Consider carefully, open your head. No that’s not advice for an auto-lobotomy, although to be fair that would be the way to go about it. No Consider Carefully and Open Your Head are both remarks at different parts on the sheet music to Gnossienne number 3 by Erik Satie. I have taken the piece up for the first time. A while back I got the sheet music to the 3 gymnopedies and 6 gnossiennes, but have only really played the gymnopedies. I have embarked on the gnossiennes. Starting with number 3.
Whenever I mention Satie to my piano teacher she mentions that he was ‘mad’. I’m not sure how true this is, or really if his mental state is particular noteworthy. There’s a fairly comprehensive Wikipedia page about Satie, which I don’t intend on reprinting here. It states that he was a heavy drinker of absinthe, which wasn’t that unusual in Paris in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Given that he apparently died of cirrhosis of the liver then I guess the reports of drinking were true. The ‘Green Fairy’ was also banned in many countries because it was deemed to be dangerous, But I see the bans were lifted a while ago and now it is being widely sold again. Have you ever tried it?
When tackling Satie one of the first things to decide is the speed. He was notable for the sparsity of his practical advice. Tempo is left to the player’s interpretation. He wasn’t a big fan of bar lines either – my teacher assures me that Gnossienne 3 is in 4/4 time. But he did like to offer ‘advice’ on how to play. So as well as the phrases already mentioned, other parts of Gnossienne 3 are accompanied by notes such as; alone for an instant, so as to form a hollow, very lost, carry it further, and my favourite: arm yourself with clairvoyance. I have no idea how to do that. Perhaps some of my deceased readers could let me know…..
The only actually practical note he adds is at the end of the piece which is to: bury the sound.
I think the strength in his compositions lie in their simplicity. You would assume that the gymnopedies are grade 2 or 3 pieces. However when they have appeared on the ABRSM syllabus they are typically a grade 5 or 6. This reflects the fact that getting the musicality right is often harder the simpler the notes are. There is nowhere to hide. I was hoping to record a video of me playing Satie, even ‘just’ Gymnopedie 1. But even though I can play the piece well enough, I really don’t think that I am getting the true beauty of the piece consistently all the way through, and I would feel bad about posting a mediocre video. (If you want mediocre tunes, check out so of my other videos here).
I will keep practicing though. I promise to post one eventually. In the meantime I am just really happy to be playing such melancholic pieces. The gnossiennes especially, sound better to me played quite slowly; To really accentuate the sadness. I don’t know what it is about sad music that makes me so happy. But Satie is able to hit the spot perfectly.
How about you? Are you happier with sad or cheery music?