Masterclass: Satie: Gymnopedie No. 1 - Entrada

March 31, 2022

Masterclass: Satie: Gymnopedie No. 1

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A few months ago, an adult amateur student brought a piece by Satie to his lesson. I soon filmed a tutorial on the work and am pleased that it has just been released as a new Entrada Masterclass.

Surely one of the most eccentric composers of Western art music, Erik Satie once claimed “gymnopedist” as his profession. On another occasion, he said he was a “phonometographer.” Neither term made any practical sense in late-19th Century France, but that didn’t stop Satie from titling a set of three piano pieces, Gymnopédies. (Clearly, a gymnopedist composes Gymnopédies!)

Gymnopédie No. 1 is especially well known and has been appropriated for use in a variety of settings, including as background music in film and in various “relaxation” playlists for LP records, CD, and streaming platforms. 

The piece is marked “slow and sorrowful” (or “painful”) and projects the peculiarly French ennui, the hard-to-translate feeling that mixes fatigue and boredom tinged with melancholy. (An idiomatic English translation could be “the blahs.”) Radical in its day, this music has become ever-present in Western culture. 

Yet for pianists, playing this piece can bring great pleasure, as we’re able to revel in its hypnotic harmonies and long, cantabile melody in long note-values. 



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