“Meaning Every Note” – Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies”

Satie’s college instructor(s) told him that he was untalented. Thankfully, he was undaunted and continued his musical pursuits – leaving behind a rich catalog of music that is still much-played and recorded today.

Satie’s circle of acquaintances consisted of then-well-known Dada artists and Impressionist musicians including Debussy and Ravel. The three Gymnopédies were first published in 1896, or thereabouts… What an exciting time and place Paris must have been, at the turn of the twentieth (20th) century!

Satie rejected the overblown, Wagnerian, expressionism of musical Romanticism. His sparse style is thought to have inseminated significant musical descendents who include Brian Eno, George Winston, and other contemporary “ambient” composers.

(On a “lighter” note) an article I encountered, describes Satie’s “white diet” on which he only ate white foods. It is not well-known that Satie changed the spelling of his name from “Eric” to “Erik.” The article also provides the quotation that I transformed into the title of this post: “I have never written a note I didn’t mean.”

Some might say that there are already enough renditions available of the first Gymnopédie. But, I decided to record it again — with the other two, lesser-heard, companion sketches. For each of the “Gymnopédie” I have used a different “backing” sound—my attempt to add a little variety to the suite. This is because all three pieces are quite (ok, very) similar — are in 3/4 meter and are similar in tempo, texture, mood, and (melodic) shape.

I’ve been attracted to Gymnopédie #1 since hearing the Blood Sweat and Tears (BS&T) arrangement from their self-titled (eponymous) album. My recording uses the Synthogy Ivory “Italian Grand” piano. The “airy” sound that I chose for backing of #1 is a nod to the flute-based BS&T arrangement.

I had forgotten the Blood Sweat and Tears brass-ensemble-based, arrangement of Gymnopédie #2 — but, encountered it online and learned that its BS&T arrangement won a Grammy Award for best instrumental performance of 1969. There is some irony that the arrangement of the second Gymnopédie was awarded a Grammy. This article claims that Debussy considered the second piece unsuitable for orchestration and neglected it when he (Debussy) orchestrated the first and third. Here’s my recording of Gymnopédie #2.

Gymnopédie #3 is similar to the other two… The backing sound used with the piano is one of Synthogy Ivory’s built-in sounds called, “Piano Pad.”

The video was produced (in iMovie) to accompany the music (rather than vice versa) and features fall leaf pictures that I have taken over the last years. I hope that you enjoy the music and video production.

Additional References:

1 comment to “Meaning Every Note” – Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies”

  • Kenneth N. Vines, Jr.

    “Wonderful” is the word that comes to mind after listening several times to this music written by Erik “White Food” Satie…….sort of went into a peaceful trance gazing at the great scenery…….well done, Frestus!

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