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.
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