Before I became a leading figure of the French avant-garde, though, I was a simple boy that studied the beautiful piano. After I was born on May 17th, 1866, my family constantly moved around from Honfleur, a city located in Lower Normandy, to Paris, where I was primarily raised. At this time, the Wagnerian music model had already reached its zenith in Europe, but this meant nothing to me. After my mother unfortunately died when I was at the young age of six, I went to live with my grandparents back in my hometown.
There, I began my first music lessons from Vinot, a local organist.
Vinot was quite a kind fellow, and he introduced me to Gregorian plainsongs, which are monophonic religious chants from the Middle Ages. From dear Vinot’s teachings, I became very interested in medieval music, and I even incorporated some of these concepts to my later compositions. However, that was quite far away, for I was first forced to enter the Paris Conservatoire.
In 1878, my father had remarried to Eugenie Barnetsche, a “musically gifted individual. ” Of course, she was just another conservative musician that conformed to Wagnerism and other such musical forms.
Because of her, my father sent me to the rigorous and old-fashioned Paris Conservatoire in 1879. I studied under the Mathias, Descombes, and Lavignac while I was there, but they weren’t exactly encouraging instructors. In fact, they were the ones who claimed that I was the “laziest student in the Conservatoire. ” I even composed two songs there; one was called Valse-Ballet while the other was titled Fantaisie-Valse.
However, all of those conservative professors called these compositions insignificant, laborious, and worthless.
As a result, I was eventually expelled from the Paris Conservatoire in 1882, so I didn’t really receive a complete education. I didn’t mind, though, for that school was not to my liking anyway. After an unsuccessful entry into the French infantry—I had fallen ill with bronchitis—in 1886, I started my career of composition. In fact, just two years after I was discharged, I composed some of my most famous pieces, the Trois Gymnopedies. These pieces are a clear example of Vinot’s influence on my life, for the harmonies have a bit of Medieval music mixed in them.
Around the same time, I composed Ogives (1886), Trois Sarabandes (1887), and Six Gnossiennes (1893), all of which began my career as a composer. My first three pieces leaned towards a more conservative style, although they did vary to some extent. For example, Ogives was based more upon gothic art, while Trois Sarabandes incorporated a solemn dance character. However, with Six Gnossiennes, I ultimately eliminated bar lines and time signatures from my work—until 1917, that is. In addition, I began to scribble in specific directions for the performer in my scores.
For example, I liked to write things like “wonder about yourself” or “open your mind” to make whoever was performing to give the music some attitude! I mean, what is music without character and expression? During all of that time, I lived in a small apartment in Montmartre, mostly because I was so poor. But what do you expect from a musician like me? Other than composing various pieces, I also worked as a cafe pianist to get a regular income at Auberge du Clou, which is where I met Claude Debussy.
He’s definitely a fine fellow, except for the fact that he claims that he is the father of modern music. Of course, we still became good friends, and we advised each other later on in our careers. In the following years, I began to come involved in religion. After meeting Josephin Peladan, the leader of the Rosicrucian (Rose et Croix) Order, I became the unofficial composer for the society, using my knowledge of medieval music and Gothic art to create a variety of religious pieces in the 1890s, such as Prelude pour la porte heroique du ciel and Messe des Pauvres.
However, the Rosicrucians weren’t exactly the most interesting people. Thus, I created my own church and composed my own music, shunning the society around me and inspiring individuality. (I wonder why no one else joined it! That’s one thing I never comprehended. ) Although I became quite a familiar figure in the streets of Montmartre—especially because of my supposedly eccentric habits—I later moved to Arcueil, which is located in the Ile-de-France region of France, and became a cabaret pianist.
From then on, I produced a few cafe songs and music hall pieces like Je te veux and Le Piccadilly. However, this period of my life was quite short-lived, for I then went on to complete my musical education. I simply could not deal with the constant criticism I was receiving, and I needed money to survive too! As a result, I enrolled in the Schola Cantorum de Paris at the age of 40. Even though I was surrounded by lads half my age, I still graduated with distinction. In contrast to what my teachers said at the Paris Conservatoire, the words “tres bien” were written on my diploma.
After graduating from the conservative academy, I think my music became a little more rigorous and academic. However, being the eccentric man I was, I disliked conforming to regular behavior. As a result, from 1909 to 1914, all of my pieces were named beautifully and a lot differently from other mundane titles. For example, in 1912 I composed the piece Trois morceaux en forme de Poire (which literally means Three Pear-Shaped Pieces), and in 1913 I composed Embryons Desseches, which translates into Dried-Up Embryos.
I also continued to write various instructions to the performer in my scores. Phrases like “to be jealous of one’s playmate who has a big head” and “the war song of the King of Beans” appeared throughout my music during that time, and I definitely take great pride in them. How else can one create successful and expressive music? Soon after, World War I was right around the corner, and my glorious days began to overwhelm me! Prior to WWI, various of my pieces began to be performed at various concerts.
For example, French composer Maurice Ravel performed my Trois Sarabandes at the Societe Musicale Independante’s concert in 1911. Many of my works were finally published in the 1910’s as well, giving me a modest income. Then, with Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, I composed Parade, a ballet that had a realistic setting and described anti-war sentiments. This was a huge breakthrough in my career, particularly because I was arrested afterwards after I sent an “impudent” postcard to one critic.
I thought that it was simply outrageous, but I only had to endure the horrible conditions for eight days. After I was released, a new generation of composers and musicians began to gather around me! In fact, the Les Six proclaimed that I was their patron saint. After the composition of Parade, I didn’t really devote as much time to music as I did before. Recognition was surrounding me and cornering me from all sides, so what could I do? I composed a few Nocturnes as well as Socrate, one of my more celebrated pieces at the time. Finally, my career came to a close.
Looking back at everything that has happened after I was expelled from the Paris Conservatoire, I think that my greatest accomplishment was undoubtedly the composition of Six Gnossiennes. Even though this piece was composed just years after I left the Paris Conservatoire, it set my career as an avant-garde into motion. Of course, Parade was the piece that gained me some recognition, and Trois Gymnopedies are my most famous pieces. However, Six Gnossiennes is the first successful piece of music. It doesn’t abide by anything that Wagnerism instructs, and it is so unique!
In addition, that fellow Debussy can’t claim that he was the father of modern music with this piece, for I was able to sway him away from conforming to traditional using this piece as an example! Although I faced poverty all the way until World War I and other challenges (like getting arrested), my career as a phonometrician was sprinkled with successes from 1886 to 1920. Throughout this time period, I successfully challenged Romanticism and Wagnerism, bringing forth a new convention for music that still applies in the 21th century, even after my physical disappearance from this world.
Looking at the world today, I have definitely served as an inspiration to many kinds of music. Bits and pieces of my brilliance seem to be everywhere! For example, my furniture music is still evident everywhere today! From the moment I spiritually wander into a store or a deli, I unconsciously hear some obscure background music. Being a forerunner to minimalism, I had experimented with this music, which is not supposed to be heard consciously, in my lifetime and it still survives to this day.
Minimalism isn’t the only type of music I inspired, though. French Impressionism was a result of my teachings to Claude Debussy. After I forced Debussy into swaying away from conformity, I supported him as he continued down his route of impressionism—that is, until his music became conventional and mainstream. How can I support him when his music becomes like Wagnerism at the time of my birth? American Jazz and ragtime are also results of my eccentric music, for various elements of these types of music are in some of my compositions!
My compositions also gave birth to some important musical trends, such as bitonality, polytonality, and non-triadic harmony. Brennan, Carol. Erik Satie Biography. 2010. 5 November 2010 . Classical Archives LLC. Composer: Erik Satie. 2008. 5 November 2010 . Furstner, Michael. Erik Satie. 2008. 5 November 2010 . Goldsmith, Kenneth. Flabby Preludes for a Dog: An Erik Satie Primer. 1997. 5 November 2010 . Minnesota Public Radio. Springtime in Paris: Erik Satie. 2005. 5 November 2010 . Solomon, Larry J. Satie, The First Modern. 2003. 5 November 2010 .