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Musique d’ameublement as spatial music



I’ve just finished reading a biography on Erik Satie by Mary E. Davis. I was not previously aware that the initial performance was also arranged in space:


(Musique d’ameublement) promoted a radical concept: as the composer indicated in notes on the (unpublished) score, he intended the work as a ‘furnishing divertissement’: ‘Furnishing music replaces “waltzes” and “operatic fantasias” etc. Don’t be confused! It’s something else!! No more “false music” . . . Furnishing music completes one’s property . . . it’s new; it doesn’t upset customs; it isn’t tiring; it’s French; it won’t wear out; it isn’t boring.’

The inspiration for such an artistic work seems to have come from artist Henri Matisse, who ‘dreamed of an art without any distracting subject matter, which might be compared to a good armchair’. But what it amounts to is background music, or as some have argued, even a progenitor of Muzak – music not to be listened to, music that deflates the very purpose of the expressive medium. Indeed, even more than an exploration of the possible meaning of music, the Musique d’ameublement was an experiment in the potential of spatial music; as Darius Milhaud, who performed the two-piano score with Satie at the premiere, later recalled, ‘In order that the music might seem to come from all sides at once, we posted the clarinets in three different corners of the theatre, the pianist in the fourth, and the trombone in a box on the first floor.’ With forces thus arranged at Paul Poiret’s Galerie Barbazanges, where an exhibition of children’s art was on display, the music was premiered between the acts of a play by Max Jacob, entitled Ruffian toujours, truand jamais. According to Milhaud, Satie invited the audience to ‘walk around, eat and drink’ and shouted at them to ‘Talk, for heaven’s sake! Move around! Don’t listen!’, but all to no avail: ‘they kept quiet. They listened. The whole thing went wrong.’ The performance did, however, earn Satie his first notice in Vogue magazine – in fact, in the very first issue of French Vogue – where the Musique d’ameublement garnered a mention in a column on the latest in home decor:

Furniture music? It is music that must be played between the acts of a theatrical or musical spectacle, and which contributes, like the sets, the curtains or the furniture of the hall in creating an atmosphere. The musical motifs are repeated without stop and it is useless, says Erik Satie, to listen to them: one lives in their ambiance without paying them any attention. It’s up to you to find a way to hear this musique d’ameublement and to devise an opinion on the topic. But that has nothing to do with the furniture we’re so taken with this season. It’s just an opportunity to make and hear music, the passion of the moment.


The writing by Matisse referred to is available here.


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