VELVET GENTLEMAN is a colorful journey into the mind and music of the witty and eccentric composer Erik Satie whose music ranges from the comically bizarre to the hauntingly beautiful. Created and performed by TAP’s co-artistic director James Valcq, this multimedia theatre piece featuring Satie’s music, words, and drawings will transport audiences to fin de siécle Paris.
Although in his own time he was dismissed as a radical or a clown, Satie’s ideas were to have a profound influence on many musical developments over a broad time span, ranging from Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky all the way to John Cage and Philip Glass.
Erik Satie (1866-1925) is praised by historians for helping to provide the pre-war pathway to minimalism in classical music. His piano compositions, most famously the Gymnopédies suite of 1888 and the Gnossiennes suite of 1893, set the tone for experimentation within the next century of composers. These composers traversed new understandings of tonality, space, and emotion, even as academic trends in composition gravitated toward serialism and theory.
Even while his music remains timeless and beloved in 2017, very few music lovers know about the various eccentricities to Erik Satie’s persona and lesser-known works, some of which made him quite notorious amongst his contemporaries in turn-of-the-century Paris.
For example, his composition Vexations was meant to be repeated 840 in immediate succession in performance. About this piece he wrote, “In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, through serious immobility.”
His private life was no less unconventional. Here is what he had to say about his eating habits:
“My only nourishment consists of food that is white: eggs, sugar, shredded bones, the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water, moldy fruit, rice, turnips, sausages in camphor, pastry, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (without their skin). I boil my wine and drink it cold mixed with the juice of the Fuchsia. I have a good appetite, but never talk when eating for fear of strangling myself.”
Using source material from Satie’s own published works, lectures, and diaries, James Valcq has created with VELVET GENTLEMAN a unique biographical portrait of this complex and quite eccentric man whose hauntingly beautiful music influenced not only his contemporaries, but the generations who have have followed.