Erik Satie
Gnossienne 1

  1. Introduction

  2. Structure

  3. The A Section

  4. The B Section

  5. The C Section

  6. Downloading Bay

My MP3 recording - Gnossienne 2 - Profile of Erik Satie - Jazclass Links

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Gnos 1.1 - Introduction

Erik Satie was very much into breaking down old established rules of traditional Classical music. His Gnossiennes exemplify this strongly. No bar lines in the music, irregular formats and alterations to old scales and inventions of new ones, etc.

Remember this when improvising over his music. It is appropriate and in keeping with Satie's own spirit, I believe, too take liberty with his music. Try to capture his new sounds and inflections, but also let this inspire you to extend from his ideas and explore your own ideas and feelings.

The lead sheets and scales I provide here are derived from Satie's three pieces, but let these be a guide and starting point for your own improvisations only, not fixed formats and sounds you must strictly adhere to.

In his Gnossiennes 1, 2 and 3 Satie experiments with scales containing an augmented 4th.
An augmented 4th is a interval spanning 6 semitones and in Jazz is commonly referred to as a tritone (= 3 whole tones). The interval is symmetric and stays the same (6 semitones) when inverted, although its name changes from augmented 4th (C up to F#) to a diminished 5th (F# up to a C).
On the keyboard all tritones are combinations of one white key with one black key, except the tritone F - B (or B - F) which consist of two white keys.

Audio 1

Unlike the tritone (b5) in the blues scale, which, flanked by both a perfect 4th and perfect 5th (F - Gb - G), produces a sensuous "blue note" sound, the augmented 4th, which actually replaces the normal perfect 4th, has a very bright clean, surprising contemporary sound. In Jazz it became very popular around the Bebop era (50+ years after Satie's experimentations), and famously used by the (also rather eccentric) Jazz pianist and composer Thelonius Monk.

Just imagine the consternation and dismay of the establishment (used to the accepted music from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) when being exposed to this bright new sound back in 1890 for the first time, well ahead of its time.

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Gnos 1.2 - Structure

Satie wrote Gnossienne 1 in 1890 and dedicated it to his friend (?) Roland Manuel.
Gnossienne 1 is in the key of F minor. Although there are no bar lines in the music the pulse is as in regular 4/4 time.
The piece contains three distinct sections, A, B and C which are arranged in an A A B C C B format. Assuming that 4 quarter note beats comprise one bar the song is 46 bars long and consists of :

A Section 9 bars Chords : Fm and Cm < /TR>
A Section 9 bars Chords : Fm and Cm
B Section 8 bars Chords : Bbm and Fm
C Section 6 bars Chords : Fm
C Section 6 bars Chords : Fm
B Section 8 bars Chords : Bbm and Fm

In its original version the above sequence is repeated but with only one reduced length A section (A- B C C B). I have omitted this second half in order to keep the format simple for improvisation purposes.

The play-along track consists of 3 choruses. I suggest you play the melody on the first chorus, then follow up with one or one and a half chorus of improvisation and ending with all or part of the melody once again.

Grace Notes
A distinct feature of Gnossienne 1 are the grace notes throughout the melody line.
Play grace notes always just before the beat, so that the following target note (big note) starts exactly on the down beat.

Audio 1a

In general grace notes are quite short, but I feel in Satie's Gnossienne that you can determine their length to your own taste.
Sometimes I play them very short producing a quirky effect. At another time I may decide to play this piece with much longer grace notes, almost dwelling on them. This gives a totally different perspective on the whole piece.

Remember : playing a piece of music is a combined effort of the composer who provides the basic idea and the performer who interprets and expresses the idea in his/her own unique way.

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Gnos 1.3 - The A Section

The A section consists of 9 bars, and is repeated once.
The first 6 bars harmony consist of F minor triad chords (F Ab C), then a brief 1 -bar only whimsical shift to C minor (C Eb G), followed by two more bars with Fm.

Audio 2

Right from the first half dozen melody notes Satie goes straight for the jugular, landing firmly on two sustained B naturals (shown in red below), the augmented 4th in any F scale.
This, together with the Eb (b7 in purple), D natural (6 in green) and the underlying F minor triad chord tones (with yellow centres) clearly spell out the F Dorian mode with a raised 4th (#4). A wonderful scale to improvise on.

Audio 3

To clearly define the brief modulation to C minor I suggest you use the C Dorian mode in bar 7. This mode contains the A natural and the Bb. This contrasts nicely with the Ab and the B natural of the F Dorian #4 mode which flanks it on either side.

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Gnos 1.4 - The B Section

The B section consists of 8 bars.
This section contains Bb minor triads (Bb Db F) and F minor triads (F Ab C), alternating every two bars.

Audio 4

The melody over the Bbm chord contains the G natural (6 shown in green) and several repeated Ab grace notes (b7 in purple) . These, together with the Bb minor triad notes fit into the Bb Dorian mode.

Audio 5

However I suggest that you here too add the augmented 4th (E natural). The Bb, Db and E natural of this scale contrast nicely with the B, D and Eb if you use the F Dorian mode #4 over F minor as in the A section.

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Gnos 1.5 - The C Section

The C section consists of 6 bars, and (like the A section earlier) is repeated once.
This section is the highlight of the piece, featuring the F minor triad throughout the 6 bars.

Audio 6

Here Satie goes one step further with his tonal experiment. The C section melody features a lovely, humorous scale line, which contains both the B natural (#4 shown in red below) and the E natural (major 7th shown in purple).

Audio 7

These, together with the D natural (6 in green) and F minor triad chord tones, spell out the F melodic minor scale with a raised 4th (#4). Using this scale for improvisation over the C section is an absolute must !

The piece concludes with a single repeat of the B section.

About the melodic minor scale
In traditional Classical music the melodic minor scale was only used in its ascending form, while descending using the natural minor scale (considered to sound more smoothly).
In C :
C D Eb F G A B C - C Bb Ab G F Eb D C

Erik Satie decisively departs from this centuries old Classical rule and uses the melodic minor scale both ascending and descending.

C D Eb F G A B C - C B A G F Eb D C

This modern approach to the melodic minor scale was later adopted by Jazz musicians when they started to use this scale for improvisation (probably some 50 years later).

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Gnos 1.6 - Downloads

Melody Concert key Bb instruments Eb instruments
Notations Lead sheet - Impro Scales Scales Demo
Play-along Concert key Bb instruments Eb instruments

For Publishers of Erik Satie's Gnossiennes see the Sheet music section of my Satie profile page.

Copyright © 2005 - 2006 Michael Furstner. All rights reserved.