"I came very young into the world in a very old time."
Erik Satie was born 17 May, 1866, in Honfleur, Normandy. He was the son of a French father and Scottish mother. In 1879 he moved to Paris and enrolled at the Conservatoire. In 1905 he began to study with composer Vincent d'Indy at the Paris Schola Cantorum.
Satie lived most of his life in Paris, during the closing years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, when the city was bursting with new music, art, and literature. He was a friend of fellow composers Debussy, Ravel, Honegger, and Poulenc and collaborated with the great impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the artist Pablo Picasso, and the writer and film director Jean Cocteau.
Satie himself was not a major composer, but he was at the centre of an amazing period of creative change and innovation, and many of his own radical ideas, about musical content and style, had a big influence on the course of music through this century.
Erik Satie was a true eccentric whose unconventional life is echoed in his music. In 1891 he joined a sect of the religious occult Rosicrucian order, a spiritual group that explored white magic and alchemy, and even wrote some music for their ceremonies. Satie later formed his own church, excommunicating anyone who disagreed with him.
Satie led a revolt against the strong influence of Wagner and other German composers on French music in the early years of the 20th century. "Music without sauerkraut!" was his cry. To escape from this "Teutonic seriousness", Satie wrote pieces of music with such silly titles Limp Preludes for a Dog. After he was accused of writing music that had no "form", Satie composed Trois morceaux en forme de poire ("Three Pieces in the Pear Form"). By 1910 he even became somewhat of a cult hero among young composers who were attracted to the humorous names of his titles.
Satie was the 'godfather' of the group called "Les Six". This group consisted of a loosely knit band of composers all working under the artistic advice of Jean Cocteau to eliminate the heavy Germanic (pretentiousness and heavy-handedness) and the impressionistic (the antithesis of Satie's polytonality) influences on current music. "Les Six", (Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, Louis Durey, and Germaine Tailleferre) wished to emphasise directness, brevity and a dedication to the themes of every day life in modern music.
There is one thing that his music never is - dull. Satie was a great eccentric and extremely anti-establishment. In 1915 he composed music for the ballet Parade, a commission from Diaghilev, in collaboration with Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. His music for Parade was adapted to feed the latest popular music craze - syncopated ragtime, but also included such sound effects as a typewriter, a siren, and pistol shots. A critic described the work as "surreal", coining the term "Surrealism" to describe artistic creation that explores the world of dreams and of the subconscious mind. The word "surrealism" was soon applied to a whole new artistic and literary movement.
After years of heavy drinking, Satie died on 1 July, 1925, from cirrhosis of the liver. He left a legacy of over 150 solo piano pieces, fourteen songs, six stage works, Mass for voices and organ, Socrate (cantata for four voices and orchestra), and a new musical tradition that was followed by Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Poulenc among others.
contributed by Gifford, Katya