Week47 Erik Satie: Little French Songs; Maggie Nelson; Big Red Machine



Candide Recording. Printed in the USA // Erik Satie (1866-1925) // Selected songs 

Pianists: Frank Glazer & Richard Deas

Mezzo-soprano: Elaine Bonazzi

Violin: Millard Taylor

  1. 3 Morceaux en forme de Poire 

  2. Trois Mélodies

  3. Trois Poèmes d’Amour 

  4. Quatre Petites Mélodies 

  5. Ludions

  6. Je Te Veux

  7. Choses Vues à Droite et à Gauche (sans lunettes)

  8. Aperçus Désagréables (for 4 hands)

Satie is one of those figures whose perceived importance seems out of proportion to the music that he wrote. Most of the music for which he is known consists of tiny piano pieces, some of them austere and elegant, such as the Gymnopédies, most of them droll and enigmatic, with titles such as ‘Choral inappetisant’, Embryons desséchés (‘Dessicated Embryos’), and Préludes flasques (pour un chien) (‘Flabby Preludes for a Dog’). He took to adding little descriptive phrases and instructions in the scores. For example, the first of the Embryons desséchés, the ‘Holothurian’ (Sea cucumber), includes the following: ‘It is raining,’ ‘What a pretty rock!’, ‘Like a nightingale with toothache’, and ‘I have run out of tobacco. Fortunately I don’t smoke’. “” robert phillip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music


[Satie] played the piano and conducted the orchestra at the famous Chat Noir cabaret, a meeting place for radical writers and artists. Here he developed a friendship with Debussy. Debussy understood that something serious lay behind Satie’s enigmatic facade, with his affectation of bohemianism and his musical aphorisms that seemed to exist solely on their own terms. “” robert phillip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music

the song format in classical music found it’s champion and origin about sixty years prior to satie in the works of franz schubert (Erlkonig, 4 Impromptus and the like) and by satie’s time became the choice format of parisian cafes and cabarets. even the knowledge that a bit of romanticization goes into the bohemian atmosphere of these eccentric congregations doesn’t stop one from fantasizing about the bon hommie pleasures of great music in great company. indeed to listen to these songs by satie alone, headphones et al, is to perhaps miss the point entirely. his music is suited best beneath the murmur of the comings and goings of a semi-private audience’s idle chatter. it’s what i referred to in Week39 of 2017 as ‘parlour music’: music for standing around, milling in and out of conversations, leaning on every kind of tufted furniture. that is the mood appropriate for these songs, and for my favourite of the Trois Mélodies--Je Te Veux--dramatized below by the rapturous talents of soprano ghada ghanem.   

J'ai compris ta détresse

Cher amoureux

Et je cède à tes voeux

Fais de moi ta maîtresse

Loin de nous la sagesse

Plus de tristesse

J'aspire à l'instant précieux

Où nous serons heureux

Je te veux

Je n'ai pas de regrets

Et je n'ai qu'une envie

Près de toi là tout près

Vivre toute ma vie

Que mon cœur soit le tien

Que ta lèvre soit mienne

Que ton corps soit le mien

Et que toute ma chair soit tienne

Oui je vois dans tes yeux

La divine promesse

Que ton cœur amoureux

Vient chercher ma caresse

Enlacés pour toujours

Brûlant des mêmes flammes

Dans un rêve d'amour

Nous échangerons nos deux âmes

I understand your distress

Dear lover

And I yield to your wishes

Make me your mistress

Far from us is wisdom

No more sadness

I look forward to the beautiful moment

When we will be happy

I want you

I have no regrets

And I have only one desire

Beside you there so close

To live all my life

May my heart be yours

May your lips be mine

May your body be mine

And may all my flesh be yours

Yes I see in your eyes

The divine promise

That your loving heart

Comes looking for my caress

Joined forever

Burning in the same flames

In a dream of love

We will swap our two souls

(this other blue thing i found)


at the recommendation of maria popova’s Brain Pickings i’ve been reading maggie nelson’s Bluets. it’s a wild romp of a book, a riot in blue, structured in short numbered sections--each of them capable of being prompts for their own epic tale--it feels like poetry and reads like prose. admittedly i came to it in an effort to better understand my takenness to the colour blue. singer regina spektor calls it ‘the most human colour’, abdellatif kechiche, in the title of one of his films, counterintuitively called it the warmest colour. in Bluets, nelson jumps the gun and interacts with the colour in a manner beyond sensory perception, it becomes an element of its own, more real than the objects that seemingly possess it. and as i’m always a sucker for the indelible amalgamations of grotesquerie and profundity, i couldn't resist such absolutely perfect instances as: 

One of the last times you came to see me, you were wearing a pale blue button-down shirt, short-sleeved. I wore this for you, you said. We fucked for six hours straight that afternoon, which does not seem precisely possible but that is what the clock said. We killed the time. You were on your way to a seaside town, a town of much blue, where you would be spending much time with the other woman you were in love with, the woman you are with now. I’m in love with you both in completely different ways, you said. It seemed unwise to contemplate this statement any further. “” maggie nelson, Bluets 

what i didn’t expect to find in this book of blue things (and blue people) was an examination of possible motivations for my obsession with record keeping (and keeping records, in the vinyl sense). in a suddenly insightful section (sudden because it was preceded with references to ‘that stepped on look of a day’s-end muff’ and such), nelson  makes an observation about the irresistible yet futile allure of counting the days since this or that event happened: 

It often happens that we count our days, as if the act of measurement made us some kind of promise. But really this is like hoisting a harness onto an invisible horse. “” maggie nelson, Bluets   

keeping at a journal can sometimes best way to find out why you started a journal in the first place--in that sense am i still arriving at the motivations for keeping this on. the most obvious and tempting promise to be found in keeping a musical catalogue, in returning to the same composition year after year, is to be able to say that one has moved forward, a worthy exercise provided one doesn’t conflate such obvious temporal facts with the completely independent metrics of real progress. returning again to this list of songs by satie, for example is a casual glance to the past year as if to say: that, then, was not the end. looking forward into the upcoming year, keeping this journal is also my attempt to resist a character-type--one that i’m capable of becoming---the ‘thin gypsie thief’ encountered in one of leonard cohen’s ballads, his ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, to whom he writes a letter: 

I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert

You’re living for nothing I hope you’re keeping some kind of record. 

it’s an image that truly terrifies me, that of a stupid and sweating animal, always busy in an uphill struggle...the type who perhaps has lived through a towering tome of happenings--some vicious, some beyond sublime--but their constitution is too perforated to hold on to any of it. the type that becomes gaunt from fidgeting, from the inability to digest anything completely, from a pathological incapacity for stillness. “Everyone nowadays lives through too much and thinks through too little”, nietzsche said in his Human, All Too Human, his attempt at diagnosing the spiritual ailments of his time, “they have a ravenous appetite and colic at the same time so that they keep getting thinner and thinner no matter how much they eat.---Whoever says nowadays, "I have not experienced anything"--is a fool.” should find myself at some time in the future as such a type, perhaps my penchant for record keeping, holding on concert tickets, committing each week to a musical composition, might rescue me from the obliterating confession that i have not experienced anything.

plus there’s the added benefit of bringing a handful of good songs along.

(elsewhere in music: Hymnostic -- Big Red Machine)

this is a new segment i’m starting to reffflleeect on the latest song i’ve added to my music library...

it usually takes me a bit of time for a piece of music to settle, or at least for me to realize just what it is that i’ve caught in my net. this was especially the case with Big Red Machine, the result of justin vernon and aaron dessner’s side-project of the same name. listening to it within hours of its release in august 2018, i was as instantaneously hooked as i will always be with anything vernon lays the lacquered creaminess of his falsetto on. though there’s less of that falsetto in Big Red Machine and much more husky sing-rapping over ethereal melodies, very much in the style of 10Deathbreast, the second song on Bon Iver’s latest album (with all the attendant distortions, cosmic bass, and effervescent imagery blotched by the spasms of a thunderous beat---the whole thing is an avalanche of tenderness). that is also the setting of Big Red Machine, a wild ride through the synthosphere. grass-couched in the middle of this overproduced futuristic soundscape is a song that Bon Iver of the late 2000’s is capable of: Hymnostic is a glade surrounded by singed and scorched earth. only in the past few months have i become conscious of the power of its simplicity, have i come to feel the full weight of the second verse: 

Clad in ballads, wine and orchids

'Cause I know the kind you seek

You used to lay down all around me

You used to lay it all by me

No it's not just adulation

I will hold you for me

as to the meaning of the title ‘Hymonostic’---i gave up long ago trying to ‘understand’ justin, but it’s fun seeing other people try: a deep Reddit dive this week procured a rather satisfactory hypothesis as to the definition of a hymnostic. it might simply be the combination of ‘hymn’ and ‘agnostic’ in the abbreviation of ‘a hymn for the agnostic’. justification of this theory can be somewhat excavated in the lyrics: 

I cut the grass, tend the flowers

Downing bottles by the crease

Light a smoke up in the sun room

And pretend I'm my tree

Prove it not

Rock of ages

In a row

They're lies to me

‘Rock of Ages’ was one of those mumble-hymns we all sang in my father’s church growing up, oblivious to the significance of the words save for the little part at the top that went ‘Rock of ages, cleave for me, let me hide myself in thee’. it appears though that the balladeer in vernon’s Hymnostic has no belief in such fortresses of faith; in fact exactly the opposite of hiding comes to mind when i hear ‘Light a smoke up in the sun room’--i smile and shake my head every time. but the part that floors me without fail, that would ruin makeup if i wore any, is in the closing stretch: it’s a pleading (je te veux), as well as a goodbye. an earnest question that ends with a wink---sung with such exhaustive force that it’s quite unbelievable how one man’s voice can evoke the magnitude of a singing throng: 

Winter cost your peace of mind now

Winter cost your valentine

Why won't you come back on the runner

Won't you come right backside

I'll be singing for your health

I'll be righteous you'll see