“Gymnopedies” by the French modernist composer Eric Satie are a quiet and individual rebellion against the ever-increasing grandiosity and pomposity of Romantic music. The sensations evoked by these piano compositions in the listener can range from bliss to melancholy, but will retain a certain meditative, calm quality. This is expressed through a rarefied number of sounds in the musical space. Satie refuses any arrangements, leaving only the piano as the only instrument. A feature of the music of modernist French composers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries is a certain dreamy quality. The composition is also characterized by the structural correctness of the construction of parts, reminiscent of classical piano etudes. The right hand of the performer brings out a carefully constructed melody, while the left hand plays an arpeggio – a sequence of notes that creates the harmonic basis of the work. Due to the emphasis on certain notes in the right part, when the key of the arpeggio changes, the composition turns out to be emotionally loaded and artistically expressive. This minimalism and at the same time depth is certainly challenging for the previous generation of classical musicians, who believed that the listener’s emotions are caused by the power and grandiosity of the musical statement.
If one were to compare Satie’s Hymnopedies with the works of other French composers of that era, it would make sense to draw parallels with the piano compositions of Claude Debussy, for example, with “Claire de Lune” (Channel 3 YouTube). Debussy’s oeuvre is traditionally attributed to the genre of musical impressionism. To draw synesthetic analogies with other types of art, his work really resembles the paintings of the Impressionist era. This style in painting is characterized by the individuality of personal perception of the surrounding world, expressed through catchy brush strokes. Debussy’s piano escapades are reminiscent of brush strokes in the process of creating a masterpiece, literally unfolding as musical outpourings in the listener’s imagination. His music retains the individuality inherent in Satie, but is much more expressive, evoking associations with flows of emotions that envelop and captivate the listener. In the aspect of emotionality, there is a discrepancy between Debussy and Satie – while Debussy is associated with an unbridled flight of fantasy, Erik Satie’s Gymnopedia plunges into a state of meditation and even trance.
“Claude Debussy: Clair de Lune.” YouTube, uploaded by Channel 3 YouTube, 2008.