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Truth in Art, and Erik Satie's Judgement

  • Peter Dayan (a1)

It is certainly true that Satie, in his later years, did not tire of repeating that there is ‘no Truth in Art’; and in saying so, he was doubtless very much in tune with the spirit of his artistic milieu, which included, after all, such aesthetic anarchists as Picabia and Tzara, as well as the great artistic revolutionaries of the time, Picasso and Stravinsky, for whom he had unbounded admiration. And every time he did so, he was careful to attribute the erroneous belief that there is a Truth in Art to that class of writers whom he variously called ‘critiques’, ‘pédagogues’, ‘Pontifes’, ‘pions’: people of the serious persuasion, who think it is possible to teach or describe what makes a piece of art good or bad. Attacks against this tribe are, in fact, the staple of Satie's writings. It might appear sensible to infer from this that it would be foolish for a critic to look for Truth in Erik Satie's writings about art. Nonetheless, that is what I shall be doing in this article. I shall argue that, while there may, for Satie, be no truth in art, there are truths about art, susceptible of at least indirect expression, which Satie himself maintained with remarkable adroitness. Whether those truths are peculiar to the aesthetics of Satie's writings; whether they are relevant to the way we might appreciate his music; and whether they have echoes in the thought of his artistic companions (especially those mentioned above) – these are questions that will remain open; but I would like at least to suggest that they are worth asking.

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Robert S. Winter in ‘Correspondence: Beethoven's Tenth Symphony’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 117/2 (1992): 324–30. ‘No doubt’, writes Cooper of his realization and completion, ‘it is a distorted view of Beethoven's intentions’ (328). Hence, doubtless: ‘A major question is whether the reconstruction actually sounds at all like Beethoven’ (326). To that question, Cooper does not presume to give an answer. But he does maintain that musicological analysis has generally failed to pinpoint the differences between his work and Beethoven's. ‘Some critics have made the unsurprising claim that it is not as good; but their attempts to identify specific faults have been largely unsuccessful’ (326)

Robert Orledge's exemplary article ‘Understanding Satie's “Vexations”’, Music and Letters 79 (Aug. 1998): 386–95, 387

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Nineteenth-Century Music Review
  • ISSN: 1479-4098
  • EISSN: 2044-8414
  • URL: /core/journals/nineteenth-century-music-review
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