the original programs is included, as it was my pleasure, great honor and privilege to have worked with all of the many performers.
JULY 5 and 6
What I Am
will tell you that I am not a musician. That is
"What I Am"
will tell you that I am not a painter. That is true. At the beginning
of my career, I at once classed myself among the photometrographers. My
works are purely photometric. Take Revolving Doors
Beau Temps or the Shakespearean
Equations, you will notice
plastic idea entered into the creation of these works. It is scientific
thought which dominates."
JULY 12 and 13
In January 17-31, 1922, the pianist Marcelle Meyer (with various guest artists) presented three concerts in Paris. The composers performed on the first concert were Bach, Gluck, Monteverdi, Mozart, Rameau, Byrd, Couperin, D. Scarlatti, Pergolèse, and Satie; on the second Ravel, Debussy, Satie, and Chabrier; and on the third Tailleferre, Satie (the premiere of Sports & Divertissements), Auric, Honegger, Stravinsky, Poulenc, and.. Milhaud. Each of the three concerts was preceded by preambles spoken, respectively, by Satie, Auric, and Cocteau. Whether it was, or was not, Mme. Meyer's intention to highlight Satie in the three different settings of the parents, the siblings, and the progeny, is not known, nor is it germane. Her programming succeeded in doing so, and doing so very well.
This week, we present excerpts from Mme. Meyer's first program, so that we may deal with the question of Satie's roots. The point being made is that Satie continues the tradition of Clavicinist — a composer for keyboard in the old style, and Satie's notes reinforce that impression.
The Bach, Mozart, Rameau, Byrd, Couperin, and Scarlatti presented tonight were all programmed on the 1922 concert, but the program also included vocal works by Bach, Gluck, Monteverdi, and Pergolèse, and contrasted these with the first movement of Satie's Socrate (program of August 2 and 3). Mme. Meyer also performed the first Bach Partita, as well as two additional Scarlatti Sonatas. (Programs were much longer in those days!) Mme. Meyer programmed four works of Satie (the first Gymnopédie, the Menuet, a Nocturne, and the Sonatine Bureaucratique). As the Nocturne and Gymnopédie are programmed elsewhere in this series (I saved the latter bon-bon for the last program — after the spinach, as it were), I have substituted two early works, whose piano technique is in keeping with the idea behind this program. The Sonatine Bureaucratique is modeled after a Clementi Sonatina, therefore, the comparison.
. . . .
Next week we will present twelve works of Satie, which, taken together, appear in succession not dissimilar from the Ordres of Couperin, or the Pièces de Clavecin of Rameau. You may find the Satie titles curious. So as to not traumatize anyone, I suggest you consider Couperin's titles for part of his Thirteenth Ordre. "The French Follies, or The Dominoes. 1. Virginity (in theinvisible-colored domino), 2. Modesty (in the pink domino), 3. Ardor (in the flesh-colored domino), 4. Hope (in the green domino), 5. Fidelity (in the blue domino), 6. Perseverance (in the flax-gray domino), 7. Languor (in the violet domino), 8. Coquetry (in various dominoes), 9. Old Gallants and the Faded Wives of Treasurers (in the purple and yellow-brown dominoes), 10. Benevolent Cuckoos or Complacent Cuckolds (in yellow dominoes), 11. Taciturn Jealousy (in the dark-gray domino), 12. Frenzy, or Despair (in the black domino)." Perhaps you might prefer: "The Pageant of the Great and Ancient Mxnxstrxndxsx.... Disorder and Rout of the Whole Troupe, Caused by the Drunkards, the Monkeys, and the Bears. Or for those of you allergic to seafood (Embryons Desséchés) L'Anguille (the eel)?"
The more things change, the more they remain the same!
JULY 19 and 20
These are prefatory statements by Satie. They are not samples of musically embedded text.
tournés en tous sens (1913)
porteur de grosses pierres
sequins et vieilles cuirasses (1913)
Défaite des Cimbres (Cauchemar)
séculaires & instantanées(1914)
"To sir William
Grant-Plumot I sincerely dedicate this
Trois Valses distinguées du précieux
JULY 26 and 27
Charles Koechlin's Les Heures Persanes was stimulated by Vers Ispahan (towards Ispahan), by Pierre Loti (1850-1923), the French novelist, orientalist, and naval officer. I have chosen not to extract from Loti's version of' a journey to the east, but rather from someone else's, whose connection to Satie is more piquant. When assessing and comparing the perfume of the extract with our present day perception of the writer, keep in mind that the extract dates from 1911. The Satie quotes date from 1922.
"Night has fallen. I am a little giddy. Is it I who dreams, or is it my narrator carried away by his imagination? His hoarse voice rasps. His big, drunkard's eyes are moist and sparkling beneath their heavy gay eyebrows. The night is yellow and trickles with gold. All the marble statuary of all the palaces of Byzantium is there, as well as all the treasures of the sultans and all the gems of the Seraglios! A solid gold Venus and a Ceres stand at the head of the Phanal, the stairway of Justinian's palace, leading down to the water. Lying in the sand at the promontory of the Seraglio are bronze cannons decorated in gold and big solid gold rings like those that they — the divine, thrilling odalisques — used to wear around their naked ankles and arms like serpents. Loaded with gold, their nails painted in vermillion, they suffocated from waiting so long in their magnificent cages at the apex of this hill which juts out into the sea and breaks the waves before Stamboul. And for having failed to please once, they were slid into a sack, dropped all the way down making a 'plop' in the water, and little fish nibbled away their flesh. Papa Bonnal claims that their finery is all there, left behind to bear witness. Eurythmics of marble rise out of the sea and reflect in the water as they advance along the shores. Countless lilies planted everywhere prove that the marbles are gilded by the incessant sun; they spread their heavy, suffocating fragrance over polished flagstones of prophyry, malachite, verde antique, and jade, amid the sparkle of inlaid mother-of-pearl. SHE – I don't know who – I suppose some Theodora, but what does it matter as long as she wears her Ravenna finery and as long as her eyes, enlarged by a black outline, gnaw her checks; SHE is waiting in some exedra for the lunar blue to absorb the light of day. When she leans over the edge of the wavelapped stairs, her jewels seem to multiply, the gems taking on a hard luster that the exulting water casts back in her face. Rays of sunshine play on the wisteria hanging on the porticos and whiffs of perfume drift above the water. The sky makes a pool of fire as in an icon, and sanctifies the madness of the hour. The waves coming from the Sweet Waters, of Europe follow a delicate curve. No, it's no illusion: the banks that hold them are curved like an enormous cornucopia emptying itself into the sea across Asia, whose mountains are spread out like the placid horizontal smile of a Buddha in the shadow of a sanctuary, covered by a golden luster...."
"If I were to tell you more about those dear little hidden treasures, I would have to make it up. Because here we are in the realm of the inaccessible, even for so handsome a giaour as Theophile Gautier, but not so for Mr. Loti: for a person who wears a French officer's braids, lives at Tarabya, and commands a frigate, it is altogether possible that someone would be impressed with him!" 19
At the 'Two Purists' . . . next time, it will be a painting by Jeanneret that will get slashed.... Everyone must take his turn, . . . ch? ... Not always the same one,. . . huh?
Sly and crafty: ... Yes, Ozenfant is the more mischievous of the two, but only just; ... don't go thinking that the 'Other' is stupid — with his short sight.
... In any case, the One is just as 'purist' as the Other — or even more so.
It was Ozenfant who had the idea of using a pen-knife; Jeanneret, for his part, talked of using a long sabre (as long as that).... It's easy to see how young he is! — the dear Friend....
Something terrible has happened: ... My subscription to L'Esprit Nouveau has just expired, . . . yesterday ... Yes. . . I'm 'all of a dither' about it." 20
Charles-Eduoard Jeanneret is the real name of the painter, and later, architect, Le Corbusier. He, and Amédée Ozenfant, founded Purism. Both were editors of the periodical L'Esprit Nouveau. Ozenfant is reputed to have slashed one of his own paintings at an exhibition of the Purists. For the personal voyage of how one man moves from the voluptuousness of the extract from Journey to the East to an almost Satien purity (without the wit and simplicity), read the Confession at the end of Le Corbusier's The Decorative Art of Today (MIT Press).
AUGUST 2 and 3
"I love all of Satie's music and the music of Socrate especially.
"It seems to me that even though the words he chose are profoundly meaningful and touching that like the delightful and poetic remarks included in his other shorter pieces, all of which in performances Satie himself suppressed, the texts of Socrate may be omitted, bringing about, as I hope to show with this arrangement, an enjoyment of the music itself alone, the beauty of which is so constantly clear and extraordinary." – John Cage
John Cage's Four3 may be thought of as "variations" and "ornaments" on Satie's piano piece Vexations. Vexations is the second of three Pages Mystiques, composed between 1893-35. Vexations consists of a cantus firmus thirteen quarter-notes long, plus two similar harmonizations of the cantus, the only difference between them being the voicing of the chords. The note of the author states: In order to play this motive 840 times in succession, one must prepare well, in utmost silence, and with serious immobility.
840 repetitions is somewhat unusual, and Vexations
is normally dismissed as another one of Satie's curiosities, but that
is too simple for two reasons. The first is that the Danses
Gothiques of 1893 (programmed
August 30 and 31), are "part and parcel" of the same musical cloth as Vexations;
i.e. the harmonies and rhythmic motion are too similar to be merely
coincidental. If I am correct, Vexations
is therefore not just an isolated sketch. The second reason concerns
the number of repetitions. No one seems to know why Satie chose 840
repetitions, and the number is usually considered arbitrary —
i.e. any large number would do, and yet 840 has some very unusual
properties. Most importantly, it is the number under 1,000 with the
greatest number of divisors (32), as 840
is four times the
product of the first four primes - i.e. 4(2 x 3 X 5 X 7). Of its 32
divisors, 21 are either triangular, pentagonal, octagonal, tetrahedral,
fourth dimension tetrahedral numbers, or some combination thereof. The
series of divisors include abundant, highly composite, perfect, multiply perfect,
numbers. It also includes the
number (70), the magic constant of the smallest magic
cube (42), and various other oddities. In short, 840 is no slouch of a
number, and this presents two interesting questions, and gives rise to
a protest (J'accuse!):
Satie could have chosen a large number with fewer divisors. He could have chosen a prime number (a number divisible only by 1 or itself). The choice of a number with the largest number of divisors leads to speculation about Satie's knowledge of and/or interest in number theory,21 and to a conclusion that the choice of 840 is probably deliberate. As regards repeating something many, many times, I point out to you the instruction at the end of Couperin's Les Tambourins (July 12 and 13): "One plays these two airs alternately, and repeats them as often as wished, but always ends with the first." Franqois might have thought 840 repeats excessive, but one must not forget habituation and 180 years of inflation!
Cage's Four3 (the third piece in a recent series of works for four players) consists of "four activities for the four players that interpenetrate within the given time brackets:
Silence (each player may do nothing) within a single bracket.
AUGUST 9 and 10
"People who have followed and participated in today's heroic
movements make a very clear distinction between the adjectives modern
and new; and I hasten to say that only the latter is used in speaking
of an artist whose work is genuinely new and daring, stunning and
AUGUST 16 and 17
ballet in three acts by j. p. contamine de la tour; music by erik
satie. presented to the national theatre of the opera 20 dec. 1892.
sole character: uspud.
dressed as a Persian.
returns from the christians' torture and bears relics. he piles them at
the foot of the statue and burns them; smoke rises up and changes into
seraphim who fade away into emptiness.
end of the first act
prays to his household gods.
end of the second act
the top of a mountain; a crucifix above.
uspud, clad in homespun garments, prostrates himself before the crucifix; for a long time he prays and weeps.
when he raises his head, christ unfastens his right arm from the cross, blesses uspud and disappears. the holy spirit penetrates uspud.
procession of male and female saints: saint cleopheme spits his teeth into his hand; saint micanar bears his eyes on a platter; the blessed marcomir has his legs burnt to a cinder; saint induciomare's body is pierced with arrows; saint chassebaigre, confessor, in violet robes; saint lumore with a sword; saint gebu with red-hot irons; saint glunde with a wheel; saint krenou with a sheep; saint japuis, with doves escaping from a cleft in his forehead; saint umbeuse spinning wool; the blessed melou the lame; saint vequin the flayed; saint purine the unshod; saint plan, preaching friar; saint lenu with a hatchet. their voices summon uspud to martyrdom.
he is penetrated by an unquenchable thirst for suffering. he tears off his homespun robes and appears clad in the white tunic of neophytes. he prays again.
a swarm of demons rise up on all sides. they assume monstrous forms; black dogs with a golden hom on the forehead; fish bodies with the head and wings of birds; giants with bulls' heads, snorting fire through their nostrils.
uspud commends his soul to the lord, then gives himself up to the demons, who tear him to pieces in a fury.
church appears, radiant with light and escorted by two angels bearing
leaves and crowns. she takes uspud's soul in her arms and raises him up
christ, who is resplendent in heaven.
of the third
* * * * * * *
ONTROTANCE, ballet in one act
SPORTS ET DIVERTISSEMENTS
This publication embodies two arts, drawing and music
The drawing part consists of lines, witty lines;
the musical part of plain black dots. These two parts put together make an album. I suggest you turn its pages with a tolerant thumb
and with a smile, for this is a work of pure whimsy.
the "dried up" and
the "stultified" I have added a chorale, sober and suitable. This makes
a sort of wormwood preamble,
AUGUST 23 and 24
who does not love
Wagner does not love France .... Didn't you know Wagner was
from Leipsick [Picardy].
I French? ...
Of course I am .... How do you think a
man of my age could not be French? . . .
You amaze me ...
know that Art has no homeland, . poor thing ... its lack of fortune
prevents it ....
So why not play Richard Strauss and
Schoenberg? Tell us, dear M. Laloy, you who know everything ...
... the Germans get everything from France.... It's quite shameful! ...
You know, don't you, that Wagner was
French? ... he was very FrancoGerman — the dear
like all good
Frenchmen, come to that.... Just remember, . . . I beg of you.... He
was so good! ... and so much 'one of us'!
For we must not confuse him with Strauss
and Schoenberg ... No connection ... absolutely none.
They are not good, of course — nor French, it goes without saying.23
AUGUST 30 and 31
we erected the
solid pedestal of Futurism in Paris, we thought of you, Montmartre, old
romantic infection! Now, as your last degenerate and crippled sons yap
helplessly around you, we finally rise and shout at the top of our
way for the picks!"
must be destroyed!!!"
we mean the Butte
itself, let it be clear. The bars and the night restaurants don't
matter, but we have had enough of sentimental adventures, little
houses, little gardens, little birds ..."
scrofulous mound, the shadow of your hideous goitre dedicated to the
Sacré Coeur shelters a rabble of antiquarians and refired
shopkeepers — get rid of them! Together with your
those antiquated hussar trousered artists (!), those
passéist moth-eaten parrots. Yes, we know you have the Rue
Saint-Vincent, the Rue des Saules, the Place du
That all belongs to the past; once it was a flower, now it is a dung
heap, and we are young, alive and strong, and those morbid, sickly
alleys with their tottering half-dead houses fill us with disgust and
luring from their
distant provinces those comic-opera supernumaries, those long-haired
daubers whose marrow you suck before leaving them to rot in the filthy
water of your ruts. Oh yes, you have cherished them, these lovers of a
night, these ambitious bohemians, like a prostitute defends "her man",
and have also pushed them into the deepest shame, even as far as the
Pont des Arts."
Montmartre, that once you were a rock of resistance against all that
belonged to yesterday, all that glorified the obvious? But Donnay has
left the "Chat Noir", Pierrot has become diseased by honours and wants
to join the institution, and Louise, weak and repentant, has returned
to the respectable bosom of her family."
old houses, rotting walls, fences hiding mountains of excrement
your time is up!"
with you, vile
merchants of holy objects who beckon prostitutes, with your
pseudo-artistic cabarets and awful bric à brac, cemeteries
into the night of the past with all your
multicoloured rags, your stillborn dreams, and take with you your
hoarse Mimi Pinsons, your elderly Musettes. But you go on rotting where
you are. You lack the energy to rebel, and in the demolished ruins we
shall find nothing but stinking dust."
barbarians – we
don't care! We are strong, I assure you, and we are climbing to attack
your maggoty cheese followed by the great army of victors with metal
scaffolding, dynamite and explosives. Your Moulin de la Galette will be
swallowed up by a Métro station. Your flea-ridden Place du
Tertre will be crossed by
trams, and from all the dung that you are trying to defend today an
apotheosis of skyscrapers will rise to pierce the heavens, great blocks
of houses infinitely tall. And then you will laugh with us at your
attachment to these remnants of another century. Like us, you will want
to perceive all the new beauty of geometrical buildings, stations,
electrical instruments, aeroplanes, our whole life whirling with steel,
fever and speed."
are corpses that must be killed."
"Montmartre must be killed!"
last windmills will
fall, the twisting coy old streets collapse. Make way for the
pick! Montmartre will have
ended its life. It will cease to be the rotten brain crowned with a
clerical cap, weighing on a Paris which is awakening to the inspiration
of the future. And in the evening, when the sun goes down, the
brilliant beams of a thousand electric lamps will pierce the great
highways filled with noise and movement. The majestic
façades with their multicoloured electric signs will light
up violently; the wild trembling of our wonderful speed machines will
be heard, and at the window of your departed and forgotten Louise the
electric advertisements will wheel tirelessly against the sky,
conquered at last."
must be destroyed!!!"
They're still working at it.
Paul Zukofsky, reactionary programmer