Portrait of Erik Satie by Santiago Rusiñol'There is also one curiosity on this CD: a short quotation from Vexations - its "motif", made up of a theme and two variations - which Satie required to be played 840 times in a row; depending on the tempo chosen, this would take between twelve and twenty-four hours.
Without entirely playing the composer's game, for obvious reasons, Jean-Yves Thibaudet here simply reveals the different elements of the task, by playing the theme alternately with the two variations, as requested by the composer, then the theme again, this time followed by the two variations, one after the other.'
That is how Jean-Yves Thibaudet avoids the Vexations issue on his 5 CD set Satie - The Complete Solo Piano Music, and his performance of the work lasts for just 3 minutes 38 seconds. But at Cambridge University the pianists of Sidney Sussex College Musical Society are made of tougher stuff. On Saturday November 24th at 7.00pm UK time they are performing Vexations the way Satie intended, and the performance (poster below), in the College's Mong Hall, should last around 20 hours - non-stop.
This rare performance of Vexations is much more than an interesting curiosity. Today Satie is remembered for his Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes, and little more. But his piano music was a major influence on minimalist composers such as Philip Glass. Glass' early Piece in the Shape of a Square for two flutes is a homage to Satie, while Alvin Curran followed Satie in the adoption of epic time scales. Curran's Inner Cities for solo piano lasts for four and a half hours, and it is a work you will, literally, being hearing a lot more of On An Overgrown Path in the next few weeks.
Erik Satie's Vexations has an important place in the history of twentieth-century music. You can experience it in full via a live stream of the performance over the internet starting at 7.00pm on Saturday November 24th UK time - time zone convertor here.
Congratulations to Sidney Sussex College Musical Society for going where others dare not tread, and for putting Vexations on the web. The pianists deserve a credit. They are Kim Ashton, Thomas Athorne, Will Buchanan, Jesper Carlson, James Freeman, Paul Kilbey, Sarah Latto, Joe Scott, Lydia Slobodian, Emily Smith, Jamal Sutton, and Matthew Tait. The photo below shows the quadrangle in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. There are worse places to experience twenty hours of Vexations.
Back story on music in Cambridge here.
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