2014 August 31: Labor Day

August 31, 2014 10:30

Bureaucratic Sonatina E. Satie (1866–1925) 
Narrator: Pat Morris

[Text] He walks merrily to his office, full of himself. Contentedly he wags his head. He loves a pretty, most elegant lady. He also loves his penholder, his green lustrous cuffs, and his chines cap. He takes long strides; he hurries to the stairs and mounts them upon his back. What a wind! Sitting in his armchair he is happy, and shows it.

He dreams of promotion. Perhaps he will have a raise without promotion. He hopes to move to a better neighborhood soon. He has an apartment in view. If only the raise or promotion comes off. More dreams of promotion.

He hums an old Peruvian air, which he he collected from a deaf-mute in lower Brittany. A piano nearby plays Clementi. How sad it is! He dares to waltz (he, not the piano). That's all very sad. The piano begins to play again. Our friend benevolently examines himself. The cold Peruvian air goes to his head again. The piano continues. Alas he must leave his office, his dear office. Courage: let's go, he says.

[Offertory] "Harmonious Blacksmith" G. Handel (1685–1759)

[Postlude] Come, Labor On.

Composed in 1917, Satie's "Bureaucratic Sonatina" is a parody not just of civil servants (dreaming of vacations, promotions, etc.) but also of Clementi's Sonatina in C. Clementi was a contemporary of Mozart, and his sonatinas are standard staple for intermediate piano students (including your intrepid organist as a youngster) who have been laboring at them for a couple centuries now. Satie wrote a number of pieces which include narrations, and he said that the narrations are not supposed to be read out loud during performances. So, then, what? — everyone in the congregation gets a score? And we’re doing the narration in English instead of French! Sacré Bleu!

The "Harmonious Blacksmith" is the popular name of the final movement of Handel's harpsichord suite No. 5. Handel didn't give it this name — the nickname doesn't appear until the early 19th century when the movement became popular on its own. The piece is a "theme and variations", so it is only fitting that there are various variations on the origins of this piece and/or its name. VARIATION 1: Handel once took shelter from the rain in a smithy, and was inspired to write his tune after hearing the hammer on the anvil — the regularly repeated note (B in the right hand) in the first variation can give the impression of a blacksmith hammering. (Some stretch of the imagination is required.) VARIATION 2: Handel heard the blacksmith singing the tune which would later become the Theme — an explanation which fits in nicely with Handel's standard technique of borrowing tunes (a common composer practice in those days). VARIATION 3: (this one is true) 75 years after Handel's death Richard Clark (author of Reminiscences of Handel, 1836) and Henry Wylde found an old anvil in a smithy near Whitchurch, Edgware and fabricated a story to identify William Powell as the fictitious blacksmith, when, in fact, he had been the parish clerk. They even raised a subscription to fund a memorial for Powell to that effect. I have not been able to determine why they would want to ascribe such a story and memorial to Powell in the first place. VARIATION 4: our final variation (also true) is due to William Lintern who started out life as a blacksmith's apprentice from Bath and later turned to music. He had a music shop in which he sold the "Harmonious Blacksmith" movement separate from the rest of the suite (perhaps the first to do so?) because he said he could sell enough copies this way to make a profit. Lintern said he himself came up with the nickname because he had been brought up as a blacksmith and this was the piece he was constantly asked to play.

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