PLAYLIST #1 ~ TRACK 23
Satie: ‘Gnossienne’ No 3  [2’47”]

Bojan Gorisek, piano

22 Satie chez Debussy

Satie (with beard) on a visit to Debussy (with beard)


Debussy and Erik Satie (1866–1925, so just four years the younger), despite their very different characters enjoyed a “stormy but indissoluble friendship,” according to Debussy’s critic friend Louis Laloy.  “They were like two brothers, the one rich, the other poor; the one generous but conscious of his superiority; the other unhappy underneath his jester’s mask, hiding his feeling of inferiority, but keeping up his jokes in order to amuse his host; both on guard against one another, but all the time bound by the ties of a genuine affection.”  If Satie appears rather pitiable in this little sketch by an insider, we shouldn’t imagine the relationship was an unequal one, least of all artistically.  He would influence probably more than be influenced by his comrade, and in any event nobody could have ploughed the lone furrow Satie did for so long without an iron belief in himself and the rightness of his course, for him.

The year before the two first met (that is, in 1890) Satie composed this third of his Gnossiennes.  Whereas Fauré and Scriabin were content to take over Chopin’s titles, Satie much preferred to invent his own, as he did everything his own way, this coinage apparently having to do with his interest at this period in gnostic belief.  There could be no better illustration of what sets his best music apart from anything else being written at the time.  The piece contains no contrast, no development, no fireworks, just the gentle progress of an unadorned melodic line over a steady chordal accompaniment.  Like the earlier, similarly modal  Gymnopédies it is slow, spare, still and completely devoid of rhetoric.  These pieces represent oases of meditative calm, which may be why in today’s world they have appealed to a constituency beyond the usual audience for classical music.  Coincidentally or not, their creator has been derided for technical inadequacy as a composer, by Paul Griffiths and other estimable critics, to whom, however, he long ago gave his defiant, characteristically humorous response: “With a united voice I cry: ‘Long live the amateurs!'”

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