Je te veux (Music: Erik Satie (1897) / Text: Henry Pacory)
A figure that stands aloof and isolated from mainstream French Composers, Satie remains as enigmatic as ever. Undoubtedly a composer of great substance, he was nonetheless capable of writing strange and deliberately “meaningless” music. His rebelliousness makes him a very interesting figure. He claimed to despise the Impressionists with their fanciful nature-evocations, parodying them with titles of his own such as “Three pieces in the shape of a pear” and instructing musicians to play a certain passage “Like a nightingale with a toothache.” While hating conformism he nonetheless had deep respect and affection for Debussy and is seen, along with Cocteau, as the spiritual father of Les Six.
In the late 1880’s Satie joined the Rosicrucian church, and was introduced to the mystical strains of Gregorian and plainsong chant that would permeate his music for the rest of his life. He quickly bored of the Rosicrucians, though, creating his own church, called “L’Eglise Métropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur.” An “official” manifesto functioned primarily as soapbox upon which to rant against music critics. How much of his religious feelings were real, or merely another form of rebellion against the establishment, remains unclear. Nevertheless, by the early 1890’s Satie was drawn more and more to the Bohemian lifestyle of the Montmartre, particularly the nightlife in the cafés and bars. He accompanied singers for a living, and improvised waltzes for patrons in the then famous Le Chat Noir, and the Auberge du Clou (where he met Debussy in 1891).
Le Chat Noir was a real 19th-century Cabaret, meaning “A house of entertainment”, in the bohemian Montmartre district of Paris. It was first opened on 18 November 1881 at 84 Boulevard Rochechouart by the impresario Rodolphe Salis, and closed in 1897 not long after Salis’ death (much to the disappointment of Picasso and others who looked for it when they came to Paris for the Exposition in 1900). Le Chat Noir is thought to be the first modern cabaret: a nightclub where the patrons sat at tables and drank alcoholic beverages while being entertained by a variety show on stage, introduced by a master of ceremonies who interacted with people he knew at the tables. Perhaps best known now by its iconic Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen poster art, in its heyday it was a bustling nightclub that was part artist salon, part rowdy music hall. The cabaret published its own humorous journal Le Chat Noir, which survived until 1895.
According to its then owner, Salis: “Le Chat Noir is the most extraordinary cabaret in the world. You rub shoulders with the most famous men of Paris, meeting there with foreigners from every corner of the world.” And what a wonderful place it must have been! Imagine dining with Debussy while Satie sat at the piano!
Here he also met the one real love of his life, the painter Suzanne Valadon (23 September 1865 – 7 April 1938), proposing to her the very next morning after they met and spent their first night together. Born Marie-Clémentine Valadon, she became the first woman painter admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The daughter of an unmarried laundress,Valadon became a circus acrobat at the age of fifteen, but a year later, a fall from a trapeze ended that career. In the Montmartre quarter of Paris, she pursued her interest in art, first working as a model for artists, observing and learning their techniques, before becoming a noted painter herself.
She modeled for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (who gave her painting lessons), and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, with whom she later had an affair. Quite the rebel she was! A free spirit, she wore a corsage of carrots, kept a goat at her studio to “eat up her bad drawings”, and fed caviar (rather than fish) to her “good Catholic” cats on Fridays.
One can clearly see how their relationship erupted so quickly. The same flames of passion that burnt so high, burnt the composer quite a lot more than they did the painter, who soon moved on after she ended their six-month relationship. Satie never recovered from the broken heart, leaving him “nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness.” [Quoted from Satie’s letter, March 11, 1893, Archives of the Musée National d’Art Moderne, CNAC Georges Pompidou, Paris, Vol C.2, 122-128.]
Read a thoughtful analysis of her painting of Satie HERE.
Satie also had a working relationship with light music singer Vincent Hyspa (1865-1938) and they moved from gig to gig together. Satie not only wrote songs for him and set some of his writings to music, including Tendrement, Un dîner à l’Élysée, Chez le docteur, L’Omnibus automobile, Air fantôme. The style of these songs remind one of Je te veux, and it is not too far-fetched to suggest that the song was written for him, or at least with his voice and cabaret style of singing in mind.
The lyrics of the song are by Henry Pacory (of whom not a great deal is known).
Satie’s Je te veux seem to sum up the period perfectly:
~~ It is a gentle Parisian Waltz, like the waltzes and quintessentially French style of Le Chat Noire cabarets and the many singers like Hyspa whom Satie counted as friends and colleagues.
~~ Pop-song construction: Verses and refrains, and a short coda, make it easily digestible at first hearing.
~~ One even wonders if it was used as one of Satie’s numbers at the Cabaret. The piano melody doubles the notes of the voice 100% of the time. In Schumann Lieder it is seen as a liability, complicating matters of rhythm and intonation. In a smokey late-night cabaret where there is a lot of noise, performers who might have had a drink or two, and only gas-light and candles to shine on the sheet music (if you weren’t playing from memory), or the attention of the musicians might have been more on the talent in the room rather than their co-performers, it would be a God-send.
~~ The tumultuously passionate and short-lived love-affair with Valadon, complete with a less than exalted text of passion – “That your body is mine, And all my flesh is yours” – which stretches the imagination like a nylon stocking, without tearing it.
~~ And while remaining within the bounds of societal norms, eroticism is still in the air. A langorous melody seems to suggest that, if both parties were agreeable, Le Chat Noire indeed rented its upstairs rooms to patrons. Discreet and affordable. Even to struggling gigging musicians like Satie and Hyspa. No one is excluded from the promise of possibility.
~~ Ultimately, this being Paris headed for World War 1, there is also a sense of nostalgia that creeps into the lilting fall of the melody – “Burned in the same flames, In dreams of love.”
~~ And this, being Satie, remains a quintessentially Parisian mélodie, as happy in the parlour as it would be in a recital hall.
Download Free Sheet Music of “Je te veux” (Erik Satie)
Proof that these publications are in the Public Doman are to be found HERE.
|Je te veux (Music: Erik Satie (1897) / Text: Henry Pacory) Original Frenc Text
J’ai compris ta détresse,
J’ai compris ta détresse, etc.
Oui, je vois dans tes yeux
|Je te veux (Music: Erik Satie (1897) / Text: Henry Pacory), translated into English by Albert Combrink as “I want you“I understand your distress,
And I yield to your wishes:
Make me your mistress.
Far from us is wisdom,
more the distress,
I aspire to the precious moment
I understand your distress, etc..
Yes, I see in your eyes