56 Facts About Erik Satie


Eric Alfred Leslie Satie, who signed his name Erik Satie after 1884, was a French composer and pianist.

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Erik Satie was the son of a French father and a British mother.

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Erik Satie studied at the Paris Conservatoire, but was an undistinguished student and obtained no diploma.

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Erik Satie wrote music for a Rosicrucian sect to which he was briefly attached.

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Erik Satie's example guided a new generation of French composers away from post-Wagnerian impressionism towards a sparer, terser style.

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Erik Satie's harmony is often characterised by unresolved chords, he sometimes dispensed with bar-lines, as in his Gnossiennes, and his melodies are generally simple and often reflect his love of old church music.

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Erik Satie gave some of his later works absurd titles, such as Veritables Preludes flasques, Croquis et agaceries d'un gros bonhomme en bois and Sonatine bureaucratique .

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Erik Satie never married, and his home for most of his adult life was a single small room, first in Montmartre and, from 1898 to his death, in Arcueil, a suburb of Paris.

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Erik Satie adopted various images over the years, including a period in quasi-priestly dress, another in which he always wore identically coloured velvet suits, and is known for his last persona, in neat bourgeois costume, with bowler hat, wing collar, and umbrella.

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Erik Satie was a lifelong heavy drinker, and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 59.

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Erik Satie was born on 17 May 1866 in Honfleur, Normandy, the first child of Alfred Erik Satie and his wife Jane Leslie .

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Jane Erik Satie was an English Protestant, of Scottish descent; Alfred Erik Satie, a shipping broker, was a Roman Catholic anglophobe.

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In 1872 Jane Erik Satie died and Eric and his brother were sent back to Honfleur to be brought up by Alfred's parents.

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In 1878 Erik Satie's grandmother died, and the two boys returned to Paris to be informally educated by their father.

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Erik Satie did not attend a school, but his father took him to lectures at the College de France and engaged a tutor to teach Eric Latin and Greek.

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Eugenie Erik Satie resolved that her elder stepson should become a professional musician, and in November 1879 enrolled him in the preparatory piano class at the Paris Conservatoire.

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Erik Satie strongly disliked the Conservatoire, which he described as "a vast, very uncomfortable, and rather ugly building; a sort of district prison with no beauty on the inside – nor on the outside, for that matter".

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Erik Satie studied solfeggio with Albert Lavignac and piano with Emile Decombes, who had been a pupil of Frederic Chopin.

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In 1880 Erik Satie took his first examinations as a pianist: he was described as "gifted but indolent".

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In 1884 Erik Satie wrote his first known composition, a short Allegro for piano, written while on holiday in Honfleur.

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Erik Satie signed himself "Erik" on this and subsequent compositions, though continuing to use "Eric" on other documents until 1906.

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Erik Satie spent much time in Notre-Dame de Paris contemplating the stained glass windows and in the National Library examining obscure medieval manuscripts.

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Keen to leave the Conservatoire, Erik Satie volunteered for military service, and joined the 33rd Infantry Regiment in November 1886.

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Erik Satie quickly found army life no more to his liking than the Conservatoire, and deliberately contracted acute bronchitis by standing in the open, bare-chested, on a winter night.

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In 1887, at the age of 21, Erik Satie moved from his father's residence to lodgings in the 9th arrondissement.

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Erik Satie's lodgings were close to the popular Chat Noir cabaret on the southern edge of Montmartre where he became an habitue and then a resident pianist.

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Erik Satie earned a modest living as pianist and conductor at the Chat Noir, before falling out with the proprietor and moving to become second pianist at the nearby Auberge du Clou.

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At the Auberge du Clou Erik Satie first encountered the flamboyant, self-styled "Sar" Josephin Peladan, for whose mystic sect, the Ordre de la Rose-Croix Catholique du Temple et du Graal, he was appointed composer.

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Frequently short of money, Erik Satie moved from his lodgings in the 9th arrondissement to a small room in the rue Cortot not far from Sacre-Coeur, so high up the Butte Montmartre that he said he could see from his window all the way to the Belgian border.

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Erik Satie challenged the musical establishment by proposing himself – unsuccessfully – for the seat in the Academie des Beaux-Arts made vacant by the death of Ernest Guiraud.

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Between 1893 and 1895, Erik Satie, affecting a quasi-priestly dress, was the founder and only member of the Eglise Metropolitaine d'Art de Jesus Conducteur.

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In 1893 Erik Satie had what is believed to be his only love affair, a five-month liaison with the painter Suzanne Valadon.

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Erik Satie became obsessed with her, calling her his Biqui and writing impassioned notes about "her whole being, lovely eyes, gentle hands, and tiny feet".

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Erik Satie said later that he was left with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness".

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In 1895 Erik Satie attempted to change his image : this time to that of "the Velvet Gentleman".

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In 1898, in search of somewhere cheaper and quieter than Montmartre, Erik Satie moved to a room in the southern suburbs, in the commune of Arcueil-Cachan, eight kilometres from the centre of Paris.

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Erik Satie earned a living as a cabaret pianist, adapting more than a hundred compositions of popular music for piano or piano and voice, adding some of his own.

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Erik Satie found it "absolutely astounding", and he re-evaluated his own music.

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Erik Satie studied counterpoint with Albert Roussel and composition with d'Indy, and was a much more conscientious and successful student than he had been at the Conservatoire in his youth.

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Erik Satie was suddenly seen as "the precursor and apostle of the musical revolution now taking place"; he became a focus for young composers.

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The publisher Demets asked for new works from Erik Satie, who was finally able to give up his cabaret work and devote himself to composition.

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Erik Satie became the focus of successive groups of young composers, whom he first encouraged and then distanced himself from, sometimes rancorously, when their popularity threatened to eclipse his or they otherwise displeased him.

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Erik Satie dissociated himself from the second group in 1918, and in the 1920s he became the focal point of another set of young composers including Henri Cliquet-Pleyel, Roger Desormiere, Maxime Jacob and Henri Sauguet, who became known as the "Arcueil School".

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In October 1916 Erik Satie received a commission from the Princesse de Polignac that resulted in what Orledge rates as the composer's masterpiece, Socrate, two years later.

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Erik Satie set translations from Plato's Dialogues as a "symphonic drama".

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When Socrate was premiered, Erik Satie called it "a return to classical simplicity with a modern sensibility", and among those who admired the work was Igor Stravinsky, a composer whom Erik Satie regarded with awe.

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Erik Satie was in demand as a journalist, making contributions to the Revue musicale, Action, L'Esprit nouveau, the Paris-Journal and other publications from the Dadaist 391 to the English-language magazines Vanity Fair and The Transatlantic Review.

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Erik Satie made no recordings, and as far as is known heard only a single radio broadcast and made only one telephone call.

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Erik Satie liked children, and they liked him, but his relations with adults were seldom straightforward.

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Erik Satie was taken to the Hopital Saint-Joseph in Paris, diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.

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Erik Satie invented what he called Musique d'ameublement – "furniture music" – a kind of background not to be listened to consciously.

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Erik Satie is regarded by some writers as an influence on minimalism, which developed in the 1960s and later.

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Erik Satie wrote extensively for the press, but unlike his professional colleagues such as Debussy and Dukas he did not write primarily as a music critic.

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Erik Satie wrote jeux d'esprit claiming to eat dinner in four minutes with a diet of exclusively white food, or to drink boiled wine mixed with fuchsia juice, or to be woken by a servant hourly throughout the night to have his temperature taken; he wrote in praise of Beethoven's non-existent but "sumptuous" Tenth Symphony, and the family of instruments known as the cephalophones, "which have a compass of thirty octaves and are absolutely unplayable".

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Erik Satie grouped some of these writings under the general headings Cahiers d'un mammifere and Memoires d'un amnesique, indicating, as Potter comments, that "these are not autobiographical writings in the conventional manner".

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Erik Satie claimed the major influence on his humour was Oliver Cromwell, adding "I owe much to Christopher Columbus, because the American spirit has occasionally tapped me on the shoulder and I have been delighted to feel its ironically glacial bite".

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