The Gymnopédies (French pronunciation: ​[ʒim.nɔ.pe.di]), or Trois Gymnopédies, are three piano compositions written by French composer and pianist Erik Satie. He completed the whole set by 2 April 1888, but they were at first published individually: the first and the third in 1888, the second in 1895.[1]


Jeunes filles au bord de la mer, 1879 painting by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, which may have inspired Satie for the atmosphere he wanted to evoke in his Gymnopédies

The work's unusual title comes from the French form of gymnopaedia, the ancient Greek word for an annual festival where young men danced naked – or perhaps simply unarmed. The source of the title has been a subject of debate. Satie and his friend Alexis Roland-Manuel maintained that he adopted it after reading Gustave Flaubert's novel Salammbô, while others see a poem by J. P. Contamine de Latour as the source of Satie's inspiration,[1][2] since the first Gymnopédie was published in the magazine La Musique des familles in the summer of 1888 together with an excerpt of Latour's poem Les Antiques, where the term appears.[1][3]

Oblique et coupant l'ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d'or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d'ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie

Slanting and shadow-cutting a bursting stream
Trickled in gusts of gold on the shiny flagstone
Where the amber atoms in the fire gleaming
Mingled their sarabande with the gymnopaedia.

However, it remains uncertain whether the poem was composed before the music. Satie may have picked up the term from a dictionary such as Dominique Mondo's Dictionnaire de Musique, where gymnopédie is defined as a "nude dance, accompanied by song, which youthful Spartan maidens danced on specific occasions", following a similar definition from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Dictionnaire de Musique.[1]

In November 1888, the third Gymnopédie was published. The second Gymnopédie did not appear until 1895, and its impending publication was announced in several editions of the Chat Noir and Auberge du Clou magazines. As a whole, the three pieces were published in 1898.[1]

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes' symbolist paintings may have been an inspiration for the atmosphere Satie wanted to evoke with his Gymnopédies.[4]


These short, atmospheric pieces are written in 3
time, with each sharing a common theme and structure.

  1. Lent et douloureux (D major / D minor)
  2. Lent et triste (C major)
  3. Lent et grave (A minor)

The melodies of the pieces use deliberate, but mild, dissonances against the harmony, producing a piquant, melancholy effect that matches the performance instructions, which are to play each piece "painfully" (douloureux), "sadly" (triste), or "gravely" (grave). The first few bars of Gymnopédie No. 1 (shown below) consist of an alternating progression of two major seventh chords, the first on the subdominant, G, and the second on the tonic, D.



By the end of 1896, Satie's popularity was waning and financial situation deteriorating. Claude Debussy, a friend of Satie's whose popularity was on the rise, helped draw public attention to Satie’s work. In February 1897, Debussy orchestrated the third and first Gymnopédies.[a] Debussy omitted the second, stating that it did not lend itself to orchestration. (Orchestrations of the second Gymnopédie were later attempted by other composers but never frequently performed.)


From the second half of the 20th century on, the Gymnopédies were often erroneously described as part of Satie's body of furniture music, perhaps because of John Cage's interpretation of them.[5] Collectively, the Gymnopédies are regarded as an important precursor to modern ambient music.[6]

The first and second Gymnopédies were arranged by Dick Halligan for the group Blood, Sweat & Tears under the title "Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie" on the group's eponymous album, released in 1968. The recording received a Grammy Award the following year for Best Contemporary Instrumental Performance.[7] In 1979, the English/Australian musical group Sky performed Gymnopédie No. 1 on their self-titled debut album. The track also appeared on Sky's 1984 compilation album Masterpieces, The Very Best of Sky. In 1980, Gary Numan produced a track called "Trois Gymnopedies (First Movement)", which appeared on the B-side of the single "We Are Glass".[8] In 1999 the chord sequence was used in the Sunship remix of the song "Flowers" by girl band Sweet Female Attitude. All three pieces were arranged with percussion by the UK electronic duo Isan in 2006, in their signature analogue sound.

A sample of Gymnopédie No. 1 is featured in the 2001 Janet Jackson single "Someone to Call My Lover", peaking at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. [9]

Gymnopédies have been heard in numerous movies and television shows. Examples include the BBC television series The World at War, Louis Malle's My Dinner with Andre, the French thriller Diva, the documentary Man on Wire,[10] Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums,[11] and Woody Allen's Another Woman,[12] all of which use Gymnopédie No. 1 in their soundtracks. The 2010 Japanese animated drama film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya prominently features all three Gymnopédies, and they are included in the film's soundtrack release as a bonus disc, including Satie's Gnossiennes and his composition "Je te veux".[13] Mother 3 also features Gymnopédie No. 1 in its soundtrack as Leder's Gymnopedie.[14] In 2007 Wilhelm Kaiser-Lindemann [de] arranged the first and the third Gymnopédie for The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic.[15] Jack DeJohnette included a tribute to Gymnopédies in his 2016 album Return.[16] In 2018, Fernando Perdomo included a portion of Gymnopedie No. 1 on his album Out to Sea. In 2021, violinist Fenella Humphreys released an arrangement of Gymnopedie No.1 for violin.[17] NBCs Community in the episode "My Dinner With Abed" 2013

The chord progression from the 2021 PinkPantheress single "Pain" is from Gymnopedie No. 1.

The song is also played in the 3rd episode of the Korean show Aelliseu(Alice).

Notes & referencesEdit

  1. ^ When Debussy published the scores two years later, he reversed the numbering, with Satie's first became Debussy's third, and vice versa.
  1. ^ a b c d e Mary E. Davis (2007). Erik Satie. Reaktion Books. p. 31. ISBN 9781861896025.
  2. ^ Robert Orledge, Satie the Composer, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 207, ISBN 978-0-52135-037-2
  3. ^ Erik Satie, Ornella Volta (2000), Correspondance presque complète, Paris: Fayard/Imec, p. 936, ISBN 978-2-213-60674-3
  4. ^ Steven Moore Whiting. Satie the Bohemian: From Cabaret to Concert Hall. Clarendon Press, 1999. ISBN 0191584525, p. 129
  5. ^ Cage's Place in the Reception of Satie by Matthew Shlomowitz (1999) Archived 2005-10-26 at the Wayback Machine on Niclas Fogwall's Erik Satie website.
  6. ^ Mark Prendergast, The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Moby – The Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age, London: Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 6 ISBN 0-7475-5732-2
  7. ^ "12th Annual Grammy Awards". Grammy Award. 28 November 2017.
  8. ^ "Gary Numan – We Are Glass". Discogs. Retrieved 2019-10-21.
  9. ^ "Someone to Call My Lover by Janet Jackson". Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  10. ^ "Man on Wire Soundtracks". IMDb. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  11. ^ "The Royal Tenenbaums Soundtracks". IMDb. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  12. ^ Another Woman (1988) – Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1" (aka "Marion's theme"). YouTube. June 17, 2011. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12.
  13. ^ "Lantis web site" 映画『涼宮ハルヒの消失』オリジナルサウンドトラック [Film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya Original Soundtrack] (in Japanese). Lantis. Retrieved January 13, 2010.
  14. ^ Leder's Gymnopedie – Mother 3. YouTube. October 11, 2012. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12.
  15. ^ "Fleur de Paris". EMI Classics.
  16. ^ "Jack DeJohnette – Return". Newvelle Records. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  17. ^ "Round Revue – Fenella Humphreys – Music for Violin". Round Revue. Retrieved 29 May 2021.

External linksEdit