Kyle Gann: Satie

Written in May of 1975 when I was 19, Satie is my Opus 1, the earliest piece of mine I would now consent to inflinct on an audience. It was written for my then-girlfriend, the singer Paulette Wallendorf, on a wave of Satie worship, soon after my discovery of minimalism, and also with a strong dash of John Cage in the random collisions of its contrapuntal lines. Originally "Untitled," it was the piece I took with me to the first June in Buffalo symposium a month later, where Cage looked at it and said, "It makes me want to hear it." Morton Feldman persuaded me to change its orchestration (from piano and vibraphone to harp and celesta), and said, "It looks like you want to be writing Steve Reich's music." (The irony of this comment, I found out years later, was that only shortly before, Feldman had played his own recent music for his student Peter Gena - later my composition teacher - and asked him, "Do you think it sounds too much like Steve Reich?") The text of the piece is several quotations from Satie, and the eleven-minute piece contains not a sharp or a flat. To this day, Satie remains one of my very favorite composers, along with Charles Ives and Ferruccio Busoni - one of music's incontrovertible saints.


Tout le monde vous dira que je ne suis pas un musicien. C'est juste.
Quand j'etais jeune on me disait:
Vous verrez quand vous aurez cinquante ans.
J'ai cinquante ans. Je n'ai rien vu.
Je suis venu au monde tres jeune dans un temps tres vieux.
Personellement je ne suis ni bon ni mauvais.
J'oscille, puis je dire.
Aussi n'ai-je jamais fait rŽellement de mal a quiconque - ni de bien au surplus.


All the world will tell you I am not a musician. That is true.
When I was young they told me:
You'll see when you're fifty.
I'm fifty. I've seen nothing.
I came into the world very young at a very old time.
Personally I am neither good nor bad.
I oscillate, you may say.
Consequently I have never done anyone any harm - or any good, for that matter.

- Erik Satie

The basic idea of Satie - repeating lines of different lengths, recurring at different rates in a multi-tempo counterpoint governed by numbers - is one I have returned to many times, in Song of Acceptance (1980), in Long Night (1980-81), in As the Day Is Long (1982), in Mountain Spirit (1983), in Windows on Infinity (1986), in Cyclic Aphorisms Nos. 1 and 2 (1987), in Time Does Not Exist (2000), in Cosmic Boogie-Woogie (2001), in "The Word" from Transcendental Sonnets (2003), in Unquiet Night (2004), in the second movement of Sunken City (2007), in Kierkegaard, Walking (2007), and in Desert Song (2011). Whatever its faults, its unintentional as well as intentional naivete, with this work I stumbled upon a paradigm that would remain basic to my music.

World premiere: January 24, 1976, at Carruth Auditorium, Southern Methodist University

Score (PDF) (revised version)MP3 (original version)

- Kyle Gann

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