The piano had been sitting there gathering dust — it was ‘on loan’ for several years while its previous owner made up his mind what he wanted to do with it, and now it’s become a permanent fixture. So I started taking lessons.
Currently I’m working on “Gymnopédie No. 1” by Erik Satie. It’s a famous piece, but I heard it a few weeks ago when I saw the film Man on Wire, a documentary about a guy who tight-rope walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in the 1970s. I also remember it from Diva, and I’m sure it’s been in a bunch of French films.
The music is simple and beautiful and filled with a sense of impermanence and longing. Satie wrote it in 1888 when he was 22, the bastard. It makes me think of early autumn mornings before the city is properly awake and the sun is trying and failing to reach the ground.
I bought the sheet music for some of Satie’s other piano pieces today. The best thing about them is the playful indications Satie gives for the performer.
Here are a few, translated from French:
ralentir — becoming softer
diminuer — getting slower
douloureux — sadly, sorrowful
triste — sadly
très luisant — very brightly
questionnez — ask
du bout de la pensée — on the brink of an idea
postulez en vous-même — make your own demands
pas à pas — little by little
sur la langue — on the tip of the tongue
avec étonnement — with astonishment
ne sortez pas — don’t leave
dans une grande bonté — with much kindness
plus intiment — more intimately
avec une légere intimité — with a light intimacy
sans orgveil — without arrogance
conseillez-vous soigneusement — plan with care
muniessez-vous de clairvoyance — arm yourself sharply
seul, pendant un instant — alone, for a moment
de manière à obtenir un creux — how to achieve absolutely nothing
très perdue — quite lost
portez cela plus loin — pursue this further
ouvrez la tête — open your head
enfouissez le son — muffle the sound