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French composer and writer, Erik Satie (1866-1925), was in kinship care for six years from the age of six. Erik Alfred Leslie Satie was born in Honfluer, in France’s Normandy region, about 198 km northwest of Paris. His father, Alfred, was French and his mother, Jane, was English. 

When Erik was about four years old, the family moved to Paris, but Jane died two years later, in 1872. Erik and his young brother, Conrad, were sent back to Honfluer and lived with their paternal grandparents until their grandmother died in 1878. Alfred then had the children returned to him in Paris and he home-schooled them.   

Satie lived in Paris during his adulthood. His eccentricities—which included wearing one of seven identical grey suits for ten years (purchased on receipt of a small inheritance in 1898) and a claim that he only ate food that was white—alienated him from the ‘establishment’. During his twenties he’d hung out with the ‘who’s who’ of Paris, but in 1898 he moved into the unfashionable working-class suburb of Arcueil, living there for twenty-seven years in a small flat. 

Most mornings, however, the composer returned to the city on foot, walking a distance of about six miles to his former neighbourhood…In Paris, Satie visited friends or arranged to meet them in cafes…When he could, Satie earned some money in the evening paying piano for cabaret singers…The last train back to Arcueil left at 1:00 A.M., but Satie frequently missed it. Then he would walk the several miles home…(Curre pp 93-94). 

Satie’s work did not catch on for some years, not until long-time friend Claude Debussy made popular his Gymnopedies in 1911, by which time Satie was forty-five years old. 

In 1949, Satie’s 1893 composition Vexations was found by an acquaintance of Satie’s and given to the American composer John Cage. Cage performed the piece in 1963 at the Pocket Theatre in New York. 

The performance commenced at 6pm that Monday and continued to the following day’s lunch hour. Cage played in twenty-minute shifts with a group of eleven pianists…To complete the full eight hundred and forty repetitions of “Vexations” took eighteen hours and forty minutes (Sweet). 

Vexations from then became something of “a rite of passage” for budding young pianists who wanted to “scale this esoteric Mt. Everest.” 

Erik Satie is now regarded as a significant influence on twentieth-century music. 


Bowen, Meurig. “Erik Satie: a life less ordinary.” The Guardian. 1 July 2015.  

Currey, Mason. Daily Rituals. How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work. New York: Borzoi, 2013. 

Richardson, Nick. “Velvet Gentleman.” London Review of Books, 4 June 2015. 

“Erik Satie. French Composer.” Britannica. 

Sweet, Sam. “A Dangerous and Evil Piano Piece.” The New Yorker, September 9, 2013. 

Image available here.