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Erik Satie, the O.G. of Ambient Music
Buying tip: Aldo Ciccolini’s essential recordings are easily found, exquisitely pressed and helped define a musical movement.
In 1956 at the dawn of the hi-fi age, the Italian pianist Aldo Ciccolini set to tape an album of quiet solo piano pieces by Erik Satie, the French post-impressionist composer. Satie had died three decades earlier in 1925, so his work was relatively new – and ignored by famed pianists of the time such as Glenn Gould, Claudio Arrau, and Vladimir Horowitz for more technically challenging repertoire.
Over the next two decades, Ciccolini would help popularize Satie’s sublimely delicate works; if you’ve heard, for example, classic pieces such as Gymnopédie No. 1, Gnossiennes: No. 1, (Lent), or Sarabande No. 1 in A-Flat Major chances are those are his hands working the grand piano. Those records, issued by Angel Recordings in the U.S., sold millions of copies, and are easily, and inexpensively, found.
Satie was an odd dude. He opened his “Memoirs of Amnesiac” with a simple statement: “Everyone will tell you that I am not a musician.That is correct.” He then proceeded to outline what he described as “A Musician’s Day,” refuting his first assertion:
I rise at 7:18; am inspired from 10:23 to 11:47. I lunch at 12:11 and leave the table at 12:14. A healthy ride on horse-back round my domain follows from 1:19 pm to 2:53 pm. Another bout of inspiration from 3:12 to 4:07 pm. From 4:27 to 6:47 pm various occupations (fencing, reflection, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, natation, etc.)
Dinner is served at 7:16 and finished at 7:20 pm. From 8:09 to 9:59 pm symphonic readings (out loud). I go to bed regularly at 10:37 pm. Once a week, I wake up with a start at 3:19 (Tuesdays).
I breathe with care (a little at a time). I very rarely dance. When walking, I clasp my sides, and look steadily behind me.
My expression is very serious; when I laugh it is unintentional, and I always apologize most affably.
I sleep with only one eye closed, very profoundly. My bed is round, with a hole to put my head through. Once every hour a servant takes my temperature and gives me another.
I have subscribed for some time to a fashion magazine. I wear a white cap, white stockings, and a white waistcoat.
My doctor has always told me to smoke. Part of his advice runs: “Smoke away, dear chap; if you don’t someone else will.
Brian Eno composed his earliest ambient pieces as an echo of what Satie called “Furniture Music. Eno said that such wallpaper textures “presented what was for me a new way of hearing music—as part of the ambience of the environment just as the color of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience.”
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