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Satie piano5 BIS2345
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Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Piano Music – Volume 5: Ésoterik Satie
Noriko Ogawa (piano)
rec. August 2018, Tokyo College of Music, Tokyo
BIS BIS-2345 SACD [76:04]

In the 1880s Satie became involved with Joséphin Péladan, a writer, impresario and occultist. Péladan founded a Rosicrucian order, the Ordre du Temple de la Rose, for which Satie was appointed composer. Rosicrucianism is a general name for a series of secret societies, which have rituals and ceremonies, somewhat analogous to those of the Freemasons, and who profess doctrines which mingle elements of the Kabbalah and Hermeticism with Christianity. Their symbol is a rose superimposed on a cross. They claim allegiance to the legendary figure of Christian Rosenkreuz, supposedly of the fourteenth century, though the legend began in the seventeenth century. Those seeking more background on this are referred to Frances Yates’ study, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. As well as his more secret activities, Péladan also mounted a series of six art exhibitions, the Salon de la Rose+Croix, which featured symbolist artists and was very popular.

Satie’s involvement with Péladan lasted until 1895. This disc concentrates on works from that period, known as Satie’s Rose-Croix period, hence the title Ésoterik Satie, which was actually given to Satie as a nickname. They are all serious and severe in style, very different from the jokey pieces he was to write later, but with his distinctive and influential take on harmony.

The four Préludes, which are distributed throughout the disc rather than being grouped together, were first assembled by Milhaud. The Prélude d’Éginhard, dedicated to Péladan, is a slow processional. The Fête donnée par les Chevaliers Normands en l’Honneur d’une jeune Demoiselle is based on plainchant, first harmonized and then on its own. The Prélude du Nazaréen is in two parts, the first with short repeated sections, rather in the manner of Debussy, the second more conventional, in which the repetitions do not seem so inevitable.

The Pièces froides is a set of two short suites, each of three movements and each with a pendant. They are very like the Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes, concentrating on repeating non-developing figures. These are followed by the much later Nouvelles pièces froides, which are gentle pastiches of, respectively, early Debussy, Fauré and Wagner – you can hear the Parsifal bells.

Uspud is a short ballet for a somewhat surrealistic-sounding libretto by the poet Contamine de Latour and has a strange, remote quality. After a call to attention there are sequences of chords interspersed with sudden silences.

The Danses gothiques are not in the least dance-like, and, though offered as a suite of nine short pieces, are in fact variants of the same unchanging idea, a sequence of chords moving at a steady pace.

The short piece known simply as Sans titre is a chord sequence which might have been planned for the Messe des pauvres.

The Trois Harmonies and Priêre all demonstrate complex harmonies and were perhaps composed as exercises. The Leitmotiv du Panthée was written to accompany a short story by Péladan about an alchemist and consists of a single melodic line.

The four Ogives, written while Satie was fascinated by medieval architecture, use modal melodies, presented first simply and then in various harmonizations. There is a final brief Marche, composed in 1891 and so associated with the Rose-Croix pieces, but there is nothing to confirm this.

Noriko Ogawa, whom I know for her excellent Debussy, is a sure guide to these pieces. She plays them on an 1890 Erard piano, which has a bright, clear, rather shallow tone. The recording catches this well; it is a SACD, but I was listening in ordinary two-channel stereo. The booklet is very informative, though the pieces are not played in the order in which they are discussed. This is the fifth in Ogawa’s Satie series for BIS. These works are best taken a few at a time. Satie’s world is intense but it is also narrow, and the pieces here are all rather similar. I could not help feeling that everything Satie does here was also done as part of a much wider range of compositional skills, first by Debussy and later by Messiaen.

Stephen Barber

Prêlude d’Éginhard (1893) [1:28]
Pièces froides (1897) [15:12]
Nouvelles pièces froides (1907) [6:16]
Prélude du Nazaréen (en deux parties) (1892) [7:12]
Uspud (1892) [20:26]
[Sans titre, peut-être pour la Messe des pauvres] (1893) [0:58
Trois Harmonies (1895) [1:27]
Prière (1894) [1:02]
Leitmotive du Panthée (1891) [0:42]
Fête donnée par les Chevaliers Mormands en l’Honneur d’une jeune Demoiselle {2:32]
Ogives (1886?) [8:21]
Pièce Rose+Croix sans titre ?Marche (1891) [0:42]

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