Erik Satie's Crystal Ball

Introductory thoughts and comments

While at university, I wrote a paper on the influence of Erik Satie and was amazed by the paucity of documented acknowledgement of his influence – particularly by composers of his era, who knew him and his work intimately. On the other side of the coin, and just as startling, is the lack of evidence to prove the influence of other contemporary and near-contemporary composers on Satie’s own work – a conjecture here, an acknowledgement of exposure there, is pretty much what it boils down to, with little concrete evidence to say that “in this work, Satie was influenced by such-and-such a composer, such-and-such a piece, such-and-such a movement”. It is, as several writers on Satie have pointed out, as if he were born outside of the natural plane of musical endeavour, untouched by either historical or contemporary music, composing independently of influence.

This independence of creation is particularly interesting when we view his work closely, discerning traces of evidence of a prophetic musical vision: Impressionist harmony in his early work, spidery neoclassicism – not just in the Sonatine bureaucratique but throughout his oeuvre, the highly chromatic repetitions of Vexations revealing links with both atonality/serialism and minimalism, the use of noise-makers in Parade which predate the work of F.T. Marinetti and the Italian futurists.

The research in this site does not pretend to discover new channels of influence from Satie through to the generative figures of all these movements – far be it from me to suggest that Schoenberg drew his theories from Vexations or that Stravinsky’s Pulcinella only existed because of Satie’s experiments. Rather, I seek to explore the inventiveness of Erik Satie and the many facets of his work, which have so often in the past been unfairly dismissed as slight or trivial.

Caitlin Rowley, June 2002, rev. August 2019

A note on definitions

One of the most difficult aspects of researching the subject of this website is the matter of defining the terms used – neoclassicism seems to be defined in a variety of different ways by different people – some take it to mean just pastiche pieces; other points of view are more broad-ranging; many papers on musical impressionism pretty much deal exclusively with Debussy, conveniently ignoring the problem that ‘one man doth not a movement make’, and most so-called ‘minimalist’ composers have been up in arms for years over the designation. To overcome this, I have sorted through what definitions I have found to arrive at my own, which hopefully represents a synthesis of these many conflicting points of view. I have tried to include a clear explanation of the definition of each that I have arrived at within each section of the site. No doubt there are those out there who would disagree with me on these definitions – if so, I’m always happy to hear an alternate point of view!