The Essential Erik Satie

Author: 
Christopher Headington

The Essential Erik Satie

  • (3) Gymnopédies
  • (Le) Piège de Méduse
  • Croquis et agaceries d'un gros bonhomme en bois
  • Poudre d'or
  • (Le) Piccadilly
  • (Le) Fils des étoiles
  • Prélude en tapisserie
  • (3) Véritables préludes flasques
  • Je te veux
  • Sonatine bureaucratique
  • (2) Pièces froides
  • Sports et divertissements
  • Vexations
  • Chapitres tournés en tous sens
  • (3) Gymnopédies
  • (Le) Piège de Méduse
  • Croquis et agaceries d'un gros bonhomme en bois
  • Poudre d'or
  • (Le) Piccadilly
  • (Le) Fils des étoiles
  • Prélude en tapisserie
  • (3) Véritables préludes flasques
  • Je te veux
  • Sonatine bureaucratique
  • (2) Pièces froides
  • Sports et divertissements
  • Vexations
  • Chapitres tournés en tous sens

We are not short of recordings of Satie's piano music, but this generously filled disc is welcome, not merely because it seems to me to be closer than most to conveying the character of this elusive but fascinating musician, whom his friend Darius Milhaud called ''poor Satie'', but also because it's a little different in presentation from a straightforward recital. For a start, the booklet-notes are also by Peter Dickinson, who is a composer as well as a scholar; they are ''enlightened and sensitive'' (to borrow a phrase Britten once used in praising a book) as well as informative, and preceded by a self-portrait drawing of the composer which I hadn't seen before and is touching and skilful (he sent it to Cocteau in 1917). Peter Dickinson says that he has aimed here ''to represent the best of Satie's unique personality in mystical, comic and popular veins'' and a note at the end of the booklet tells us too that he has ''sought to present The Essential Erik Satie, both by his selection of the works and by stripping away any inessential indulgencies of interpretation''.
The proof of these precepts lies in the playing, we may say—and very nice it is too. The title of Satie's most popular work is hardly ever understood save by scholars, but I have always suspected that the three Gymnopedies which evoke the choral dances of naked boys in ancient Sparta reflect his sexual taste; if they do, their deep innate delicacy and sadness (one is marked douloureux and another triste) must win sympathy. Dickinson plays them with a quiet grave beauty, though ideally the recording here and elsewhere could have allowed a more remote pianissimo. After this comes a series of further pleasures: the pianist is a little straight-faced in the humorous pieces such as those of Le piege de Meduse, but I'm inclined to think that that's the right approach—we should not forget that Satie's mother was Scottish and I think his characteristic humour is what the Scots call pawky or even dour. It's a wry twinkle that Dickinson gives us, rather than a belly-laugh, but make no mistake, the humour's all there.
And he can instantly create a mood for pieces which are sometimes very brief, such as the 21 that make up Sports et divertissements and the final ''Quadrille'' of Le piege which lasts a mere 20 seconds—not a very striking 20 seconds musically, I feel, admitting that there are occasional dampish squibs among Satie's fireworks, including such titles as Genuine flabby preludes (for a dog). But they're outweighed by the pleasures; and do notice, too, how accurately he could encapsulate a style, as in ''Tyrolienne turque'' and ''Espanana'', or a human character, as in the chatterbox of ''Celle qui parle trop''. He was a melodist too—listen to the cafe-concert waltzes called Poudre d'or and Je te veux, not very individual if you like, but how agreeable when played like this, with just the right degree of Gallic schmaltz! The Rosicrucian music of Le fils des etoiles (1891) is both deeply serious and original in language; orchestrated, it could pass as being by the Debussy of two decades later in Le martyre de St Sebastien, and it makes me want to hear Dickinson as a Debussy pianist.
Space forbids more, and suffice it to say again that I have enjoyed this Satie record and that it has reminded me just how much worthwhile piano music came from the pen of this composer—indeed, there's room for another Satie/Dickinson disc. A good recording adds to one's pleasure; with a certain softness to the piano sound, it was made in The Maltings, Snape with Bob Auger as sound engineer.'

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019