Article by Roxanne Classen for the Chat Blanc Project: Shadows and Light on Erik Satie, 2012
Trois morceaux en forme de poire (Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear) is a suite for piano four hands that revisits the popular entertainment scene in Montmartre at the turn of the century. Composer Erik Satie recycled cabaret songs, dances and incidental music for theatre, works that he had created between the years 1890 to 1903. It contains not three, but seven short pieces in which Satie blended the musical flavors of the Parisian Cafés, Cabarets and Music Halls with his uniquely mysterious and whimsical expression. It would become the first of many works in which Satie fused together serious French art music with the sounds of everyday Paris.
Thirteen years later on April 18, 1916, Trois Morceaux was performed at Festival Erik Satie-Maurice Ravel, sponsored by the Société Lyre et Palette. On hearing the work Jean Cocteau was inspired to meet and later collaborate with Satie. The visionary ideas introduced in Trois Morceaux lead to the creation and Succes de Scandale of Diaghilev’s Ballet Parade. Today Trois Morceaux en forme de poire represents a memory of Paris during a very unique time in history known as La Belle Epoche when the young and impoverished Satie was living the life of the bohemian flâneur.
Paris, Le Moulin Rouge, 1900
The word flâneur was derived from the french verb flâner, which means to stroll. By the nineteenth century the flâneur became more than an idle loafer. He was a connoisseur of urban culture who consciously maintained his public identity. As an “amiable storyteller,” he freely shared his expertise on urban society through engaging conversation and was easily identified by his flamboyant attire at the arcades, cafés, and music halls. Eventually the flâneur expanded his audience by becoming a man of letters. His dress became less theatrical as he “cultivated deliberately understated clothing that avoided all signs of artistic extravagance and singularity.” The flâneur was epitomized by famous writers the likes of Balzac and Baudelaire and depicted in numerous illustrations wearing the Dandy’s uniform that consisted of a black frock coat, top hat and walking cane.
It was his literary and artistic skill that allowed the flâneur to render the urban scene transparent for contemporary observers . . . The flâneur of the 1840’s were novelists and journalists who occupied a symbolic and mediated public space made available to them by the commercial press and mass media. Behind the impeccably groomed and anonymous public facade of the flâneur, there lay concealed the private face of the professional man of letters. 
Satie embodied many characteristics of the nineteenth-century flâneur and it was the very act of being a flâneur that allowed him to gather the spirit of the time and cultivate a truly unique expression. He had a strongly established walking ritual and one may assume from the condition of his various modest living quarters, that he spent little time at home. As well, Satie was a man on the street who distinguishing himself from others through consistent dress codes and presented himself to Parisian society through open letters in the press.
“Satie plays the harmonium” Charcoal drawing by Santiago Russinol,1891
Seen about town: From Bohemian to Bureaucrat
Satie consciously manufactured a public identity through his appearance, which went through a series of transformations during his lifetime. In the 1880‘s the young Satie first established himself as the composer of the three Gymnopedie and had become a piano player for the popular Cabarets in the district of Montmartre. He dressed the part of the dandy with long hair, top coat, frock coat and windsor tie. 
In 1895, thanks to a small inheritance, Satie traded in this garb for seven identical velvet suites and thus became famously known as the Velvet Gentleman. His Bohemian lifestyle, however, was leading him towards financial demise and he was eventually evicted from his last Montmartre apartment in 1898. He moved to the inexpensive and less desirable industrial suburb of Paris know as Arcueil-Cachan. Satie continued to work as a pianist and composer for the Cabaret and Café-Concert and walked every day on a two hour route from Arcueil to Montmartre, stopping at the various cafés along the way. In 1905 Satie enrolled as a student at the Schola Cantorum to further develop his compositional skills. At this juncture Satie again rebranded himself through his costume.
Not surprisingly, Satie’s dedication of purpose was reflected in a new look; he abandoned the Velvet Gentleman get–up that signaled his association with bohemians and entertainers and adopted the costume of a bourgeois functionary– a conservative three-piece suit, white shirt and tie, bowler hat and, always, an umbrella. 
Satie maintained his bourgeois functionary look, the Arcueil apartment and his walking ritual for the rest of his life. No one ever entered Satie’s cramped Arcueil apartment until after his death in 1925. In contrast to his carefully crafted public persona, this private space was extremely unkempt.
Satie as Bourgeois Functionary, Rene Clair, Relache 1924
Man of letters
Although Satie was most famous as a composer, he was also a prolific writer. He produced magazine articles, lectures and many private and public letters throughout his lifetime. His writings were acerbic, obscure and symbolic, or satirical, sarcastic and absurd. Satie’s notorious diatribes against a well known music critic revealed not only his frustration at how his music was received but also his own eccentricity through words that were witty, righteous and ridiculous. After a falling out with the Rosicrucian Sect of which he was the Mâitre de Chapelle, he founded his own church L’Eglise Metropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur. He named himself the parcier and began publishing his own Cartulaires, a type of medieval styled periodical. Through this platform he attacked his most famous nemesis, music critic Henry Gautier-Villars, (also known as Willy). The following is one of many letters addressed to Gautier-Villars:
Erik Satie, Parcier & Maitre de Chapelle
to Monsieur Gauthier-Villars
Against the inflation of his Spirit
and for the protection of magnificent Things
Abbacy, the 2nd of the month of May of 1895
Sir, the sacred character of Art renders the function of the critic especially delicate; you degrade this function by the inexcusable disrespect and incompetence which you bring to its exercise. Know, by order of God, that all men of conscience condemn you for seeking to touch things that are above you, in order to tarnish them. The demonic dragon of presumption is blinding you. You have committed blasphemy by your judgement on Wagner, who is for you the Unknown and the Infinite. For my part I can calmly curse him. My dynastic melodies, my athletic art and the asceticism of My life empower Me to do so. With these words, I command you to keep your distance from My person, in sorrow, silence and painful meditation.
Trois morceaux en forme de poire: Satie’s musical tour of Montmartre
The literary flâneur presented urban society to the masses through conversation and journalism. What sets Satie the flaneur apart is that he presented his commentary on the Parisian Café-concert, Cabaret, and Music Hall through music.
“From the turn of the century onward, Satie’s preoccupation with popular music was part of a larger project in which he explored ways that the melodies and harmonies of French entertainment music—including music hall tunes, sentimental waltz melodies, operetta airs, and traditional French folk songs—could be integrated with the classicist traditions of French art music. . . Satie strove to illuminate the ways in which the music of “everyday life” was linked to the high-art repertoire and to reveal the ways in which “high” and “low” music could express the quintessentially French ideals for clarity, simplicity and structural balance. 
The symmetrical organization of the pieces in Trois morceaux en forme de poire illustrate Satie’s simplicity and order. This organization also suggests a circular journey. The three main Morceaux at the centre of the collection are set within two introductory and two concluding movements. The two most exuberant movements of the entire suite are the second and third Morceau. Although Trois morceaux was not intended as a narrative, musical references and gestures locate the work to a time and place. It is easy to superimpose the Parisian landscape during la fin de siècle onto this musical canvas with Satie as flâneur leading the way.
1. Manière de Commencement (A Way of Beginning) included incidental music that Satie originally composed for the Rosicrucian play, Le Fils des étoiles. The melody reveals religious origins through its chant-like delivery. During the early 1890’s when Satie’s had become affiliated with the Rosicrucian sect, he had studied the ancient Greek modes. Exotic sounding scale passages became a signature for Satie’s mystical style and were most likely derived from certain Greek tetrachords that contained the consecutive intervals of a semitone and augmented 2nd.  The block chords that accompany the opening line are non metrical and lack clear harmonic direction. Soft dynamics and sustained articulations add a muted colour to this aimless beginning. The mood is suddenly interrupted with bold fortissimo chords that usher in a new attitude. At this point the music sounds conversational with two contrasting melodic ideas in dialogue. The initial group of phrases consist of sets of two repeated notes in a descending sequential pattern. This declamatory statement is followed by short scale passages. The second group of phrases are easily recognized by grace note figures. These phrases are immediately echoed. The contrasting main ideas seem to argue yet share a sense of urgency through a consistent accompaniment pattern that is rhythmically driven. The music now moves along at a brisk walking tempo before ending bluntly.
2. Prolongement du même (More of the Same) recycles Satie’s unfinished Cabaret song “Le Roi soleil de plomb” Quickly articulated block chord punctuate each beat in this lively march. The melody is clearly the focus within a homophonic texture and the melodic articulations add an energetic and direct expression. The flâneur tells an animated story!
3. The First morceau is the only movement that has no connection to past works. It is in a pensive and slow duple meter. It seems to drag along in spite of accented chords that shout out, “Hurry Up!” Imagine Satie walking up the mountain known as Montmartre on his way to work at one of the famous Cabarets.
4. The Second morceau begins and ends with joie de vivre. It celebrates the popular music of Montmartre. This movement in ABA form is comprised of three self-contained sections. The A section, based on the Café-concert song “Imperial Napoleon,” evokes sounds and images of the Music Hall and Can Can dancers through boisterous dynamics, and the occasional syncopations that are framed within a fast duple meter. Rapid repeated notes begin phrases in anacrusis and push the melodic line forward. In the B section Satie inserted the Cabaret song Le Veuf (The Widow.) It was originally written together with Vincent Hyspa, the Chansonnier who worked most extensively with Satie. This pinnacle section within the movement and at the centre of the entire suite may be a tribute to the Cabaret and the popular Chansonnier. It is sweet and demure as it presents its melodic narrative. We then return to the Dance Hall with the boisterous A section!
5. The Third morceau, aptly named Brutal, begins with a harsh, industrial attack. Four loud and dissonant chords are thrust in a mechanistic rhythm giving this opening a modern edge. A series of short undeveloped statements weave together a polyphonic texture. Odd ascending scale passages and melodic flourishes give this music an austere and exotic presence. The main body of the morceau presents a variety of themes in juxtaposition. This kaleidoscope of expressions might reflect the diversity Satie observed as he strolled through the Boulevard and watched the collision of old and new, horse drawn carriages and automobiles, the innocent and grotesque, low and high culture.
6. En Plus (What’s more) returns to a more contemplative sound. The plainly stated melody with even rhythm and steady tempo suggest a casual stroll.
7. Redite (Rehash) brings the entire suite to a close with a melancholy tune. This material was once incidental music from the play “Le Boeuf Angora,”(The Angora Ox). We return to the intimate and mystical style that began the entire journey, now with a little less energy. Satie returns home and is reclusive in his private Arcueil apartment.
The redundant titles that name the exterior movements in the collection poke fun at the idea of naming musical pieces. Trois morceaux en forme de poire is not programmatic music and so titles are irrelevant. This main heading for the entire suite is nonsensical and has often been explained as Satie’s jab at Debussy for “suggesting Satie develop his sense of form.”. Even the Rehash at the end does not restate ideas from the earlier movements.
Reflections of a Flaneur
Satie was exploring a new artistic direction with Trois morceaux en forme de poire. He was at a crossroad in his life and, being a man of letters, he expressed his apprehension in an odd address that accompanied the original manuscript. This recommendations was written on the back on the movement titled En Plus and is an example of Satie’s obscure literary style that confesses, scolds and coaches.
I am at a prestigious turning point in the History of My Life. In this work, I express my appropriate and natural astonishment.
Believe me, despite the predispositions.
Do not play around with the unknown amulets of your ephemeral understanding: sanctify your beloved and verbal phials. God will pardon you if he sees fit from the honourable centre of the united Eternity, where everything becomes known with solemnity and conviction. The Determined One cannot freeze; the Passionate One obliterates himself; the Irascible One has no reason to exist.
I cannot promise more, even though I have temporarily increased myself tenfold, against all precautions.
Is that not everything?
I tell myself so. 
1. Mary Davis. Erik Satie. (London: Reaktion Books, 2007) p. 107
2.. Steven Whiting. Satie the Bohemian:From Cabaret to Concert Hall (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 467. also Mary Davis. Classic Chic: Music Fashion and Modernism (UniversityCalifornia Press, 2006) pp. 94-96
3. Mary Gluck. “The Flâneur” Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Cantury Paris (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005) p. 73
4. Mary Gluck. Ibid. p. 66
5. Mary Gluck. Ibid. p. 78
6. Ornella Volta, ed. Satie Seen Through His Letters. (London: Marion Boyars, 1989) p. 11
7. Mary Davis. “Satie’s Decadent Simplicity” Moments of Change (iTunesU: Pennsylvania State University, 2009) http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/moments-of-change/id445882440
8. Mary Davis. Erik Satie.(London:Reaktion Books, 2007) p.76
9. A Cartulary was originally a medieval manuscripts that contained documents pertaining to the legal rights and privileges of the church. Feb. 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartulary>
10. Ornella Volta, ed. Satie Seen Through His Letters. (London: Marion Boyars, 1989) p. 64
11. Mary Davis. Classic Chic: Music Fashion and Modernism (University of California Press, 2006) p. 106
12. “Nearly all the pieces in [Trois morceaux en forme de poire] incorporate references to popular music works that Satie had composed at the fin-de-siècle, including segments of the incidental pieces “Dance”(1890), “Le Fils des etoiles”(1891) and “The Angora Ox”(ca. 1901) as well as the cafe-concert songs “Le Veuf”(1899),”Le Roi soleil de plumb”(ca. 1900) and “Imperial Napoleon”. Mary Davis. Classic Chic: Music Fashion and Modernism p. 106
For more detailed discussion about research on sources for Trois moreceaux en forme de poire see Steven Whiting. Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall (New York: Oxford University Press,1999) pp. 263-26813. Steven Whiting. Satie the Bohemian:From Cabaret to Concert Hall (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) pp. 120-121
14.Three pieces in the shape of a Pear may also carry a derogatory tone.The french word for pear- poire, is slang for fathead or fool. Mary Davis adds “This argot became widespread during the bourgeois monarchy of Louis-Phillipe in the early 19th century, when caricaturists mocked the King by depicting his face as a pear shape and by 1835 the association was so entrenched that even the simplest rendering of the pear could infer the anti-royalist satire of the king as fool incarnate.” Mary Davis. Erik Satie,(London: Reaktion Books) p 71
15. Mary Davis. ibid p.71
16. 2. Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer, (Cambridge University Press, 1990) p 56