Erik Satie Gnossi­enne No 3

This is­sue Brid­get Mer­mikides presents a dark and mys­te­ri­ous piece by a mis­un­der­stood mas­ter of min­i­mal­ism: the French com­poser, Erik Satie.

Guitar Techniques - - PLAY: CLASSICAL -

This monTh we re­turn to the work of the highly in­flu­en­tial French com­poser, Erik Satie (1866-1925). De­spite re­ceiv­ing much crit­i­cism by the pre­vail­ing mu­si­cal estab­lish­ment, who dis­missed his mu­sic as un­schooled and bizarre, Satie’s idio­syn­cratic com­po­si­tions with their di­verse in­flu­ences, ex­otic scales, sur­pris­ing har­monies and sparse, hyp­notic tex­tures was cham­pi­oned by the likes of De­bussy. It has sub­se­quently had an enor­mous in­flu­ence on the Im­pres­sion­is­tic move­ment (De­bussy, Poulenc and Ravel), Repet­i­tive, Process and Min­i­mal­ism mu­sic (Steve Re­ich and Terry Ri­ley), Modal Jazz (Bill Evans). Am­bi­ent Mu­sic (Brian Eno), and many sub­se­quent forms of elec­tronic mu­sic.

I’ve ar­ranged the stunning Gnossi­enne No 3, one of three short pi­ano pieces com­posed around 1890 and pub­lished in 1893. It is said that Satie wrote the three Gnossi­ennes shortly af­ter he at­tended the 1889 Paris Ex­po­si­tion Uni­verselle (a cel­e­bra­tion of the cen­te­nary of the storm­ing of the Bastille, and the un­veil­ing of the Eif­fel Tower). At this ‘World’s Fair’ Satie wit­nessed - and was in­flu­enced by - two di­verse mu­si­cal cul­tures, Ro­ma­nian Folk and Ja­vanese Game­lan. Echoes of the for­mer can be heard in the or­na­men­tal grace note leaps (in Bars 8, 10, 23 etc.). The Game­lan in­flu­ence can be heard in the char­ac­ter­is­tic scale which per­vades the piece. It is sim­i­lar to a Game­lan pelog scale with its ‘gapped’ wide leaps. Satie’s scale is D-E-F-G#-A-B (in my ar­range­ment, the orig­i­nal is a 4th lower). A hex­a­tonic (six-note scale which in­cludes mi­nor 2nd, ma­jor 2nd and mi­nor 3rd (or aug­mented 2nd) in­ter­vals, cre­at­ing an ex­traor­di­nar­ily en­gag­ing ef­fect. This scale is some­times called

Gnossi­enne No 3 was writ­ten in free time, with nei­ther bar lines nor time sig­na­ture, to im­ply a float­ing sense of time.

Erik Satie: mis­judged by many, he was cham­pi­oned by De­bussy

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