The gymnopedie is a slow, solemn dance in three-quarter time, evocative of ancient Greece and naked youths (Gymn -naked; P(a)ed -youth). It is of course closely associated with Erik Satie, coiner of the word and composer of the first set of three. Thus, my set, written in 2003, is indebted to that enigmatic French composer.
No. 1, "My Goldberg", was inspired by the theme of Bach's monumental Goldberg Variations — not the lovely soprano melody, as one might expect, but rather the stepwise, descending bass line. Above the bass, I have composed a bittersweet melody that ranges freely. At the very end, Bach's soprano theme is briefly quoted. Thinking of this Gymnopedie as a stand-alone piece, I played it for a pianist friend, who said to me, "You know, David, Gymnopedies always come in sets of three." And so my Gym-work wasn't yet done!
No. 2, "My Re", is a harp-like, delicate dance in C-major whose two-bar phrases always end on the note D (re). Ray also happens to be the name of my life-partners, Ray Warman. So, the dedication to him is doubly appropriate.
No. 3, "My Loss", is an in memoriam for my dear teacher and friend, the pianist/composer Robert Helps, who died in December 2001. It is the longest and weightiest of the three. The melody, always exploring the interval of the perfect fifth, two octaves apart, is accompanied by bass chords of (for me) surprising dissonance. Tonality barely enters the picture. After an ecstatic climax and a falling-away, however, we reach the coda and, with it, the first arrival of clear-cut tonality. In G-sharp minor, then, the piece comes to a very sad close.
First of the Three Gymnopedies