I've been a classical music aficionado since high school. I'm not a musician myself (though I do know how to read music); I'm a listener. The only actually performing I do is whistling along. I know, I know; that's gauche and loutish. But I can't help myself.
Anyway, Darlene has developed a taste for some classical music by listening over my shoulder. She seems especially drawn to early 20th-century French composers, and I like her taste. (I'd rather hear Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin than anything written since then.) One of Darlene's favorite composers is Erik Satie, whose most familiar composition you will probably recognize. It is the first of his Gymnopédies, three proto-minimalistic piano compositions that are hauntingly beautiful. Try this: Gymnopédie no 1.
Satie called some of his work "furniture music"music not to be listened to, but to be played as background. That's what most music has become these days, but it was a radical idea in Satie's day.
Now, don't tell Darlene this, but Satie was a supremely aberrant individual. Yes, he was even more outlandish than me. Way more. Look up the French word for "eccentric." Instead of a definition, they've just put Satie's picture in.
Satie was born in the French harbor town of Honfleur in 1866 and died in Paris in 1925 (just nine days before my dad was born). So we're coming up on the 80th anniversary of his death.
How weird was he? You get a little glimpse from the titles he gave to some of his own compositions: "Chilled Pieces," "Vexations," "Drivelling Preludes (for a Dog)," "Dried up Embryos." Satie was Frank Zappa at least 75 years before anyone ever heard of Frank Zappa.
He wrote humorous notations, drawings, and puns in the margins of many of his compositions, intended as private jokes between him and the performer. When he learned of instances where the jokes had been shared with the audience, he wrote, "To whom it may concern: I forbid anyone to read the text aloud during the performance. Ignorance of my instructions will bring my righteous indignation against the audacious culprit. No exceptions will be allowed."
Satie lived alone in a room in Arcueil, France for 27 years. No one but he ever entered that room. At his death, friends discovered an unbelievable hoard of personal memorabilia, including a large collection of umbrellas, drawings he had made, letters he had collected, and dozens of previously unpublished works. The manuscripts of his compositions were all stuffed in odd placessuch as the pockets of his trademark grey velvet suits and behind the piano (which, as it turned out, was covered with junk and cobwebs, revealing that he never used it in composing).
My favorite Satie item is his description of a typical day:
An artist must regulate his life. Here is an exact timetable of my daily acts:
I eat only food that is white: eggs, sugar, shredded bones; fat from dead animals; veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water; mouldy fruit, rice, turnips; camphorated sausage, pasta, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (minus their skins). I boil my wine and drink it cold mixed with juice from the fuchsia. I have a good appetite but never talk while eating for fear of strangling myself.
I breathe carefully (a little at a time). I dance very rarely. When I walk, I hold my ribs and look behind me steadily.
My expression is serious. If I laugh it is not deliberately; I always politely apologize for it.
My sleep is deep, but I close only one of my eyes. My bed is round with a hole cut for my head to go through.
Once every hour a servant takes my temperature and gives me another.
I have subscribed to a fashion magazine for a long time. I wear a white hat, white stockings, and a white waistcoat. My doctor tells me to smoke. His advice, in part, says: "Smoke away, dear fellow. If you don't, someone else will."
Some excerpts from Satie's humorous prose are posted on line: Memoirs of an Amnesiac.
Erik Satie was a living example of the fact that even though sin has badly marred the image of God in man, the image is still there. We can see it clearly in the way fallen creatures, no matter how outré, are still capable of amazing creativity. I think our love for the beauty, humor, and artistry of creaturely creativity is also an expression of the imago Dei.