Saturday, August 15, 2009


As per usual, I was looking for a studio version but could only find this 1971 Live performance of 'Old Man' by Neil Young. Still, I have to give it to Young that he manages to capture the gist of that brilliant song unplugged, on a guitar lacking a string no less. As a Dutch-speaking outsider to the Anglosaxon world, I realize it's well possible this song has lost all appeal to British speaking rock aficionados in the Year of Our Lord 2009 - but for me it's still a beautiful thing to hear. Either I'm incurably true to my old tastes - or 'Old Man' isn't outdated a bit. What do you think?

The risk of having to do with a live performance of Erik Satie doing Gymnopédie No.1 was rather small, since the good man departed this life in 1925, when there was in all likelihood no Youtube yet. And if there was, tough luck: Al Gore wasn't born until March 31, 1948! Satie, born to a French father and a Scottish mother in 1866 in Honfleur, a lovely French coastal town and harbor in Normandy, was an eccentric French composer who made a sport of downplaying his own work and influence. Most of his life he spent quietly in Arcueil, a Parisian suburb. If this little jewel of Satie the piano virtuoso sounds familiar, you may have watched Twilight, which sports Debussy's Clair de Lune in its soundtrack - Satie and Debussy were acquaintances, and the latter is indebted to some extent to the former. As is another early twentieth century French composer, Maurice Ravel, who is known primarily for his Boléro.

This is the first and best known of the three gymnopédies, which are short, minimalistic and melancholic pieces written in 3/4 time with each sharing a common theme and structure. The unassuming but immortal charm is obtained by, for the first bars, an alternating progression of two major seventh chords, the first on the subdominant G, the second on the tonic D.

Here is some stuff on subdominants and tonics, but you don't have to have Beethoven genes to discern the alternation. Just listen attentively. Btw, I think I'm too early with this. I always imagine the Gymnopédies are for playing when you're sitting in your study on a cold sunday afternoon in November. You look out over pale brown fields, and low-hanging grey clouds muffle the light of the sun.


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