Erik Satie

Piano Works, Vol. 1 "First and Last Works" / Piano Works, Vol. 2 "Mystical Works" / Pia

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Pianist Aldo Ciccolini produced the first complete recordings of all of Satie's piano works, and his playing of them is still the best. He treats them with clarity, lightness, and the appropriate humor but never with the rubato sweetness that some performers slip into. In these piano works, Satie can probably be most clearly seen creating a music that, in both its sound and aesthetics, is fundamentally different from that produced under the ideals of continuity and development prized by the 19th century Germanic school (which until about the 1950s still held the most influence in the United States). With originality from the root of the soul and some amazing titles, Satie focuses on music as "sound" per se. With Buddhist-like attention and perhaps the first true attempt to describe the "conceptual" nature of human mental activity, he requires the performer(s) to simultaneously experience and examine in detail the exact moments of shifting psychological states. He used ironic titles and written commentaries in his scores to poke fun at pomposity and officialism, as with titles like "Importune Peccadillos," "I. Being Jealous of His Comrade With the Big Head," "II. Him Eat His Cookie," etc. Satie's religious feeling was of a mystical pre-cleric kind expressed in works like "Premiere Pensee Rose + Croix" (1891) ("First Rose + Cross Thought"). Satie invented many musical techniques -- use of whole tone scales, chords built in fourths, pattern melodies, unresolved "dissonances" used for their value as sounds, "open" large forms without contrasting or developing sections, etc. -- but perhaps more importantly, he was the first conceptual composer.