The Galaxy – Enjoying the music of Satie

English: Erik Satie Logis (6 rue Cortot 6, &qu...

“Erik Satie Logis” (6 rue Cortot 6, “cabinet”), Santiago Rusinol, 1891 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We begin the evening with a selection of different pieces by the turn-of-the-20th century composer Erik Satie.  Satie was quite the unique individual, both in terms of his life and lifestyle, and in terms of his compositions.  He was a minimalist when minimalism didn’t exist.  He rebelled against the strict compositional forms taught at the Conservatoire, which eventually served him well, given the evolution of composition in the early 20th century.  But it is one thing to talk about him, and another thing to simply listen to his music.  There is such beauty in these melodies that he wrote.  The simplicity of his minimalism allows us to soak in his music, not unlike a languorous bath.  I’ve often said that his music could be considered an early precursor of our modern ambient musical styles (for instance, Sigur Ros).

So we heard:

  • English: Erik Satie (1866-1925) Français : Eri...

    English: Erik Satie (1866-1925) Français : Erik Satie (1866-1925) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Trois Gnossiennes – Satie composed these mostly in 1890, and they were published in 1893.  One of the three pieces may have been written in April of 1893, as they were about to be published.  This was relatively early in Satie’s career.  By this point, he has already established his practice of engaging in a written discussion with the person reading his sheet music – he directs the performer to play “avec étonnement” (“with astonishment”).  Eventually, the dialogue between composer and player would take on surprising and, at times, humorous turns.  In this manner, Satie wanted his music to be a personal experience for the pianist, as opposed to those listening (in addition to the comments, he also wrote his sheet music as calligraphy), and he in fact forbade the reading aloud of these instructions: “To whom it may concern: ‘I forbid anyone to read the text aloud during the musical performance. Ignorance of my instructions will incur my righteous indignation against the presumptuous culprit. No exception will be allowed.”  In later years, long after Satie’s death, a set of pieces were discovered that are often tacked to the end of the original three portions.  Tonight’s recording of the original set of three is a lovely 2008 recording by Claire Chevallier.

  • Ogives – an 1886 composition, published in 1889, that he wrote without bar lines.  He is said to have been inspired by the form of the windows of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.  Indeed, ogive is a term for one of the more notable facets of gothic architecture, the ogival arch.  Tonight’s recording is a 1992 recording (released on Phillips in 1995) by pianist Reinert de Leeuw.
  • Messe des Pauvres (“Mass for the Poor”) – Satie composed this in 1895, with the original arrangement being for pipe organ and unison voices singing wordless plainchant.  Satie was not religious, but he did become involved from time to time with quasi-mystical cults, primarily the Rose-Croix du Temple et du Graal, for which he was made “official composer”.  After this, he founded his own church, “The Metropolitan Church of Jesus the Leader”, of which he was/is the only known member.  J.P. Contamine de Latour left a description of the church’s “sanctuary”:

“A nondescript room, square and tile-floored, which was untimely crossed by the…ventilating pipe. No altar, no object which could be used for the cult, nothing that reminded one of a religious sanctuary: simply the unfinished furniture brought down from the attic where it had been rotting for months and which gave to the room an aspect both of a monk’s cell and of an NCO’s room.”

It was during this period that Satie wrote Messe des Pauvres.  Here, instead of the piano, Satie applies his minimalist sense to the pipe organ.  While the piece has a church-like feel, the mix of Satie’s slabs of harmonies with the size and scale of the pipe organ, make for a unique experience, even when considered alongside Satie’s other music.  So we heard a 1993 recording by organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent that omits the vocal parts, but which retains the overall power of the piece.

  • Trois Gymnopédies – written in 1888, this is easily Satie’s best-known piece, with numerous re-interpretations by artists ranging from Blood Sweat and Tears (who won a 1969 Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Performance for their “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie”) to Janet Jackson (who used the theme as the basis for a loop on Someone To Call My Lover, from 2001; that song was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance in 2002).  The piece has also been used in multiple movies over the years.  The piece was possibly inspired by a poem by the above-mentioned de Latour (whom Satie knew personally), The Ancients:
Oblique et coupant l’ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d’or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d’ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie
Translation:
Slanting and shadow-cutting a flickering eddy
Trickled in gusts of gold on the shiny flagstone
Where the atoms of amber in the fire mirroring themselves
Mingled their sarabande with the gymnopaedia
When Satie published the first Gymnopédie in 1888, the verse quoted above was included.  But there is no certainty as to which came first, the verse or the composition.  The third Gymnopédie was published later that year, but the second was not published until 1895.  Claude Debussy orchestrated the first and third of the pieces, publishing this in 1898.  Tonight, we heard Michel Legrand performing the three pieces on piano, in a 1993 recording that comes with some excellent liner notes that feature a sampling of Satie’s elegant calligraphic sheet music (with a few of his notorious comments – in French, of course).

We then heard some early material from the fine English techno band, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.  We heard Almost and Messages, from their first, self-titled album from 1980, then we heard VCL XI and Statues, from their 2nd album, Organisation.

English: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of T...

English: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who performing at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Oct. 10, 1976. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We then heard a few songs from a live recording of the Who, from 1970, made as they were in the process of preparing the music for what would eventually become Who’s Next.  At the time, they were intending to do another “rock opera”, having just enjoyed the immense success of Tommy.  But the concept for the project fell apart.  Giving up on the concept, the music that had been recorded was assembled, and the resulting album is now considered one of the great recordings in rock history.  From the Deluxe Edition of Who’s Next, we heard live renditions of Getting in Tune and Bargain, both of which ended up as part of the original album, along with Water, a long-time concert staple for the band.

We finished off the show with some metal: I’ll Cast a Shadow, a classic from Pantera’s Reinventing The Steel, and United Forces, from SOD’s (Stormtroopers of Death) Speak English or Die.

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The Galaxy – Enjoying the summertime

Issac Hayes

Issac Hayes

We started tonight’s show with a little bit of Issac Hayes.  Hayes’ work is a cornerstone of the development of funk, and tonight’s selections all serve to highlight some of the important aspects of Hayes’ contributions.  We started with the Theme from Shaft, his classic 1971 recording from the movie soundtrack of the same name.  In winning the 1972 Academy Award for Best Original Song for the recording, Hayes was not only the first African American to win an Academy Award in a non-acting category, but he was also the first songwriter to win the award for a song that he had both written and performed.  The song was both popular (reaching number one) and controversial (in 1990, the Fox Network thought it so risque that they were reluctant to include it on an intended episode of the Simpsons.  Next, we heard his Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic, a song that features a thumping funk beat and excellent bass and guitar lines; and Walk On By, a Hal David/Burt Bacharach composition that was also famously recorded by Dionne Warwick (obviously, Hayes’ rendition is way different from Warwick’s, highlighting his unique method of song interpretation) both coming from his classic Hot Buttered Soul album, from 1969.  Both of the latter songs have been sampled extensively by numerous rappers, ranging from the Notorious B.I.G. to Public Enemy to the Wu Tang Clan, and both have been recently featured in various movies.

Erik Satie (1866-1925)

Erik Satie (1866-1925) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We then heard a lovely piece of music by Erik Satie, Sports et divertissiments, a series of snapshots, 21 in number (7 x 3, as Satie liked to arrange his works in groups of three), written around 1914, that frequently quote various melodies that were popular in Paris and France at the time.  The individual sections are all short, the longest being 1 minute 14 seconds.  This is all in line with Satie’s desire to write what he called “furniture music”, music that sort of sat in the background – let’s say, in the subconscious.  In reality, Satie was anticipating many of our modern compositional techniques, in his own unique, idiosyncratic manner that has never been replicated, before or since.  But the thing that keeps drawing me back to Satie was his ultimate musicality, and his willingness to apply that musicality in unconventional ways.  Just as with Thelonious Monk, whose music we featured last week, Satie was a unique, extraordinary individual who has the unique ability to draw that individualism out through his music.  Tonight’s recording is a 1993 recording by Michel Legrand.

Dredg

Dredg (l-r: Gavin Hayes, v, slide guitar; Dino Campanella, drums, synth; Drew Roulette, bass, synth; Mark Engles, guitar, backing vocals)

Dredg is a fine band from San Francisco with an excellent artistic sensibility (described by some as “progressive alternative” – I think that is an apt description), and an excellent command of the stage.  They put out a live recording in 2006, recorded in their hometown, that really captures what they bring to the stage (something I had the opportunity to witness in 2009).  From Live at the Filmore, we heard The Warbler, Bug Eyes, Ode to the Sun, Same Ol’ Road, Sanzen, New Heart Shadow, and Triangle.

Faron Young

Faron Young

Outside of last week’s tribute to Doc Watson, it has been a while since I was able to do much country (outside of a Loretta Lynn set I remember doing a few weeks ago).  So we started this set with Faron Young’s Hello Walls (one that I believe he rerecorded on more than one occasion – while I do not have the original, this version is as close to the original as I’ve been able to find – yet the instrumentation differs just a little bit!).  We then heard two from Webb Pierce – his own There Stands the Glass, and then one he sang with Kitty Wells, Oh So Many Years.  We then heard Patsy Cline’s She’s Got You.

English: Sonic Youth live in the Netherlands, ...

English: Sonic Youth live in the Netherlands, 1991. Photo by Channel ®. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the nice things about the recent trend in album remasters is the occasional inclusion of an extra disc that provides live recordings from the same era as the album being remastered, often material that had been previously unreleased.  Such is the case with the recent reissue of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation.  They included a number of nice performances from various dates and occasions in 1989.  We heard a few songs that were recorded on March 26-27, 1989 in Dusseldorf and Amsterdam: The Sprawl, ‘Cross the Breeze, Hey Joni, and Silver Rocket, performances that really work well in capturing the essence of what the members Sonic Youth do on stage.

French Kiss (album)

Bob Welch French Kiss (which featured Sentimental Lady) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We closed tonight’s show with a brief tribute to Bob Welch, who passed away a few days ago.  He wasn’t a major musical icon, but he did some splendid, memorable solo work that received quite a bit of airplay in the late ’70s, and before that he was a member of Fleetwood Mac at a crucial time in the band’s existence, serving as a bridge of sorts between the Peter Green era and the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (there is some question as to why he wasn’t included in their HOF induction).  To me, he represents a cautionary tale for those who want a career in music: it isn’t enough to have a good voice, instrumental chops, or songwriting talent, or even to know the right people.  Success in music can be fleeting, and even when success has been achieved it can just as easily evaporate.  From his late ’70s solo work, we heard Ebony Eyes and Sentimental Lady.

Why does it seem that I’ve had to do a lot of these tributes lately?

The Galaxy – Starting the Fall Membership Drive!

[Portrait of Cab Calloway, New York, N.Y.(?), ...

Cab Calloway (Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr)

As we begin another fall semester with another Fall Membership Drive, I am struck by how much of a blessing it is to be part of the WDBX community.  What a privilege it is to be able to share this wonderful music with our listeners!

We begun the show tonight with a few tracks from Dredg.  This fine band from San Francisco has made St. Louis a regular part of their tour itinerary, and they do do a wonderful show.  We did three songs from them: Hung Over on a Tuesday (from 2005’s Catch Without Arms), I Don’t Know and Pariah (both from The Parrot, The Pariah and the Delusion, from 2009).

I do enjoy the opportunity to play some big band when the inspiration hits – big band is a big part of my technical background.  We started the set with a few from the great bandleader and showman from the early big band era, Cab Calloway – Minnie the Moocher, The Man from Harlem and Harlem Camp Meeting.  Extending the Big Band set a bit, we then heard a couple songs from the great trumpeter-turned-bandleader, Harry James, his Two O’Clock Jump (inspired by Count Basie’s One O’Clock Jump) and ‘Taint What You Do (It’s The Way That Cha Do It), both of which naturally featured strong trumpet lines.  We then heard a couple of classic Benny Goodman tunes, Stompin’ At The Savoy and These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You), before concluding the big band set with a couple Glenn Miller classics, Pennsylvania 6-5000 and In The Mood.

I received word this week of the issue of a remastered version of a classic bit of electronica, the Art of Noise‘s (Who’s Afraid of?) The Art of Noise.  This innovative recording, which introduced some of the same sampling technology that is still used today, helped demonstrate the creative potential for electronic music while simultaneously creating some wonderfully memorable music.  Interestingly enough, the Art of Noise’s roots rest in the one hit group The Buggles, whose song and video “Video Killed The Radio Star” was the first video played on MTV.  While I’ve not yet been able to acquire the remaster for the Art of Noise album (which apparently contains quite a bit of bonus material), it is still worthwhile to hear some of the material that is currently available to me.  Tonight we heard Close (To the Edit) and Moments in Love.

Next we heard a lovely set of piano pieces by Erik Satie, his Gnossiennes.  Composed relatively early in his career in 1890, these works serve as a scintillating example of how beauty can be found in simplicity.  Satie was a bit of an eccentric, yet at the same time he was a man who completely devoted himself to the pursuit of an aesthetic ideal, the very sort of aesthetic achieved in the finely sculpted notes of this piece.  There are many classical composers who are widely celebrated, but I think that Satie may be one of the more under-appreciated of composers.  Indeed, his work might be considered to be a direct ancestor to some of the numerous varieties of low-key works (i.e. ambient music) which are made today.  Tonight’s music comes from a lovely 2008 recording from Claire Chevallier on the harmonia mundi label.

One of the best live recordings from the mid-80s was U2’s “Live Under a Blood Red Sky”.  The recording was actually an EP, a condensation of a larger feature that was recorded for broadcast on MTV, which was recently packaged with the remastered EP for a deluxe edition.  For many folks, this is how they became aware, and turned on to, U2, when they viewed the video broadcast.  Indeed, the performances of songs such as Sunday Bloody Sunday, Electric Co and New Year’s Day are considered definitive for these songs, years after the fact.  Tonight we heard Gloria, 11 O’Clock Tick Tock and I Will Follow.

We closed tonight’s show with a couple songs from Neil Young, Old Man and Down By The River.

The Galaxy – The Joys of French Composing

Erik Satie (1866-1925)

Image via Wikipedia

Its amazing what little things can inspire the germ of an idea!  I was listening to a CBS Sunday Morning piece on Diane von Furstenberg, and they were playing some Claude Debussy in the background.  That inspired in me a train of thought – from Debussy to Erik Satie – that led to tonight’s show theme – a celebration of French Composing.

We started with a lovely motet by François Couperin, a composer and pedagogist who was a major influence on composers ranging from Bach to Johannes Brahms, Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss.  Couperin’s book, “L’art de toucher le clavecin” (“The Art of Harpsichord Playing), influenced J.S. Bach to the point where Bach adopted the fingering system that Couperin set forth in the book.  Tonight’s piece was his Audite omnes et expavescite (a meditation on the Passion of the Christ).  The piece was buried within a private collection that surfaced at a second-hand bookseller’s shop in Paris in the 1930s.  An Australian art lover, Louise Dyer (the founder of the Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre) reunited this collection with another collection of Couperin that had been purchased at Sotheby’s by the Bibliotheque nationale de France, thereby retaining for posterity the magic of this great French master.  This compilation of the complete works of Couperin, and the resultant publication, was the first project of the Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre.

Next we heard a set of harpsichord pieces by another master of the baroque era, Jean-Phillipe Rameau.  Rameau made his name through the publishing of a “Treatise on Harmony” in 1722.  He spent his time after that as a teacher and composer, and eventually grew to be considered one of the most important composers and theorists in Baroque-era France.  Outside of his operas, his keyboard works are of considerable interest, and we heard one of those works tonight, his Pieces en Concerts (written in 1741), in a lovely rendition by Trevor Pinnock.

Jospeh Bodin de Boismortier (1689 – 1755) was accused in 1780 by theorist Jean Benjamin de La Borde as being a “competent musician [who] took only too much advantage of this tendency [for easy music] and devised, for the many, airs and duets in great numbers which were performed on the flute, the violins, oboes, bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies… He so abused the ingenuousness of his numerous buyers that, in the end, the following was said of him: ‘Happy is he, Boismortier, whose fertile quill each month, without pain, conceives a new air at will.”  Indeed, Boismortier was a prodigious writer (although apparently not quite as prodigious as J.S. Bach, his senior by four years) and pedagogue who wrote for the entire array of instruments available at the time.  Considered along with Rameau to be part of the French Rococo movement, he is also considered to be one of the first French composers to write concertos.  He is notable for being one of the first composers who was able to go without patronage, having been given a royal license for engraving music in 1724, thus being able to make enormous sums of money by selling his music to the public.  Tonight we heard his Deuxieme serenade ou simphonie francoise, a lovely dance suite that is crisply performed by Le Concert Spirituel.

Georges Bizet is easily best known for his enormously popular opera Carmen.  But Bizet wrote more than just opera.  Indeed, Bizet was considered by many to rank among the greatest European pianists of his day, with such a notable skill for sight reading that he is said to have given a faultless sight reading of a work of Franz Liszt in the presence of the composer.  Liszt ranked him among the three best pianists in Europe, and his skills were praised by Hector Berlioz, among others (Berlioz wrote in 1863, “His talent as a pianist is so great that no difficulty can stop him when sight-reading orchestral scores. After Liszt and Mendelssohn one could see few sight-readers of his ability.”).  Tonight we heard a set of songs of his, settings of various French authors, including the great French literary colossus Victor Hugo.  Of the five Bizet songs we heard, two were from Hugo, Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe (from 1866) and La Coccinelle, from 1868.  We also heard settings of another French Romantic, Alphonse de Lamartine‘s Chant d’amour,  and settings of Édouard Pailleron and Louis Delâtre.  Of course, one cannot say enough about the pleasure of hearing this gorgeous material in the interpretation done here by the great mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

Part of the inspiration for tonight’s show came from a hearing of a piece of Claude Debussy’s.  I would be tempted to refer to Debussy as the quintessential French composer, except that there is such a wide breadth of music that falls under the French tri-color flag, not all of which I am able to play tonight (for example, there is a lovely French pipe-organ tradition that goes back to the 1800s, and includes such lumineries as Maurice Duruflé, Marcel Dupré and Charles-Marie Widor, all of whom are worthy of further examination).  Yet, to me, it would be shameful to devote a program to French music and not include at least a sampling of the glorious wonders of Debussy.  For tonight, we have included a set of three piano pieces, referred to as Pour le Piano.  Written betwen 1894 and 1901, he borrowed the names for the three movements (Prelude, Sarabande and Toccata) from the Baroque tradition.  Yet the phrasing and the innate poetry of Debussy’s arrangement is uniquely Debussy’s.  Indeed, Debussy was an admirer of the aforementioned Rameau, even going so far to write a Hommage à Rameau as part of his first set of Images.  Yet Debussy’s music was solidly rooted in the times he lived in.

We followed Debussy with the great Erik Satie.  Satie’s work occupies the opposite end of the musical spectrum from that of Satie, a purposeful sort of minimalism that contrasts directly against Debussy’s aggressive musicianship.  Satie at times referred to his music as “furniture music”, music that was to be experienced without necessarily being noticed.  Yet such exquisite melodies as tonight’s set of three Gymnopédies (written in 1888, and ranking among Satie’s earliest compositions) just beg to be luxuriated in, with all their sensual beauty.  Jean Cocteau, who saw Satie every morning for an extended period, said this of Satie:

“He inherited a grave eccentricity from his Scottish ancestry… Egotistical, cruel, obsessive, he would listen to nothing that did not conform to his dogma and would fly into furious rages with anything that disturbed it.  Egotistical, because he thought only of his music.  Cruel, because he defended his music.  Obsessive, because he polished his music.  And his music was tender.  And so he was, too, in his own way.  He cleaned himself with pumice stone.  He never used water.  At a time when music surged forth in floods, recognising (sp) Debussy’s genius but fearful of his despotism (they remained in friendly but quarrelsome terms right up to the end), he turned his back on the latter’s school and became, at the Schola Cantorum, the odd sort of Socrates we knew.  There he pumiced, defied, smoothed himself, and forged the little orifice through which his exquisite force needed only to flow from its source.”

Given that The Galaxy revels in an examination of contrasts, it is only fitting that we should enjoy the contrast of styles that one gets when going from Debussy, to Satie, and then finally to Olivier Messiaen.  Whereas Debussy was inspired by the literary Symbolist movement, and Satie would construct his own method of minimalism that is now considered a direct predecessor to our modern “ambient” musical styles, Messiaen was inspired by a number of things, ranging from the sounds of birds to his devotion to Roman Catholicism.  He was an innovator in the field of serialism (Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone serialism was but one method of serialism).  Tonight’s work, La Bouscarle (in English, “Cetti’s Warbler”) is a “moment musicaux” that depicts a series of birdcalls, inspired by the bird commonly referred to as the Cetti’s Warbler, and was written between 1956 and 1958.