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Whiting places the manuscripts in the context of Parisian popular music. This Bohemian scene he regards as the key to understanding most of Satie's output. Satie worked professionally as accompanist and arranger in popular music from about 1888-1909 and the most famous of the singers he worked with were Paulette Darty and Vincent Hyspa. We knew that Satie's 'Je Te Veux' was written for 'The Queen of the Slow Waltz', with the score proudly inscribed 'repertoire Paulette Darty', and that 'Tendrement' was written to words by Hyspa and that both he and Darty sang it. These were smash hits but there are also some unpublished songs not available until recently, which Whiting is able to discuss. Some of these are incomplete in surviving sources. Further, he points out that the humour of the café-concert is transferred to concert music when, for example, Satie describes his quote from Chopin's Funeral March (in the wrong key) as a 'famous mazurka by Schubert' or tells the performer to play 'like a nightingale with tooth-ache'. Even Satie's mystical pieces from the 1890s, when he was musical director for Sar Peladan's Rosicrucian sect, can be related to the pseudo-medieval decor fashionable in night-clubs like the Chat Noir.

Many people have puzzled over the name of Satie's best-known composition -- the first Gymnopédie. It turns out that the name appears in a poem by his friend Contamine de Latour and the original edition printed a stanza with the music, which didn't explain the term or its classical Greek associations. Private jokes were another feature of the music-hall scene. Thanks to explorers like Orledge and Whiting some of Satie's references are not as private as they used to be. For example, study of the sketches has shown that the second of the three Airs à faire fuir (1897) is based on the rhythm of the Northumbrian folk-tune 'The Keel Row' much as, twenty years later, Satie would adapt a tune by Irving Berlin for the Ragtime in his ballet, Parade, and the famous Sonatina in C by Clementi in the Sonatine Bureaucratique which adds a suitable send-up in the attached commentary. Whiting convincingly relates capers like this to the music hall. He also points out the connections between Satie's humour and that of Alphonse Allais, the older writer who was born in the same town, Honfleur, and even the same street as Satie.

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Copyright © 25 February 2001 Peter Dickinson, Aldeburgh, UK

 

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