Need a Tranquilizer, Play This
Even very young pianists can play “Gymnopedie No.1”, they say. The music sheet contains very sparse notes and articulations. It was among three gymnopedies composed by the French gymnopedist Erik Satie (1888). His profession, gymnopedist, is as unique as the gymnopedies. Satie was a student of the Paris Conservatory but he quit and became a cafe pianist. He returned to formal studies and was esteemed by his colleagues for his subversion against Romanticism. His works were a mockery to preludes, sonatas, and grandiose compositions. His avant-garde renditions of music and his novel chords took music into the 20th century, not with aplomb right away, but it set the stage for new musical species. At one time in musical history, Satie’s works were classified as “furniture” or background music. Not that it was entirely considered unsophisticated, it was possibly in transition and played more infrequently.
“Gymnopedie No.1” is slow burn music with bold wit. Hardly any notes, ample instrumental space, floating music structure. But it’s very relaxing to hear, this minimalist piano solo. It is simple sheet music but what a pianist does with such a spare guide is what it’s about. Right from the onset with those few deliberate notes, the floating amongst lazy clouds feeling hits. Then the spooky second section floats in, the music retains its stillness, now it’s just more solemn.
His works were published years after he composed them. Satie achieved popularity in spades beginning in the 20th century, his works recognized as the precursor of ambient music. Like most things considered iconoclastic then, “Gymnopedie No.1” has come of age. Or new age, if some want to put it that way. “Gymnopedie No.1” is in the now. It’s been recorded in several albums and used to score TV series and these movies: “Diva”, “Man On The Wire”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, and “Another Woman”.