Erik Satie completed Les 3 Valses Distinguées du précieux dégoûté for solo piano in the summer of 1914. They are musical portraits of an effete dandy; his waist, his spectacles and his legs are all illustrated with a humorous, surrealistic lilt. Each waltz is true to the commonly held impression of Satie as a musical prankster whose brilliance is an affront to the respectability of his field, particularly because it is difficult to pin down exactly what makes his work so original and beautiful. The jokes that surround the music lace it with the possibility of posturing, of using mere cleverness to conceal a lack of talent. What is more, there is little attempt to fight the impression that this part of his personal sense of humor. Satie was never a poser, but he was rather self-conscious of his lack of a more refined, fluent technique, such as Debussy's. The humor seems to challenge the listener to find emptiness where there is none. Nor is his music lush and limitless like that of his good friend Debussy.
The first movement of Les 3 Valses Distinguées du précieux dégoûté, "Sa taille" (the waist) includes in the score a quote from La Bruyère, attacking those who would substitute truth for humor. In essence, it is a quotation that deconstructs the reservations some listeners might have about the composer and his music. Satie goes on to illustrate the witticism further. The commentary in the music depicts the dandy looking in the mirror, humming a tune from the fifteenth century, thinking himself handsome. He is completely confident that a certain royal female will fall victim to his charms tonight. His grip is at his waist in a winning posture. All this information creates an informal, accidental tone poem, but these notes are not intended that way. The text is not poetry, but the scene Satie describes is an ironic regard for himself. Neither the man nor his music was in the least bit shallow or lacking merits. The score itself is free of bar lines, and has an understated fluency that is a marvel but does with a concealed seriousness that works with its own, high level of invention with great integrity. The extended notes that come with his scores are not necessary for enjoying the music, but they are fun and smart. What they do is create a shield of text that conceals an absence of musical mediocrity. This is a powerful irony, simple yet sophisticated, and indicative of the wonderful aesthetic world that Satie's legacy holds for the listener.
The second waltz is "Son binocle" (his glasses) which suggests that the arrogant dandy is the composer. More texts occur in the score beginning with a quote from Cicero, banning the nudity of young men in the public baths. This is followed by a depiction of the dandy cleaning his glasses that were a gift from a beautiful woman. He is saddened that he lost their case. The final movement is "Ses jambes" (his legs). Beginning with a quote from Cato concerning the responsibilities of land-ownership, Satie goes on to describe an absurdly absurd depiction of the dandy's self-love and admiration of his own legs. The music is brilliant, glowing, and funny. Satie's genius is harder to understand than it is to appreciate.