Returning to civilian life he became a regular at Le Chat
Noir cabaret, an essential night-spot for humorists, painters,
and symbolists of the era. In 1988 he composed three Gymnopédies,
inspired by a poetry reading by his friend J. P. Contamine
de Latour. The hypnotic allure of these compositions had its roots
from in dances performed by youths during an ancient ritual celebration.
The next year, seduced by the Romanian popular music and Indonesian
Gamelan he had heard at the Great Exhibition in Paris, he started
working on Gnossiennes. Home was a small
room on the top floor of a building at Butte Montmatre: "high
above my creditors". In 1891 he was engaged as second pianist
at the L’Auburge du Clou, where he met Debussy who became
his friend until 1916 when a misunderstanding led to a break-up
that would never be reconciled. That same year he met Sar Jospehin
Peladin, Grand Maestro of the Aesthetic Order of the Catholic
Rosae Crucis of the Temple of the Grail. Satie became his follower
and was made Master of the Chapel. His compatriot and friend,
the humorist Alphonse Allais, then gave him the nickname Esotérik
Satie. Among the several works he composed under the guidance
of Sar Pedalan were Trois Préludes du "Fils des étoiles",
le Sonneries de la Rose-Croix. Two years later he argued
with his mentor and broke away amidst declarations of artistic
independence. "If I have to follow someone, I think I can
say it’s just going to be myself." Immediately thereafter,
in 1893, he composed the Danses gothiques.
In these first works Satie was already using a freehand style
with no bar lines, arranged chromatically around complex chord
structures, that foreshadowed Debussy’s harmonic and timbre experiments.
In the score he would replace conventional directions such as
"allegro", "piano con brio"...
with his own invented terminology - "don’t make your fingers
blush", "from the top of your back teeth",
"do your best"... In 1895 he composed Vexations,
an eight-measure motif to be played forty times consecutively
for a total duration of about 18 hours. A year later he took up
residence on the outskirts of Paris in a modest house with huge
rooms - "I have many ideas to accommodate," - where
he composed Pièces froides.
He gave up all esoteric research and in 1900 began collaborating
with the music-hall diva Paulette Darty. It was in this period
that Satie immersed himself in café-concert and popular
music, composing Je te veux and La Diva de l’Empire.
In 1905, tired of being considered little more than an amateur,
and at odds with the musical academia, he enrolled for three years
at the Schola Cantorum, where he studied counterpoint with Albert
Roussel. In 1910 his music attracted the attention of Diaghilev,
Picasso, Picabia, Ravel, Stravinsky and finally Cocteau with whom
he became co-founder of the Les Six group. Satie’s genius
was reaching an apex and he presented a new challenge to classical
musical form - musique d’ameublement, so-called "furniture
music" which, he declared, was nothing more than a utilitarian
industrial product, "Art," he said. "Is something
Musique d’ameublement became a sensation because "it
serves the same purpose as light, heat, and all forms of comfort."
It is pure objective formalism in opposition to every sentimental
attribute of musical language. Such provocation could also be
seen in the ironic score "directions" of Descriptions
automathiques and Sports et divertissements - examples
of the finest musical elegance.
Fame, however, came with two important productions. In 1917 with
Parade by Jean Cocteau and Picasso for the Russian Ballet.
Satie’s music introduced the first European rag-time and, at Cocteau’s
suggestion, included sounds of typewriters and factory sirens.
The scandal was enormous: Debussy rejected outright Parade’s
antagonism, while Apollinaire was so enthusiastic he coined the
term surrealism. In Zurich, the Dadaists made Satie an
honorary member of their movement. In 1924 the second ballet,
Relache with text and staging by Picabia, and the celebrated
intermission film by René Clair (Entr’acte), opened
in Paris to an uproar. However the piece that best represents
Satie’s spiritual legacy is Socrate (1919), a cantata for
four sopranos and chamber orchestra, dominated by a formal aesthetic
rigidity; a work that would have a profound influence on Stravinsky.
Satie died as he had lived, poor but illustrious, surrounded by
admirers, at the Saint-Joseph hospital on July 17th