Gnossienne No. 4
Uploaded on Nov 11, 2018
The Gnossiennes are several piano compositions written by the French composer Erik Satie in the late 19th century. The works are for the most part in free time (lacking time signatures or bar divisions) and highly experimental with form, rhythm and chordal structure. The form as well as the term was invented by Satie.
Satie's coining of the word gnossienne was one of the rare occasions when a composer used a new term to indicate a new “type” of composition. Satie used many novel names for his compositions (vexations, croquis et agaceries and so on). Ogive, for example, had been the name of an architectural element until Satie used it as the name for a composition, the Ogives. Gnossienne, however, was a word that did not exist before Satie used it as a title for a composition. The word appears to derive from gnosis. Satie was involved in gnostic sects and movements at the time that he began to compose the Gnossiennes. However, some published versions claim that the word derives from Cretan “knossos” or “gnossus”; this interpretation supports the theory linking the Gnossiennes to the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur. Several archeological sites relating to that theme were famously excavated around the time that Satie composed the Gnossiennes.
It is possible that Satie may have drawn inspiration for the title of these compositions from a passage in John Dryden's 1697 translation of the Aeneid, in which it is thought the word first appeared: “Let us the land which Heav'n appoints, explore;/Appease the winds, and seek the Gnossian shore.”
The Gnossiennes were composed by Satie in the decade following the composition of the Sarabandes (1887) and the Trois Gymnopédies (1888). Like these Sarabandes and Gymnopédies, the Gnossiennes are often considered dances. It is not certain that this qualification comes from Satie himself – the sarabande and the Gymnopaedia were at least historically known as dances.
The musical vocabulary of the Gnossiennes is a continuation of that of the Gymnopédies (a development that had started with the 1886 Ogives and the Sarabandes) later leading to more harmonic experimentation in compositions like the Danses gothiques (1893). These series of compositions are all at the core of Satie's characteristic late 19th century style, and in this sense differ from his early salon compositions (like the 1885 “Waltz” compositions published in 1887), his turn-of-the-century cabaret songs (Je te veux), and his post-Schola Cantorum piano solo compositions, starting with the Préludes flasques in 1912.
The Gnossiennes Nos. 4–6 were published only in 1968, long after Satie's death. None of these appear to have been numbered, nor even titled as “Gnossienne” by Satie himself. The sequence of these three Gnossiennes in the 1968 publication by Robert Caby does not correspond with the chronological order of composition. It is extremely unlikely that Satie would have seen these compositions as three members of a single set.
The fourth Gnossienne was composed in 1891. It is composed tonally in D minor even though its key signature is empty, the piece features a bass line centred on its minor key, sounding D, A, D, F, A, D, F, D, A, F, D, A, D. The bass part then transposes into a C minor chord I ostinato, following the pattern C, G, C, E♭, G, C, E♭, C, G, E♭, C, G, C. Section B, usually considered a very inspired section, uses semiquavers to contrast the minor melody of Section A.
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