1991. I found a CD of Erik Satie compositions on sale in town. Back then, all I knew was his famous Gymopédies, he was basically a classical one-hit wonder to me. But, what the hell, the CD was cheap, give it a go.
I started listening. The Ogives, Gymopedies, Sarabande No.1 and then…
At Sarabande No.2 something just clicked inside me. To this day, I still don’t properly understand why. The music unlocked something inside me, something that I hadn’t realised was locked-up in the first place.
The version that I was listening to was played by Reinbert De Leeuw. I’d already been gorgeously surprised at the tempo he chose to play the Gymnopédies. So slow, so delicate and halting, the space he brought to the pieces was wondrous. I find any other versions unbearable now.
But when Sarabande No.2 started, I felt like I wasn’t listening to a CD, I wasn’t even listening to music. Those chords, spinning from jazzy to baroque, that aching melody, the deceptively simple harmonies. The piece punched me in the chest. I started crying. Took me about half-an-hour before I could stop.
I have no idea why that happened.
Of course, after that I became a bit of an Alfred Éric Leslie Satie nut. I researched his life, which wasn’t that simple a job, pre-cyberwent. You damn kids with your Googles and your Moogles – you don’t even know you’re born! And get off my damn lawn! Here’s some guff I Schmoogled just now:
[Satie]channelled these interests into a peculiar secret hobby: in a filing cabinet he maintained a collection of imaginary buildings (most of them described as being made out of some kind of metal), which he drew on little cards. Occasionally, extending the game, he would publish anonymous small announcements in local journals, offering some of these buildings (e.g., a “castle in lead”) for sale or rent.
What’s not to like about a man who announces the sale of fictitious metal buildings in his equivalent of the Derby Evening Telegraph?
Satie was born in 1866. I was born in 1966. This gives me a spurious sense of connection. He was a radical socialist. Me too. He wrote bizarre manifestos. Me too. He disliked Wagner. Me too. Every Tuesday he woke with a start at 3.19. Me too. He died in 1925. Err… I hope I live longer than 59…
I’ve avoided listening to the Sarabandes too much since then. And when I do, it’s usually on my own. Writing this entry tonight, I listened to Sarabande No.2 again and I wasn’t temporarily insane: the magic is there. Sixteen years on and it still moves me.
If you aren’t already a Satie fan, please do try to track down the De Leeuw versions of his early piano works. Or any Satie. The word gets bandied about too readily but I think it’s justifiable to call Satie a genius.