Alfred Eric Leslie Satie (Honfleur, 17 May 1866 — Paris, 1 July 1925) was a French composer and pianist. Starting with his first composition in 1884, he signed his name as Erik Satie.
Satie was introduced as a “gymnopedist” in 1887, shortly before writing his most famous compositions, the Gymnopédies. Later, he also referred to himself as a “phonometrograph” or “phonometrician” (meaning “someone who measures (and writes down) sounds”) preferring this designation to that of “musician,” after having been called “a clumsy but subtle technician” in a book on contemporary French composers published in 1911.
In addition to his body of music, Satie also left a remarkable set of writings, having contributed work for a range of publications, from the dadaist 391 to the American Vanity Fair. Although in later life he prided himself on always publishing his work under his own name, in the late nineteenth century he appears to have used pseudonyms such as Virginie Lebeau and François de Paule in some of his published writings.
Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde. He was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music and the Theatre of the Absurd.
The Gymnopédies, published in Paris starting in 1888, are three piano compositions written by French composer and pianist, Erik Satie.
These short, atmospheric pieces are written in 3/4 time, with each sharing a common theme and structure. Collectively, the Gymnopedies are regarded as the precursors to modern ambient music – gentle yet somewhat eccentric pieces which, when composed, defied the classical tradition. For instance, the first few bars feature a disjunct chordal theme in the bass – first, a G-major 7th in the bass, and then a B-minor chord, also in the lower register. Then comes the one-note theme in D major. Although the collection of chords at first seems too complex to be harmonious, the melody soon imbues the work with a soothing atmospheric quality.
Satie himself used the term “furniture music” to refer to some of his pieces, implying they could be used as mood-setting background music. However, Satie used this term to refer to only some of his later, 20th century compositions, without specific reference to the Gymnopédies as background music. From the second half of the 20th century on, the Gymnopédies were often erroneously described as part of Satie’s body of furniture music, perhaps due to John Cage’s interpretation of them.