Erik Satie: Le fils des étoiles (1891)


  • Artist(s): Giancarlo Simonacci
  • Composer(s): Erik Satie
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • ISMN: 7.46160916040
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Piano
  • Period: Modern
  • Publication year: 2023
SKU: C00764 Category:

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In December of 1891, at the tender age of 25, Erik Satie penned the incidental music for “Le fils des étoiles,” a poetic drama by Josephin Peladan sharing the same title. During that year and extending into 1892, Satie served as the official composer and chapel master for the esoteric and religious Mystic Order of the Rose + Cross.
This order was established by Peladan, who exhibited a deep appreciation for symbolic art and the music of Richard Wagner. This admiration was so profound that Peladan adorned his own work with the subtitles “Pastorale Kaldéenne” and “Wagnérie Kaldéenne”. The narrative, set in the Chaldean era around 3000 BC, chronicles the journey of a shepherd (the son of the stars) as he joins the Chaldean priesthood, facing both material and spiritual trials.
Interestingly, despite the order’s veneration of Wagner, Satie’s composition displays no Wagnerian influence. In fact, it is decisively non-dramatic, a stark contrast to Wagner’s aesthetic. Satie’s association with the order lasted just over a year, and in August 1892, in a candid letter to the Gil Blas newspaper, he declared: “Good Monsieur Peladan has never impinged upon my aesthetic independence.”
It is well-documented that Satie shared a close friendship with Debussy. In a public lecture on Debussy in 1922, Satie reminisced: “When we first crossed paths, he was profoundly enamoured with Mussorgsky, seeking a musical path that was elusive. It was during this time that I was working on ‘Le fils des étoiles’, inspired by a text by Josephin Peladan. I was emphasizing to Debussy the importance for us French to disentangle ourselves from the Wagnerian narrative, which was discordant with our natural inclinations. I pointedly expressed that while I was not anti-Wagnerian, our music should ideally be free of sauerkraut.”
The premiere performance of “Le fils des étoiles” took place in March of 1892 at the Durand-Ruel art gallery. Intriguingly, only the three preludes were performed, arranged for harps and flutes. Yet, Satie’s manuscript exists solely as a piano score, without any notation for harps and flutes!For the first publication of the three Preludes in a piano version in 1896, Satie included a prologue:

Le fils des étoiles
Wagnérie Kalkdéenne
Sar Josephin Peladan

Dédicatoire: Sans préjudice des pratiques des grands imprécateurs | Mes cousins, J’offre cette œuvre à Mes pairs. | Par ainsi, et pour la précédence des exemples, Je ne demande | point l’exaltation, J’appelle sur Mes convives | la miséricorde du Père, créateur des choses visibles et | invisibles ; la protection de la | Mère Auguste du Rédempteur, Reine des Anges ; | comme les prières du chœur | glorieux des Apôtres et des Saints Ordres des | Esprits bienheureux. | Que la juste inflammation de Dieu | écrase les superbes et les indécents !

[Without prejudice to the practices of the great imprecators, my cousin, I offer this work to my peers. By this, and for the precedence of examples, I do not ask for exaltation. I call on my guests the mercy of the Father, creator of visible and invisible things; the protection of the August Mother of the Redeemer, Queen of Angels; as the prayers of the glorious choir of Apostles and the holy orders of blessed spirits. May the righteous inflammation of God crush the proud and the indecent!]

In this version, Satie dispensed with the conventional bar lines separating the measures, choosing instead to intersperse the score with decidedly whimsical directives such as “En blanc et immobile”, “Toujours”, “Précisement”, “Comme une douce demande”, “Dans la tête”, and “Courageusement facile et complaisemment solitaire”, among others. The comprehensive piano score was meticulously curated by Robert Caby and saw its first publication in 1973.
The initial chords of the 1st Prelude strike with a surprising force, a gentle yet radical harmony of fourths, which was astonishingly modern for its time. Does Satie hint at future musical trends? Beyond these initial fourth chords, the harmonic structure meanders through major, minor, altered, seventh, ninth chords, and polytonal clusters. The journey through the harmonic landscape is unpredictable, full of unforeseen turns.
What truly astounds is not merely the intriguing harmonic texture, but the way Satie orchestrates the overall formal structure. The three Preludes introduce different thematic elements that transform, diminish, segment, expand, and intermingle with each other in the following three Acts. But that’s not all!
A singular exception occurs towards the close of Act Once, where we find – just once in the entire composition – a tranquil “ritual” with the indication “Calm,” reminiscent of the six Gnossiennes of 1889. This “ritual” was later incorporated by Satie in 1903 into “Trois morceaux en forme de poire” for piano duet.
With an adept hand, Satie weaves these thematic elements together with new ones in the three Acts, creating an expansive tapestry. This is a juxtaposition of thematic modules that could be described as kaleidoscopic. The ostensible randomness of the musical development seems designed to elicit precise psychological responses from the variations and subtle transformations of the “main” themes.
Is this a daring, refined, revolutionary ploy? Jean Cocteau declared that the greatest of his time were Debussy and Stravinsky, but Satie was a breed apart. Ravel was deeply moved by his harmonic experimentation. Debussy described him as “A gentle medieval musician lost in this century”. Edgar Varese referred to the “Messe des Pauvres”, saying: “This music that revolves around itself like a sculpture…”. John Cage famously asserted: “It is not a question of Satie’s importance. It’s that he is indispensable”.
Cage’s sentiment was not only an emotional tribute but also reflected his serious and detailed study of the techniques, often numerical, that Satie employed in his compositions, and thus Cage’s incorporation of these stimuli into his own music. In “Le fils des étoiles”, the “literary” instructions (contained only in the three Preludes in the 1896 edition) and the total absence of dynamic directions, provide little guidance to the performer attempting to breathe life into the apparent hermeticism enveloping the entire work.
I posit that a well-considered choice of colouristic direction, guided by one’s own sensibilities, coupled with a deliberate effort to underscore the undeniable hieratic nature that the composition expresses, can lead to results that are, if not definitive, at least satisfying.
Giancarlo Simonacci © 2023

Certain young people are rather old for their age
Erik Satie


Giancarlo Simonacci, pianist and composer, was born in Rome, where he studied music at the Conservatorio “Santa Cecilia”. He then took advanced courses in composition with Aldo Clementi and piano in piano with Carlo Zecchi at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He is active as a piano soloist and plays regularly in a piano duo with Gabriella Morelli, also performing frequently with singers and other instrumentalists.
As a composes and performer he takes part in the foremost international festivals and concert series. His compositions have been published by BMG Ricordi, Edipan, Rugginenti and Accord for Music, and he also recorded for RAI (the official Italian television and radio network), Discoteca di Stato Italiana, Radio Vaticana and ORF (Austria). Silence Records produced a CD, interpreted by Francesco Negro, dedicated to his piano works. He has made recordings for CRI, Edipan, Fonotipia, RCA, Domanimusica, Mr Classics, Irtem, AFM, Atopos and Twilightmusic.
Particularly noteworthy are his recordings of the music of John Cage, for Brilliant Classics, which were well received by the press both in Italy (Messaggero, La Repubblica, La Gazzetta di Parma, La Stampa, Musica, Suonare News, Amadeus, Classic Voice etc.) and abroad (ABC, Magazine Klassics, Piano, Le Monde de la Musique, Diapason, Scherzo, BBC Music Magazine, Los Angeles Times etc.). For Brilliant Classics he has recorded the complete piano works of Ildebrando Pizzetti and complete works for cello and piano of Morton Feldman with his son Marco and a CD with works of Giulio Ricordi for 4 hands piano (duo G. Morelli – G. Simonacci).
For Da Vinci Classics he has recorded the piano works of Stefano Golinelli.
For over 40 years Giancarlo has taught piano at the Sassari, Frosinone and Rome conservatories. He has also given numerous masterclasses, seminars and conferences in Italy, Spain and Austria.


Erik Satie: (b Honfleur, 17 May 1866; d Paris, 1 July 1925). French composer. He was an iconoclast, a man of ideas who looked constantly towards the future. Debussy christened him ‘the precursor’ because of his early harmonic innovations, though he surpassed his friend’s conception of him by anticipating most of the ‘advances’ of 20th-century music – from organized total chromaticism to minimalism. To some extent he made a virtue of his technical limitations, but his painstaking quest for perfection in simplicity, coupled with his ironic wit and his shrewd awareness of developments in other fields of contemporary art, made him the personification of the wartime esprit nouveau in France.

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