Saturday, October 31, 2015


plural noun: ogives
  1. 1.
    a pointed or Gothic arch.
  2. 2.
    a cumulative frequency graph.

I wrote about Erik Satie favorite jazz pianist. I used his 3 Sarabandes as an example of his jazz-like playing which 50 years later was echoed by Theolonius Monk. Satie's chord structures, chord voicings, and harmonic formatting were, and still are, very original. I love the moods and feel that Satie's music creates. If you have ever heard his Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes, you hopefully appreciate the beauty and serenity they invoke. This month, I "discovered" his Ogives, a set of 4 pieces he composed in 1886 and were first published in 1889. I had no idea what an ogive was, nor any idea of the story behind this composition. As you can see from the definition above, an ogive is the pointed part of a Gothic arch. According to Dr. Caroline Potter, in her book Erik Satie: Music, Art and Literature, he spent days sitting in Notre Dame Cathedral contemplating their form for they "symbolized the medieval and esoteric world in which Satie was interested."

Notre Dame is a special place. I have been there many times, and spent time just sitting and looking at it in amazement. I can see how Satie would be transfixed by its power and beauty of form. What's just as amazing is the way this composition creates the image of a cathedral in your mind when you hear it. It took me inside....I could see the ogives myself....I could sense the space around me, the enormous vaulted ceiling, the stained glass.....all of it. Dr. Potter said it perfectly: "In all four Ogives, Satie harmonized the main melodies solely with block chords, which provided a still, solemn, and solid character. Since the entire piece was full of block chords, visually, they resembled building blocks in architecture. In this case, these vertical blocks were reaching for the ceilings of the solemn cathedral with its imposing pointed arches (ogives)."
It's a remarkable piece of music. And in Satie's words himself, published in 1889 in the February 9th edition of Journal du Chat Noir, "The indefatigable Erik-Satie, the sphinx-man, the composer with a head of wood, announces the appearance of a new musical work of which from henceforth he speaks most highly. It is a suite of melodies conceived in the mystic-liturgical genre that the author idolizes, and suggestively titled Les Ogives."

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