150th birthday year

(Note: for information on my bike ride along the Green Meridian, see ‘Welcome’ and ‘About’ pages.)

of Erik Satie. On Day 7 I recall the devastating effect of his affair with Suzanne Valadon. After Valadon left him, Satie wrote ‘Vexations’. It has been called ‘the strangest of break-up ballads’. It’s a complex, brooding piece that takes around a minute and half to play. But Satie’s instruction is ‘to be played 840 times’. Was he serious? Some of his instructions to pianists are very odd. And yet isn’t repetition exactly what we do in that situation? A single played over and over. A track set on ‘repeat’. To lose oneself in the endless circularity of repetition. You don’t have to come out. You don’t have to move on. You can wallow.

But repetition can be a way of getting over, passing through, moving beyond. The girl in my story ‘The Divided Wood’ says, “I played the liebestod again and again, again and again, until the groove was worn smooth and there was just a hiss and I was like that groove.” And Satie writes, “In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” Played by one person, it becomes a prolonged meditation, the equivalent of an all-night Indian raga, or an extended African drumming event.

And to listen to? ‘Vexations’ will be played at the Cheltenham Music Festival, beginning at midday on 15 July 2016. It will be played by a relay of pianists, for 22 hours. Listeners are invited to bring sleeping bags, and stay for the whole time. What will be the effect? Will I go? I haven’t decided.

Google ‘Satie Vexations’ for a 10 minute sample.


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