If you watch a lot of movies, you may have heard his music. If you are learning to play the piano, you may have even played his works. Yet few people today know of the name Erik Satie. Even fewer know just how strange Satie was.
First of all, Satie’s music was seen as unusual for his time. For one, it did not follow the forms everyone used. This happened in part because Satie did not do well in music school. Also, it was just his style. In fact, some people would often say bad things about his music. So Satie wrote ‘Trois morceaux en forme de poire’ for them. That was French for ‘three pieces in the shape of a pear’. Even though the title of the song said three, the music actually had seven pieces!
This was actually normal for Satie who loved being silly. He would often give his music strange names. For example, one of his works was called Do Not Drink Your Chocolate with Your Fingers. Another was called ‘Rat Air’. He also made up names for some of his other songs, like ‘Gnossiennes’. He wrote strange instructions for others who wanted to play his music too. He would say that a piece should be played “with much illness” or “light as an egg”. This puzzled the poor musicians very much, of course.
Satie also liked to play tricks on the public. There is a story that tells how he tried to walk a lobster down the streets of Paris. He also wrote to the newspapers, saying there was a new opera in town when there wasn’t. Even the books he wrote were funny. In one, he said that he only ate food that was white in colour like sugar, coconut, animal fat and chicken. In another book, he said he would write music from ‘10:23 a.m. to 11:47 a.m.’ every day. He also said he would sleep with one eye open in a round bed with a hole for his head. Clearly, Satie loved a good laugh!
Even when Satie was not being silly, he was still a strange man. In 1917, he wrote music for a play named ‘Parade’. The songs had sounds from a gun, milk bottles and other non-musical things. While a lot of people loved the play, some did not. Satie wrote a card to one of the people who said bad things about his music. In it, he called the man a donkey. This actually got him locked up for eight days!
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style (n) – a way of doing something which is special, by one person or group
musician (n) – person who plays music as their job
trick (n) – something done to be funny
public (n) – all the common people
parade (n) – a large number of people walking or in cars, going the same way, for