Erik Satie wrote a short piano piece called Vexations, which concludes with the direction ‘Repeat 472 times’. John Cage, who has written an open letter to Ornella Volta, by way of preface to this volume, once hired a theatre in New York to follow Satie’s instructions. A relay of pianists played the piece for sixteen hours but the effect, declared Ned Rorem, was Cageian rather than Satie-esque.
Nevertheless, Erik Satie would have appreciated the gesture, for during most of his life he received scant attention from critics or public, let alone from the academic authorities whose condescension he craved sufficiently to invent titles and honours for himself. He named himself High Priest of a new sect, Eglise Métropolitaine d’Art, under ‘the divine invocation of Jésus Conducteur’.
For much of his life, Satie lived in a tiny rented room on the outskirts of Paris, in one of those sinister looking buildings, isolated at the intersection of several roads. From his second-floor hideaway, he occasionally wrote fierce and quite insulting letters to those he considered were either ignoring