Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Erik Satie

Music History Monday: Francis Poulenc: “a bit of monk and a bit of hooligan”

We mark the death on January 30, 1963 – exactly sixty years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc, in Paris.  A Parisian from head to toe, he was born in the tres chic 8th arrondisement in that magnificent city on January 7, 1899.  He died of a heart attack not far from where he’d been born, in his flat opposite the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris’ 6th arrondisement.  Before we can get down with the magnifique Monsieur Poulenc, we have an important event in rock ‘n’ roll history to mark. On January 30, 1969 – 54 years ago today – the Beatles, joined by the keyboard player Billy Preston, performed their final live concert.  The venue was unusual: a hastily constructed stage on the rooftop of their five-story Apple Corps (their record company) headquarters, at 3 Savile Row: smack dab in the middle of the fashion district in London’s tony Mayfair neighborhood.  (I cannot resist the joke: how do you get a rock band onto a roof?  You tell them the beer is on the house.) Badaboom. A couple of weeks before the rooftop concert eventually took place, Paul McCartney had suggested that the […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Eric Satie: Socrate

Pardon me a brief (well, maybe not as brief as you’d like) rant. Encyclopedia articles about Satie inevitably begin by calling him a “precursor”, a card-carrying member of the Parisian “avant-garde” (properly defined as “people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society”), someone whose music “predicted” such genres as minimalism, repetitive music, the Theater of the Absurd, background music and ambient music (what Satie coined as being “furniture music” back in 1917). Just so, the article on Erik Satie in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians begins this way (italics mine): “He was an iconoclast, a man of ideas who looked constantly towards the future. Debussy christened him ‘the precursor’ because of his early harmonic innovations, though he surpassed [Debussy’s] conception of him by anticipating most of the ‘advances’ of 20th-century music – from organized total chromaticism to minimalism.” (Momentarily apropos of Debussy, we have to take any compliments he gave with very large grains of sel de mer. In truth, he could be as gnarsty as a honey badger with a hangnail. Debussy was happy to say nice things about Satie as long as Satie was a nobody. But […]

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Music History Monday: The Making of an Eccentric: Erik Satie

We mark the birth, on May 17, 1866 – 155 years ago today – of the French composer and provocateur Erik Alfred-Leslie Satie. He was born in the ancient port town of Honfleur, situated in Normandy at the mouth of the Seine River on the English Channel, roughly 100 miles northwest of Paris. According to a brief biographical snippet found on the internet, Satie was: “Known for his eccentricities and verbal virtuosity.” Oh my goodness, that’s not even a hundredth of it! This post is dedicated to Satie’s life and personality. Tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes will delve more deeply into his music, specifically his masterwork, Socrate, of 1918.  A preemptive apologia. There will be sections in this post that will drop names faster than a flock of gulls does guano. That’s okay; Satie lived and worked in Paris during a period called the Belle Époque, during which the city was home to a concentration of talent – artistic, literary, and musical – perhaps unparalleled in human history before or since.  On the Fringe Satie followed his own drummer from almost the beginning of his life. Her lost his mother to illness in 1872, when he was just six. He moved […]

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