some thoughts on Satie

working on a play i guess that deals with art that has hit me in some way or another, and running into music is more or less inevitable, especially music that i can actually play/participate in.  i’ve always loved gymnopédie #1 and now i’m starting to love #3 too, and the more i learn about Satie, about his weird little life, the more i love them.  because in playing those songs, however poorly and humbly, i am still participating in the physical action that he created – playing those notes at those times.  and that brings a strange feeling of … intimacy, i guess.  of knowing a little bit about what it must have been like to be in his skin.  


so here are some quotes that i’ve found that resonated with me especially from Satie the Composer by Robert Orledge.

April 1924 [prefaced with ‘I am abandoning, just for today, my habitual irony’] “Music requires a great deal from those who wish to serve her.  A true musician must be subjugated to his Art;… he must put himself above human miseries;… he must draw his courage from within himself,… from within himself alone.”

23 August 1918 “I am suffering too much.  It seems to me that I am cursed.  I loathe this beggar’s life.  I am looking for and want to find a position, an employment, however menial.  I shit on Art: it has “cut me up” too often.  It’s a mug’s game – if I may say so… For the last month and a half I haven’t been able to write a note.”

‘So, to a large extent, composition must also have provided a means of escape for Satie; from everyday philistinism and all that he saw as being wrong in an immoral, materialistic society, as much as from his own highly-principled, but miserable hermeticism.  His ivory tower remained impregnable only at a terrible personal cost, and his exquisite calligraphy, his obsessional drawings and devising of compositional systems, must have arisen as much from a need to fill lonely hours as from a desire to create beauty among ugliness and squalor.’ (10)

walked around at night to compose – hampered by the effects of WWI on Paris
“Perhaps the most celebrated account of Satie’s nocturnal creation comes from the poet Blaise Cendrars, who found the composer recumbent at the foot of the Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde during a night of heavy bombardment on 13 March 1918:
I stooped over him, thinking him dead.  ‘What are you doing there?’ I asked him.  He replied: ‘I know very well that it’s ridiculous and that I’m not in a shelter.  But what do you know, this thing shot up in the air and I had the sensation of being at the shelter.  Then I wrote some music for the Obelisk… It’s music for the lady Pharaoh who is buried below.  No-one ever thinks of her.  It took this ghastly bombardment to bring me here; for the first time.  Not a bad story, eh?’  And he sniggered, with his hand over his beard, as he often did, his wicked eyes examining the monument … ‘Do you know who is buried here?’ I asked Satie.  ‘It seems it’s the mummy of Cleopatra.  At least, that’s what I heard.’  ‘You don’t say so,’ Satie replied.  ‘In that case  I was right to write her a bit of music.’ ” (17)

John Cage on the effect of deliberate boredom as a source of walking everywhere – “These are all poets or musicians who composed while putting one foot in front of the other in a fairly boring, if you want, physical act, which nevertheless has its relationship to the heart-beat and the universe … I think that the source of Satie’s sense of musical beat – the possibility of variation with repetition, the effect of boredom on the organism – may be this endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day, and finally taking it all in, which is basically what Thoreau did: the total observation of a very limited and narrow environment.” (18)

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