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Erik Satie

Gnossiennes | Airs à faire fuir | Gymnopédies

Paul Klee, Artisten, 1915

‘She had been a trapeze artist: She knew how to fall.’

Calligraphy by Muso Soseki

Part One Chapter 9

̶  I like this music, Sprague. It’s lovely.

Airy, the melodic lines and limpid harmonies of the Gnossiennes fill the room: The grave simplicity of Eric Satie animates our encounter.

̶  It is.

Legs flexed, our backs against opposite armrests, we sit sideways on the sofa, facing each other. In your black kimono—stylized cherry blossoms falling from your shoulder in blends of pink, white and green—you beguile me with your beauty as you concentrate the calm.

̶̶  The mystery of melody! Who would have thought such a cranky guy could come up with such loveliness?
̶  Indeed.

I’m happy here with you, Marietta, on this dry road to enlightenment. So let us use this empty space for our meditations; into this garden of sand and stone, let your ephemeral petals fall.

̶̶  It’s magical!
̶  Yes.

The undulations on the surface of the sand, what deep-down movements do they betray? We know the world cannot be perceived in its entirety, we know that what we cannot see we must find within ourselves. So let us depict the world in evanescent outline, let us introduce openness into the circle: Between what is given and what is withheld, let us endeavour to restore the link.

Santiago Rusinol Parats, Erik Satie in his Room, 1891

̶ It’s so slow, so deliberate.
̶ There’s a theory about that.

Opalescent translucence, glistening cloudiness: You sip your Cointreau tonic. I continue:

̶ Satie composed his music in his head, walking home from work. They say it’s those long walks, from the cabaret in Montmartre to his room in Arcueil, that accounts for that slow, deliberate quality.
̶ Hmmm. Interesting.

Dissonance undermines harmonic movement in the spare melodic lines; the simplicity and charm of the ‘Airs à faire fuire’ bring us closer to each other.



̶  Suzanne? Wasn’t she a painter too?
̶  No. You must be thinking of Suzanne Valadon. She was the love of Satie’s life—until he pushed her out a window and decided love is a sickness of the nerves, something best to avoid.
̶  I agree with him on that! Did she die, Suzanne Valadon?
̶  No, she had been a trapeze artist: She knew how to fall.

Would I know how to fall?

Suzanne Valadon, Portrait of Erik Satie, 1892

Manet, Pinks and Clematis in a Crystal Vase, 1882

Pinks and Clematis in a Crystal Vase; Roses, Carnations and Pansies: The first two paintings in the linear arrangement offer us the purity of their presence—fluid, spontaneous, direct, they are paint made flower, word made flesh.

̶  Satie’s music goes perfectly with these paintings.
̶  It does, yes.

The modal harmonies and lilting melodies of Gymnopédies do indeed echo the silence of Manet’s bouquets.

Manet, Roses, Carnations and Pansies, 1882