Perfect Sound Forever

Erik Satie

by Philip Corner
(December 2014)

Composer/writer/theorist Philip Corner approached one of the greatest modern composers (whose work appropriately spans the 19th and 20th Century) in an unique way. For his Satie Slowly recording, Corner interpreted the French master as the title says, at a much more languid pace than usual, stretching out his compositions to much longer pieces and creating even more of a meditative atmosphere. Corner didn't do this casually or on a whim though- he's been a long-time student of Satie's work and did this project very deliberately. You can hear the results on the wonderful 2-CD set on Unseen Worlds.

As part of the extensive booklet that accompanies the music, Corner wrote a series of essays, drawings (including the one above) and poems about Satie, some of which are included below. At the end here, there's also 'Satie's Gothic Dances,' which comes from his writings from the '70's.

Out of Satie’s Cage : an appreciation

Satie is not as great as John Cage would have us believe. Who could be?
Certainly not Bach or Beethoven.
Which simply means that he, Satie, is not the only one.

True that they, each of them, represents an extreme. What an unlikely trinity!
Yet no one else is any-the-less for that,

Not necessary to repeat the slander that he is only a “petit maitre” alongside
Debussy and Ravel.........rather---: he, like all the great ones, have entered into
history and thus continue to live.

(there was no cage; it was a small playground)

to play Satie

If his piano pieces are so easy why are they so badly played?
What they have which must not be violated is an objectivity
allthemore solid for being so fragile.
(Their delicate appearance is a trap).
They resist all “added expressivity”;  They make those who indulge
sound ridiculous.             Yet nothing is lacking in them.
This is to say that everything they have to say is written into them.
This is not to say, though, that you can just plough through them like an
insensitive tone-klutz.


Not a bad place to start---: those late-life exercises when he reinvented himself
as a composer. These are surely not what he could have submitted in school!

But it is a good place to start……20 years after those first works where he
showed himself the only one to understand Medieval music. He has kept all
along that modest and profound seriousness of those compositions at the age
of 20. One could see this as a fulfilment not (no certainly not as he would
slyly have us believe) a mere midlife crisis, a failure of self-estime. He had
faked them out again: he wrote fugues and pretended that counterpoint
ruined him, made him boring. No it never did!

Nodoubt in the Schola his counterpoint exercises were perfect, correct.

But these CHORALES are extraordinary. (listed as 12 there are 13) I wonder
who he showed them to --- if anyone --- surely not his teacher. So for his own
amusement he writes exercises of non-academic
academism……examples of how music theory might be taught.* They are
original and intelligent----and yet classic. A correct use of models…..that is,
creative, imaginative, not copies.
*and should-be ---i say.

They do not pretend to be abstract and absolute models. They cannot be
taken as intended for other instruments----as with Bach’s ‘Art of the Fugue’.
Clearly intended to be played (studied?) at the keyboard. Very well written for
the piano, indeed.

Satie’s harmonys. quietly amazing

The thing that “gets” me about Satie’s music is how “right” it sounds.
Well why should it not? Because, while being right it is not correct.
And this would be nothing for surprise if it were dazzlingly revolutionary----
but, rather, it pretends to be traditional.

There are sets where all the pieces present a modal melody, in the same style
for each.       With a consistent harmonization procedure for each piece in it;
but different for each set.

His inspiring example goes further. Because these newnesses are not just a
matter of technique. From the very first (still a teenager) he used his ear. He
had a vision and a sensibility (let this be fostered rather than suppressed) and
the quiet courage to persist in the face of imposed models of “correctness”.

And then (you have to wait years) you get to be praised for “innovation”!

How he must have just loved what he heard. So that is so that we can, now, too.
(What more can be asked of musicke?)

the form of no-form

Not to be thought of as “aspects of the same thing”, these sets of usually-3......
but as separate and distinct things which are just not that different.
They have shapes but no will towards pre-imposed “order”. He makes a
principle of just recycling a limited number of elements--- No surprise that
later---much later---he is still indulging and carrying further that escape
from obvious intellections to lead towards a fascinated mind-fullness. Mantras
of sonic presence masquerading as---furniture! To the boors only a vexation.
To the enlightnd a passing-through of thought, to another level of intelligence.

He did not change the world. Just added something wonderfull to it.

I will write about them but not to reduce music to words.
What we want are analyses that are not reductions but revelations.

Satie’s Gothic Dances   ---------  not  so  gothic

They are made up of those restraints.    His   restraints.		The same ones  ------  therefor,
restraints of his own restraints,  which we’ve seen  ( article : -------  ).    

Bits and pieces of  the same*   materials .		And they are so limited.*
 Their dance is in the mind   ----   they do so.

**watch that!	or similar  :   how he  organizes  the nature of these elements
	into,   a new,   and a proper,   arrangement.
** or seeming so!	Only in the surface of technique :   no evident difficulties
	yet hard to play  ------  no evident complexities   yet surprising profundity.

A  loving  picking  apart,    as might be had  (had to)     in some theory class.
	(What one learns when one teaches)
I simply wanted to use this as a vehicle for checking out basic competence in
the naming of chords .  That’s easy , isnt it?  
 The chords arent even so hard , are they?
Of course ,  there’s what you see right away  about the chromaticism,   the lack of
key,  or is there   ? ;  at least not so simply , but that’s not a complication unless
you ask these questions,   that makes the chord naming all the better          
doesn’t it ?		Go  on  and  do it !

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