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24 New York Pianists Perform Satie’s Vexations 840 Times

By Sara Schabas on September 11, 2023

Pianists gathered at New York University for the 60th anniversary of the first performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations, performing the piece 35 times each.

The Work

Erik Satie’s Vexations (1893) was first performed on September 9th, 1963, 70 years after its composition. The first performance took 18 hours, and performers tag-teaming the work included the composer John Cage, The Velvet Underground’s John Cale, David Tudor, Christian Wolff and David Del Tredici. John Cage had spearheaded the performance of his self-described musical forefather’s work, insisting its premiere was “not only possible but essential.”

The Inspiration

Different theories attempt to explain the creation of Vexations. Some posit that the 27-year-old Satie was mocking the piano exercises he was forced to do at the Conservatoire de Paris. Others explain it as his response to the end of his only romantic relationship – a six-month tryst with the painter Suzanne Valadon.

The Remount

Marilyn Nonken, the chair of NYU’s Department of Music, led a team of mostly student players playing 35 repetitions of Vexations each, totalling 840 times. Their performance began at 6 am and was expected to end at 9 pm.

Satie’s score annotation explains above the piece, “It would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” Give it a try yourself.

Sara Schabas
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