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Black and white portrait of Erik Satie

The Adorable Eccentricities of Composer Erik Satie


Extravagant gestures populated his life, but the unbelievably small room in which he lived for seventeen years revealed the true span of his eccentricity.

John Cage did not hesitate to contradict Beethoven and admit that Erik Satie was right. The becoming of music appeared to be irredeemably linked to the inquiries of that unclassifiable character that wandered down the streets of Montmartre, dressed as a Russian Cossack. Perhaps because of the importance, he gave to silence, or because in Diaghilev’s Parade, which he composed, he was able to foresee the work Cage would later carry out by including a lottery wheel, a typewriter, two vapor sirens, a rattle, a “bottlefone” (an instrument with tuned bottles using water to define their tone), and a revolver.

The musical career of Honfleur’s heterodox was not easy. His incursions in the world of academia resulted in an irredeemable failure: his teachers never saw the slightest trace of talent in the unruly student. 

But by the year 1887, Satie was already a reviled composer that was hoarding his own compositions, like he mythical Gymnopédies or Gnossiennes, works that questioned many of the numerous rules of classical music. However, the poor reception of his work and his financial instability led him to work as a pianist for a cabaret, adapting over one hundred popular piano pieces. Years later, Satie moved to Arcueil, in the outskirts of Paris, where he would lease what was to become his home until his death: a small room the size of a wardrobe, which nobody ever entered while the composer was alive.

While he lived there, extravagant gestures populated his life. In 1920, the Gymnopedist (as he once defined himself) presented his Musique d’ameublement, and arranged his musicians on opposite sides of a chamber so that the audience members could forget about the music and talk and drink throughout the concert.  When the audience settled down in solemn silence, Satie had a fit of anger and threw himself upon the audience to kick them out.

But let us return to that small and mysterious room in Arcueil, where he kept his most extravagant secrets. Indeed, when he died in 1925, after leading a solitary life for 27 years, his friends entered his immaculate chamber. There was a general sense of surprise: among his few belongings they found a collection with over a hundred umbrellas, a series of drawings portraying medieval buildings and a piano which, judging by the amount of spider webs on its cover, looked as if it had never been played. In regard to the drawings of medieval buildings, they proved who had been responsible for the enigmatic ads announcing the lease of a “lead castle”, among other fantasy buildings, in a Parisian newspaper.

But there was one more surprise to be found: inside the piano, as if he had tried to silence the strings, they found hundreds of narrow paper strips. When they unrolled them they realized they contained short, enigmatic phrases. One of them read: 

My name is Erik Satie, like everybody else. 

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