The Gymnopedies, of which there are three, can be viewed as being pop songs. Not because they are; they are undoubtedly Classical pieces.
But they are short, not taking more than about 4 minutes each. More than that, they are incredibly simple, especially No. 1. And of course, they are some of the most well known, popular songs ever.
The notes aren’t numerous, but what the composition lacks in the flurry of virtuosity often seen in other piano solo works, it more than makes up for with sheer poignant melody.
It’s a beautifully expressive piece, and the slightly dissonant feel only serves to increase its effectiveness. The instructions mandate that the first piece be played “painfully”, which is about right…
The word “Gymnopedie” could mean a number of things. It’s not a standard french word, but instead is derived directly from Greek. It’s a sort of ritualised dance that was performed by Spartan kids. Satie could have meant for the songs to be dances.
The first Gymnopedie was published in 1888 alongside a poem by J.P. Contamine, which mentions the Sarabandes, a previous set of dances written by Satie.
Such a cutting piece of music.