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Erik Satie's Trois Gnossiennes in the French fin de siècle

Simmons, Alexander (2013)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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A majority of modern studies of Erik Satie’s Trois Gnossiennes seem to consider the French composer’s early piano music as a form of anti-Wagnerian nihilism. This view is misinformed. From Ravel’s first staging of Satie’s early piano music at the Société Musicale Indépendante in 1910, to John Cage’s lecture on the ‘Defence of Satie’ in 1948, composers from both waves of the modernist period (1890-1914 and post 1940s) have often given too much attention to Satie’s apparently anti-romantic and anti-Germanic mentality, failing to consider his early symbolist identity in the French fin de siècle. As a result, numerous studies today examine Satie as a precursor to the light-hearted nihilism of Les Six, Dadaism and the later John Cage.

However, this dissertation argues that Satie’s initial behaviour in the fin de siècle period may have been influenced by mysticism, closely associated with the ideals of late-romanticism. Examining the period 1886-1893 (the years of Satie’s youth), this thesis offers a reinterpretation of some of the primary characteristics of Satie’s early piano music, taking into consideration the contextual evidence available on the anti-establishment of Montmartre. In this case, Satie’s aim was to use symbolist means to resist modern rationality, while also ascetically restraining himself from the grandiose subjectivity of late-romantic rhetoric.

Type of Work:M.Mus thesis.
Supervisor(s):Earle, Ben
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
Department:Department of Music
Subjects:M Music
ML Literature of music
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:4344
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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