Erik Satie is a French composer of whom I know little, but am very familiar with one of his pieces, the first of his three “Gnossiennes,” which I suspect most readers will recognize as well. It is the first video on classical-music blogger Kaz’s latest post. The piece is a lovely, mellow tune and seems to belie much of what Kaz says about Satie’s music, as do several other pieces I’ve listened to by clicking on videos in his post on Satie.
Yet of all the composers I’ve written about so far, arguably none wrote music which bears such close relation to so much of what we listen to today. Satie’s music was an important precursor to minimalist and ambient music in particular, characterized by repetitive motifs, a trance-like quality, free-form compositional structure, and an abandonment of traditional notions of exposition and development.
That may go too far. Later on Kaz compares Satie to Philip Glass. This is like comparing Louis Sullivan to Le Corbusier or Mies (the modernists consider Sullivan a precursor of modern architecture). But Kaz included a piece by Glass to show the likeness, and I have to admit it was nice enough – but is that the real Glass? Not the atonal Glass! From what little I know of Glass, I don’t think so, but I might be guilty of isolating myself from his better work because I dislike most of what I’ve heard of his.
Or maybe Kaz has confused Satie’s music with his life, which he described, in a massive understatement, as “eccentric.”
Perhaps it is hard for anyone, including a blogger on classical music, to refrain from bearing his breast and plumping for the opposite of what he loves. Even I once wrote a column in praise of a building by Frank Gehry, and was roundly denounced for doing so. Don’t believe it? “A modernist building I actually like” ran on March 17, 2011. (Good luck finding it!) Well, as to the relationship of Satie to Glass, let the listener decide.