Satie, ErikThe French composer Erik Satie was born on May 17, 1866, and died onJuly 1, 1925, was the son of an English mother and a Parisian music publisher. He entered the Paris Conservatory in 1879 but failed to benefit fromacademic education, which he embarked on again only in his 40th year, when heenrolled as a pupil of Vincent d’Indy and Albert Roussel at the Schola Cantorum. Long before that, however, he had composed a number of short piano pieces, whoseeccentric titles and unfashionable and yet convincing simplicity of melody werematched by an individual sense of harmony.
It is still a moot point whetherSatie got his harmonic ideas from his fellow student and friend Claude Debussy,or whether the debt was on Debussy’s side. It is quite clear, however, thatSatie’s tasteful principles influenced Debussy in the composition of his operaPelleas et Melisande and that Satie was the main influence in helping Debussy tofree himself from the musical domination of Richard Wagner. Satie becameinterested in plainsong through his association with a so-called Rosicruciangroup, while he earned his living as a cafe pianist in Montmartre. Satie was a conscious eccentric and a determined enemy of allestablishments, including the musical. The comical titles that he attached tohis small piano pieces are characteristic of the Bohemian wit in the Paris ofhis day.
Irony and a deceptively childlike attitude, a dislike for pomposity ofall kinds, and an instinctive secretiveness were hallmarks of both the man andhis music. In 1916, Satie was befriended by Jean Cocteau and wrote the musicfor a ballet, Parade, on which Pablo Picasso and Leonid Massine alsocollaborated. By far the most important of Satie’s works is Socrate , an harshsetting for four sopranos and chamber orchestra of Plato’s account of the deathof Socrates. The young composers who formed the essentially Parisian groupknown as Les Six regarded Satie as a kind of tutelary genius, and in 1923 one ofthem, Darius Milhaud, tried to found an “Ecole d’Arcueil,” named for the obscureParis suburb where Satie lived in extreme poverty.