Texas Society for Music Theory

Borrowing and Critique in Satie's 'Humoristic' Piano Suites

B. Jean Hare, University of Texas at Austin

One of the most significant aspects of Erik Satie's piano music written from 1912 to 1917 is his extensive use of musical borrowing. The composer applies a wider range of approaches than existing assessments of his music would indicate and, as a result, pieces can be grouped for analysis based on similarities of technique. Many of the borrowings in Satie's humoristic piano pieces can be classified after J. Peter Burkholder's own categorization of Charles Ives' borrowings (All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing, Yale University Press, 1995). One of the more interesting procedures can be classified as extended borrowings, in which Satie "lifts" an entire piece as the starting point for his new work. This wholesale borrowing informs the structure of the new work, but also allows Satie to manipulate the form in such a way as to allow him to critique the arbitrariness of the musical conventions inherent in the sources. Of interest here is Satie's pattern of alternating literal quotation of phrases with more brutal paraphrases. In this paper, I propose to show how Satie deliberately disrupts the conventional hierarchy of thematic material by varying the severity of alteration to different borrowed phrases. Three pieces, "de Holothurie" and "d'Eriopthalma" from Embryons desséchés of 1913 and Sonatine bureaucratique of 1917 will be discussed in terms of extended borrowing and how they allow Satie to manipulate the tonal and formal conventions of their respective sources.