Erik Satie: Autour des Nocturnes
To celebrate the Erik Satie Day held at Gresham College on 16th April, 2010, I recorded a Satie CD in collaboration with one of the world’s foremost Satie experts, Professor Robert Orledge, and fellow Satie enthusiast and composer Jamie Crofts. The CD consists of 35 recordings – a constellation of piano pieces orbiting around Satie’s celebrated Nocturnes, which are, to many minds, amongst his most beautiful compositions. 25 of these tracks are world premiere recordings.
Satie wrote and published 5 Nocturnes towards the end of his compositional career, each a crystallization of his precise, concise musical aesthetic, full of tenderness and classical restraint. A 6e Nocturne was found in Satie’s notebooks by Professor Orledge, needing only a couple of bars of bassline to make a complete piece. It was published in 1994. But Satie left us approximately 120 notebooks filled with musical ideas and drafts of pieces, and these included many ideas for nocturnes which he decided to leave incomplete for various reasons. One of the most interesting of these sketches are the 12 bars for a 7e Nocturne, for which Satie constructed a number of one-bar musical cells which he then assembled to create a very pleasing opening.
The CD contains three new ‘completions’ or continuations of Satie’s work, so that the 7e Nocturne now exists in three versions by the composer/performers involved in the project. A further five Satie sketches for nocturnes have been continued to full length pieces by myself, James Nye, and a sixth by Robert Orledge. Additionally, the CD contains other rare Satie material, including the first recording of a new edition of the 4 Ogives by their editor, Jamie Crofts.
The CD is available from www.wight-trash.com, and many of the scores can be obtained from www.soundkiosk.com. Transcripts and videos of the lectures from the Erik Satie Day are available from the Gresham College website: Erik Satie: His music, the vision, his legacy
Presented below are the full notes from the booklet for the CD, which is available in a first, hand-numbered limited edition of 200.
ERIK SATIE: AUTOUR DES NOCTURNES
01 Nocturne 1 – Erik Satie [JC] [3:16]
02 Nocturne 2 – Erik Satie [JC] [2:12]
03 Nocturne 3 – Erik Satie [JC] [3:15]
04 Nocturne 4 – Erik Satie [RO] [1:55]
05 Nocturne 5 – Erik Satie [RO] [1:49]
06 Nocturne 6 – Erik Satie, ed. Orledge [RO] [1:42]
07 Nocturne 7 – Erik Satie/Robert Orledge [RO] * [2:21]
08 Nocturne 7 – Erik Satie/James Nye [JN] * [4:38]
09 Nocturne 7 – Erik Satie/Jamie Crofts [JC] * [2:50]
10 San Bernardo – Erik Satie, ed. Orledge [RO] [1:11]
11 Nocturne (2002) – Robert Orledge [RO] * [2:01]
12 Nocturne d’un sorcier de sous-sol
– Erik Satie/Robert Orledge [RO] *[2:07]
13 Nocturne: ‘Sur l'<<Attachon>>’
– Erik Satie/James Nye [JN] * # [3:26]
14 Nocturne: Rêverie broussailleuse
– Erik Satie/James Nye [JN] * [4:20]
15 Nocturne: un de ces gens est un cheval
– Erik Satie/James Nye [JN] * [3:36]
16 Nocturne: Songe canin – Doggy Dream
– Erik Satie/James Nye [JN] * [4:07]
17 Nocturne: Chant du lapin à la lune
– Erik Satie/James Nye [JN] * # [5:09]
18 Nocturne: Ce que dit le hibou
– James Nye [JN] * [2:34]
19 La Mer est pleine d’eau: c’est à n’y rien comprendre
– Erik Satie/Robert Orledge [RO] * [2:13]
20 Nocturne 1 – Jamie Crofts [JC] * [1:10]
21 Nocturne 2 – Jamie Crofts [JC] * [1:08]
22 Nocturne 3 – Jamie Crofts [JC] * [1:07]
23 Nocturne 4 – Jamie Crofts [JC] * [1:09]
24 Ogive I – Erik Satie, ed. Crofts [JC] * [2:03]
25 Ogive II – Erik Satie, ed. Crofts [JC] * [2:20]
26 Ogive III – Erik Satie, ed. Crofts [JC] * [1:57]
27 Ogive IV – Erik Satie, ed. Crofts [JC] * [2:25]
28 Nocturne 1 (free version) – Jamie Crofts [JN] * [2:09]
29 Nocturne 2 (free version) – Jamie Crofts [JN] * [1:38]
30 Nocturne 3 (free version) – Jamie Crofts [JN] * [1:45]
31 Nocturne 4 (free version) – Jamie Crofts [JN] * [1:45]
32-34 L’Enfance de Ko-Quo
– Recommandations maternelles – Erik Satie, ed. Volta [RO]
I Ne bois pas ton chocolat avec tes doigts [0:50]
II Ne souffle pas dans tes oreilles [0:36]
III Ne mets pas ta tête sous ton bras [0:40]
35 Nocturne: Night Thoughts – James Nye [JN] * [2:07]
Total duration: [79:00]
Recordings Copyright © Robert Orledge 2010:
[Tracks 4-7, 10-12, 19, 32-34]
Recordings Copyright © James Nye 2010:
[Tracks 8, 13-18, 35]
Recordings Copyright © Jamie Crofts 2010:
[Tracks 1-3, 9, 20-31]
Performers: Robert Orledge [RO], James Nye [JN], Jamie Crofts [JC].
All items performed on the upright Steinway of Professor Orledge and recorded in Brighton (23rd -24th January 2010), except # recorded in East Cowes and performed on James Nye’s Eavestaff Minipiano (17th February 2010). Recorded and edited by James Nye.
Recording note: These are live recordings made in a domestic environment. Allow for some extraneous sounds and living-room ambience. Thanks to Patricia Howard, Stephen Nye, Jackson Taylor, John Cattle, and Tom Vernon. A Zinc Stoat Digital Recording.
Distributed by www.wight-trash.com
A first limited edition of 200.
Erik Satie – Six Nocturnes – and a trio of Sevens
Satie’s sketchbooks of August-December 1919 show that he planned to write at least seven nocturnes in 1919. He made many false starts, a selection of which have been completed by the performer-composers involved in this CD [tracks 12-17], including their three versions of the only real candidate for the 7e Nocturne all of which are here recorded for the first time [tracks 7-9]. For the 7e Nocturne, Satie wrote a series of one-bar cells in BNF MS 9609(4), which he grouped according to their melodic characteristics. With his unique sense of logic he then assembled twelve of these into the first section of a nocturne before abandoning the idea. Even more curiously, he virtually completed what must be the 6e Nocturne [track 6] in BNF MS 9609(2) – it was advertised by his publisher Eugène-Louis Demets in 1920 – apart from the left-hand part in bars 10-11. But this piece shows us that the nocturnes were to be focussed on D major (as in Nos. 1-3) with No.4 flirting with F# minor, and No.5 (the last one Satie chose to publish during his lifetime) in F major.
In the case of the 1e Nocturne, the listener might be surprised to learn that it was originally titled Faux Nocturne and was accompanied by a little story about ‘an old will-o’-the-wisp’ to amuse the pianist. But Satie realised he was merely continuing a tradition begun with the Gnossiennes in 1890 and which reached its zenith in the Sports et divertissements of 1914, so the story and title disappeared in publication while the music remained unchanged. After all, the nocturnes, like Socrate (1918), were to be a new beginning for him after his friend Debussy’s death. Satie was unusually pleased with his first three nocturnes, and he told his friend Valentine Hugo on 24 August 1919 that ‘I am coming to the end of my Third Nocturne. I am dedicating it to you. The three of them are not at all bad. The first serves as a prelude; the second is shorter and very tender – very nocturnal; the third, yours, is a more rapid and dramatic nocturne, a little longer than the first. Between the three of them they form a whole with which I am very pleased – though the first is the least good.’
The 4e Nocturne, dedicated to the Comtesse Étienne de Beaumont, is a strong contender for Satie’s most beautiful piece, with a sinister undercurrent in its imposing middle section, while the 5e Nocturne, dedicated to Jean Cocteau’s mother, is more fluid, sparse and enigmatic. As in his Rose+Croix years in the 1890s, Satie devised many compositional schemes for his explorations into the nocturne – some harmonic, some intervallic, one even ‘sur-atonal’ – but as always, he never stuck rigidly to any of them. [RO]
Erik Satie – San Bernardo
This title appears on the last page of a fair copy, dated 2 August 1913, of a piano piece also in the collection of Robert Orledge. The earlier part can be found in BNF MS 9619, which shows it to be a first version of the piece which Satie rewrote later that month as Españaña, the third of the Croquis et agaceries d’un gros bonhomme en bois [Sketches and Teases of a Big Wooden Fellow – again a reference to the ‘wooden composer’ – wooden heads being popular 19th century forerunners of waxworks in France]. Both versions are light-hearted waltzes with echoes of Chabrier’s España (1884), a piece Satie greatly admired and was certainly not parodying here. The San Bernardo of the title sounds Spanish, but is probably meant to be Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) who founded many Cistercian monasteries and established the Knights Templar. Near the end of the manuscript, Satie writes ‘Rue de Madrid’, referring to the Paris Conservatoire where he spent seven unhappy years in his youth training to be a concert pianist. Here Satie plays around with the clefs and pitches of the music, probably remembering the dictation and solfège exercises that were part of his daily routine there. [Track 10] [RO]
Robert Orledge – Two Nocturnes
Nocturne (2002) [track 11], a tribute to the nocturne style of Satie, was composed while on holiday at Cruz de Tejeda in Gran Canaria in July 2002, and recently revised for the present recording. It is an attempt to reconcile the F major of Satie’s 5e Nocturne with the prevailing D major of Nocturnes 1-3 and 6. Its central section also refers to the running parallel fourths of the 2e Nocturne, and it ends with an extreme example of the extended cadence that resolves at the last possible moment, which Satie especially favoured in the 1920s.
[Track 12] Nocturne d’un sorcier de sous-sol [Nocturne of a sorcerer from the basement] was composed in late 2009 and uses a mysterious, chromatic start by Satie from BNF MS 9609(4). In this case it attempts to reconcile a sort of D major with an ending in F# minor, the key of Satie’s 4e Nocturne. Satie’s numerous drawings show that he was fascinated by sorcerers and their practices: the ‘sous-sol’ of the title is both meant to alliterate with ‘sorcier’ and to refer to the notepaper Satie had printed in 1912 (but never used) headed ‘Disunion of musicians from the floor below (of low origins)’ [Désunion des musiciens de bas-étage]. The sorcerer here seems to have a few malevolent incantations up his sleeve, but everything resolves itself in the end. [RO]
James Nye – Eight Nocturnes
Night Thoughts, the last of these nocturnes [track 35], was the first composed and is the only one with little or no connection with Satie. Written in 2006, it is dedicated to the memory of my late friend the poet David Gascoyne (1916-2001) who spent much of his early adult life with the Surrealist movement in Paris, and who loved the music of Satie. Owing more to Ravel, Debussy, Messiaen and Stravinsky than it does to Satie, this nocturne has tolling bells throughout consisting of repeated Ds and Gs. The title is borrowed from David’s epic radiophonic poem Night Thoughts which was broadcast in 1955 with music by Humphrey Searle, the only English pupil of Anton Webern.
Whereas Robert Orledge and Jamie Crofts have gamely wrestled with Satie’s prescribed melodic cells in their versions [tracks 7 and 9], for my completion of Satie’s 7e Nocturne [track 8] I decided instead to attempt to write in the middle section something sympathetic and complementary to the material, and then forge unity in the third section, a modified repetition of the opening. This is a pattern I have tended to follow in my other continuations of Satie’s starts. Rather than attempt to directly imitate Satie’s style, I have opted to write in a way that acknowledges my love of Satie, and my debt to his often mysterious and beguiling music.
Sur l'<<Attachon>> [track 13] begins with four bars by Satie and is the only one of Satie’s rejected nocturne openings to which he gave a title. At present, its exact meaning remains obscure, unless it refers to one of the many drawings he made on little cards of flying-machines, ships and trains and stored carefully in cigar boxes. Of the four thousand or so found after his death, only about 150 survive. Examples include: “L’Invisible” – Large transaerial vehicle by Dr Paillon, Sorcerer; “L’Étoile” – Large Five Masted Ship, Polar Excursions; “Le Rapide”, Brass Airship. [Illustrations can be found in A Mammal’s Notebook (Atlas Press 1996), and Écrits (1977, 1981), both edited by Ornella Volta, founder of the Fondation Satie.] This title, and the rejected ‘Faux Nocturne’ title and text for the 1e Nocturne, give some justification for the titles I have given this collection of Satie-inspired nocturnes.
Like the previous nocturne, Rêverie broussailleuse [Brambly reverie – track 14] begins with four bars by Satie, whereas un de ces gens est un cheval [one of those people is a horse – track 15] has only two. Songe canin – Doggy Dream [track 16], which is dedicated to my Bedlington terrier Thelonious, also begins with two bars by Satie, this time with a distinctly Debussyan flavour. Satie enjoyed the companionship of strays, and made much of dogs in his writings. As well as several flabby preludes for dogs, Satie wrote, in Le Réveil de la mariée (from Sports et divertissements), of a dog dancing with its fiancée, and in one of his Peccadilles importunes (Naughty Pranks) Satie recalls a dog he had who upset him by secretly smoking his cigars and getting tummy-ache.
Chant du lapin à la lune [The Rabbit’s Song to the Moon – track 17] again has two bars by Satie – this time unusual in that they are in common time – which were the second of three rejected starts for the 5e Nocturne. In continuing Satie’s opening, I have played with the harmonic and metrical sense, and also extended the form to include a final restatement of the the opening with its own silhouette embroidered in high notes. The title perhaps came from a memory of Satie’s text for La Chasse (again from his Sports et divertissements): ‘Can you hear the rabbit singing? What a voice! The owl is suckling its young. The nightingale is in its burrow. The boar is getting married. And I am shooting walnuts with my gun.’
Perhaps the nursing owl above is the one in Ce que dit le hibou [What the Owl Said – track 18], although the title was borrowed from one of many projected pieces Satie jotted down in 1914 (in this case on the cover of BNF 9588). The piece does not use a Satie start, but those with deft ears will hear some interpolations of Satie’s infamous Vexations of c.1893. This suggested itself when I realised that the opening that I had improvised used all twelve chromatic pitches in each hand. Listeners might like to refer to Professor Orledge’s analysis of Vexations which has been reproduced on Niclas Fogwall’s Satie site: www.af.lu.se/~fogwall/satie.html. Throughout the rest of the piece I have continued using the chromatic scale as a pitch set ordered only by purely aesthetic, harmonic and melodic choices rather than the exigencies of an abstract, non-musical, mathematical system. The piece follows Satie’s basic nocturne design, in having a contrasting middle section sandwiched between the statement of a theme, and its modified repetition. [JN]
Erik Satie – La Mer est pleine d’eau: c’est à n’y rien comprendre
This little piece, The Sea is full of water: that is to understand nothing [1915, track 19], Satie began as an item for an orchestra consisting of two clarinets, cor anglais and a few strings. His famous remark after hearing the première of Debussy’s La Mer in October 1905 immediately springs to mind, as cited by Hélène Jourdan-Morhange in Ravel et nous. Referring to the first movement ‘From Dawn to Midday on the Sea’, Satie cried out: ‘Ah! My old friend! There is above all a little moment between 10.30 and 10.45 that I found amazing!’
His own aquatic evocation is of gently lapping wavelets, miles distant from Debussy’s often exuberant triptych, but I could not help thinking, as I completed the last 30 or so bars, that Satie might perhaps have put in one or two disguised thematic references to Debussy’s masterpiece somewhere. Perhaps a few listeners may spot them in the piano version, which is here recorded for the first time. [RO]
Jamie Crofts – Four Nocturnes
Composed in 2009, these four nocturnes can be seen as a series of alternative views of the same subject. Many of Satie’s sets of his pieces (usually grouped in threes) are said to do the same. The Four Nocturnes exist in two versions: the first set (performed here by Jamie Crofts – tracks 20-23) in which a series of two note chords follows a fixed rhythm throughout; the second [tracks 28-31] in which the pitches are the same, whereas the rhythm is fluid, following the pattern “relatively long/relatively short/relatively long.” This second version is performed by James Nye. Although the material is very sparse, the pianist can use the pedal to combine notes into larger chords to create a richer sound. This pedalling is free, so any performance will be unique. [JC]
Erik Satie – Ogives
The four Ogives were published privately by Satie in February 1889 and advertised in the journal of the famous cabaret Le Chat Noir as follows:
The indefatigable Erik Satie, the sphinx-man, the composer with the wooden head, announces to us the appearance of a new musical work which, up to now, he holds in the highest esteem. It is a suite of melodies conceived in the mystico-liturgical genre that the author idolises, with the suggestive title: the Ogives. We wish Erik Satie a comparable success to that formerly gained by his Third Gymnopédie, which is actually to be found underneath every piano.
The Ogives were put on sale in the music shop of Satie’s father, Alfred, at 66 boulevard Magenta, Paris 8e, and it is likely that their inspiration came from the ogival windows of the nearby church of St Léonard where Satie went to admire the Gothic architecture. Each Ogive consists of a plainchant style melody, a full harmonisation of this, which is repeated almost exactly at the end, separated by another quieter and more restrained version. As the manuscript of the Ogives has been lost, the present edition by Jamie Crofts was made from a very rare copy of the 1889 publication, with autograph corrections by Satie in red ink, in the collection of Robert Orledge. As such, it marks the first edition and recording of the Ogives as Satie intended them, performed here by their editor, Jamie Crofts [tracks 24-27]. [RO]
Erik Satie – L’Enfance de Ko-Quo (Recommendations maternelles)
Ko-Quo’s Childhood (Motherly Advice) [tracks 32-34], dating from 27-28 September 1913, were the first set of three children’s pieces (Enfantines) from the prolific year of 1913. Firstly Ne bois pas ton chocolat avec tes doigts [Don’t drink your chocolate with your fingers] a slow, slightly Debussyan piece (the two composers being musically at their closest that summer); then Ne souffle pas dans tes oreilles [Don’t blow in your ears], a little march; and finally a slow waltz, Ne mets pas ta tête sous ton bras [Don’t put your head under your arm]. Satie claimed, with his habitual blend of serious comment and whimsical humour, that ‘These pieces were written with the aim of preparing children for the sound patterns of modern music. They have won me congratulations from the Shah of Persia and the King of Yvetot’. (Le Roi d’Yvetot, according to Ornella Volta’s notes, being the title of an 1813 song by Pierre-Jean Beranger, who was imprisoned many times for his satirical writings).
Three sets of Enfantines were published in Satie’s lifetime, and a further set posthumously (edited by Nigel Wilkins, and published by Eschig in 1972). However, Satie never published L’Enfance de Ko-Quo set, perhaps because he thought they were too sophisticated for children, and they were discovered and edited by Ornella Volta for Peters Edition in 1999.
Ornella considers that the ‘Ko-Quo’ of the title may be a childish pronunciation of ‘Que quoi?’ (What’s that?), and the stories that each piece tell take the form of a conversation between mother and son. In the last piece she tells him that if he doesn’t behave himself, his ‘head might be blown off by a cannon-ball’, making him into ‘an old soldier with a wooden head.’ [RO]
Eric Satie – known as Erik Satie – was born in Honfleur (Calvados) on 17th May 1866. He was a very poor student at the Conservatoire de Paris, and belatedly a pupil of Messieurs Albert Roussel & Vincent d’Indy. Satie came to notice in 1892 with some absolutely incoherent works: Sarabandes, Gymnopédies (orchestrated by Claude Debussy); Préludes du Fils des Étoiles, (orchestrated by Maurice Ravel), etc . . . He also wrote some fantasies of rare stupidity: Truly Flabby Preludes (for a dog), which Ricardo Viñes encored at the Société Nationale; and then the Dessicated Embryos which Jane Mortier similarly encored at one of her concerts. Monsieur Erik Satie is justly taken for a pretentious cretin. His music makes not a jot of sense and provokes laughter and the shrugging of shoulders. [Adapted from a note by Satie, 8th May 1915]
Robert Orledge was born in Bath in 1948 and educated at Clare College, Cambridge where he gained his doctorate for his study of the composer Charles Koechlin in 1973. Between 1971 and 1991 he rose from Lecturer to Professor in the Music Department of the University of Liverpool, publishing books on Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, Charles Koechlin, and two on Erik Satie, as well as numerous articles, editions and reviews. As a historical musicologist, Professor Orledge specialised in the way composers composed, which led to Satie the Composer (CUP, 1990, reprint 2009). Since taking early retirement in 2004, he has concentrated on completing and orchestrating Debussy’s unfinished works, including his opera The Fall of the House of Usher (1908-17), which was successfully premièred at the Bregenz Opera Festival in Austria in August 2006. It has since been performed in America, Portugal and Holland, as well as being broadcast throughout Europe. A DVD of the Bregenz première is available on Capriccio 93517, produced by Phyllida Lloyd and conducted by Lawrence Foster.
Professor Orledge has also discovered and edited various pieces from Satie’s sketchbooks in the Music Department of the Bibliothèque Naionale in Paris for Salabert and Eschig, including the 6e Nocturne in 1994, and Embarquement pour Cythère, begun for the violinist Helen Jourdan-Morhange in 1917, and published in 1996. Some of his other more recent discoveries and completions are included on this CD. For performances of his own works and completions published by the Ego Parade Press, Brighton, please contact email@example.com.
James Nye was born in Ipswich in 1966, but has lived for most of his life on the Isle of Wight. An award-winning writer and composer, he gained his B.Mus (Hons) from the University of Surrey with a dissertation on the music of iconic jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk, for which he was also the first recipient of the Peter Whittingham Award. He followed this by becoming a Master of Music in Analytical Musicology, specializing in analysis and composition with a survey of the music of Vic Hoyland.
He has a particular passion for the music of France and America, but, echoing Henry Cowell’s declaration “I want to live in the whole world of music” he has explored and drawn inspiration and sustenance from many different musical genres and periods. Refusing to be pigeon-holed, he has written for, and performed with, groups as diverse as orchestras, saxophone quartets, rock groups and choirs. He is currently working on a new version of David Gascoyne’s radiophonic poem Night Thoughts, and completing an electro-acoustic piece for chain ferry, voice and trombone. For more information, please consult: https://thefrogweb.wordpress.com/
Jamie Crofts was born in Nottingham in 1961 and studied Creative Arts at Newcastle Polytechnic. He has been writing music since 1977, and has given concerts involving the work of Erik Satie since 1979. Jamie has written “furniture music” for numerous exhibitions, including a commission from the V&A Museum for their Cutting Edge exhibition (50 Years of British Fashion). He has written a series of portraits in music, including portraits of the artists Gilbert and George, and broadcaster and writer Paul Gambaccini (who said his portrait passed the “Old Grey Whistle Test”). Jamie Crofts is currently working on new editions of Liszt’s Recitations (melodramas). His music is in the English Experimental tradition and is part of the New Eclectic. For more information, please consult: www.soundkiosk.com
Satie: Nocturnes 1-3 (Rouart-Lerolle, 1919; Salabert; public domain)
Satie: Nocturnes 4-5 (Demets 1920; Eschig; public domain)
Satie: Nocturne 6 (edited by Orledge, Eschig, 1994)
Satie: Nocturne 7 – (continuations by Orledge, Nye and Crofts, SOUNDkiosk, 2010)
Satie: San Bernardo (edited Orledge, limited edition, Aerial Kites Press, 2002)
Orledge: Nocturne (2002) (Ego Parade, 2002 – SOUNDkiosk)
Satie/Orledge: Nocturne d’un sorcier (Ego Parade, 2010 – SOUNDkiosk)
Satie/Nye: Eight Nocturnes (Zinc Stoat, 2010 – in preparation)
Satie/Orledge: La Mer est pleine d’eau: c’est à n’y rien comprendre (Ego Parade, 2010 – SOUNDkiosk)
Crofts: Four Nocturnes (SOUNDkiosk, 2009)
Satie: 4 Ogives (edited Crofts, SOUNDkiosk, 2009)
Satie: L’Enfance de Ko-Quo (edited Volta, Peters Edition, 1999)
POSTSCRIPT [12 September 2011]
I enjoyed making ensemble versions of Satie’s 7e Nocturne and my collaboration with him on the Nocturne – Chant du lapin á la lune and thought they worked pretty well. So I set to work to arrange ensemble versions of all of Satie’s published piano nocturnes, including the posthumous 6e Nocturne (edited by Robert Orledge for publication in 1999). Here they are: