Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gann on Satie

I recently had a back and forth with Kyle Gann about his new book and about Erik Satie down in the comments of this post and want to save it here:

LS - Very belatedly I’ve just read 4’33″. What a terrific piece of writing. Your gift for writing about music is truly remarkable, and that deft explanation of Buddhism flows naturally and clearly. You’ve mentioned having a populist strain in your music and that’s also very evident in 4’33″ as it seems as good a read for the non-specialist as the specialist.
You’ve often mentioned the importance of Satie, so the bit about him was very helpful in understanding how you situate his work. If you’re ever casting around for something more to write about, I’d snap up a book like this on him in an instant. I’m deeply affected by playing some of his pieces (Ogives & Crossed Up Dances), but can’t shake the feeling the reasons I enjoy his work are probably different from yours.
Another small point about 4’33″ – my compliments to the book designer. At first I thought the slightly larger font filling up the slightly smaller page was unusual, but quickly adjusted and found it made the reading very easy on the eye.
KG replies: Thanks all round. Writing about Satie would be a blast, and, for research purposes, I can actually bring back my three years of high-school French when I’m motivated. But I’m not sure what I could add to what’s out there aside from my own idiosyncratic enthusiasm.
  • LSIs there one Satie book/article out there you’d recommend? How about a blog post sometime briefly delineating your “idiosyncratic enthusiasm”? Are his harmonies merely misguided antiquarianism and whimsy or are they something new under the sun? Is there anyone else’s music which can induce similarly pleasant, mysterious, moody reveries with such seemingly simple structures? What do you think he was trying to do for audiences? Is the piece Vexations the single most important thing he did in terms of foreshadowing what happening now? Your microtuned version of that was a ear opener – do you think that’s where he was headed? Is he mostly dismissed or passed over because of the comparatively slight output or is it that it’s not complex enough for specialists to deconstruct, so unworthy of their attention? Sorry to go on – but his music gets to me like nobody else’s and your mentions of him over the years have always made me wish you’d said more.
    KG replies: Wow, that’s more than I can answer. What I like most in Satie harmonically is, I think, a kind of postmodern approach to tonality; no matter what series of chords you drift through, a sudden V7-I will satisfy the ear that you’re in some key or another. For me the Pieces Froids, Gnossiennes, and Three Love Poems point to late 20th-century music more clearly than Vexations does; and, of course, Socrate, which could have been written last week and remain just as amazing. And I think most composers dismiss Satie because education makes composers stupid, and infects them with horrible neuroses about being profound and macho, so that they remain forever too immature for the real profundity of Satie’s humor – since you asked. But don’t tell anyone I said that, they hate me enough already.
    Oh, and while there are several OK biographies, the book you’ve got to get is Robert Orledge’s Satie the Composer, which really analyzes his music.

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