Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Satie Vexations / Vexation (variation) s

A short blog for what is either a short or very long piece depending on your viewpoint.
I am not going to enter a discussion of the history of the Saties Vexations, though it makes a delightful story.
I will comment on the harmony and the reason why I made a variant on the music.
Looking at the score, written out below on three lines, we can see that there is a high degree of repetition in the chord types, they are nearly all 036 triads. It is not unusual to have minor third stacks at this time, far from it, but for these to form a chain and make the bulk of the music is less conventional. One of the features of the minor third chord is its ability to modulate, but in Vexations the music avoids this altogether, one could play the first 4 crotchet beats worth of music and cadence onto G, it would create an acceptable sound and a very dull progression. Once Satie has established the momentum putting a close on it becomes a much more difficult matter in terms of musical logic.
If I wanted to create a looping "ear worm" I would consider taking the final two chords where the melody note descends from A flat to G and link back to the third crotchet beat (G, C', B flat), that way the A flat G descent in the upper part matches the F, E, lead to the G in the first instance.
There are two alterations in the harmony, one incidence of 048 and one of 026, the first disrupts the augmented 4th 'flow', while the second chord (026) keeps the augmented fourth and the interval of a minor third.  It is possible that Satie found complete consistency unappealing, or it may be a miscalculation, those who have read the way the score was found will know that the reason probably died with the composer. There is harmonic repetition in the 2nd and 3rd lines where the music is arranged so that the second and third lines oscillate 0,9 / 0,3 with two alterations to  0,4 dyads. The second part of the piece transposes the melody down an octave so that in terms of harmony the scheme remains the same.

I have included a table of the pcs for those of a more numerical inclination to show the repetions within the music.
If we account for the intervals progressing from one pitch to the next (E flat to F, F to E natural etc) and count the number of semitones, tones etc. up to the augmented fourths, we get a clear account of the differences between the upper pair (which is very similar, but not exact) and the bass.
Taking the bass on its own one can make the case for a progression from A minor to E minor emphasised by the lower note progression from A through G, F sharp, F natural, F sharp, then rising the fifth for C sharp to B and E, this illustrates that there is an underlying loop in the progression between the start and close of each vexation.

The following commentary leaves Satie's original and outlines some of the thinking behind the arrangement of Satie's music as Vexation (variation)s which may be heard at:


In Satie's score there is a quaver rest between each statement, this breath before repetition is a break in the continuum which becomes (for me) a point of frustration if the 840 times of playing is observed,so going against the spirit of the music in Vexation (variation)s, the statements overlap.
The phrases are in 4 bars of 6/4 (plus the overlap), and each one explores a given aspect of the harmony.  When the groups have played out all combinations there are two 'variations' written for electric pianos and reverb. In the first the music is rotated (in the manner suggested above with the creation of a loop).  The second section takes an idea from Christian Wolff; many years ago I met with and played a composition of his which worked the same material with the tempo selected by the players, the main variation section takes the same idea.  The result at first sounds very like the music of the 70s/80s that could be found in jazz as well as contemporary serious music (e.g. Soft Machine 3), but as the ear adjusts the music takes on a different, more static quality.  This in part arises from the playing of the bass in augmentation, and is developed by the blending of sounds through the reverb unit.

As this piece takes slightly longer than 10 minutes to play it cannot explore some of the physical and psychological effects of Vexations, however it offers an insight into another aspect of repetition, wholly different from the first Gnossienne discussed earlier.