In Memoirs of a Pear-Shaped LifeErik Satie, the eccentric French-Normandy composer, was defined on stage in three different forms, each with a bowler hat. On the left of the stage, a giant green pear adorned with round spectacles and facial hair reclined with a glass of wine. On the opposite side of the stage, Erik Satie played by William Gaminara, lacking the character-defining facial hair, also reclined with a glass of wine in a chair and in the middle, French Normandy composer-pianist Anne Lovett sat at the piano.

Anne Lovett © Charles Padley Artists
Anne Lovett
© Charles Padley Artists

Lovett’s style of playing was pleasant but safe. Where Satie leaves notes bare to be brought to life, not enough emotion was inserted into the performance, leaving it stripped of an extra element that would have lessened the vulnerability of the more exposed notes in Satie’s works. Some of the pieces, in particular the opening Gnossienne no. 1, felt rushed. It was a struggle at times to enjoy the piano performances as, although they had been built into the script, they were either cut off or overlaid with information, which shifted the focal point from the music itself. Satie's music, instead of being in the foreground, was more of an accompaniment to what was centred around it, even moreso when Lovett played from a score, trying to find the right pages whilst Gaminara talked. Gaminara’s interactions with the piano were, at times, frustratingly far from how a musician would interact with music, perhaps due to being a last minute replacement for Allan Corduner. Understandably nervous from the outset, he warmed into the role very well. 

The way that some of the music had been fitted into the narrative was clever. A speedy performance of Je te veux followed Satie’s talk about sweeping romances and instantaneously proposing to women; Vexations outlined his social frustrations; and an upbeat Le Piccadilly came after Corduner spoke about Satie's bid to go with the times and write what people wanted to hear in response to popular music of the time. Lovett’s Le Piccadilly was one of the most grabbing pieces of the evening. The work’s harmonic colour received a surprising injection of power and enthusiasm from Lovett’s fingers that brought the infectious rhythms to life. This was followed by an equally catchy rendition of Descriptions Automatiques (Sur un casque) where paper placed on the strings gave the effect of, in Satie’s own witty words, “a nightingale with toothache”.

The lighting design at St George’s was a bit distracting, but the last simple white spotlight on the piano was certainly the most effective in terms of capturing drama for the last piece, Gymnopédie no. 3. The colour changes during piano performances seemed flamboyant, and at times a little disorientating, but there was a sense of black box theatre attached to the production that perhaps blackboards or curtains behind the action could have solved. From such a quirky museum in Normandy, the Maison Satie dedicated to Satie’s life, Robinson’s designs had the room to expand into something bolder than a simple pear, for such an extraordinary character who spent the last years of his life living in a chaotic room with one piano piled on top of an other for storing letters. This aspect of his character was kept too clean, in this aspect, the sadness and vulnerability of Satie was lost.

The overall effect of the evening captured the entertaining essence of Satie’s personality as a composer with informative and amusing snippets from his eccentric life in a stage formula that could easily be applicable to other composers. The length suited itself to a festival theatre piece, as originally intended as this was part of the Satie celebrations of this year’s Cheltenham Music Festival. The end result was a craving to listen to more Satie, which can only be a positive result.