Piece of the Week: Gymnopedie No. 3

Gymnopedie No. 3

Erik Satie was a French composer whose iconoclastic musical experimentation paved the way for many of the avant-garde styles of the early twentieth century. Born in the late nineteenth century and educated at the Paris Conservatoire, Satie rebelled against the strict piano style of his conservatory teachers and against the standard “salon” style of composition popular in polite society. In the late 1880s, Satie found a community of like-minded young artists–including Claude Debussy–at Le Chat Noir, one of Paris’s more bohemian and artistically adventurous of nightclubs. It was during this period that Satie composed his Gymnopedies, a series of meditative pieces that explored slow tempos and nontraditional chord progressions.

Satie’s Gymnopedie pieces (three in total) were first published in 1898 for solo piano, and have been arranged for larger ensembles numerous times. Debussy himself made the first full orchestration, a fact that helped to popularize Satie’s pieces in the first place (due to Debussy’s growing fame at the time). In 1968, the jazz-fusion group Blood, Sweat & Tears released a rock version of Satie’s Gymnopedies  as the lead track on their second album.

In this new arrangement, by Bob Phillips (for Alfred Music Publishing), the lush harmonies and lazy melody of Gymnopedie No. 3 are made accessible for a beginning level full-orchestra.

Composition Notes:

Take your students to festival with this stunning, minimalist piece, arranged with the melody doubled in many sections, for a first full orchestra experience. With an emphasis on slow bows, the easy rhythms and notes are very true to the original piano piece. The first violins play F-natural, but all ranges are beginning level. The performance will sound high level, yet the tune is completely playable. This piece will take your breath away!

Audio Sample:

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Audio provided by Alfred Music Publishing Co., Inc.

Composer Biography:

Erik Satie was born in Honfleur, France on May 17, 1866 and died in Paris on July 1, 1925. Although this French composer lived during the Romantic era (1820-1900), his works do not recall a particularly ‘romantic’ flavor. Instead, Satie’s music is characterized by a certain anti-establishment, Bohemian, whimsical quality; one which influenced other French composers such as Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc. Although he composed for orchestra, chorus, and solo voice, Satie is known best for his many unique piano compositions. As a child, Satie lived with his grandparents and took music lessons from a local organist in Honfleur. His education continued in Paris, where he went to live with his father, a music publisher, and his new stepmother, a pianist and amateur composer, whom he disliked. Satie occasionally attended his classes at the Paris Conservatory and, although his teachers thought him talented, they also felt that he was lazy and irresponsible. Evidently, Satie’s poor study habits were representative of his personality as a whole: he often flaunted his disrespect for the establishment by poking fun at it through his music. When critics accused him of having no concept of musical form, Satie turned the criticism into a joke with his piano composition “Trois Morceaux en forme de poire” (Three Pear-Shaped Pieces). Many of his works for piano bear similar odd or humorous titles. Satie also experimented with musical composition in ways that influenced later twentieth-century composers like John Cage. For example, Satie wrote an instrumental composition where performers were instructed to stand at different places in the concert hall and play different pieces. In addition, he wrote a piano piece which bore the instruction that it be repeated consecutively 840 times.

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If you are an educator, musician, composer or student with a suggestion for a “piece of the week” blog post, you can email your suggestion to Griffin at gwoodworth at makemusic dot com. Please let me know the name of the piece, composer, publisher, and why this piece is special to you.

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