Erik Satie – Gnossiennes

Catalogue number: | Artist: | Date: 21/11/2012

Satie’s coining of the word “gnossienne” was one of the rare occasions when a composer used a new term to indicate a new “type” of composition. Satie had and would use many novel names for his compositions (“vexations”, “croquis et agaceries” and so on). “Ogive,” for example, had been the name of an architectural element until Satie used it as the name for a composition, the Ogives.

“Gnossienne,” however, was a word that did not exist before Satie used it as a title for a composition. The word appears to be derived from “gnosis”; Satie was involved in gnostic sects and movements at the time that he began to compose the Gnossiennes. However, some published versions claim that the word derives from Cretan “knossos” or “gnossus” and link the Gnossiennes to Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur myth. Several archeological sites relating to that theme were famously excavated around the time that Satie composed the Gnossiennes.

The Gnossiennes were composed by Satie in the decade following the composition of the Trois Sarabandes (1887) and the Trois Gymnopédies (1888). Like these Sarabandes and Gymnopédies, the Gnossiennes are often considered dances. It is not certain that this qualification comes from Satie himself – the sarabande and the Gymnopaedia were at least historically known as dances.

The musical vocabulary of the Gnossiennes is a continuation of that of the Gymnopédies (a development that had started with the 1886 Ogives → Sarabandes → Gymnopédies → Gnossiennes) later leading to more harmonic experimentation in compositions like the Danses Gothiques. These series of compositions are all at the core of Satie’s characteristic 19th century style, and in this sense differ from his early salon compositions (like the 1885 “Waltz” compositions published in 1887), his turn-of-the-century cabaret compositions (like the Je te Veux Waltz), and his post-Schola Cantorum piano solo compositions, starting with the Préludes flasques in 1912.




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