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Discover the whereabouts of Erik Satie’s former home in Montmartre

World-known composer and eccentric, Erik Satie was a notable Montmartre figure in the early 20th century. His former home, located in one of the lesser known Montmartre’s streets, used to be a minuscule 9 m2 closet, mysteriously big enough to fit his collection of 100 umbrellas, 2 pianos placed on top of each other and 12 identical corduroy suits, accounting for his pseudonym “the velvet gentleman”.

Satie himself

When talking geniuses, it’s just normal to assume they’d be the sort of mavericks, served in a sauce of their own oddities. This was exactly the case of Monsieur Erik Satie, a rebel both in his music and his way of life.

 Here is a time-table of my daily acts. I rise at 7.18; am inspired from 10.23 to 11.47. I lunch at 12.11 and leave the table at 12.14. A healthy ride on horseback round my domain follows from 1.19 pm to 2.53 pm. Another bout of inspiration from 3.12 to 4.7 pm. From 5 to 6.47 pm – various occupations (fencing, reflection, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, natation, etc.)”

Erik Satie, “A Day in the Life of a Musician”

A portrait of Satie by Suzanne Valadon, and Valadon herself – a painter, circus acrobat, model for artists and the only woman Satie loved deeply during his life

Born in the pretty port town of Honfleur in 1866, Satie left home for Montmartre in 1887, where he befriended Debussy, Ravel and Picasso. He was so poor in his early years on the hill that he needed to work as a café pianist in the local bars to earn his living.

The charming port of Honfleur, Satie’s hometown. Photo: Kalin Petrov

But when he wrote music, there was no stopping him!

You could always recognize a piece Satie authored. He wrote in red ink, skipped all the bar lines and dotted his musical creations with idiosyncratic instructions and audacious tempo markings. In his vocabulary “adagio” became “light as an egg” and “allegro moderato” read as “Open your head”, “Here comes the lantern” or the downright libertine “Work it out yourselves”.

Grab your instruments and start playing – the notes behind Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes

Extremely simple in structure, yet innovative and noted for its characteristic wit, Satie’s work relied on unusual harmonic configurations, considered to be a strong reaction against the heavy, conventional 19th century “salon music” of his era.

A portrait of the composer behind the piano

The father of “furniture music”[1] became most famous, however, for his Trois Gymnopédies. Composed in 1888 and expressing three different viewpoints of one musical concept, these pieces took their name from a celebratory rite, performed in ancient Greece. Their beautiful ethereal solo piano framework is considered to be the footing for today’s ambient music. Their eerie simplicity and graceful reflectiveness has rendered them timeless.

From 1890 to 1898, Satie lived consecutively in two different rooms on 6, rue Cortot – a decent one from 1890 to 1896 and a very tiny closet (1896-1898) once he couldn’t afford the rent of the larger one.

Rue Cortot, what Satie called home for 8 years

When you walk down his peaceful curvy and cobbled green street today, you will still see the plaque on the wall, marking the whereabouts of Mr. Satie’s former “petite studette”.

The door leading to the composer’s “little cupboard” and the sign mentioning his name above

Those 9 square meters seemed big enough to house Mr. Satie himself, along with the immeasurable quantity of notes and melodies his mind untiringly created…

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[1] The term “furniture music” described compositions to be played in the background of another artistic event and were therefore considered to be outright unimportant. Term reportedly coined by Satie in 1917.

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