Monday, June 17, 2019

Couperin - Le Tic-Toc-Choc, ou Les Maillotins

François Couperin was a French composer of the Baroque era. He is most well known for his works for harpsichord,  of which over 230 were published in 4 volumes ofPièces de clavecin (Keyboard pieces).  He also wrote a treatise printed in 1716 titled L'Art de toucher le clavecin (The Art Of Playing The Harpsichord), specifically to instruct players how to play his harpsichord pieces in the correct style, while also offering instruction on fingering and ornamentation. This book is still used by early music performers and scholars for information concerning playing style of the time in France.

Even within the limited communication modes of the time, Couperin's music was known by other composers outside of France. J.S. Bach knew his music, and they may have written to each other. Couperin's influence reached to composers in the 19th century as well. Brahms played his music in public, and contributed as an editor with Friedrich Chrysander in a complete edition of the Pièces de clavecin published in London in 1888.  Modern harpsichordists and pianists have kept Couperin's music in the repertoire through some popular examples.

Couperin gave descriptive titles to some of his keyboard pieces. Some whimsical, some descriptive, some of them rather undecipherable. The title of this piece, Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins has numerous possibilities for translation and interpretation. Le tic-toc-choc has been thought of as representing the rhythm of a clock in comparison to the tempo of the piece. The last part of the title , ou Les Maillotins has been interprested as knock-knocks, or even little hammers.

It was intended for a two-manual harpsichord, per Couperin's instructions;
Pièce croisée: devra être jouée sur deux claviers, dont l’un sera repoussé ou tiré. Ceux qui n’auront qu’un Clavecin à un clavier, ou une épinette, joueront le Dessus comme il est marqué, et la Basse une octave plus bas. (Cross-piece: must be played on two-manual keyboards, one of which will be pushed back or pulled. Those who have only one harpsichord with one keyboard, or a spinet, will play the top as it is written, and the bass an octave lower.)
Modern  harpsichordists that have a two-manual instrument can follow Couperin's instructions, but pianists usually play the notes as written, which makes this a piece where both hands are on top of each other. This makes the piece all the more intriguing and difficult, as notes are rapidly played by one hand and then the other:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Bach - The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, Nos. 7 -12

Bach intended Book II of The Well Tempered Clavier to fulfill the same uses as Book I; as a teaching aid for keyboard technique, theory and composition. But it also served as a showcase for him as a composer.While he was an acknowledged master of the compositional techniques of counterpoint (his works were called 'learned', not necessarily a compliment as used by some), he also knew the recent trends and the changes that were happening in musical styles.

Book II has more difficulties and is longer than Book I, and has not been as popular with players or listeners. But there are treasures to discover if one is willing.

Prelude and Fugue No. 7 In E-flat Major BWV 876 - This prelude has the feeling of flowing eighth notes throughout. It is not made up of themes, but consists of continuous movement that appears free from drama or overt tension.

The 4-voiced fugue begins with a subject that is repeated 12 times throughout.

Prelude and Fugue No. 8 In D-sharp Minor BWV 877 - The Prelude No. 8 in Book I was written in E-flat minor, while Fugue No. 8 of Book I was written in D-sharp minor, probably as a way for Bach to show the advantages of his well- tempered keyboard, as these 2 keys are theoretically different, but on the keyboard are only different in appearance on the music page. This Prelude/Fugue pair are written in the same key of D-sharp minor. As there was a separation of about 20 years between the composition of the books, the issue of which tuning to use may have been pretty much decided in the favor of well -temperament and Bach saw no need to emphasize it. Written in 2 voices, this prelude is similar to a 2-part invention, with its difference being in its length and complexity. The first 16 measures are to be repeated, as are the final 20 measures, thus the prelude is in binary form that is similar to what Bach used in some of the dance suites.

The 4-voiced fugue has a short two-measure subject that is repeated 16 times. There are a total of 8 episodes that are free of any subject

Prelude and Fugue No. 9 In E Major BWV 878 - This prelude moves along in 3 voices throughout, with the upper and middle voices contributing somewhat more thematic material than the lowest voice. It has two sections that are repeated.

The fugue that follows is in 4 voices. The subject consists of 5 notes with each voice entering directly after the preceding voice. There is no rush, as the fugue unfolds in a moderate tempo.

Prelude and Fugue No. 10 In E Minor BWV 879 - In two voices throughout, an extended two-part invention. The prelude has two sections which are repeated, with the second section being longer.  Trills in one hand help to define that voice while the opposing voice has its say.

A 3-voiced fugue that has the subject begin with an upbeat of the 2nd and 3rd notes of a triplet. It is rather a long subject at six measures that covers an octave. Bach uses this theme to garner interest even before the fugal entry begin. This subject occurs nine times during the fugue with no changes to it. There are six episodes in the fugue that do not contain the subject within it. The pace of the fugue is not fast, but it does have movement to it by way of the staccatos and triplets.

Prelude and Fugue No. 11 In F Major BWV 880 - A prelude in a pastoral, calm mood that begs to be played legato with no accents. This prelude reminds me somewhat of the beginning of the Prelude No. 7 in E-flat BWV 852 of Book I.

The 3-voiced fugue is written in 6/16 time, a signature that shows the basic pulse is sixteenth note triplets, 2 triplets to the bar. The bouncing subject is stated 8 times during the fugue. Most of the fugue is taken up by the six episodes.

Prelude and Fugue No. 12 In F Minor BWV 881 - The prelude begins meditatively, but with shifts into the major, the prelude has an underlying energy that may lead to some performers performing it too fast. This is another prelude from Book II that is in binary form, and as Bach develops sections of this prelude, it shows that it was a form that lead to the development of sonata-allegro form with later composers.

The character of the 3-voiced fugue as well as its 2/4 time signature gives the opportunity to increase the tempo. The subject appears 9 times, with 6 subject-free episodes. Much of Bach's music derives from dance forms that were old in his time, and this fugue has a sway to it that shows that derivation.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 21 In C Major opus 53 'Waldstein'

In the European musical world of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, most composers had to rely on employment in the church or a royal patron to make ends meet. There were music publishers, but there were no copyright laws protecting a composer's published works. Other publishers could get a copy of them and print their own versions of them with no penalty. So for the few composers that could get published, there was usually a set fee for the composition in question with no royalties and no laws prohibiting publication by other publishers with no remuneration for the composer.

Count  Ferdinand von Waldstein
One of Beethoven's first important patrons was Count Ferdinand Waldstein, a German nobleman who made Beethoven's acquaintance in Bonn. It was Waldstein who put together a scholarship for Beethoven to go to Vienna in 1792. Beethoven had already been to Vienna for a short stay in 1787, ostensibly to have lessons with Mozart. Whether he actually had them or even met Mozart is not certain, but by 1792 Mozart was dead and Beethoven was to have lessons with Joseph Haydn. Count Waldstein wrote to Beethoven before he left on the trip:
Dear Beethoven! You go to realize a long-desired wish: the genius of Mozart is still in mourning and weeps for the death of its disciple. By incessant application, receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's hands.
Piano Sonata No. 21 was written in the summer of 1804 at the height of Beethoven's most productive period of composition. 1804 was also the year that the Third Symphony In E-flat Major (Eroica) was completed. Beethoven remembered his first important patron and dedicated the sonata to Count Waldstein, hence the name that the sonata is most known by.

I. Allegro con brio -  Beethoven begins the sonata with a theme contained in the C major chord played at a quiet dynamic that combines with the energetic tempo that creates an underlying excitement to the opening:

These four measures are immediately repeated, but in the key of B-flat major.  Beethoven modulates this first theme group until a short transitional section in A major leads to the second subject.

Usual convention of second themes in sonata form has them in the key of the dominant, or 5th degree of the main key, which in this instance would be G major. Beethoven mixes it up be having the second theme in the key of E major.
The second theme group leads back to a repeat of the exposition.  The development section has themes go through many key changes along with compression of themes to one bar motives. The recapitulation has the first theme played verbatim, with material leading to the second theme being modified. The second theme is first heard in A major, then in the tonic of C major, which the movement ends in.

II. Introduzione - Adagio molto -  The original second movement for this sonata was removed because it was thought to make the sonata too long. Beethoven had the original movement published seperately as Andante favori.  Beethoven inserted a short introduction to the final movement. This introduction is 28 measures long, and leads directly to the rondo of the finale.

III. Rondo - Allegro moderato - Prestissimo - The beginning of the rondo emerges from the introduction pianissimo, in a melody that is played with the left hand crossing over the right hand accompaniment. The left hand supplies deep bass notes when it crosses back over:
After a brief section the melody returns, this time in octaves in the right hand as the left hand accompanies. The melody ends with a trill in the right hand, and as the trill continues with the thumb and index finger of the right hand, the melody returns an octave higher, played primarily by the little finger of the right hand:

This is quite difficult to do, as the top melody needs to be prominent over the accompaniment both of the trill and the rapid notes of the left hand. Beethoven was very aware of the difficulty of the trill, and in the manuscript of the sonata he left instructions that said:
For whom the trill is too difficult where it is connected to the theme, may make things easier in the following way: 
Or depending on their abilities, they can also double it. of these sextuplets, two are played against each quarter note of the bass. In general, it does not matter if this trill also loses some of its usual velocity: 
After the theme is played through three times, an episode in A minor erupts and leads back to the theme that is repeated three times in the same form as before. Another episode in C minor, this one lengthier than the first, is played. this leads to the return of the theme in chords in the keys of A-flat, F minor and D-flat major. Parts of the theme are now developed in different keys. This development leads back to the theme, this time played twice.  The next section extends the bars that are heard directly after the first hearing of the theme. After this, a section in G major leads to a changing of the tempo to prestissimo and the time signature to 2/2. The theme is varied and developed until a section that is supposed to be played in opposing octave glissandos in each hand:

On the pianos of Beethoven's time, the action was not as heavy as the modern piano so octave glissandos were more feasible. Even then, not much volume could be gotten from doing it, hence Beethoven marked them to be played pianissimo. On the modern piano with its heavier action, many pianists make various compromises in this section. In the video that is included in this post, the pianist Claudio Arrau plays the glissandos as written.  The main theme dominates the coda, and the sonata comes to a close in C major.

This sonata is one of the masterpieces of the piano literature, and was acknowledged as such in Beethoven's time. In the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, in a review published in January of 1806, part of the review states that:
...the first and last movements belong among the most accomplished, most brilliant, and most original pieces of this master, but are also full of wondrous whimsicality, and are very difficult to perform.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Alkan - Symphony For Piano Solo

Alkan's Douze études dans tous les tons mineurs (Twelve Studies in all the minor keys), Op. 39 for solo piano were published in 1857. But  due to a combination of the difficulties and eccentricities of the works themselves and Alkan's lack of self promotion, only a few of the etudes were heard during his lifetime in the 1870's. None of them were to be heard again until  Eron Petri played the Symphony in 1938.

Alkan was a virtuoso pianist that rivaled Liszt in technique, and while not all of his piano works bristle with intense technical difficulties, the minor key etudes are certainly some of the most challenging  piano music ever composed.

Etudes number 4 - 7 constitute the symphony for piano solo, and it remains one of the few compositions by any composer designated as a symphony. It is in 4 movements.

I. Allegro -  The first movement of the symphony is in C minor and is in sonata form.
The opening theme in the left hand octaves is the basis of most of the other themes in the movement. The first theme shifts into the right hand and after transition material another motif  in E-flat major is heard. The exposition is repeated. The development section makes the most of the first theme by shifting key changes. The recapitulation brings back the first theme in the key of C minor and leads to a coda where the theme trades off between hands until a two-bar chromatic downward run in the right hand begins in single notes:
The run is repeated, this time with the third of the C minor chord added at the beginning and every 1st note of the 4-note sixteenth note groups in the run as well as a third added to every 5th note of the sixteenthnote group. This gives the effect of the run being in thirds. Also, it adds an accent in such a way as to break up the 12 sixteenth notes of 2 groups of 6  to 3 groups of 4 time in the right hand:

The run is repeated for a third time, this time with the fifth added to complete the C minor chord and ther 5th added to the a-flat major chord, thus giving the effect of the run in triads. It also gives the illusion of being in 3/4 time:
The coda moves towards a C major chord, but the chord changes to C minor to end the movement. Alkan stayed true to the form of the first movement of a symphony, almost classical in proportion, but included passion and changes of mood along the way.

II. Marche Funèbre - Andantino - The first edition of the etudes had the following on the title page: Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un Uomo da bene (Funeral march on the death of a good man). No one knows to whom Alkan was referring to. Some think it might have been his father who had died two years before.
The theme is played legato over a staccato accompaniment. The movement is in F minor following the key scheme of the set of 12 as it is in a perfect 4th from the preceding movement. the middle section is more lyrical for contrast, and the march resumes. Before the end, a drum roll deep in the bass interrupts the march. A short coda reaches a climax before the music dies away and ends in F major.

III. Menuet - Hardly a menuet as known by Haydn and Mozart, this is a hectic scherzo in B-flat minor.
The energy of the scherzo dissolves into a lyrical trio that is in contrast. The scherzo returns and leads up to a short return of the trio until it ends in B-flat major.

IV. Finale - Presto -  The most technically challenging movements of the symphony. It is in E-flat minor, but modulates in and out of the home key.
The pace does not let up, even if the minor mood of the music changes to major. Breathlessly, it continues to run (with a few delicious dissonances on the way) until it finally runs itself out and ends with E-flat octaves in each hand.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Brahms - Symphony No. 1 In C Minor Opus 68

The first symphony of Brahms, by his own admission, took 21 years to complete from initial sketches in 1855 to finishing touches in 1876 when he was 43 years old. He had been composing since 1853 (at least his Piano Sonata In C Major opus No. 1 dated from then) and had composed many songs, chamber music, and some pieces for orchestra. But no symphony. He had begun a symphony earlier in his career, but this work eventually became the Piano Concerto No. 1, opus 15 in 1858.

He was an accomplished and well-known composer and performer for over 20 years, so why did the first symphony take so long? To begin with, Brahms was a very self-critical composer. His official opus numbers run to 122, with many other compositions not having any opus numbers. But he also destroyed many works that he deemed inferior, such as the 20 string quartets Brahms admitted to destroying.  Also during Brahms lifetime the symphony as a form of expression in the Romantic era was something of an anachronism, not least of all because many thought that the form had been taken to its limits by Beethoven. That is one reason that the composers of the New Music movement such as Wagner and Liszt did not write symphonies, at least in the traditional sense. Add to that the fact that Brahms revered Beethoven's music and his friends thought that he was the heir-apparent symphonist to Beethoven, which even in a composer of Brahms' caliber, resulted in having doubts whether he could live up to the expectations.

And the doubts were not easily overcome. After the premiere, Brahms insisted on having it performed two more times to give him opportunity to polish it further. He even wanted three more performances before he had it published, but his publisher refused. 

I. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro - Meno allegro - The symphony begins with an introduction, the only one of Brahms' four symphonies that had one, that was only added after the rest of the symphony had been written. When friends would encourage him to write and finish a symphony, Brahms has been quoted as saying, "You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you!" with the giant being Beethoven. This introduction that begins in 6/8 time, with its heavily plodding gravitas could be thought of as a musical representation of those footsteps of Beethoven. But it isn't only footsteps we hear. The soaring syncopated violins play an odd counterpoint to the steady beats of the timpani. The eighth bar then shifts to 9/8 time and creates more metrical variety. A trill in the violins brings this to a close and a return to 6/8 time. Strings alternate playing phrases pizzicato and with the bow as fragments of themes appear. There is a gradual return to the beginning with a key change to G minor. More snippets of themes are heard until the music descends to pianissimo in anticipation of the movement proper beginning.

Now some of the motives heard in the introduction come to the fore and are heard in their extended versions. A great rhythmic sense is heard and felt in this theme. A long transition then ushers in the gentler second theme in E-flat major, also based on a motive in the introduction. another transition section begins with the final theme of the exposition. Brahms instructs that the exposition is to be repeated, and if it isn't, the listener misses out on a startling and abrupt return to C minor.

The development section begins with a shift in the key to B major. Themes are played against each other with numerous modulations to other keys, and there is a distinct rhythm heard through much of the movement; the famous short-short-short-long rhythm of the main motive from Beethoven's 5th Symphony, also a symphony in C minor. As this entire symphony was like Brahms homage to Beethoven, may the use of it been intentional or merely coincidence? The music builds to a climax, and the recapitulation appears. It is not a traditional recapitulation of the themes heard in the exposition, as Brahms shortens the first theme somewhat. The final theme is extended and the coda begins with pizzicato strings. The movement slows and modulates to C major for a quiet ending.

II. Andante sostenuto -  The severity of the first movement needs something of contrast to follow. While the next two movements may seem a little light weight compared to the outer two, it is by design. Brahms understood that very well, and so the second movement is of lighter character and more lyrical in nature, but that does not make it light weight music in the least. String tone begins the movement with support from the bassoons and horns. The oboe enters with its tune to the accompaniment of first other woodwinds, then the strings join in. The strings then have a dialogue with another motive that reaches a minor climax before the oboe returns. The interplay of instruments continues until the opening returns with the theme now taken up by the solo violin. The horn takes up the tune at the end while the violin plays arabesques. The movement ends gently, and reminds the listener that Brahms, along with his many other musical gifts, had a real gift for lyrical melody.

III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso - Brahms breaks from the Beethovian symphonic model by not composing a scherzo. It is an intermezzo, a designation Brahms used many times in his music. The movement begins in A-flat major in 2/4 time with a simple solo by the clarinet. This theme is in irregular 5-bar phrases which gives it a different kind of sound. Brahms was known for his irregular phrase structure, and it is one of the distinctive features of his style. The middle section, the trio in all but name, switches to 6/8 time and B major. It is more spirited than the first section. There is a return to the opening material, with a short coda that reprises some of the material from the trio and the movement ends in A-flat major. It is the shortest movement in the symphony, but Brahms has much going on in the short time it takes to play it.

IV.  Adagio - Più andante - Allegro non troppo, ma con brio - Più allegro - The symphony moves back to the more serious and complex with the final movement. It begins with an introduction, but it is a much different type of introduction than what is heard at the opening of the first movement.

The introduction to the finale begins in a dark and brooding manner. It is in the minor mode, and the twisting opening is followed by a mysterious section for pizzicato strings. This plan is repeated, and the music swells in volume and intensity with up and down passages for the strings. At the sounding of the timpani, horns seem to herald a new beginning as the famous tune that Brahms derived from an alp horn tune he heard in Switzerland.

This is followed by a chorale for brass and the alp horn tune is heard again. This all leads up to the grand tune that so many have thought similar to Beethoven's 'Ode To Joy' tune from the 9th Symphony. it also caused the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow to call the symphony 'Beethoven's Tenth'. Given von Bülow's caustic wit, there's no assurance that the comment was a compliment. When listeners pointed out the similarity of his 'tune' to Beethoven's, it irritated him but he admitted it by saying in his own brand of caustic wit, "Any ass can see that!"
This theme marks the beginning of the exposition. After it has been heard in various forms, the theme goes through a transformation until a fragment of the alp horn theme leads to the second theme. There is a seamless transition to a development section of great diversity. Brahms asserts his skill as a contrapuntalist in sections, and the music begins to wind down as the alp horn theme is heard again.  But instead of a repeat of the main theme, the second theme is heard fully worked out. 

Fragments of the alp horn theme are heard, and the brass build to powerful music as the strings add to the excitement. The music pulls up for a moment as the chorale first heard at the beginning of the movement returns. The music continues to build in this most magnificent of codas until it ends in C major. 

Brahms completely thwarted his apprehension with the symphonic form with his First. It is a work that, as with many of Brahms' compositions, looks backward with respect to the past while it breaks new ground. He went on to write 3 more symphonies, each a masterpiece in its own right, but the First is arguably his best known and most popular. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 14 In C-sharp Minor, Opus 27, No. 2 'Moonlight'

The identification of works in classical music can be a problem for the casual listener. What key the work is in can help, but the most prolific composers of the past composed many different works in the same key. For example, Joseph Haydn wrote 108 symphonies with 19 of them in the key in C major. Opus numbers, a number that reflects the order in which composer's works were published, can be a help, but again using Haydn as an example, not all of his works had opus numbers. There is a catalog of his works done by musicologist Anthony van Hoboken that categorizes Haydn's music by categories listed in Roman numerals, with numbers that correspond with the chronological order of the work. Thus, the Hoboken catalog begins with the symphonies, numbered from Hob.I:1 to Hob.I:108. It is no wonder that many popular pieces by composers earned nicknames, as much to describe the music as to differentiate it from other pieces.

Ludwig Rellstab
Beethoven's 14th piano sonata didn't acquire the nickname of 'Moonlight" until 1832 when German music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab thought the music sounded like moonlight shining off of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Within a few years, the name became attached to the sonata and remains to this day. Curiously, this sonata is one of the few that can be identified by the key it is written in, for out of 32 piano sonatas, it is the only one written in C-sharp minor by Beethoven.

I. Adagio sostenuto - With one of the most recognizable openings of any piece of music, the sonata begins unconventionally with a slow movement. Beethoven gives instructions in Italian under the tempo designation that roughly translates to: This piece needs to be played with the delicacy and without dampers. This means that the right pedal should be held down throughout, thus giving the music a slightly blurred and veiled effect, at least on the pianos of Beethoven's time that had shorter strings and less sustaining of sound. With the modern piano, keeping the pedal down throughout would result in too much harmonic overlap. Modern performers usually opt for more use of the pedal when the harmonies change. The first edition of this sonata is titled Sonata quasi una fantasia. In other words, a sonata that sounds like a fantasia, loose structured and almost improvisatory.  The music stays at a very low volume, with the loudest volume being piano.

With the right hand playing not only the triple accompaniment but the melody, it is not an easy piece to play effectively. The low volume and slow tempo along with the two-part writing in the right hand make it a challenge that is the opposite of a flashy, extroverted virtuoso piece. Whether it deserves the nickname of "Moonlight" or not, it is mood music of the most profound. 

II. Allegretto -  The middle movement is in D-flat major, the enharmonic equivalent of C-sharp major that is usually used to avoid writing in seven sharps. It can be thought of as a type of minuet or a slow scherzo. Either way, it is a buffer between the two outer movements. The middle section is punctuated with szforsandos that lend a scherzo effect to it. 

III. Presto agitato - Beethoven's overall plan of this sonata seems to be to turn the structure of a sonata on its head. This sonata was written in 1801 when Haydn was still alive and the makeup of sonata movements were usually fast-slow-fast, with the first movement being the most important. Beethoven's plan is slow-moderate-fast, with the final movement as the most important. The music returns to C-sharp minor with arpeggios that begin in the bass played against a staccato accompaniment. The movement begins with the first measures in the same key sequence as the first movement, but the atmosphere is totally different:
The effect of fierceness is obtained by Beethoven not by using extremes in volume. This movement is peppered with accents and szforsandos with short sections in forte and fortissimo, but mainly this is a movement in relatively quiet dynamics, which adds to the atmosphere of underlying tension that finally breaks free in the last bars. The Moonlight sonata  begins with a tone poem that is mysterious and poetic, adds a somewhat trifling middle movement that Franz Liszt described as a Flower between two chasms, and ends with a movement that borders on the edge of violence.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Satie - Trois Gnossiennes

Erik Satie was an eccentric French avant-garde composer of the late 19th-early 20th century whose music influenced many composers.  He didn't consider  himself a musician, but referred to himself as a gymnopedist and a measurer of sounds - a phonometrographer:
Everyone will tell you that I am not a musician. That is correct. From the very beginning of my career, I classed myself as a phonometrographer. My work is completely phonometrical. Take my Fils des Etoiles, or my Morceaux en Forme d’une Poire, my En Habit de Cheval, or my Sarabandes — it is evident that musical ideas played no part whatsoever in their composition. Science is the dominating factor... 
Satie took lessons from a local organist as a child. He attended the Paris Conservatoire beginning in 1879 and immediately was labeled as lazy and untalented by his professors. His piano playing was called worthless, and soon left the school. He began to re-attend in 1885, but created the same impression and left once again. It wasn't until he was 40 years old that he finally got a diploma (barely) from music school.

He lived by himself in a very small apartment for much of his life, and his life truly was an eccentric one. His apartment was in a rough part of Arcueil, a suburb of Paris, and when he went out for a walk he always carried a hammer for protection.  He changed his clothes from a frock coat, long hair and untidy beard to a gray colored corduroy suit which he bought multiple pairs of and wore exclusively for many years.

He also wrote prose and articles which were full of his own style of weird logic and nonsense. In 1912 he wrote the book the full title of which was Memoirs of an Amnesiac: To be Read Far from the Herd and the Mummified Dead, Those Great Scourges of Humanity. One of the articles in the book is titled: Intelligence and Musicality In Animals. an excerpt: 
Very few animals learn anything from humans. The dog, the mule, the horse, the ass, the parrot, the blackbird and a few others are the only animals to receive even a semblance of education, and that can only be called education in that it isn't clearly anything else. Compare, I beg you, the teaching given to animals with that given by the universities to young human undergraduates, and you will have to admit that it is not worth speaking of and couldn't possibly widen or make easier the knowledge that an animal can pick up through its work and steady industry. But what about music? Horses have learned to dance; spiders have remained underneath a piano during the whole of a long recital put on for them by a respected master of the keyboard. And what then? Nothing. Now and then people will mention the starling's musicality, the crow's ear for a tune, the owl's ingenious harmony as it taps on its stomach to accompany itself — an artificial method yielding only slender polyphony.
There has been suggestions that Satie had a high-functioning form of autism that was previously known as Asperger's Syndrome. Other composers like Anton Bruckner and Beethoven for instance have been thought to have had the same syndrome. Asperger's Syndrome people can have the ability to zero in on one thing to the exclusion of other things. They are of average to high intelligence, and can also suffer from anxiety and depression more than most people. There social skills can be lacking as well, and repetition of actions and sounds can be a comfort to them. Perhaps Satie self-medicated himself with alcohol and absinthe for many years because of depression. Whatever the reason, he died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1925. When his friends went to his small apartment after his death (no one ever was allowed to visit it when he was alive) they found it in squalor with over 100 umbrellas chaotically strewn about.

He began to compose in the early 1880's with his earliest music being written in the salon style of the time. His lack of formal education was no deterrent to writing some of the music he is most remembered for; the set of 3 Gymnopédies. These pieces were followed by the first set of 3 Gnossiennes about 1890. There are a total of 6 Gnossiennes for piano.

The title of Gnossiennes was created by Satie, and no one knows exactly what it means. Some have thought that it refers to the word gnosis, a Greek word that means knowledge. Although Satie did not call them dances, they seem to be like the Gymnopédies, written with a simple melody over a slowly moving accompaniment of block chords.

Gnossienne No. 1 - Lent (Slow) - Satie wrote the Gnossiennes in free time,  without bar lines or time signatures. They move slowly, with simple harmonies that tend to repeat, a type of musical minimalism that preceded the Minimalist movement in art and music by many years. There is a timeless quality to the first one in the set. Tinged with a touch of sadness, the music has no real beginning or ending. It only starts and stops.  No. 1 has the key signature of F minor, and most of the harmony is in F minor, with only 2 other chords appearing in the piece; C minor and B-flat minor, the chordal structure followed by countless pieces of music all the way to modern rock and roll and pop, tonic, dominant, subdominant. The melody flows above these chords and is punctuated by grace notes that give an exotic feeling to the plainness of the harmony. Most of Satie's piano music is not technically difficult, but the austere appearance of it on the page is deceiving. It requires an almost imperceptible subtlety of variation. Appearing at the end of the Romantic era of music with all of the excess that could go along with it, Satie's music is elegant and something new.  As was Satie's habit, the first three Gnossienne had what may appear to be performance directions sprinkled throughout the music. Whether they make any sense or are even supposed to make sense is anyone's guess. The words and phrases that appear in this first piece (of course originally in French) are: Shining, Questioning, From the tip of the thought, Wonder about yourself, On the tip of the tongue.

Gnossienne No. 2 - Avec attonnement (With astonishment) - Much shorter than the first piece in the set, No. 2 has more harmonic variety and melody. Perhaps that is why the tempo indication reads 'with astonishment' as the harmony shifts from major to minor, from G minor to F-sharp major, F major, D diminished and E minor 7th. And the chord that goes with the key signature of no sharps or flats, C major, does make an appearance near the end. The words and phrases appearing in this piece are: Don't leave, With great kindness, More intimately,. Lightly with intimacy, Don't be so proud.

Gnossienne No. 3 - Lent - The final piece in the set begins in the same way as the first one, harmonies used are the tonic A minor, subdominant D minor, and dominant E minor. But the melody is more chromatic and leads to mild dissonance and use of other chords such as E major, B minor and F minor. The key signature is no sharps or flats, and the piece ends in A minor. The words and phrases that appear in this piece are: Counsel yourself cautiously, Be clairvoyant, Alone for a second, So as to be a hole, Very lost, Carry this further, Think right, Muffle the sound.


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