I recently listened through a 6-disc collection of the entire corpus of Erik Satie’s piano works on the Naxos Music Library.
About the Author
Alfred Éric Leslie Satie (1866–1925) is considered one of the premiere avante-guard composers of the late 1800s-early 1900s. His works have been viewed as prophetic of, or at least precursor to, all sorts of musical trends. He preferred to describe himself as a technician (“Gymnopedist”) rather than a musician.
Probably his best known compositions are his three Gymnopedies. His piano music is very sympathetic to modern sensibilities, offering more of a mood or background music approach rather than melodic standards. Satie used the term “furniture music” to describe some of his work.
About the Music
Satie’s piano compositions tend to be short. Unlike Bach or Beethoven, he offered simple-sounding melodies and harmonies with few displays of virtuosity.
Olaf Hojer offers an excellent, crisp, and insightful performance of these pieces. While I can’t say that I enjoy all of Satie’s piano works, I did enjoy all of Hojer’s playing of them as captured and produced by the Swedish Society Discofil label.
Hojer’s liner notes are available on a Web site devoted to Erik Satie and his work (http://www.af.lu.se/~fogwall/article.html). For a biography of the pianist, who is a renowned Satie expert, visit this site (http://www.af.lu.se/~fogwall/olof.html).
Here are some brief thoughts I penned while listening to these discs:
Disc 1 – NML catalogue #SCD1070 – covers “The Gymnopedist” period (1884-1890). Hojer captures Satie’s music with a measured, thoughtful interpretation that does justice to the pieces.
Disc 2 – NML catalogue #SCD1071 – covers “The Rosicrucian Music” (1893-1895). Many of these pieces border on the simplistic…sounding little better than amateur two-finger piano ramblings…but then some chording appears and the next few notes fit in better than an amatuer can hack… On the whole, I found these simplistic, in the sense that when they did have a melody it was fairly predictable, or it sounded rather amateur. The sonic space wasn’t particularly interesting.
Disc 3 – NML catalogue #SCD1072 – covers “The Velvet Gentleman” era (1896-1904). Beautiful music, melodies that evoke affection, I enjoyed this disc.
Disc 4 – NML catalogue #SCD1073 – covers yet another phase in Satie’s compositions, “Musiques intimes et secrètes” (1905-1912). Enjoyable.
Disc 5 – NML catalogue #SCD1074 – offers the final chronological segment, titled “Piano Pieces with Stories” (1913-1915). In these pieces, I sense some structure. Though atmospheric rather than melodic, Satie offers just that bit of coherence that differentiates his work from the many “New Age” piano composers he could be said to have inspired. For example, I recently listened to several CDs of Michael Jones’ work (on the Narada label) between discs in the Satie collection. I found the return to Satie was quite refreshing.
Disc 6 – NML catalogue #SCD1075 – offers “Piano Pieces, Music for Piano Duet.” Again, enjoyable.