We Who Travel Lightly…

In 1922, Erik Satie offered a curiously plausible explanation for why it had been easier for him to break away from Wagnerism and create a French style than for his friend Debussy, who had won the Prix de Rome:

When I first met him [Debussy], at the beginning of our liaison, he was full of Mussorgsky and very conscientiously seeking a path that was not easy to find. In this respect, I myself had a great advance over him: no “prizes” from Rome, or any other town, weighed down my steps, since I don’t carry any such prizes around on me, or on my back; for I am a man of the type of Adam (from Paradise), who never won any prizes – a lazy sort, no doubt.

– from Robert Orledge’s magnificently well-researched and insightful book Satie the Composer (Cambridge, 1990), which I’m reading for a second time and more impressed with than ever.


  1. says

    Robert Orledge’s – Satie the Composer
    heh. one copy for sale at Amazon.
    KG replies: Yeah, tell me about it. And when I taught a graduate analysis course at Columbia University in 1996, I recommended the students read this book, and they scoffed at the thought that they would waste time on anything so trivial. The world is truly upside-down.
    Yet, on a list of books that I would shell out $200 for if I absolutely had to, Orledge’s Satie would surely be near the top. For instance, Debussy’s 1896 orchestration of the Gymnopedies is sometimes criticized as overly Romantic, yet Orledge gives an excerpt from Satie’s own abortive 1894 orchestration, which has similar harp argeggios. So much of our image of Satie comes from others who didn’t always understand and weren’t always sympathetic, and Orledge always goes back to the original documentation, and gives us a Satie authentically restored. I never believe anything said about Satie until I check it with Orledge.