Why Was Satie Right? (III)


3. Scherzo

– à la manière de ces messieurs; Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel –

As can be seen in almost every period of human history, the language of authority represented by institutions; It was built with discipline and seriousness, and the cumulative principles inherited from the past were built on the didactic judgments of the period. It is from this reality that the avant-garde movements as counter-arts tend towards deconstruction. In the first quarter of the 20th century, deconstruction and grotesque expression within the radical avant-garde movements that attempted to reject the forms of life and production that represent bourgeois structures with all the devastating effects of the First World War; It is blended with irony, parody and caricature elements and intertwined with identity-representation inquiries.

Western Music, as an intellectual field that started to develop under the auspices of the Church, has had a dominant role in hegemonic expression since its early stages. In the 20th century, which Western Music reached as a result of its polyphonic/tonal development adventure of more than a thousand years, humor was seen as an unacceptable form of expression from work forms to performance areas, from educational institutions to staging relationships. The continuity of the situation experienced in Romanticism, the culmination point, was being transferred to the new century; The "genius" composers of the period who controlled the academies were writing music reviews in the newspapers, operating a closed discipline and uniformity with the "respectable" people who financed the concerts and the publishers who decided which works should be published. Disciplining composers/artists like Erik, who challenge the rules of authority in intricately connected closed systems (academy-concert channels-publishing), with heavy slurs similar to "amateur"/"inadequate" stigma through music criticism in the newspapers, discrediting them in the eyes of music buyers, or discrediting them. policies of complete disregard were also in place. -As can be seen, the picture is not much different from today's, this is exactly why 20th century radical avant-garde movements continue to be valid. The artist/musician, who has a conscious problem with authority, needs to return to the essence of these movements and revive them in today's conditions.

Erik's method of struggling with authority is at the center of his radical attitude in his composition, which he has been oriented towards since his early years at the conservatory, but which he transformed into a concrete character simultaneously with his informal career in Paris cabarets.

In the late 1890s, Erik made his complete break from the music world from which he was excommunicated by moving to the southern suburb of Arcueil, among the working class - to live among the class he would keep, not only physically but also intellectually. He takes off his monk's robe with a serious tone, puts on the vaguely ironic smile we know from his famous photograph, and takes on his last persona with the appearance of a middle-class bourgeois - "Velvet Gentleman" - that he will wear the same suit that he had several pieces of until his death. Erik firmly clings to the solitude he needs in his life in the suburban district of Arcueil, which also welcomes serious economic difficulties as the inevitable result of his choices. In order to survive, he works as a pianist in Paris cabarets, composes cabaret music, walks kilometers to the center of Paris every day to work, and returns at night either on foot or by the last train from Montparnasse. For Erik, his walks are also an act of thinking, and he continued to write his works in cafes where he took breaks to rest in between.

When he started using parody elements in the early 1900s, Erik was brave enough not to have any names in the classical music canon that he would hesitate to deal with, including himself. Short comic opera based on a text written by his friend Contamine de Latour in 1901 Le poisson rêveur (Dreaming Fish) with his composition in 1902 Pelleas and Mélisande He experimented with the impressionist style of his close friend Claude Debussy, who had a great success with his opera. (one)

Academies and art institutions, which adhere to the conditions that ensure the continuity of authority and discipline with their conservative structure, have always looked at the artists who have adopted the elements of humor as a means of expression. The mutually triggering effects of humor as a counter-art tool, such as the breaking of the effect of questioning and catharsis, are seen as a direct threat to conformism, the most important weapon that the authority willingly surrenders to individuals with their own will, especially with modernism. As a matter of fact, in the first half of the 20th century, while the attacks of the authority on counter-art productions were nullified by the methods of excluding and despising, it turned into a part of a consumption market cycle in which everything serves the field of entertainment with marketing tactics by emptying it with postmodernism.

Written in 1903 Trois morceaux en forme de poirein (Three Pear Shaped Pieces) Erik turned to a new harmonic search and used self-parody (his own parody) and musical quotation method in the form of a collage of his early works for the first time for the editing of a whole work. According to Steven M. Whiting's interpretation, the composer found himself at a breaking point when presenting Trois morceaux as a kind of stylistic resume, and in 1905 he was about to melt the fugue, the most rigorous form in the classical tradition with contradictory parodic elements, in his own pot, practice counterpoint and fight the mills. He returned to his musical education at the Schola Cantorum. (2nd)

In his humorous works of this period, Erik constructed the composition style on two main structures in which he used elements such as irony, collage and pastiche; musical quotation and use of text.

At the beginning of 3, Maurice Ravel performed Erik's works and promoted them in the new music scene, as part of the Société Musicale Indépendante (1911) concerts. After this concert, Erik, who was not taken seriously in music circles until that day, suddenly fell under the influence of young composers and two months after the concert, Debussy GymnopédieHe arranged them for orchestra and premiered them at Salle Gaveau. For Erik, this visibility and being an "inspiration" for young composers was a situation that should be met with suspicion, and he continued to edit his humorous avant-garde works with the modern non-tonal fugue form he turned to after Schola Cantorum and continued his independent productions with firm steps.

After Ravel's Société Musicale Indépendante concert, Erik's most important achievement was his recommendation to publisher Eugène Louis Demets by composer and critic Alexis Roland-Manuel. Previously, Jacques Durand, the most prestigious publisher of the time (who also published works by Debussy and Ravel), had refused to publish Erik's works. (4) Demets Véritables preludes flasquesIn 1912, he agreed to publish "I" and moreover demanded that he write a continuation of piano sets similar to this piece in the parody genre, an important impetus for Erik's independent editing of his humorous style through piano music. As a result, Erik composed ten humorous piano sets.

In the miniature piano suites of this period, Erik used satirical elements in the cabaret and circus culture, while at the same time he made the use of "absurd" texts reminiscent of symbolist poems a part of the form. With this use, he presented a brand new method to the performer who tended to interpret the work, breaking the usual practice of performance; He has placed ironic dynamics based on straining the imagination of the performer, establishing a completely different relationship with the composer, and having to interpret not only the music but also the relationship between text and music. Consisting of 1914 short piano pieces, especially written in 21, where Erik's elegant calligraphic texts and his music combine with illustrations by Charles Martin, the prominent illustrator of the period. Sports et divertissements, It is an integral example of the visual art-text-music relationship. While the bourgeois life practices and popular culture trends of the period are satirized with the titles, texts and drawings of the works, the avant-garde approaches he brought to performance practices are quite innovative even today.

Applying the dissolution of the concept of time to his humorous sets since his early works, the composer continued to reject the use of the expression bar and time, and constructed it as a satirical narrative through a criticism of bourgeois culture/art, using musical quotations based on out-of-tone and mechanical repetitions. musical quotes; It has been used as a direct quotation from important works or folk songs in terms of music history or by parodying/deconstructing these works. E.g; Robert Planquette's operettas, LV Beethoven's 8th Symphony, Chopin's 2. Piano Sonata (third part Funeral march) used as a direct quote, by A. Mozart Rondo alla Turcaby Emmanuel Chabrier Spain, Debussy's Images oubliees' was deconstructed and parodied. (5)

The main reason for Erik to put humor at the center of his style; The principle of "autonomy of art", in which artists and artistic productions are exhibited/competed in a lantern detached from life, and that it has a serious ideological problem with the bourgeois life culture as well as with the way art is marketed. The composer strengthened his humorous style by deconstructing the understanding of "high art", which was the main argument in his works between 1912-1915. Since these years, Erik has been in closer contact with radical avant-garde movements, and in partnership with the ways these movements use humor, he has turned to interdisciplinary and independent productions within the states of action where the existence of art/music turns into counter-discourse.


   ” Against the noises

There was discrimination, and as an American, I had to be emotional.

Educated, I fought for the noises. next to the oppressed

I liked being         

I got permission from the police to sound sirens. the most amazing i found

noise with strings wrapped around the turntable arm of a record player

the resulting and amplified sound. Stunning,

It was truly stunning and extremely violent. When the war started

half-intellectual, half-emotional, using only low voices

I decided. In nothing that is great in society

It seemed to me that nothing was right or good. ”           

J. Cage – Talking About Nothing (6)


  1. Volta, O. (1997). Introduction. A Mammal's Notebook: Collected Writings of Erik Satie. London: Atlas Press.
  2. Whiting, SM (1999). Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall (1 b.). NS. 487. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  3. Ensemble founded in 1909 under the leadership of Maurice Ravel, in order to independent the influence of the Wagnerian language on French music, which continues to be dominant.
  4. Orledge, R. (2000). Satie & America. American Music, 18(1), p.79
  5. Orledge, R. (2016). Satie & Les Six. CP Richard Langham Smith, French Music Since Berlioz. NS. 227. New York: Routledge
  6. Selected Articles by John Cage, 2011, p.119. (S. Fırıncıoğlu, Trans.) Istanbul: Pan Publications.


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