He noticed strange creatures emerging from the sheet music
July 12, 2020 9:56 AM   Subscribe

A Dangerous and Evil Piano Piece - "In the years that followed its début, [Erik Satie's] 'Vexations' outgrew its status as a curiosity. It became a rite of passage." (previously: 1, 2)
posted by kliuless (18 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Did Andy Warhol actually attend?
posted by sammyo at 10:57 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Why eight hundred and forty?
posted by heatherlogan at 11:07 AM on July 12, 2020

Where might one here, say, even 50 or 100 repetitions of this? The one [Previously] link is broken.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:09 AM on July 12, 2020

There's a link late in the article to a nearly ten hour long performance of the full set.

it is... a slippery little piece. All corners.
posted by egypturnash at 11:27 AM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I watched the livestream of pianist Igor Levit performing this recently, tuning in every so often to see how he was holding up. By the end he was sort of flopping around. Even listening to the piece for a prolonged period of time requires some sort of endurance.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:37 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

One of my absolute favorite pieces of music. I’ve been asking the Monday Evening Concerts folks here in LA to take it on, but no dice so far (and obviously not under present circumstances, although weirdly it feels like the perfect piece to livestream during quarantine).

(My preferred recording is the Alan Marks interpretation, for having precisely the right unnerving tempo for my ears.)
posted by mykescipark at 11:45 AM on July 12, 2020

Modernism: art made for a world when people had time to sit and thoughtfully experience it.*

I do agree with Cage, that some performance of the piece is essential. From 2020, I'm more inclined to say instead that listening to a full performance of the piece is the more essential part--I'm not sure how interesting it is to see the (enormous, Olympic-level) challenges to a single performer (for the same reasons that running marathons don't receive full, multi-hour, play-by-play coverage). But the effects on listeners, with varying levels of engagement over different intervals of time, would be interesting to sample.

*I say that with the greatest affection, IMHO musical modernism is one of the two or three most fascinating periods of the past ~800 years of western music history. And maybe quarantine is an ideal time to rediscover creative work that needs focused attention.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:51 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm still listening to the performance linked in the article, it's so beautiful in how it keeps on feeling like it's about to go anywhere but never actually does, and how its rhythms and melodies just suddenly
posted by egypturnash at 12:28 PM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

I am two hours in and his mistakes are starting to become something interesting. The piece does slowly evolve into something else, it turns out.
posted by egypturnash at 1:23 PM on July 12, 2020


(etc etc)
posted by pyramid termite at 2:12 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you want to play it yourself (not really too difficult, except for the endurance aspect), here is a more readable score (accidentals only apply to single notes) that accompanies the essay Serious Immobilities : On the Centenary of Eric Satie's Vexations by Stephen Whittington, which goes a lot deeper into Vexations and Satie himself than the New Yorker article.

A couple of tidbits from Whittington's paper:
One is reminded of the strange letter written by Satie in obsessively meticulous archaic calligraphy, addressed, stamped and duly posted to himself, which was found among Satie's papers after his death. It reads: "Tomorrow will be the day, milord. Yours humbly"
Satie's thoughts were already moving in the direction of Furniture Music at the time of Vexations. In the bizarre music drama uspud [1892] (the libretto of which,published at Satie's expense, is apparently the first piece of typography printed entirely in the lower case), the music functions as scenery, impassively continuing on its course undisturbed by cataclysmic events on stage.
Satie never went as far as his friend and fellow native of Honfleur, the humorist Alphonse Allais, who not only produced a completely silent funeral march for a deaf man, but also painted the first all-white canvas, entitled 'Anaemic girls going to their first communion in a snow storm'.
posted by TwoToneRow at 2:57 PM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Why eight hundred and forty?

840 = 420 x 2. Coincidence? Maybe.
posted by Crane Shot at 3:08 PM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

It's a bit like William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, but instead of degrading tape loops it's the actual performer's stamina that's failing.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:23 PM on July 12, 2020

I think 840 yields about 24 straight hours, depending on speed of course. Seattle put on a performance about ten years back - lots of local musicians including Wayne Horvitz were assigned hour slots (I don't think Horvitz played because it finished early). Pretty sure I sat in the Gust Burns performance. Not sure I could have lasted for 24 hours.

There's a nice video linked on the Jackstraw site, showing John Cale discussing his performance of it on "I've Got a Secret."
posted by SoundInhabitant at 4:49 PM on July 12, 2020

tapping out at the six hour mark, there's still 3:41 in this performance but I think I am Done
posted by egypturnash at 5:24 PM on July 12, 2020

I programmed it into a little paper strip for a DIY music box but have not played it the requisite number of times. I had to sit there and respell everything to punch the holes; he makes sure to have sharps and flats in every measure.
posted by less of course at 8:02 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

OK, now do it on the virtual Katzenklavier.
posted by jackbishop at 7:12 AM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

The perfect soundtrack to 2020.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:50 AM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

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