Erik Satie - Trois Gymnopedies

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Erik Satie's Gymnopedies are what many consider to be the groundwork for today's ambient music; it's as ignorable as it is interesting (although, I find it hard to ignore such great music). These three beautiful pieces for solo piano composed in 1888, are calming, reflective, ethereal, relaxing, soothing, and provide respite from the stresses of everyday life.

Gymnopedie No. 1 - Lent et douloureux (slow and mournfully):

With a hollow, but eerily warm melody gently floating atop an accompaniment of steady short-long rhythms, Gymnopedie No. 1 is as expressive as it is transparent. Its simplicity and openness masterfully disguise its apparent dissonances.

Gymnopedie No. 2 - Lent et triste (slow and sad):

Gymnopedie No. 2 shares the same short-long accompaniment in the left hand as the previous Gymnopedie, but its mood and feeling is entirely different. Its lack of commitment to any specific key gives way to a melody that wanders aimlessly on a path through a series of nebulous chords.

Gymnopedie No. 3 - Lent et grave (slowly and solemnly):

Though similar in melodic structure, Gymnopedie No. 3 is a minor key version of Gymnopedie No. 1. Its hypnotic-like accompaniment takes the listener on an out of body journey.  If played as it is intended, the texture of this piece is as smooth as silk - no abrupt pauses, no clashing interruptions - just a steady flow of honey.

Debussy Orchestrations:

Claude Debussy was a friend and fan of the eccentric Erik Satie. Ten years after Satie had published his Gymnopedies, Debussy, wanting to bring more attention to Satie, orchestrated No. 1 and 3 but claimed that No. 2 did not lend itself to orchestration. Both versions, solo piano and orchestrated, remain one of Satie's most famous and popular works.

Recommended Recordings:

  • Satie: Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes Sports et divertissements (Virgin Classics)
  • The Classics: 3 Gymnopedies (Virgin Classics)
  • Satie: Piano Music Arranged for Guitar (BIS)