Erik Satie

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Erik Satie (around 1919)

Erik Satie (full name Éric Alfred Leslie Satie ; born May 17, 1866 in Honfleur ( Calvados ), † July 1, 1925 in Paris ) was a French composer of the early 20th century. With his work he influenced new music , jazz and popular music alike.

The three Gymnopédies written in 1888 for solo piano are particularly known to posterity , the first being the most popular. Mainly because of its simplicity, it is a popular work among beginners.

In general, an almost over-emphasized simplicity and clarity determines many of Satie's works. Contrary to this, there are also clear borrowings from early Dadaism in other pieces and conceptual works .


Satie House and Museum in Honfleur

Erik Satie was the eldest of four children of the insurance agent Jules-Alfred Satie (1842-1903) and his wife Jane-Leslie Anton (1838-1882) from a Scottish family who ensured bilingualism and Anglican baptismal rites. When Erik was four years old, the family moved to Paris, where the agency ran a translation agency and later a small music publishing company. After the death of the youngest sister Diane (1871) and the death of his mother a year later, the six-year-old Erik and his younger brother Conrad returned to Honfleur to live with their father's parents. The grandmother made the condition that the children would become Catholic, which resulted in contact with the organist and choirmaster of the Saint-Léonard church, Gustave Vinot, from whom Satie received his first music lessons from 1874. Here, in addition to Gregorian chant, he also got to know the joy of everyday music that Vinot composed for local festivities, with which two influences on Satie's later musical work are named.

At the age of twelve (1878) Satie's grandmother drowned while bathing, and the father took his two sons back to Paris. A little later he married the ten years older Eugénie Barnetche, concert pianist, composer and ambitious music teacher, who noticed Erik's talent and enrolled him in 1879 at the Paris Conservatory , which she had graduated from herself. With Satie, however, a lack of motivation and increasing frustration led to dropping out of studies after two and a half years.

Satie liked to emphasize his Norman origins, and in later years even founded a "Norman Group" in Arcueil. To underline his origins, he changed the spelling of his birth name "Eric" to "Erik", which means something like "omnipotent" in Scandinavian. In 1884 he began to compose. Allegro is considered to be the first piece and has come down to us as a fragment. The early works were published in the father's publishing house, where the chansons that the parents wrote were also published. Satie self-published some of his work. In the following years u. a. the compositions Ogives (1886), three Sarabandes (1887) and the well-known piano pieces Gymnopédies (1888), but also the music Trois Sonneries de la Rose + Croix for a secret society of the Rosicrucians founded by Joséphin Péladan , which also includes Claude Debussy and other artists Satie for a few years.

Satie left his parents' home in late 1887, having previously done voluntary military service, and moved to the bohemian Montmartre district . In December he found a job as a pianist in the cabaret Le Chat Noir . This step, born of necessity, towards becoming a light muse offered him welcome opportunities for musical experiments.

Suzanne Valadon: Portrait Erik Satie , 1893

After a disappointing love affair with the painter Suzanne Valadon , who was already the mother of a son ( Maurice Utrillo ), one of his most famous chansons was created: Je te veux , which is still part of the repertoire of well-known singers. In 1898 he moved to the small town of Arcueil near Paris. At the age of forty (1905) he resumed his music studies ( composition and counterpoint ), this time at the Schola Cantorum with Vincent d'Indy and Albert Roussel . In addition, Satie was interested in the fine arts throughout his life , which stimulated him to private studies and led to lifelong friendships and collaboration with representatives of the avant-garde of the time, including Pablo Picasso , Georges Braque , Léonide Massine , Man Ray and above all Jean Cocteau .

He owes his first fame from 1911 to his fellow musicians Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel , who played pieces by him. Debussy, with whom he was friends and rivalries, orchestrated two of his gymnopédies . Satie caught the attention of the Parisian music world in 1917 with the world premiere of his ballet Parade , which was created in collaboration with Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and the Djagilev troupe .

Satie's life path was accompanied by financial worries and the dangers of an entertainer in cafés and cabarets, where the fee was often "paid" in liquid form. Satie died in 1925 as a result of many years of alcohol abuse.

Satie's self-portrait 1913

Work and effect

Santiago Rusiñol : Erik Satie in his room , 1891
Erik Satie (original around 1895)

The young autodidact's first compositions already contain essential features of his later music. In addition to the deviation from the major-minor system , this includes simplicity and clarity. With the other elements, brevity and simplicity, he can be considered a pioneer of minimal music . Satie's influence on impressionism is also discussed.

However, Satie's ideas about music go further. True to his conviction that the composer does not have the right to “take up the time of his audience unnecessarily”, he developed his idea of background music a few years before the radio . He calls it Musique d'ameublement - ( French , for example: "Furniture music , interior music "). Music should be in the room like a table, chair or curtain. With this he rejects virtuosity and refinement and composes according to a kind of modular system. His saying goes: “Everyone will tell you that I am not a musician. That's true."

In complete contrast to Satie's musical austerity are the imaginative, sometimes puzzling, sometimes absurd, and often extensive instructions. Instead of the usual Italian guidelines moderato , largo , allegro etc. it says: "like a nightingale with a toothache" or "open your head", "bury the clay in the pit of your stomach", "almost invisible" or "very Christian" . Similarly, the titles reveal his bizarre humor: Unsavory Choral , Slack Prelude for a Dog , Torments , Bureaucratic Sonatina , Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear , Cold Pieces .

On the sheet of music for torments ( Vexations ), a slow piece of music lasting two minutes, he noted: “In order to be able to play this motif 840 times in a row, it will be good to prepare for it in advance, in the utmost silence, through absolute immobility ". The first public performance of the Vexations in the literal 840 version took place in New York in 1963 at the suggestion of John Cage and lasted over 19 hours. Twenty pianists were involved, including Cage himself.

The symphonic drama Socrate can be seen as Satie's masterpiece, which manages without ironic or cynical additions or alienation . He composed the music for three Plato dialogues based on the translation by Victor Cousin . He called the piece "just a gesture of piety, just a modest homage". With the simplicity of the setting, Satie wanted to let the beauty of the lyrics work. "I didn't want anything else."

In 1917, Guillaume Apollinaire raised Satie's theses of simplicity and clarity in his Esprit nouveau manifesto as central demands also for French literature. In the last years of his life, Satie received further recognition from the young composers of the Groupe des Six , to which Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud belonged, and the group named after Satie's residence, École d'Arcueil , to which Henri Sauguet also belonged. Despite his proximity to Dadaism and the emerging surrealism , Satie - who had no musical role models - retained his uniqueness in the music world.

The French composer Robert Caby , who met Satie a year before his death, became his most important administrator and, among other things, saved the Vexations from oblivion.

Satie's music has been used in over 100 films. The first film in which he also made a brief appearance was Entr'acte by René Clair from 1924.

Works (selection)

Orchestral works

  • Parade (1917), ballet.
  • Socrate (1918), symphonic drama for orchestra and voice.
  • Les Aventures de Mercure (1924), ballet.
  • Relâche (1924), ballet, in it: Cinéma (1924), film music.

Choral music

  • Mass des pauvres (1895) for choir and organ.

Chamber music

  • Choses vues à Droite et à Gauche - sans lunettes (1912) for violin and piano.


  • Trois Melodies de 1886 : Les Anges, Elégie, Sylvie.
  • Trois Autres Melodies (1886–1906): Chanson, Chansons médiévale, Les fleurs.
  • Anthem (1891)
  • Trois poèmes d'amour (1914)
  • Trois Melodies de 1916 : La statue de bronze, Daphénéo, Le chapelier.
  • Ludions (1923): Air du rat, Spleen, La grenouille américaine, Air du poète, Chanson du chat.

Chanson de Caf 'Conc'

  • Je te veux (1897)
  • Tendrement (1902)
  • Chez le docteur (1903)
  • La diva de l'empire (1904)
  • L'omnibus-automobile (1905)
  • Trois Melodies sans Paroles ( ca.1905 ): Rambouillet, Les oiseaux, Marienbad.
  • Allons-y chochotte (1906)

Piano for 2 hands

  • Valse-Ballet and Fantaisie-Valse (1885, published 1887)
  • 4 Ogives (1886)
  • 3 Sarabandes (1887)
  • 3 Gymnopédies (1888)
  • 6 Gnossiennes (1890)
  • Sonneries de la rose + crois (1892)
  • Pieces froides pour piano (1893)
  • Descriptions Automatiques (1913)
  • Heures Séculaires et Instantanées (1914)
  • Sports et Divertissements (1914)
  • Les Trois Valses distinguées du Précieux dégouté (1914)
  • Avant-dernières pensées (1915)
  • Sonatine Bureaucratique (1917)
  • 5 Nocturnes (1919)

Piano for 4 hands

  • Trois Morceaux en forme de poire (1903)

Discography (selection)

  • Erik Satie: Tout Satie! Complete Edition , 10 CD box, various artists, Erato Warner Classics, 2015.
  • Erik Satie: Words & Music , audio book read by Dietmar Mues and musically accompanied by Steffen Schleiermacher feat. Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg , hoerbuchedition words & music, 2010, ISBN 978-3-9813027-1-4 .
  • Erik Satie: Oeuvres pour Piano , Aldo Ciccolini , piano: EMI 0724357533522.
  • Erik Satie: The Complete Solo Piano Music , Jean-Yves Thibaudet , Piano, DECCA 4830236, 2003.
  • Erik Satie: Sports & Pleasure (texts and songs), Johannes Cernota , piano / Constanze Brüning, vocals: Jaro Medien 4239–2.
  • Erik Satie: Piano Music & Melodies , Reinbert de Leeuw, piano / Marjanne Kweksilber , vocals: Philips 002894757706.
  • Erik Satie: orchestral works , Orchester du Capitole de Toulouse, cond. Michel Plasson: EMI CDC7494712.
  • Erik Satie: Eric Satie & Darius Milhaud (orchestral works), London Festival Players and London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bernard Herrmann , London / Decca 443 897–2.
  • Erik Satie: Sketches of Satie , John and Steve Hackett (flute and guitar), Camino Records CAMCD 20, 2000.
  • Various composers of the late 19th century, French choral music with two organs , including the Mass des Pauvres by Erik Satie. Münchner Madrigalchor, Franz Brandl (lead), Elisabeth Sperer (organ), Winfried Englhardt (organ), FSM FCD 97 735, 1988.
  • Erik Satie, Esotérik Satie, Alessandra Celletti, Kha Records 2000


  • Erik Satie: Writings . Edited by Ornella Volta. Übers. Silke Hass. 2nd edition, Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-27-2 .
  • Erik Satie: Writings . Selection ed. by Werner Bärtschi . Translated from Evi Pillet. Regenbogen Verlag, Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-85862-013-0 .
  • Erik Satie: Letters 1. The correspondence from 1891 to 1913 . Edited by O.Volta. Translating S.Hass. 1st edition. Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1991, ISBN 3-923997-29-9 .
  • Erik Satie: The Trap of the Jellyfish . Edited by O.Volta. Translating S.Hass. Wolke Fallobst, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-45-0 .


  • Tomas Bächli: My name is Erik Satie like everyone else. Verbrecher Verlag, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-95732-161-9 . Abstract.
  • Jean Cocteau : Fragments d'une Conference sur Erik Satie. In: La Revue Musicale , 5, 1924.
  • Claude Debussy : Lonely Conversations with Mr. Croche. Edited by E. Klemm. Leipzig 1975.
  • Alan M. Gillmor: Erik Satie . WW Norton & Co, Basingstoke 1992. ISBN 978-0-393-30810-5 .
  • Bruno Giner: Erik Satie . Bleu nuit éditeur, Paris 2016, ISBN 978-2-35884-060-6 .
  • James Harding: Erik Satie . Martin Secker & Warburg, London 1975.
  • Stéphanie Kalfon: The Umbrellas of Erik Satie (translated from French by Nathalie Mälzer ), Verlag Freies Geistesleben / Oktaven, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 978-3-7725-3004-3 .
  • Heinz-Klaus Metzger , Rainer Riehn (eds.): Erik Satie. Music Concepts 11 . edition text + kritik, Munich 1980, 3rd edition 2015, ISBN 978-3-86916-388-8 .
  • Rollo H. Myers: Erik Satie . Dover Publications, London 1948, New York 1968.
  • Robert Orledge: Satie the Composer. Music in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press, 2008 reprint, ISBN 978-0-521-07899-3 .
  • Caroline Potter: Erik Satie: a Parisian composer and his world . The Boydell Press, Woodbridge 2016, ISBN 978-1-78327-083-5 .
  • Ludwig Striegel: Slack preludes and withered embryos, playing the piano with Erik Satie. 2nd edition, Fernwald 2002, ISBN 3-929379-08-2 .
  • Tableau Biographique. In: Erik Leslie Satie. From: La Revue Musicale 386/387, 1985.
  • Ornella Volta: 1866-1891. In: Erik Satie: Writings. Edited by O. Volta. Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 978-3-923997-26-8 .
  • Ornella Volta: Satie / Cocteau. An understanding in misunderstandings. Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1994, ISBN 3-923997-61-2 .
  • Ornella Volta: Satierik Erik Satie. Rogner & Bernhard bei Zweiausendeins, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-8077-0201-6 .
  • Grete Wehmeyer : Erik Satie. Gustav Bosse Verlag, Regensburg 1974; Kassel 1997 (revised new edition), ISBN 3-7649-2079-3 .
  • Grete Wehmeyer: Erik Satie . Rowohlt's monographs. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1998, ISBN 3-499-50571-1 .
  • Grete Wehmeyer: Erik Satie. Pictures and documents . Edition Spangenberg, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-89409-073-1 .
  • Volker Hagedorn: Who is Satie actually from? In: Die Zeit , No. 21/2016; for the 150th birthday
  • Nigel Wilkins, The Writings of Erik Satie , London, 1980.

Web links


Commons : Erik Satie  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

life and work

Individual evidence

  1. Grete Wehmeyer: Erik Satie . Rowohlt monograph, ISBN 3-499-50571-1 , p. 12
  2. Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, FA Brockhaus, Mannheim 1992, Volume 19, p. 209
  3. Erik Satie - Schriften , ed. by Ornella Volta, Wolke Verlag, Hofheim, 2nd edition 1990, ISBN 3-923997-26-4 , p. 482 (13)
  4. Eric satie: The First Modern
  5. Ornella Volta (Ed.): Erik Satie - writings . 2nd Edition. Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-27-2 , p. 323, no. 66.
  6. Ornella Volta (Ed.): Erik Satie - writings . 2nd Edition. Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-27-2 , p. 143. First published in 1912 in the Revue musicale of the Societé Internationale de Musique as part of Satie's memoirs of a memoryless person .
  7. Ornella Volta (Ed.): Erik Satie - writings . 2nd Edition. Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-27-2 , p. 442 (5).
  8. Reclam's concert guide . Reclam Verlag, Stuttgart 1982, p. 958.
  9. Ornella Volta (Ed.): Erik Satie - writings . 2nd Edition. Wolke Verlag, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-27-2 , p. 28.