Listening Quest #16: Eric Satie

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 by Vicki Martin | Listening Quest

We've just passed the 150th birthday of Erik Satie (Sah-TEE), who was born on May 17 th , 1866. He was a French composer, best known for miniatures, or short pieces, usually creating a mood or picture. His most famous is Gymnopedies No. 1 (pronounced gym-no-ped-ees or listen here) which has been used as background music in all kinds of films and TV. Here’s a lovely outdoor performance of it by AlexandreTharaud, although if you rotate your hand off the keys or play a note with a single straight finger like he does, I will stop you. It is still gorgeous, though!
Although Satie is best known for short works, one of his pieces, Vexations, also holds the record for the longest non-stop musical piece ever performed. At the top of the song, he wrote, "In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” Although it may not have actually been his intent to play it 840 times in a row since he was a bit of a joker, there have been a few performers who have. The first public performance was played by 12 pianists who took turns and it took over 18 hours. Depending on how slow you take the “très lent” marking, it can take more or less time. The longest non-stop solo piano version was 35 hours, played entirely by Nicolas Horvath on December 12, 2012 in the Palais de Tokyo. I’m not going to ask you to listen to all of it (yikes!), but listen to this little sample of it. It’s not a particularly memorable melody, actually, since it doesn’t stay neatly in one key and lacks barlines, but gives you a very static, floating kind of feeling.
Extra Exploring: Assuming you don’t want to listen to the entire 24-hour video of Vexations posted by Nicolas Horvat (, I’d recommend listening to the other two Gymnopedies and maybe even the 6 Gnossiennes, here played by Pascal Rogé: