Erik Satie completed Trois petites pieces montées in February 1920. Though they were originally orchestral miniatures, they are better known in the piano, four hands format. This work comes not long after the composer had recovered from a terrible depression that came with exhaustion following the end of World War I. By the time the war was over he was destitute and hated art. He also seemed to have been abandoned by his friends and supporters, but it turned out that they had been simply too distracted by their own post-war problems to notice Satie's poverty and misery. Eventually many of the best minds and artists of France coaxed him onto a train to tour through Western and Central Europe, and for a while it seemed as though the man was back, if somewhat more insular.
On the occasion of this work, he was an honored guest among many artists invited to contribute to Cocteau's Le Boeuf sur le toit, a variety show with a carnival atmosphere financed by Etienne du Beaumont. The Six, a group of composers who, like Debussy, had been influenced by Satie, contributed as well. There was ballet with music by Milhaud and an overture by Poulenc. Cocteau included clowns, ideas from American silent films, and whatever else seemed worth exploring at the time. Satie's own Trois petites pieces montées were an illustration of the characters of the French writer Rabelais. The first two movements do not have a very festive atmosphere in the traditional sense. They are introspective and seem more suited to an upscale salon. There is still the ghost of the prankster among the angular phrases and transitions, but there is no celebration in the sound. The third movement, on the other hand, is a spectacular testimony to the hackneyed barroom polka. The first two movements sound similar to certain Neo-Classical works by Stravinsky, with a detached, cerebral pace. It is clear to any listener that this work was not meant to sit well with the other participants, that the composer was obviously making it known that he did not want to be among these sorts of festivities anymore. Trois petites pieces montées is the product of a cranky and tired genius.