Strange Mr. Satie

Strange Mr. Satie

by M. T. Anderson, Petra Mathers
     
 

In Paris, at the turn of the twentieth century, when artists were experimenting with new ways of seeing things, Erik Satie had something new to say about music. Most people didn't understand his pieces; critics called his music surreal. But Erik Satie didn't care. He wanted to make music that followed no rules but its own. Satie's life was strange and wonderful,

Overview

In Paris, at the turn of the twentieth century, when artists were experimenting with new ways of seeing things, Erik Satie had something new to say about music. Most people didn't understand his pieces; critics called his music surreal. But Erik Satie didn't care. He wanted to make music that followed no rules but its own. Satie's life was strange and wonderful, frenetic and lonely all at the same time. He was friends with Picasso, and with wizards and puppeteers; he scraped himself with a stone instead of bathing, and he once threw his acrobat girlfriend out a window. Now award-winning author M. T. Anderson tells the story of the irreverent French composer in a biography that is witty, accessible, and endlessly surprising, while Petra Mathers' fanciful illustrations capture all the vibrancy that was Erik Satie's topsy-turvy world.

Illustrations by Petra Mathers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Anderson (Feed), who fashioned a rags-to-riches biography in Handel Who Knew What He Liked, is on dangerous ground with the pianist Erik Satie (1866-1925). In this rosy- spectacled account, the experimental composer is a quirky innocent with a short fuse and few friends. " `I was born/ very young/ in a very old world,'/ said Satie once./ And he never grew up/ but was always a child/ with an old man's smile." Satie temporarily finds "a home" playing piano in Le Chat Noir, a cabaret in Montmartre. His romance with the painter Suzanne Valadon, who flirts over a glass of absinthe, ends in sentimentalized violence ("finally/ he threw her right out the window./ Luckily, she had been/ a circus acrobat/ so she... landed on her/ toes,/ and/ walked/ away"). Anderson, who struggles to find the joy in his misanthropic subject's life, focuses on paradox: "Satie was a genius and a crank, a magician and a child, a fool and a visionary," who composed the whimsical, tricky Gymnop dies and collaborated with Picasso and Picabia. Mathers, creator of the Lottie's World series, depicts Satie with a red snare drum, as if to say he marches to his own beat. She gamely pictures Cubist costumes and Surrealist theater, but despite assurances that Satie's art was shocking, her naive, undersize drawings seem sedate. Anderson and Mathers plump up the whimsy and de-emphasize the insanity of Satie's life, diluting the passion in the process. While Satie's unpredictable music deserves new listeners, young readers may not find this figure compelling. Ages 5-8. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Satie, a composer known for his compositions which defied the conventions of the time, lived an equally unconventional life. Briefly and simply Anderson places him among his artist friends, all of whom were in rebellion against "the world of rules and polite smiles..." of the turn of the last century. He also does his best to convey for young readers how unusual both Satie's music and his life were. Satie had a terrible temper, lived eccentrically in poverty, then went back to school to obtain his music degree. His creations were severely criticized. But Anderson feels that sometimes "they can sound like him dancing, strange Mr. Satie, a child-man dancing...alone." Mathers's colored illustrations ably visualize some of the text's surreal imagery. Mixing double-page typical French street scenes with vignettes of the composer, his friends, and their creations, she creates a sort of rhythm in her low-key, oddly comical illustrations to accompany the image-filled, blank-verse-like text. Here is a book that could really use an accompanying CD to help understand the text. An author's note adds factual information. The end-papers, adapted from Satie's Memoirs of an Amnesiac, give a hint of his eccentricity. 2003, Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, Ages 5 to 9.
— Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-A splendid alliance of topic, text, and illustration produces a hauntingly compelling biography. Erik Satie was not suited to his times; he battled a "terrible temper" and wrote music that was so unusual that it eluded popularity. After years of struggle, at age 39, he returned to school to learn the rules of music "so he could break them." In 1924, he collaborated with painter Francis Picabia on a ballet entitled Cancelled that included a movie, a cannon, and a camel. Shortly after its success, Satie died. Written with respect and compassion, this offering is an ideal introduction to a unique individual who had a significant influence on music. Mathers's illustrations are superb in their crisp, colorful clarity. The period, place, and bohemian brilliance of Satie's life are every bit as fascinating visually as textually. Though not for every reader, this picture-book biography should be embraced by anyone who cherishes the uncommon.-Jody McCoy, The Bush School, Seattle, WA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked (2001) profiles another musical original: Erik Satie, surrealist composer and all-round oddball, a capricious, temperamental rule-breaker whose works reflect the dreamlike quality of his eccentric life. Mathers picks up on this theme, surrounding her deceptively formal-looking figure with bohemian companions, portraying his music as streams of small toys flying from a piano or birds, fish and less identifiable items replacing conventional notation. Readers will get a coherent picture of his career, which included collaborations with Picasso and Picabia, as well as his stormy relationship with Suzanne Valadon. He died relatively young, and is last seen, "a child-man dancing / with his umbrella, / joyfully spinning / and grinning, / alone" outside the chapel where his funeral, fittingly, clashed with a wedding. Anderson closes with notes on recommended books and pieces-good thing, as this portrait makes an irresistible invitation to discover a relatively little known, but profoundly influential, 20th-century artist. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 8-10)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670036370
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/15/2003
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
8.92(w) x 10.86(h) x 0.39(d)
Lexile:
AD770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 7 Years

Meet the Author

Petra Mathers lives in Astoria, Oregon.

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