Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1” performed by Pardy Minassian on a c. 1840-1850 “Early Vienna school”
Erik Satie is, of course, the patron saint of PIXELS. I follow the Guitar Salon International on YouTube and, as a result, find a link to lovely guitar piece, played on a vintage classical guitar, in my inbox every morning. I recommend it highly.
Satie’s coining of the word gnossienne was one of the rare occasions when a composer used a new term to indicate a new “type” of composition. Satie used many novel names for his compositions (vexations, croquis et agaceries and so on). Ogive, for example, is the name of an architectural element which was used by Satie as the name for a composition, the Ogives. Gnossienne, however, was a word that did not exist before Satie used it as a title for a composition. The word appears to derive from gnosis. Satie was involved in gnostic sects and movements at the time that he began to compose the 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 musical vocabulary of the Gnossiennes is a continuation of that of the Gymnopédies (a development that had started with the 1886 Ogives and the Sarabandes) later leading to more harmonic experimentation in compositions like the Danses gothiques (1893). These series of compositions are all at the core of Satie’s characteristic late 19th century style, and in this sense differ from his early salon compositions (like the 1885 “Waltz” compositions published in 1887), his turn-of-the-century cabaret songs (Je te veux), and his post-Schola Cantorum piano solo compositions, starting with the Préludes flasques (pour un chien) in 1912.