So today, Erik Satie turns 150. He was born in the Normandy coastal town of Honfleur at 9am on 17 May, 1866. He reckoned he was conceived on his parents’ honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands; his mother was London-Scottish, and they had married in a church in Barnes, South West London.
But the rest of Satie’s extraordinary story is 100% Parisian, one that takes in Montmartre cafés and cabarets, lofty artistic collaborations with the likes of Picasso, Cocteau and Diaghilev, and the squalor of his long-term bedsit in Arcueil, then a southern suburb.
Portraits of Erik Satie by Ramon Casas i Carbó (1891), Suzanne Valedon (1893) and Santiago Rusiñol (1891).
This year’s Cheltenham Music Festival marks this 150th anniversary not just through performances of his music (eg a recital by Pascal and Ami Rogé on Wednesday 6 July), but through investigations of his extraordinary life (Memoirs of a Pear-Shaped Life) and of his legacy. Our Keyboard Inventions performances celebrate Satie as the trailblazer: because whether it’s the minimalist piano, the prepared piano, the piano’s role in multimedia explorations or the wider bounds of conceptual art, Satie was there at the beginning.
There is so much more to Satie than the beautifully fragile, justifiably beloved Gymnopedie No 1, and I hope that you will find what is on offer in Cheltenham this July both enjoyable and enlightening.
In the meantime, you can begin your Satie150 journey by listening to Tom Service’s excellent docu-feature on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters, or Donald Mcleod’s equally wonderful Satie portrait every day this week on Radio 3’s Composer of the Week. And here’s an article I wrote for the Guardian last July (the performance I refer to is repeated on 6 July this year).
I’ll leave the last word to the great French pianist Pascal Rogé. We have asked all 2016 festival artists for their view on Satie – was he maverick genius or irrelevant prankster? You can read all their different responses in our festival programme book (only £5, available at the Cheltenham Festival Box Office). But this is what Pascal wrote in reply:
A man came to see me after a concert with his 7 year old son, and said “I want you to meet my son, you saved his life…he was born premature and his heart was beating erratically, the doctors seemed helpless and they suggested to play some music for him, we tried many but the only one that kept his heart steady was your recording of Satie’s Gymnopedies…”
Happy Birthday Erik!
Director, Cheltenham Music Festival
Find out more about concerts and events related to Erik Satie and his works at Cheltenham Music Festival 2016!