Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: About 10 Minutes
Genre: Character Pieces
Time of Creation: 1888
World Premiere: Unknown (published 1888/1895)
Table of Contents
Satie's Gymnopédies in 5 Sentences
The three short piano pieces Gymnopédies are today the best known compositions of the French composer Erik Satie. The genesis as well as the connection to the historical Gymnopaedia (an ancient festival) are largely unclear. All three Gymnopédies are characterized by the same rhythm, the same time signature, a similar character (“painful”/ “sad”/ “serious”) and the same “mild” harmonies. This results in an atmospheric effect as well as the impression that the music wanders aimlessly instead of “striving” toward a goal – Satie may have been inspired here by the symbolist paintings of the French Mahler Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. French composer and friend of Satie Claude Debussy later arranged two of the Gymnopédies for orchestra.
4 Highlights from Satie's Gymnopédies
Highlight 1: No. 1 – Lent et douloureux
The first Gymnopédie is probably the piece that is best known by Erik Satie today. Pay attention to how the melody is constructed. The second half consists entirely of a recumbent note:
Highlight 2: No. 2 – Lent et triste
In the second Gymnopédie, Satie builds the second half of the melody differently. It is now a repetition of the first half:
Highlight 3: No. 3 – Lent et grave
And also in the third Gymnopédie, Satie makes a small variation in the second half of the melody. The single recumbent note of No. 1 returns, but is shortened:
Highlight 4: Pendulum
Satie allows the Gymnopédies to slowly pendulum out with the rhythm that has run throughout the work:
3 Questions and Answers about Satie's Gymnopédies
Question 1: What does the word gymnopedie mean?
The term goes back to “gymnopaedia.” This was a festival held every year in ancient Sparta. The main attractions were war dances and choral singing by young Spartan men.
Question 2: Is Gymnopédie No. 1 by Eric Satie suitable for beginners?
Yes, Gymnopédie No. 1 is not technically very demanding. It is therefore a popular piece for beginners.
Question 3: What was the relationship between Erik Satie and Claude Debussy?
Erik Satie and Claude Debussy were friends. While Erik Satie’s financial situation was getting worse towards the end of the 19th century, Claude Debussy was at the height of his popularity. Debussy strove to gain public recognition for Satie’s works.
2 Recommended Recordings of Satie's Gymnopédies
Recording 1: Håkon Austbö
Recording 2: Paul Barton
This recording by Paul Barton also allows a look at the pianist’s notes and hands: