For the ones who don't know this piece: Satie's Vexations is one of the darkest Satie's mystery. He composed it when he broke up with his "love of his life" Suzanne Valadon (who was supposed to be a man eater!). He never publish it, nor said it to anybody. It is said that the score was found long after Satie's dead when John Cage was looking for more Satie's piano pièces.
for the ones that can understand french, a very interesting video about S.Valadon:
The piece 'seems' simple, but it is really not. It is totally avant gardist in all its way: no tonality, no melody, simply some kind of gregorian tonal attractions, with stranges chords almost pre-bergian. And on the score Satie wrote a strange comment for the pianist : to be prepared well enough to repeat the score 840 times, the pianist should meditate in an immobile and quite way. Of course it is not a word to word transmation (wikipedia & Google will be your friends for that) , but this is how i understand it.
So might say that it is a joke, but if it was ... Satie would have publish it, like he did for the Neverending Tango !
Actually i never understood (but nobody did) why the number 840. In my opinion, Satie really experienced it, as 600 is not enough and 1000 is too much. Only from 700 to 900 you can have a transe like effect without being too bored (for the pianist).
This is an exemple of this piece :
Last year after i did the longest version ever of the Satie's Vexations, the journalist Gabriel Wilder, that was preparing a paper for a multi pianist version of the Vexations in Australia, contacted me for a small interview.
As he received my answers, he was so happy with it that he insisted that i share my Vexations experience with the most on my blog, but .... last year was an extremely busy one ! (and my blog was uber ugly!)
Of course later, i will come back with the Vexations and take one by one all my performances and give my feedback, so it might help forthcoming pianists to prepare it (and i will not need to answer to their email anymore ^^ )
So here it is :
Gabriel Wilder: I'm a journalist in Sydney, Australia, doing a story on a performance on Vexations that will take place here next month. It will be performed by two pianists and I have done an interview with one of them, however, given your enthusiasm for the piece, I don't feel the story will be complete without mention of you and your many performances of the work.There are some lovely comments from you on your youtube channel which I will quote but i would like to ask you a couple more questions, if you wouldn't mind answering them.
What draws you to this piece? Why do you keep going back to it?
Me : Well at very first it was a friend of mine, after a jointed concert with the Monte Carlo Philharmonique orchestra who was talking about a "strange piece during more than 20 hours consisting in a mantra like, one page repeated almost 1000 times". It was more than 10 years ago, and i must confess i was very curious about it, and so much sad to have miss this kind of concert.
I was still hoping to see it, but unfortunately nothing really happened, and the only Vexations that rarely happened were 20 or more pianists doing it. I was not very interested in that, when you change pianist, you also change the point of view of the piece (imagine that 2 pianists perform the Liszt sonata, at the Fuga another is taking the seat, or 2 conductors for a Mahler Symphony or a Wagner Opera...)
In summer 2010, thanks to Maestro Erik HEIDSIECK, i entered in touch with the extremely active musical association from south west of France :"Les Amis d'Alain Marinaro".
They organised me a lot of concerts and recitals. In 2010 i expressed my wish to share my talent to help the needed. I was also much more trusting my piano abilities since from 2008 to 2010 i won more than 10 internationals piano competitions, and started to have succes for my recitals. But i still kept in mind the music and the project that i was dreamed to listen to and could not do (the Vexations, all the Philip Glass music, the Tom Johnson's Chord Catalogue, La Monte Young's X for Henry Flynt... list is endless).
So the association entered in touch with the Telethon team in Perpignan to organise a concert for this huge benefit event in France. At this time i came with the idea of something that can be more interesting than a "normal" concert. In the Telethon, they alawys do some challenge; and some marathon, and i figured that the Vexations (both a wonderful avant-garde music composition, and a marathon) will fit perfectly. Also i was a little bit impressed with all the legends that you can read on internet about the Vexations, the fails... A benefit concert will be for me, a responsability big enough to keep doing the Vexations (not stopping it) and to surpass my own possibilities. I was also hoping that the public will be touch enough by this to donnate. So the first one in Perpignan was pretty nice, 15 hours long, and we got almost 6000€. Also the Vexations were for the very first time broadcasted non stop over the internet. I received over the internet a lot of nice messages that really helped me to realise and complete the Vexations.
As some of them know, my fiancée is japanese, and i have a lot of very dear and good friends from this country. i can really say that, one week was taken away from us when the 3/11 tsunami tragedy happened. We could not sleep, almost not eating, and we were waiting news from my fiancée familly, our friends, and we were like hypnotized by the terrible news of the Tv, that got worst and worst with the nuclear diaster.
At this time, i contacted all my contacts that i had, to organise a benefit tour to help japan. I also got help from the great composer, pianist and friend Jeroen van Veen that did a website for it Vexations4Japan . I was hopping to be able to gather many time the same amount as Perpignan, but i could not (now i know that a recital is much more efficient for benefit than the Vexations).
So I did the vexations in Prague (14 hours), Lagny sur Marnes (10 hours, the only one i am able to put on youtube)and Rennes (15.30 hours), Monte-Carlo (24 hours).
In total (with a recital in Istambul) i was able to gather 6000€
In end of 2011 i also got 2 more concerts involving the Vexations : in Villeurbanne (13 hours) a benefit concert for the Secours Catholique ; and in Honfleur with the complete piano music of Erik Satie in a marathon-day recital (10 hours Vexations, 9 hours for the other piano music).
Also the Monte-Carlo marked my first collaboration with the great painter (now a dear friend) Andrea CLANETTI (http://www.andreaclanetti.com/ ).
Even with all those concerts, i still felt very frustrated not to be able to « experience » the Vexations by myself. So i had the idea to create from the Vexations a multimedia Art piece. The Vexations would be recorded and performed on a Disklavier linked to an abstract video synchronised with my rendition. In a black room, a disklavier in the middle will be the ghost and dehumanised memory of this so particular Vexations, and with it an abstract video based on hands movements in bergson movies (as far as I remember for the source, but not 100% sure).
I met Laurent FIEVET (www.laurentfievet.com ) who was extremely interested in this idea, and we worked together about the concept and organisation of this work. We entered in touch with the world famous Avant-garde museum and event organiser « Palais de Tokyo » in Paris who was imediately interested in what we named the [Vexations] 2.0.
We work with them about the organisation of the first act of the [Vexations] 2.0, the recording, for 3 / 4 months. And the 15 of december I did the longest rendition ever of this piece : 35 hours , non-stop and solo.
Well reading it in this way sounds like “another” world record. I must now confess that happened by accident. Of course my wish was : to make the best Vexations version that I could do. So a mixture of the Rennes and Monte-Carlo.
Monte-Carlo: I could perform the real version, the long one with the 3 themas and 2 Variations (as you can see in the color scan of the maniuscript, the opposite of the 2 and 2 of the Salabert score). But since this concert happened in an Art Gallery, with Andrea doing 3 paintings with the Vexations scores and attracted a lot of audience, the rendition was pretty noisy. On the other hand Rennes was the quiest one.
As you might imagine, doing the Vexations in the way Satie wrote it: with the 5 lines (and not 4), “very slow” is very difficult, since you need a hall for more than 20 hours for sure. Also doing it alone and non-stop (it will sounds crude, but, since everybody always ask me the same question: no bathroom break at all), if you pass the 20 hours, is … very challenging.
To prepare myself, it is very easy: I stop to eat and drink 3 days before the concert (for a shorter Vexations, only 24 hours before). I ask to have my first square of chocolate 4 to 6 hours after the beginning, and a tiny glass of redbull 7 hours after the beginning.
So I imagined that the Palais de Tokyo rendition would last something around 20 and 30 hours (as I wrote on all invitation). On the other hand Palais de Tokyo really took seriously the 30 hours, and... wrote it in all programs and advertisment. Also as many can imagine after so many hours, your brain start to confuse about tons of details, and I don t know why, I understood on the second day (past the 22 hours) that it was wrote everywhere that my concert had to finish at midnight the 16th (I started the 15th at lunch time 12 o'clock).
Since I did not want to deceive the public who was more and more numerous after the 24th hour, I took (many) deep breath and try to keep myself until I reached 11 pm. I still don t know why I focused on 35 hours , and not 36. It is still for me a mystery. But I must confess that, past 30 hours time was extremely long and painful.
Also we prepared the concert in a way that it was almost impossible for me to calculate exactly how many pages I had to do. I simply knew that at 30 hours …. there were still too many !
Well I can also said that I “only” performed it 8 times, Last year I recorded the Liszt “Chrsitus” album, I performed it completely more than 14 times in concerts, I still continue to perform parts of it in numerous concerts. The Scriabin 9th Sonata I performed it maybe 40 times in concerts, some Chopin Nocturnes or Satie Gnossiennes, I don't even know, and Scriabine “Vers la flamme” my war horse and one of my favorite encore... maybe a hundred, or more?
On the opposite of what some claims, Vexations IS real good music. Of course it has nothing to do with the music wrote at Satie time, it is extremely avant-garist and opened the doors to fluxus, repetitive and minimalist music.
And I really don't think Satie did it as a joke. Otherwise he would have publish it. This is his most secret and intimate music. Exactly like his very little and stranges drawing he made for himself and that are viewable in his museum in Honfleur.
Also as many person over the internet and after the concert ask me "what is the point in this music". Well this music really taugh me a lot.
First of it, and the most superficial one: how to manage to play so much, without stop, and not having muscle problems. So you must learn to relax in real time and deal with all those little things, otherwise it is impossible to do the Vexations.
There are 2 ways to perform the Vexations. For some, it must be done in a “metronomic like” way, with the chords sounding exactly the same in a bell like way, and being extremely precise. On the other hand, some other see the Vexations as a “life-like” experience, the music keeping evolving itself.
Well, I must confess that normally the 1st way of seeing things are more the fruit of the ones who can perform only with multiple pianists and can't imagine doing more than 4 hours. I must admit that I don't share this point. For my very first Vexations, I used to prepare it in this way, but I found it pointless. Also I tried to prepare it in a “classical” way, trying to make it “interesting” : 10 pianos, 10 forté , 10 left hand over right hand , some with some notes stronger than other … it can work , but …. when you pass 150, you have done all the possibilities, so …. what is next ? Doing it again ? This, again, works only with multiple pianists.
Also I am against a multiple pianists Vexations (I even never did it so far) for a simple reason: when you are changing pianist, it changes everything in the sound production and the evolution of the music (like I said earlier, it is like 2 or more pianists performing one Liszt Sonata).
So I came with a very simple conclusion: trying to do 840 times the very same things. As you know, we are not robot, so this is impossible. And what can be very interesting for the audience in a very long range, would be to listen to the very subtile evolution of it, since slowly by slowly all the human feelings (anger, joy, stress, muscle problems, hunger...) will enter into the music itself. So, no the tempo primo is not the tempo finale, but... I am also not the same one (as well as the audience) at the beginning and at the end of such a piece.
Of course this is the top of the iceberg, and I experienced greater things with the Vexations.
As many noticed, the extrem repetition (840 times, and unfortunately, I don't know why 840 and not 1000 or 777) induce a transe/hypnotic effect. I am still please to see that some part of the public take the time to experience the music, and not listen to it in an occidental way (for me this is much more like a mantra repetition, dervish music or some ritual music). To them, Satie opens a zen like travel, through space and time. For the one who never experienced Vexations, this statement can seems almost ridiculous, but those are testimonies from the public itself (they were doctors and composers, not some hippy gurus somking pots). But the travel is not for everybody, some does not like or understand it, or simply are not sensitive to it.
On my side, I also have some experience too. Not on the same range, since I am the actor, and must take care of many parameters.
In all the repeat there is always what I call an “intense moment of despair”. For the first Vexations, it happened at around 600, in Lagny it happened at 400, and in Vexations that are going over night, it happen at around 3 or 4 am. In Palais de Tokyo , it was the longest ever, since it happened from 3am to 8am (I must say more or less, since I was in the “Alice Guy hall”, cut from the outside, with no clock. I knew it because it was the time of the “night security guards” (I also remember that I could see them eating and drinking a lot, when I was almost starving...).
Also a very strange aspect that happened only to the 3 first Vexations (not any more since I know about it now), was the extreme sadness that happened when I arrived almost to the end. Having share so much with this music in a so few moment, you experience the very same feeling that when you leave a beloved one at the airport and know that... there will be a huge time before you see him (or her). And of course you are meditating on the meaning of the piece, why this name (vexations), your life, the way you are behaving with your nearest one etc etc... it is also a psychological experience, a strong one.
GW : Now that you have done a performance of 35 hours, will you stop? Or will you keep doing it?
Me: Well there was no particular point in doing a 35 hours non stop long version. I simply wanted to do what I think is the best suitable with what Satie is requiring.
After I did the 24 hours in Monaco, I really did not want to do it again a so long version, as it is extremely difficult and painful (both physically and psychologically), specially when you pass the 15 hours and you know that... it is more or less only the middle. Also the greatest problem is that it is so difficult to organise it, the fees are high and sometime the public simply doesn't want to understand the music. Now that it is recorded on a Disklavier and will become a piece of multimedia art, the Vexations will be able to travels from museums to galleries and also some festivals, I will be finally able to enjoy and experience this piece.
So far I don't plan to perform it. Not right now for sure.
Now I am on another cycle that I want to perform more: the complete piano music of Philip GLASS, in a one 6 hours non stop recital. I did it already twice, once in Villeurbanne for the Téléthon 2013, and another in Paris for the Nuit Blanche 2012 / Festival Alterminimalism in the wonderful College des Bernardins were I got a huge succes (more than 2000 personns came to the concert).
In Febuary 2013, I am invited to perform in Kiev the national premiere of the Concertos 1&2 of Philip GLASS, ( I premiered them in France in september 2012 )
In May 2013, I will perform with Jeroen Van VEEN the great Canto Ostinato of Simeon Tel HOLT (a 2 and 4 pianos version, and also a Philip GLASS recital)
I am preparing to perform the world premiere of the complete music of Jean CATOIRE. A forgotten french composer that I discovered thanks to my friend the great composer Frederick MARTIN (who dedicated me his 6th Sonata). For this all details are still on progress, but it will be a 35 hours recital in Paris. Very soon I will post some video on youtube, but this music is a mixture of Morton FELDMAN and Arvo PART, but composed … in the 70' !
There will be also more happening in collaboration with Andrea CLANETTI in the same destructive way we did in Monaco with the “X for Henry Flynt” of La Monte YOUNG.
And very soon I will have some electroacoustic improvisations concert and some of 2 electroacoustic / ambient album will be released ( Aceldama : Rage in Eden records, Leçons de Ténèbres : Coma XIII records), and an experimental harsh noise version of the cult graphic music of Cornelius Cardew “Treatise” will be release at Sabbatical Records.
Those are for the experimental concerts. On the other hand, my Liszt “Christus” album at Hortus Editions ( the world premiere of all the transcriptions that Liszt did himself of his Oratorio Christus ) will be released in Febuary 2013, and later in 2013 a chamber music album of the music of Melle Thérèse Brenet will be out at JTB-Prod
In July 2013 during the Collioure Piano Festival i will give the 1st Night of Piano Minimalist concert ( a 12 hours long piano recital, all night, with music from Catoire, Glass, Denis & Tom Johnson, Jennings, Campo, Feldman, Rääts, Chur, Gann, Otte...)