Short Story About Erik Satie

What’s a Gnossienne?

It was a French evening in the suburbs of Paris, though not being the Center of Paris the little Arcueil commune was not far enough to carry any other air than the Parisian. Erik held his nightly glass of absinthe in his hand and looked out the window of his Apartment building. He first looked down to the mostly empty street lit with the yellow street lamp shine, then he looked up to the mostly dark sky lit with the yellow moon shine turning its blackness into navy blue. 

He remembers his youthful days at the Paris conservatoire where he first got to know that anise flavoured spirit, how he drank it firstly with his classmates whose glasses seemed far more at home in their hands than did his in his hands. 

Knock knock knock 

His heart missed a beat. Knocks on his door always frightened him, and he was ashamed of it knowing how it shows his fear of life. Yet on the other hand he explained it as noble excitement and presence of his heart which makes him so afraid. Nevertheless, ashamed of it he was. 

He opened the door with his chest out and glass in hand hoping that marinating his comfortable posture would keep him confident and blissful through this unexpected interruption to his evening stare at the sky. At the door stood a fellow student from the Schola Cantorum school he recently joined. That student was far younger than him but obviously more confident. “Mr. Satie”, he began speaking respectfully, “I do admire your pieces. They’re childish but in a good way. Sweet lullabies.” 

Erik said nothing but maintained his glance eyed smile feeling no need to speak. 

“What are the names you’ve been calling your pieces? I’ve spent many evenings going through the French, Greek, Latin, and even English dictionaries and found nothing. What’s a Gnossienne? What’s a gymnopedy? Is there some hidden meaning? Is it Kabbalah? Is it s9mething you learned from the Rosicrusians?” 

“Perhaps” said Erik with a reflective look glancing down at the floor. 

“Perhaps? What do you mean perhaps?! What is it? Why did you call your pieces by these unheard names? There must be a reason? I mean, you wouldn’t just call them something random?” 

“Why not?” Said Erik mischievously.

“Why not?? Are you telling me that you’d call your piece with a random name which will then be uttered meaninglessly on a daily basis by innocent people who assume they’re saying something meaningful?”

“Wow” said Erik. 

“Wow?? What do you mean wow?”

“Wow what a world” 

“What???”

“Calm down friend, can I give you a glass of absinthe?”

“Absinthe? What’s that? I’ve never had it. Don’t you have any wine?”

“I don’t have wine, But you’ll like it. It’s flowery”

“Okay”

They said down on the couch inside and Erik turns to his visitor “why do you care what a piece of music is called?”

“Why? What do you mean? It has to have a good name!”

“Why”

“It’s a shame otherwise, isn’t it?”

“Perhaps”

“So did you call your pieces with meaningful and suitable names?”

“Perhaps”

“Is that your favourite word? Do you know no other words?”

“I mean I’m not sure what you mean by meaningful and suitable names. Does that mean that I called them by words which people use to describe a certain phenomena which I want them to associate with my piece? or do you mean a word whose sound I found fit for my piece?”

“I mean… of course… what?”

Erik smiled and sipped from his glass with joy. A glance of victory and self satisfaction in his eyes. 

“Look”, said the visitor with newly found confidence,”that group of six may be your fans but not everybody else is. And even they produce nothing but unsophisticated sounds to be heard by nobody but themselves and their families.”

Erik looked humbly at his glass and said nothing. 

“Even Chopin”, continued his guest, “he wrote nocturnes. That means something. Nocturne from the Latin nocturnus meaning night which fits his night mood pieces. Schubert with his impromptus, al, of this means something. Comes in big Mr Satie and he has to invent his own meaningless words. Why are you different?”

Erik stood up, left the apartment, leaving his visitor confused and alone on the couch. He walked onto the streets with his glass in his hand, his eyes still glancing, and joyously looked high as he slowly walked. Nothing bothered him at all, for its night, and at night nothing ever bothered Erik. 

Published by David Frankel

David Frankel, from Antwerp, Belgium, living in Jerusalem, Israel. Performing in concerts, teaching music. Classical and Chassidic music on classical guitar.

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