Erik Satie

Erik Satie
Satie-erik-4ff9d0bde1749.jpg
Born Éric Alfred Leslie Satie
(1866-05-17)17 May 1866
Honfleur, France
Died 1 July 1925(1925-07-01) (aged 59)
Paris, France
Occupation Composer, pianist
Era Avant-garde
Partner(s) Suzanne Valadon

Éric Alfred Leslie Satie (French:  [eʁik sati]; 17 May 1866 – 1 July 1925), who signed his name Erik Satie after 1884, was a French composer and pianist. Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde. His work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, Surrealism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd. [1]

An eccentric, Satie was introduced as a "gymnopedist" in 1887, shortly before writing his most famous compositions, the Gymnopédies. Later, he also referred to himself as a "phonometrician" (meaning "someone who measures sounds"), preferring this designation to that of "musician", after having been called "a clumsy but subtle technician" in a book on contemporary French composers published in 1911. [2]

In addition to his body of music, Satie was "a thinker with a gift of eloquence" [3] who left a remarkable set of writings, having contributed work for a range of publications, from the dadaist 391 to the American culture chronicle Vanity Fair. Although in later life he prided himself on publishing his work under his own name, in the late 19th century he appears to have used pseudonyms such as Virginie Lebeau and François de Paule in some of his published writings.

Early life and training

Satie house and museum in Honfleur, Normandy

Satie was the son of Alfred Satie and his wife Jane Leslie (née Anton), who was born in London to Scottish parents. Erik was born at Honfleur in Normandy; his home there is open to the public. When Satie was four years old, his family moved to Paris, his father having been offered a translator's job in the capital. After his mother's death in 1872, he was sent (at age 6), together with his younger brother, Conrad, back to Honfleur to live with his paternal grandparents. There he received his first music lessons from a local organist. In 1878, when he was 12 years old, his grandmother died, and the two brothers were reunited in Paris with their father, who remarried (a piano teacher) shortly afterwards. From the early 1880s onwards, Satie started publishing salon compositions by his step-mother and himself, among others.

In 1879, Satie entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he was soon labelled untalented by his teachers. Georges Mathias, his professor of piano at the Conservatoire, described his pupil's piano technique in flatly negative terms, "insignificant and laborious" and "worthless". [4] Émile Decombes called him "the laziest student in the Conservatoire". [5] Years later, Satie related that Mathias, with great insistence, told him that his real talent lay in composing. After being sent home for two and a half years, he was readmitted to the Conservatoire at the end of 1885 (age 19), but was unable to make a much more favourable impression on his teachers than he had before, and, as a result, resolved to take up military service a year later. However, Satie's military career did not last very long; within a few months he was discharged after deliberately infecting himself with bronchitis. [6]