Listening: Erik Satie, the Velvet Gentleman

The sounds of summer come in many forms. To understand how one might associate the music of the French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925) with summer, one has only to listen to his Trois Gymnopédies for piano from 1888. Although the works were quite early in the eccentric composer’s career, they represent a style and attitude that defined his life and music.

Satie’s importance extends far beyond his own music. He was a supporter, if not a quasi-creator, of the group Les Six ( Georges Auric, Louis Durey,  Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, and Germaine Tailleferre) which grew out of his ideas of musical simplicity.

VelevetGentlemanAlthough the Trois Gymnopédies were originally written for piano (recordings abound, some mentioned below), the simple works have inspired other orchestral arrangements that have extended their reach into many other musical niches. The works have received treatments in a number of film scores; from Blood, Sweat, and Tears; in a Bob James jazz arrangement for flutist Hubert Laws; and in a Janet Jackson single, among many. However, in an atmospheric and evocative orchestral arrangement from 1970, the Camarata Chamber Ensemble offered up an LP entitled The Music of Erik Satie: The Velvet Gentleman which featured the works. Oddly, this LP has never been moved to the digital realm of CDs, but its strong sense of 70s style have made it popular enough to have a place online. Here are the Trois Gymnopédies from that LP on a YouTube clip.

l07371fvglvOf course, recordings of the original piano versions abound and can be found online and in the Sight and Sounds department at the downtown Knox County Public Library. I can suggest pianist Reinbert De Leeuw  on Philips #446672.