Saturday, 22 September 2012

Erik Satie: Le Piccadilly for piano



Many years ago I came across the music for Le Piccadilly in a friend’s piano stool. Whilst not being exactly an easy piece to get one’s fingers around, it is relatively straightforward. Soon I was enjoying playing (badly) one of the most delightful miniatures in the repertoire.  It is a cabaret piece which is essentially written as a ‘rag’ and was found in the composer’s notebooks beside many other similar pieces. I understand, however, that only this one and La diva de l’Empire has actually be realised and published.  The All Music guide suggests that this piece was the result of the composer’s absorption of the ‘Parisian vogue’ for the ‘cakewalk’ around the turn of the 20th century. 

On paper the march is straightforward – there is no complex formal structure – just a good old-fashioned bit of ternary writing – preceded by a short 4-bar introduction. The work is written on the key of F major and modulates to the subdominant, B flat major for the middle section. It has been suggested that Satie was influenced by the Howard and Emerson song ‘Hello! My Baby.’
Le Piccadilly was probably composed around 1904 and was originally performed by Paulette Darty, who at that time was a famous music hall star in Paris.  Four or five years later, Debussy made his two contributions to the genre –‘The Golliwog’s Cakewalk’ (L113) and ‘Le Petit nègre’ (L114) – both of which are part of the repertoire of many concert pianists.

Mary E. Davis in her book Erik Satie has suggested that although the title of the piece seems to have been influenced by things British, it was originally called La Trans-atlantique. Whatever the inspirations it is music that would have been just as popular in the music halls of the West End as it would have been in the cafés of Paris.

Listen to Erik Satie’s Le Piccadilly performed by Mari Tsuda on YouTube

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