Erik Satie
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San Bernardo (1913)
The first version of Españaña
- Edited by Robert Orledge -

Professor Robert Orledge of Liverpool University recently sent me his brand new edition of the never before published piano piece San Bernardo by Erik Satie. As I write this, 50 deluxe numbered copies are available, each in a special folder. Copies can be obtained through Orledge in return for a cheque or bankers draft for £15; $25; or 25 Euros. Cheques to be made to Robert Orledge, and sent to Windermere House, Windermere Terrace, Liverpool L8 3SB. [This is just to cover production costs, postage and packing, and cheque conversion where appropriate].

Preface taken from Orledge's edition

During the summer of 1913, Satie found himself in the fortunate (and unaccustomed) position of being asked to compose as many sets of piano pieces as he could. Since his new publisher, Eugène Demets, had published his three Véritables préludes flasques (pour un chien) in 1912, demand had been brisk, with several re-issues quickly proving necessary. Between 21 and 26 April came the Descriptions automatiques, closely followed by the Embryons desséchés (30 June-4 July), and the seven little contemporary dances for Jonas the Monkey in Satie's own surrealist play Le piège de Méduse. Earlier, on 2 June, Satie had begun a set of Croquis et agaceries d'un gros bonhomme en bois (Sketches and Enhancements of a Great Wooden Fellow) with a 'Danse maigre (à la manière de ces messieurs)' - the 'messieurs' being Alfredo Casella and Maurice Ravel, who had recently produced several 'in the style of' piano pieces. The remaining Croquis took some while longer to emerge: the first, 'Tyrolienne Turque', with its amusing references to Mozart's celebrated 'Rondo alla Turca', was completed on 28 July, whilst the final 'Españaña' took till 25 August, by which time Satie had already composed two of his Chapitres tournés en tous sens.

'Españaña', which quotes from Chabrier's España and is Satie's humorous contribution to the recent French vogue for all things Spanish, was dedicated to Debussy's seven-year-old daughter, Chouchou [Emma-Claude]. In fact, Debussy and Satie became particularly close that summer, though it is more likely that Satie was himself the 'gros bonhomme en bois' in the strange title, for Debussy refers to him as 'toujours en bois' in a dedication as early as 1892.

Unbeknown to scholars, however, Satie had completed a first version of what became 'Españaña' on '2 August 1913'. The fair copy of its final page, separately titled 'San Bernardo', recently came up for sale through a Paris dealer, where I was kindly allowed to consult it. The neat manuscript in black ink consisted of two systems of music, the first with a typically Satiean textual addition: 'Rue de Madrid'. This was the former home of the Paris Conservatoire where Satie had spent seven unhappy years in the early 1880s training to be a concert pianist. Remembering the dictation and solfège exercises he had also had to do, he moved his melodic line about with the aid of the soprano and alto clefs! After locating the rest of the piece in a sketchbook in the Music Department of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (MS 9619, pp. 25, 27-30), (now coincidentally situated in the same building where Demets had published the Croquis et agaceries), I edited it for publication by Eschig et Cie in Paris (who had inherited the contract for the three Croquis from Demets). When it is published, this will be the first commercial edition.

'San Bernardo', like 'Españaña', is a light-hearted valse. The references to Chabrier's masterpiece are already present, but there is an alluring triplet figure and a use of the piano's highest register that Satie removed in his second version. Here there is more use of ostinati and less pure melody. Perhaps the version Satie finally chose to publish is more subtle, and more amusing with its Franco-Spanish textual pleasantries, but the first version has much to commend it, not least in its spontaneity and almost child-like sense of fun. The San Bernardo of the title sound Spanish, but is probably meant to be Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), who founded many Cistercian monasteries and established the Knights Templar. Satie may even have remembered his canonisation in January 1874, the year he began his studies with M. Vinot, the organist in Honfleur. One thing is certain: Satie never intended either version to be any sort of joke at Chabrier's expense, as he pointed out emphatically in a letter in 1914. He also intended the Croquis et agaceries solely for the prestigious Société Nationale, where the appropriately Spanish Ricardo Viñes first performed them in the Salle Pleyel on 28 March 1914. Sadly, Españaña's attractive ancestor, 'San Bernardo', has had to wait for its première in Toronto by Eve Egoyan until 16 May 2002.

Robert Orledge, Liverpool, June 2002

Images (click to enlarge)

Satie's manuscript of the last section (1913).

The same section of Orledge's edition (2002).

This page was last updated on 30 July 2002.