Erik Satie was born in 1866, the son of an English mother and a French father. He finished his music degree late in life, after an earlier botched attempt. Before his studies he played piano in bars in Paris’ Montmartre district. It was in those years he composed the works presented here.
His style is quite unique and recognizable. Once you know it is Satie, you can find the same nostalgic eroticism in all his works. A good example of this, on this recording, is the Gymnopédies, three short pieces that are meant to represent naked dancing. The title refers to an Ancient Greek annual festival, but inspiration for the three pieces comes from a couple of poems written by French impressionists in the period. They were written a considerable time apart: Satie started the first in 1888, and the cycle was ended ten years later.
Reinbert de Leeuw is one of the two specialists in the repertoire. I have recordings of both, and they are very different. De Leeuws version is sometimes deliberately slow, in my mind letting in more color. By playing so slowly, he can play more with timing. And it’s this kind of timing that makes Satie truly unique: he didn’t abide by the established rules. Time signatures were in French, and descriptive. They were not meant to be an exact indication. This might also explain the vast difference in opinion about the tempo.
Whatever side of this discussion you choose, we can all agree this is an awesome recording. I was amazed by the silence and the resulting breadth of dynamics.