Erik Satie’s compositions The Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes

Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes

*Painting: Magic Flight or Zamfonia – Remedios Varo

Who was Erik Satie?

French composer and pianist Erik Satie (17 May 1866 – 1 July 1925) is one of the most genius in the music history. Starting with his first composition in 1884, he signed his name as Erik Satie. Satie was an influential and colourful figure in the late 19th- and early 20th-century Parisian avant-garde. He was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music and the Theatre of the Absurd. He referred to himself as a “phonometrician” (meaning “someone who measures sounds”) preferring this designation to that of a “musician”, after having been called “a clumsy but subtle technician” in a book on contemporary French composers published in 1911.

Satie is one of the most curious composers out there, who would, without doubt, come top of any list of eccentric composers, whose early failure and obscurity led to late-in-life celebrity. He had riotously varied, chaotically creative and intermittently dysfunctional life. His tutors at the Conservatoire were reported to have passed comments about him that were nothing short of rude and extremely unhelpful to a developing musician. Even though Satie’s was not taken seriously, he slowly rose through the ranks of the renowned and celebrated.

During his walks, Satie was also observed stopping to jot down ideas by the light of the street lamps he passed.  

Some of Erik Satie’s strange Quotes: 

“Experience is a form of paralysis.” 

“Everybody offers to buy one a drink; but nobody ever dreams of offering to buy one a sandwich.”

“The musician is perhaps the most modest of animals, but he is also the proudest.”

“We didn’t eat every day, but we never missed an aperitif” 

“Before I compose a piece, I walk around it several times, accompanied by myself.”


In addition to his body of music, Satie also left a wealth of letters and other, sometimes impenetrably bizarre writings. Although in later life he prided himself on always publishing his work under his own name, in the late nineteenth century he appears to have used pseudonyms such as Virginie Lebeau and François de Paule in some of his published writings.

After years of heavy drinking, Satie died at age 59, on 1 July 1925 from cirrhosis of the liver.

Satie invented the term ‘furniture music’ for pieces that could be played in everyday life, in homes and restaurants, without the need for sole concentration on the music itself. He also used 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 Similarly with “vexations”, “croquis et agaceries” and so on. Here, we discuss best Erik Satie’s compositions: the Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes.

Also listen: Evelyn Stein – Quiet Resource: piano music


Erik Satie: Gymnopédies

The Gymnopédies are the first compositions with which Erik Satie tried to cut himself loose from the conventional 19th century “salon music” environment of his father and stepmother.

He apparently used the word “gymnopédiste” (gymnopaedist) to introduce himself as a “gymnopaedist” in December 1887, before having written a note of his later famous gymnopédies in April 1888. Erik Satie composed trois gymnopedies. The Gymnopédies, published in Paris starting in 1888, are three compositions for solo piano written with the time signature three over four, bringing a gentle lilt to the piece like a slow, difficult waltz,  and it’s almost impossible to hear it and not feel relaxed afterwards. In August 1888, “The Gymnopédie number one” was published. Later the same year the “Third Gymnopédie” was published. There was, however, no publication of the “Second Gymnopédie” until 7 years later. These Gymnopédies were named after an ancient Greek rite enacted by groups of naked youths. 

Erik Satie - Gymnopédie No.1

Erik Satie - Gymnopédie No.2

Erik Satie - Gymnopédie No.3

Erik Satie: Gnossiennes

“Gnossienne” is the name given to several piano pieces by French composer Erik Satie in the late 19th century ( The form as well as the term was invented by Satie). He used the word “gnossienne” to indicate a new “type” of composition that did not exist before him. “Gnossienne” appears to be derived from the word gnosis; Satie was involved in gnostic sects and movements at the time that he began to compose his six Gnossiennes. However, some published versions claim that the word derives from Cretan “knossos” or “gnossus” this interpretation supports the theory linking the Gnossiennes to the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur. 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 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 first one of Gnossiennes “Gnossienne no.1” in particular is often heard on television and in films. It is the most tranquil and perfect piano piece to any curious on-screen happenings. Also, Debussy orchestrated it showing the admiration he had for the music of Satie.

Erik Satie - Gnossienne No.1

Erik Satie - Gnossienne No.2

Erik Satie - Gnossienne No.3

Erik Satie - Gnossienne No.4

Erik Satie - Gnossienne, 5. Modéré (08)

Erik Satie - Gnossienne No.6



Blind Sheikh Ehab Yonis made Arabic cover of Satie’s Gnosseinne no.1 where he is singing a religious Sufi chanting “يا مالكاً قدري /Oh, bearer of my truth” as an orchestra of “Cairo Steps” band played orientelized Gnosseinne no.1 piece in the background.

English Lyrics:

Oh, bearer of my truth,
Oh, bearer of my truth,
Oh, bearer of my truth, only you know what I amount to
I came to your door, incapable
With nothing to offer
Oh, my creator, my love for you, only you know it
Even when you’re majestically enshrouded: my love provides me sight, so I can still see you
So have mercy
Oh god
Have mercy for my longing heart, have mercy for my longing heart
Have mercy for my longing heart, have mercy for my longing heart
Oh how I long meeting you

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