Erik Satie (composer and pianist) (1866-1925). Download his sheet music in our Library.
Erik Satie (French composer and pianist) Erik Alfred Leslie Satie was a famous French composer and pianist who is remembered for his unconventional and often humorous style of music. He was born in the middle of the 19th century in France and began his musical education under a local church organist. He enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 13, but was dismissed as a very insignificant and lazy student after two and half years.
He later reentered the Conservatory, but failed to change his teachers’ opinion and left within year. He then joined French military but was discharged after a few months due to a severe case of self-inflicted bronchitis.
After recouping, he began his career as a pianist at the Le Chat Noir Café-Cabaret in Montmartre, struggling all the while to gain recognition and financial stability. He became famous at the age of 45, when Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy played his works at concerts. Very soon, musicians of the younger generation began to appreciate his work, which also lead to the formation of the ‘Les Six’. However, his work was truly recognized only after his death; and within a decade of his death, he began to be hailed as a genius.
Erik Alfred Leslie Satie was born in the coastal town of Honfleur in the Normandy region of France on 17 May 1866. His father Jules Alfred Satie initially worked as a ship broker. Later, he moved with his family to Paris, where he became a translator.His mother Jane Leslie Anton was of Scottish origin. She had a musical inclination and wrote a few pieces for piano. Satie was born eldest of his parents’ three children, having a younger sister named Olga Lafosse and a brother named Conrad.Satie’s family lived in Paris until their mother’s death in 1872.
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Thereafter, they were sent back to Honfleur to live with their paternal grandfather, who brought them up under strict Catholic tradition.As a child, Satie showed an interest in music; and in 1874, his grandfather made an arrangement for him to study piano under the organist at a local church. His teacher Vinot introduced him to liturgical music, especially the Gregorian chant.
This early exposure proved to be a major influence on his later works.During his stay at Honfleur, Satie was influenced by his uncle, whom he called ‘Uncle Sea Bird’ because he spent a lot time sitting in his boat. Sea Bird took him to see circuses and plays. On those occasions, he was able to get glimpses of the backstage.In 1878, Satie’s piano teacher left Honfleur. In the same year, his grandmother died, and the children were sent back to Paris to live with their father.His father married Eugenie nee Bametche, a musically gifted piano teacher, in 1879.
Around the same time, Satie enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire. Very soon, he started giving auditions to get admission in the piano class, but he failed each time.His teachers found his piano techniques uninspiring, and some of them also called him the laziest student of the class. After two and a half years, he was dismissed from the Conservatoire.During his years at the Conservatoire, Satie had started writing music for piano.
The first two pieces he wrote were ‘Valse-Ballet’ and ‘Fantaisie-Valse’. He published them in 1885, numbering ‘Valse-Ballet’ as opus 62 instead of opus 1.Even after being dismissed from the Conservatoire, Satie continued to sit in the biannual examinations to enter the intermediate class.
He finally reentered the institution after passing the examination at the end of 1885. However, his teachers’ opinions remained as biased as before.As he was unable to change his teachers’ perceptions, Satie left the Conservatoire in November 1886 and volunteered for army service.
He was assigned to the 33rd Infantry Regiment as a reservist. Although his duties were comparatively light, he found his job too onerous for his liking and therefore made plans to leave.Hoping to be dismissed from the army, he began to sneak out of his barrack at night and moved about bare-chested in the cold winter air. As a result, he caught severe bronchitis.In April 1887, he was back to Paris on a two-month medical leave, which was extended several times before he was discharged from the service in November 1887.
While recouping at home from his ailment, he started working on two of his well-known works, ‘Trois Sarabandes’ and ‘Gymnopédies’.After completing the sketches of some of his initial works, he began to focus on ‘Sarabandes’, completing it on 18 September 1887. In December, he moved to Montmartre, the bohemian part of Paris, after receiving a gift of 1600 francs from his father. In the same year, he befriended famous composer Claude Debussy.
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