May 17, 2016

Erik Satie: a surrealist tribute 150 years after the composer's birth

Warner Classics visited Satie's favourite Montmartre haunts with a toy piano, pear, umbrella and chihuahua.

Whether playing piano at Le Chat Noir cabaret or rubbing shoulders with Claude Debussy and Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie was one of the most eccentric figures to wander the streets of Montmartre in the 1890s. Known as 'the velvet gentlemen' for his set of identical grey corduroy suits, he has become as famous for his personality quirks as for his music.

Satie hoarded dozens of umbrellas in his cramped, squalid apartment. He wrote ethereal miniatures for piano entitled 'Pieces in the Shape of a Pear' and 'Flabby Preludes for a Dog'. He founded his own religion. His diet consisted only of white foods. His anti-masterpiece Vexations consists of the same niggling chromatic phrase played on piano 840 times, but with his Gnossiennes and Gymnopédies he also gave us some of the most dreamy, free-flowing and meditative music ever written for piano.

Today's bearded, bespectacled hipsters could never hope to hold a candle to such startling originality.

Warner Classics' Paris offices are just a few minutes' stroll from Satie's favourite hangouts in Montmartre. We pay tribute this year, the 150th anniversary of his birth (17 May), with a very special photo-shoot of 'Satie selfies' inspired by the composer's surrealist iconography and instantly recognisable style. All to showcase the special-edition Satie LP released for Record Store Day this week: the classic 1956 Aldo Ciccolini recording that brought his wonderful, wistful world to a new generation of listeners finally ready for him.

Celebrations are already underway with the first complete boxed set of his music, on 10 CDs: Tout Satie! featuring legendary French performers including Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Alexandre Tharaud.

Satie 150th Sacré Coeur
Satie 150
Satie 150 chihuahua
Satie 150th 3 pieces en forme d'une poire
(With thanks to photographer Zinzi Gugu and Otis the chihuahua).