piano and Satie

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.

Portrait of Erik Satie

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

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