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Les Gymnopédies




The name’s Satie, Éric Alfred Leslie Satie, a 20th-century Parisian avant-garde composer-pianist-writer and self-titled ‘gymnopedist’.

“Woah, woah, woah, did you just type ‘gymnopedist’? That sounds a lot like ‘pedophile’!” If you mentally formulated such a question, you officially require a visit to the optometrist. No, a gymnopedist is not a pedophile; but an ephebophile may very much likely be a gymnopedist.

“Woah, woah, woah, why are you throwing out so many words about liking little children? Are you a pervert?” If you physically formulated such a question, you officially require a visit to my fist. No, ‘gymnopedist’ is not a word, and neither is ‘optometrist’ or ‘ephebophile’, at least according to my spellchecker. Neither is ‘woah’, for that matter. No; Éric (who called himself Erik Satie for some inexplicable reason) introduced himself as a ‘gymnopedist’ because he wanted to show off his sizable lexicon. Or so says Wikipedia. Because the Gymnopedia is an annual ancient Spartan celebration where naked teenagers showed off their bodies through war dancing. Yeah, I don’t think Satie was a real gymnopedist.

So, why did he title these three pieces ‘Gymnopédia’? Maybe it sounded exotic. Hell if I know. They don’t sound like naked teenage war dances to me. Rather, they sound… uh, slow. Painful. Sad. Heavy. Or at least, those are the instructions: the first Gymnopédie is marked ‘Lent et douloureux’, the second is marked ‘Lent et triste’, and the third is marked ‘Lent et grave’. Many think of the Gymnopédies as precursors to modern ambient music. Why? Well… give it a listen.

Satie was born in 1866 and started learning the piano when he was six, at his grandparents’ house. You see, his mother had died before then, and his father was working, alone, in Paris. Eventually, his grandmother also died (nice family he has), and he moved back to Paris with his father. His father then remarried a piano teacher, which was totally cool because he could continue playing piano. But his mother and grandmother were still dead. Sad guy.

Eventually, he was so good at piano that he entered the Paris Conservatory when he was 13. Except, no, he wasn’t really good, and his teachers all thought he sucked (compared with the other students). He was so sad that he went into military service shortly afterwards, and by shortly afterwards, I mean after 7 years. Then he quit the military by infecting himself with bronchitis. Sad guy.

In 1888, he made his first few compositions, including these Gymnopédies. From then on, he became artistically active, writing more compositions, hanging out with other cool artists, composing for plays, performing at salons, etc. He then became so self-confident he founded his own church, L’Église Métropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur (of which he remained its sole member) and did various other cocky things that made everyone hate him. Sad guy.

He then went broke and everyone ignored his works. Sad guy. Serves him right.

But then, suddenly, in 1912, he became quite popular, and his idiosyncratic style quite pronounced. He became a prominent composer (along with friend Claude Debussy and young Maurice Ravel, who all shared similar styles) in the Romanticism – Modern musical transition, with his rejection of traditional musical development, use of lightly dissonant chords, and experimentation with minimalism.

From then on, he resumed his frequenting of salons, bars, cafés, and wherever else cool artists hung out at. He drank so much that he died. The two sentences may not be related. I’m really bad at this musical history thing. Everything here had been directly copied off Wikipedia. Nobody ever went into his room (sounds like me!), so his friends got a shock when they discovered many compositions previously held as ‘lost’ (by Satie himself!), as well as many unpublished ones.

I know, I introduced a few variations. And by a few, I mean many. But that doesn’t matter because without them, it would still probably sound bad. I know, I can’t even play pieces right :X

The thing with the Gymnopédies, Satie’s most famous (and overused) work, is that, even though he wanted to avoid development, I couldn’t help but see the trio as part of a three-part (yeah, count that, one two three, I’m a genius aren’t I) work. The first painfully introduces the scene, a burst of raw emotion and frequent dynamic changes – as if a person has just lapsed into poverty, or their hot dog dropped on the floor, or something equally disastrous. The second softens the blow with soft melancholy and my failed attempts to scratch the keyboard with my fingernails to produce a pleasing (?) effect.

The ending note was completely unintentional, though, and I decided to keep this erroneous recording just because of that. Going back to our previous examples, it’s as if the person had slowly eased up into their life of poverty, or the hot dog managed to fall without dropping any sauce on the floor. Finally, the third movement is slow, serious, but optimistic – I just had to add that left-hand drive to end on a positive note. Get it? Positive NOTE? You’ll also notice the lighting brighten throughout the three, even though I recorded them all on the same day (you can tell because my closet is entirely black). Or maybe you won’t. I didn’t.

Unfortunately, there’s no difference between my using of ‘raw emotion’ and my using of ‘soft melancholy’ because THEY ALL SOUND THE SAME WHEN I PLAY. I’M BAD AT PIANO ALRIGHT, STOP LAUGHING AT ME

P.S. I know, many people are probably going to hate these videos since they’re off from the original. And they’re played badly. Also, there are mistakes. And the music sounds like noise. Well, whatever, I think emotion makes everything better, even if most interpretations of Gymnopédie don’t add such excessive amounts of emotional performance. And by emotional I mean ‘exactly the same as my non-emotional performances because EVERYTHING I PLAY SOUNDS THE SAME’

P.P.S. I actually found this song on a gaming stream, not in a soundtrack, heh. I never actually watched anything with the Gymnopédies in their soundtrack.

P.P.P.S. I also don’t actually actively watch gaming streams. Except when it was DIVEKICK

3 responses

  1. I prefer listening to an orchestra for these particular tracks, but needless to say your adaptation on piano is very well done.

    2012/05/24 at 01:15

  2. Pingback: O-New: Week in Review « O-New

  3. pfffft-

    2012/06/01 at 00:41