Erik Satie

Nocturnes (5) for piano

    Description by John Keillor

    Erik Satie completed his five Nocturnes for solo piano between August and November 1919. They were his last piano works. These are oddly humorless works, but after the passing of Debussy in the previous year, Satie's mood remained less than light. His musical focus seemed more strained as well. While his Nocturnes are successful, beautiful pieces, alert listeners can hear the effort the composer put into them, which was not the case for his works from the 1890s. By the end of World War I, Satie's musical language had achieved a perfect union of almost-mechanical gesturing and French fluidity. Satie has included none of the qualities of Chopin or Field's nocturnes in his music, but the nocturnal effect is clearly there. There is something reductive about Satie's Nocturnes that gives them a specific value. One could say that they sound overheard rather than heard; there is no attempt to woo the listener, who is forced to listen closely to hear the striking, macabre pace of each movement that defines their unique qualities. What can be heard and appreciated by almost anyone in this music is an audible transformation of character of the composer that comes through in these works. Most mature people have seen those prone to humor come to an apex in their own thinking and develop a seriousness that cannot completely conceal their formerly humorous selves. This is what happened to Satie, and he became more interested in causing riots in theatrical venues than having attentive listeners in concert halls. His Nocturnes were his last pieces of pure music. They are a sort of swan song, featuring dedications to Marcelle Mayer, Valentine Hugo, and Jean Cocteau's mother.

    At the end the war Satie had no money and was severely depressed. His own sort of stoicism was the sort that, when it gave way, permanent emotional damage was lurking underneath. Though a sudden change of fortune came his way, he did not fully recover. A young Belgian painter named Mesens somehow rejuvenated his spirits. Though Satie was more than a generation older, he seemed to enjoy the painter's company as if he were an old friend. From this rapport the composer found another burst of creative energy and wrote his Nocturnes. They are conventionally notated, using bar lines, which he eschewed in his earlier pieces. They demonstrate no joy, but have an eerie intimacy, saying goodbye not to music or to life but to something. Their sadness and focus combine for a quality that is not easily surmised in English, but they are among the undiscovered masterpieces of the twentieth century.


    1. Doux et calme
    2. Simplement
    3. Un peu mouvemente
    4. (w/out title)
    5. (w/out title)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Aparte AP 116
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95350BR
    2016 ABC Classics ABC 4812670
    2015 Erato / Warner Classics 0825646047963
    2013 AIX Records AIX 81068
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94087
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099908520821
    2010 Decca
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968582
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 EMI Classics
    2010 RPM / RPO 28530
    2010 Sony Classical 88697720132
    2009 Romeo Entertainment / Romeo Records 7278/9
    2009 Timpani / Zebralution
    2008 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution 567239
    2008 Timpani 1C1141
    2008 Jaro / Zebralution
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93559
    2007 ABC Classics 4766289
    2006 Transart Live 134
    2006 Analekta 23146
    2005 Audiophile Classics 101053
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 49702
    2005 Ddd 99384
    2004 MDG 6131067
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243585602
    2003 Decca 000023002
    2003 EMI Classics
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 74534
    2002 Forlane 16591
    2002 Inside Out Music 31982
    2000 Angel Records 67260
    2000 Tring 069
    1999 NM Classics 98011
    1998 Berlin Classics 21262
    1998 Intersound 2853
    1998 Denon Records 17019
    1996 Decca 444958
    1995 Accord 200902
    1994 Mandala 4821
    1994 Naxos 550696
    1993 Denon Records 7485
    1992 Vox 5011
    1989 Hyperion CDH55175
    1989 Hyperion CDA66344
    Accord 201022
    Brilliant Classics 93559/5