Aldo Ciccolini and Erik Satie

Written by
Aldo Ciccolini at the piano.

Back in the 1960s, composer Erik Satie’s limpid, odd, but wonderful solo piano music became known largely through the recordings of the late Aldo Ciccolini, who very recently passed away at the age of 89 in France, where he had lived for years.

Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition in 1949, he made his American debut the following year, performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor with the New York Philharmonic. He went on to perform and record many composers throughout his 60-year career, among them, Debussy and Ravel.

But most people will remember him for introducing Erik Satie’s music. Somehow, though written in 1888, the compositions still remain universal in their appeal, mesmerizing even those not already fans of classical music. With their spartan, almost exotic melodies, and mysterious names, the Trois Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes are strikingly beautiful, and influenced the likes of French Impressionists Debussy and Ravel.

I had my first introduction to Satie listening to Ciccolini’s recordings for EMI’s Angel Records classical label. I hung spellbound on his every note, as he painted the nuances of Satie’s sound world.

This was classical crossover music before there ever was such a term, spawning numerous jazz and pop interpretations, including the Camerata Contemporary Chamber Group’s The Velvet Gentleman, the Vienna Art Orchestra’s The Minimalism of Erik Satie,  and Blood, Sweat and Tears with their “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie.”

But it all started with Aldo Ciccolini. Thank you, Aldo, for turning us on to this wonderful music.
Aldo Ciccolini performing Satie’s most famous Trois Gymnopédies, I: Lent et douloureux.

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