Éric Alfred Leslie Satie was an influential composer and pianist, who was born on the 17th May 1866 in Honfleur, France. He changed the spelling of his first name to Erik after 1884.
When he was 4, his father received a job offer of a translator, so he and his family moved to live in Paris. Sadly, in 1872, his mother died, when Satie was only 6 years old and he and his younger brother, were sent back to Honfleur to live with his grandparents. It was at this time that the local organist started to give him music lessons. Satie was only here for 6 years, when he returned back to Paris to live with his father, owing to the death of his grandmother. Not long after his return, his father married a piano teacher. She started publishing compositions by herself and Satie from the early 1880s.
Satie gained a place at the Paris Conservatoire in 1879, although he did not make a favourable impression and was even classed as untalented by some of his teachers! He stayed for 2 and a half years before being sent home. However, he returned aged 19 in 1885, but still made a poor impression. This resulted in him joining the 33rd Infantry Regiment a year later. He did not last long here either, being discharged after only a few months in April 1887, accused of infecting himself with bronchitis deliberately!
1887 saw Satie leave home and move to Montmartre. He met many artistic people at the local café-cabaret the Le Chat Noir. He also met Claude Debussy and the two became firm friends. It was around this time that he started publishing his Gymnopédies. These are 3 pieces for piano. They were finished by the 2nd April 1888, but published separately between 1888 and 1895. More recently, in 2007, all 3 were arranged for brass band by James McFadyen.
By 1891, he was appointed the chapel master and official composer of the Rosicrucian Order. This led to further inspirational compositions, such as Salon de la Rose + Croix and Sonneries de la Rose + Croix.
Many further compositions were written and he even provided incidental music to a play. He began courting Suzanne Valadon at this time. She was an artists’ model. However, she moved away after 6 months, leaving Satie heartbroken.
In 1892, he founded the Église Métropolitaine d'Art de Jésus Conducteur. He inherited some money in 1895, so he was able to get more of his work printed. However, his fortunes did not last long and by the next year, his finances had all but vanished, which forced him to move to a smaller and cheaper abode.
In 1899, Erik Satie began working as a pianist for a cabaret. He skilfully adapted popular music to piano pieces. In 1905, he decided to return to studying as a mature student and enrolled at the Schola Cantorum de Paris to study counterpoint. He undertook various courses here for the next 5 years, receiving, in 1908, a first diploma. Some of his exercises were published after he died.
Satie had further success from 1912 with his humorous miniatures for piano. Many of these were published over the years. He wrote many more compositions over the years until 1924, when he composed his last work, 2 ballets Mercure and Relâche. At the same time, he worked on a film Entracte, writing the music for it.
Erik Satie died aged 59 years on the 1st July 1925 from cirrhosis of the liver, after years of heavy drinking. He is buried in the cemetery in Arcueil. He will be remembered as a very influential, yet eccentric composer of the late 19th and early 20th century. For instance, he once wrote a piece for the piano that was 180 notes long, and was repeated 840 times! It was played in 1963 in New York and it needed 5 pianists to play in relays to complete it fully; it took all night!