5/30/17 – Erik Satie / Pascal Roge “3 Gymnopédies & Other Piano Works” (1984)

Erike Satie is one of my favorite composers, and pianist Pascale Roge does his work justice. The Gymnopédies were published by Satie in 1888 and have been since called the precursors to minimalism and ambient. The Gnossiennes (a word Satie invented) were published in 1893 and some of them later on, way past his death in the 1960s. They are free form avant-garde pieces that have also been influential. Sprinkled in the album are other works from Satie, I’m guessing some of them are Roge’s favorites to play. He plays them very gently, which I think is what Satie was going for.

Gymnopedie No.1 is one of my favorite songs if not the favorite. It’s so pure, gentle, sorrowful, inspiring and everything else you can name. It’s a simple song much like a lot of Satie’s piano works, but it has hidden depth. I’ve come back to this song now and then over the years and it’s remained the same. Gymnopedie No.2 and No.3 are variations on that same song, with slightly different keys and tempos. He really experimented with mood and how changing a song ever so slightly can change the feel of the song wildly. Je te veux lifts the mood with this breezy waltz and also introduces the other pieces that Satie published. His music is relaxing but also contemplative and works in a surprising number of settings. It’s calm but unpredictable at the same time, especially with Embryons desseches, which will jump in and out of a manic, frantic pace.

Gnossienne No.1 through No.6 follow suit with the Gymnopedies, where the structure is kept relatively the same but they are all so extremely different. They are all written in free time and so they feel quite chaotic and erratic. It’s fascinating to me to listen to them over and over and spot the parts of the songs where I find a connection to earlier versions. I really wish musicians did more work like this, it really gives you a window into the mind of the artist during the creative process, and how they decided on a final version. It could be that the stigma is that it would seem gimmicky to only have a few songs but several versions of each, but I’d still like to see that album somewhere. My first introduction to Satie was an animation of someone playing the guitar version of Gnossienne No.1, with a poem overlaid on it. I can’t for the life of me find it again, but it was beautiful and has stuck with me ever since I was a child.

Many pianists have played Satie over the years, but this album is an excellent collection of top notch piano playing and features some of his best works. If you were interested in him after this album, there are much larger collections like Piano Works (1992) by Daniel Varsano and Philippe Entremont.  Compared to their slow and whimsical playing, Roge plays at a brisk pace, and I can’t make up my mind which I like more. 3 Gymnopédies & Other Piano Works is a great introduction to Satie and can be appreciated by just about any type of music fan.