Erik Satie's 6 Gnossiennes

Romantic Period Piano Music

Composer Erik Satie
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The word "gnossienne" describes several pieces of piano music composed by Satie that didn't fit into any of the existing styles of classical music like a piano prelude or a sonata. Satie easily solved this dilemma by simply titling the pieces with a completely new and made up word, in this case, "gnossienne." Though the etymology and the pronunciation of Satie's made up word "gnossienne" remain a mystery to many, what is clear is that his six gnossiennes are wonderfully unique and beyond intriguing.

The Creation of the Gnossiennes

Satie composed his first three gnossiennes around 1890, without time signatures and bar lines (often referred to as "absolute time") and traditional tempo markings. Satie's peculiar scores could be read like musical poetry - one can interpret the piece with very few restrictions, as his tempo markings were made of phrases like "don't leave," "lightly, with intimacy" and "don't be proud." The first gnossiennes (Nos. 1 and 3) were published in September of 1893, in ​​Le Figaro musical Nr. 24, while No. 2 was published in Le Coeur the next month. The remaining three gnossiennes, Nos. 4-6, were composed in 1891, 1899, and 1897, respectively. However, these were not published until 1968.

The Musical Qualities of the Gnossiennes

Satie's gnossiennes are often viewed as a musical continuation of his popular Trois Gymnopedies, though some musicologists believe they are more closely related to his Sarabandes. Either way, it's apparent that music like this has never been composed before, making it easy to understand why such an enigmatic title was given to them. The inherent feelings of timelessness and infinity of each piece come from the works' cyclical nature - you could leave each gnossienne on repeat and never distinctly hear a beginning or an ending apart from the electronic separation in between tracks. Like the Gymnopedies, Satie composes lonely melodies supported by less than complex, almost elementary, harmonies and chord structures.