Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Satie -Trois Gymnopédies

The meaning of the name that Satie gave these three pieces for piano is up for debate, as well as the source where he first saw the word. As with much with Satie, it is as much a product of his own eccentrically creative mind as much as anything else. The term is included in the French Dictionnaire de Musique that gives the definition of  a nude dance, accompanied by song, which youthful Spartan maidens danced on specific occasions.  Some of the paintings by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes such as Jeunes filles au bord de la mer (Young girls at the edge of the sea) may have also inspired Satie.

1. Lent et douloureux - Satie instructs the player to play each piece in a specific mood. This first one
translates as 'painfully'. All three have the same basic structure; written in 3/4 time, with a mildly dissonant melody floating above a persistent accompaniment. This first one is in D major, with an occasional drifting into D minor.

de Chavannes - Jeunes filles au bord de la mer 
To add to the discussion of the source of Satie's name for these pieces, number one was printed with an excerpt from the poem Les Antiques by his friend, the Spanish poet that lived in Paris Patrice Contamine de Latour:

Oblique et coupant l'ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d'or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d'ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie

Slanting and cutting the shadow a bursting torrent
Streamed in streams of gold on the polished slab 
Where the amber atoms in the fire shimmer
Mingled their saraband with gymnopedics.

It is not known which was written first, the poem or the music.

2. Lent et triste - The next one is in C major, and is labeled 'sadly'. This one was published in 1895 while the first and third were published in 1888.  By the time of the publication of this work, Satie was in dire financial straits. His friend Claude Debussy arranged No. 1 and 3 for orchestra to help draw attention to Satie's work.

3. Lent et grave - To be played 'gravely', this work is basically like the other two. The Gymnopédies have become known as some of the most tranquil music ever written for the piano, a far cry from their perception as avant garde music when they were first published.

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