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Erik Satie - Socrate, I

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Uploaded on Sep 16, 2010

Socrate, drame symphonique en trois parties sur des dialogues de Platon (1917-1918)

I partie: Portrait de Socrate (Le banquet)
(Danielle Millet - Alcibiade)
II partie: Bords de I'llissus
(Andrea Guiot - Socrate; Andrée Esposito - Phèdre)
III partie: Mort de Socrate
(Mady Mesplé - Phédon)

Orchestre de Paris
Pierre Dervaux

In 1918, Erik Satie completed Socrate, his symphonic drama for sopranos and chamber orchestra. It is his longest work, almost forty minutes in duration, and is strangely successful in evoking an ancient sound both poised and reverence. Stravinsky found it boring, but its awkward timelessness gives it the edgy balance of a new art form while remaining true to his self-assessment "I am a young composer in an old time." Socrate unfolds with a jagged serenity that is uneventful and consistently astounding. Satie managed to write the bulk of the work during World War I, in which he was active. He was the happiest he had been in years with the beginning of this project, referring to Plato as "the perfect collaborator." The work is in three movements and the composer chose excerpts from three platonic dialogues: "Symposium," "Phaedrus," and "Phaedo." Satie chose to work with the translations of Victor Cousins, which are more concerned with the meaning of the words than being faithful to their original style of delivery. This suited the composer well. It was not his intention to compete with a text that demands the listener also absorb the beauty of the text itself. The three movements of the symphonic drama are entitled "Portrait de Socrate," "The banks of the Ilyssus," and "Mort de Socrate." It is austere and dignified music, very French, and has been a point of contention among lovers of twentieth-century avant-garde art.

Many contend that it is the driest of Satiean jokes, setting an insipid translation to an eventless soundscape. Others have accused it of being a collection of scraps from Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, among the most mean-spirited bluffs in music history. These charges continued throughout the twentieth century, but while the debate continued the work itself refused to age. It has not faded into the non-threatening world of period pieces. It has no audible development or climax, and no rhetoric for generating excitement. Satie constantly limited himself by using a slender deck of expressive methods, which distances Socrate from Pelléas et Mélisande. Debussy's tasteful use of his enormous musical arsenal led to an entirely different tactical approach. However irrational many of the arguments against Socrate have been, the fact that it generated heat (in opinion, not in the score) throughout the twentieth century is a testimony to its power to move people. It is much easier to simply forget about pieces that do not work. Schubert's operas were completely forgotten during his lifetime and stayed forgotten, in spite of re-evaluations of his catalog over the years. Certain works by Stravinsky are politely not mentioned, and there are pieces by Satie that generate no dialogue at all. Some listeners may listen to Socrate and remain unconvinced, but it is vital to anyone interested in music to become acquainted with it first hand. Socrate's premiere was booed by some, prompting Satie to comment "It is a bit odd, isn't it?" [allmusic.com]

Art by Jean Chaintrier

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