Satie-Ricon: Erik Satie at 150

Location Info:

UNT on the Square
109 N. Elm St., Denton, TX
Denton, TX  76201
Satie’s work, “Vexations” has received a lot of notoriety since it’s first performance in 1963. It was one of several works found in Satie’s piano stuffed between the hammers and the strings at his death, and most likely was never intended to be performed publically. Satie only seems to have fallen in love one time in his life. The object of his devotion was that of that of Suzanne Valadon, a French painter and artists’ model. Many music researchers believe this piece to be a reaction to his realization that Suzanne would never love him back. However, the work employs several devices that make it “vexing” experience. The use of enharmonic notation makes it rather difficult to read. It is a short exercise in non-resolving tritones, intervals that are often used to resolve harmonically, but they never do. It is also likely judging from several of his writings that this is an exercise in Anti-Wagnerian sentiment in that he Satie can create a piece that can conceivably be longer than Wagner’s Der Ring De Nibelungen with very limited resources, in this case 3 lines that are repeated 840 times. It is highly unlikely that Satie every truly intended the work to be taken literally. But this did not deter John Cage and Lewis Lloyd from producing the first performance in 1963 at the Pocket Theater in Manhattan. Pianists included John Cage himself, David Tudor, Christian Wolf, and David Del Tredici just to name a few. That performance lasted over 18 hours using a very literal interpretation of the score. It is this literal interpretation that has sparked many other “Vexations” marathons, many occurring on college campuses. Many versions exist online including computer interpretations, students who play the piece using any instruments available, and even a Vexations loop that plays 840 times on YouTube. The longest execution of the work was executed by pianist Nicholas Horvath which lasted over 35 hours. This version of “Vexations” feels no need to set a record, and indeed will break with the Cageian tradition of its literal interpretation, and chooses to take a much more loose approach at interpretation, and almost entirely omits a bass line which Satie writes may be “customarily played” between the two proceeding lines. The bass line will more than likely only be played during this performance when there is a change of pianists to keep the piece from stopping between repetitions.
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