5. Eric Satie and the Picardi triad --------------------------------------------- Previous - Next - Contents
Gnossienne 3 : by Erik Satie

Self portrait of Erik Satie When reading a book of say Thomas Hardy (the 19th Century English novelist) we may easily overlook the fact that he was writing at the cutting edge of the then prevailing social and moral issues and was heavily scrutinised and censored by the authorities.
With the French composer Erik Satie we are much less likely to make this mistake. Despite efforts of his good friend and colleague Claude Debussy to get him accepted by Paris society, Satie was very much anti-establishment (a sentiment I share with him since my early childhood) and deliberately went out off his way to annoy it by ignoring Centuries old musical customs and "rules". He wrote his Gnossiennes without inserting bar lines in the music, and when critics stated that his music "had no form" he immediately wrote a "Composition in the shape of a Pear" and a "Composition in the shape of a Dog".

A much more subtle act against established rules I suddenly spotted when working on his Gymnopédie 1 which I completed and uploaded online today. Let me explain.
It has been a Centuries old point of view in traditional Classical music that a minor chord was not really a suitable chord to end a piece of music on, as it was considered to be slightly dissonant. To overcome this problem for pieces in a minor key the appropriate truly consonant major chord was used as the final ending chord. In music theory this is called a Picardi triad (a triad is a 3-note chord like : C E G).

There certainly is some merit to this old fashioned musical notion. When a piece with a strong minor mood is ended on a major chord (especially a major 7th chord) it is as if at the end of a dark, gloomy overcast day suddenly the sun comes out, a very exhilarating and joyful moment. This ploy has been used by several popular composers like for example Victor Young in 'Stella by Starlight', Cole Porter in 'What is this Thing called Love' and others.

During Satie's time however (around 1900) the Picardi triad was still very much in vogue as part of the old musical esthetics. Predictably Satie went resolutely against this formal "rule", turning it back to front, notably in his famous Gymnopédie 1 which he wrote in the key of D major and ended on a D minor chord. I love you my friend.

The Picardi triad for musicians
The presence of minor chords in a melody does not mean that a song is in a minor key. Far from it. Most songs in major keys do have minor chords in their chord progression, simply because there are three minor scaletone chords in any major scale.
In the C major scale (C D E F G A B C) they are :

Dmin7 (DFAC), Emin7 (EGBD) and Amin7 (ACEG)

A typical major key sequence in C is :

Dmin7 (DFAC) - G7 (GBDF) - Cmaj7 (CEG)
IIm7 - V7 - Imaj7

Therefore in (Dmin7 - G7 - Cmaj) or in (Gmin7 - C7 - Fmaj)   the Cmaj and Fmaj chords are not Picardi triads.

Chords in a truly minor key progression are constructed from the harmonic minor scale.
In the key of C : C D Eb F G Ab B C. The tell tale sign for a minor key chord progression are a half diminished chord (ø) followed by a Dominant chord a 5th down.
In the key of C minor :

Dø (DFAbC) - G7 (GBDF) - Cmin (CEbG)
IIø - V7 - Imin

Therefore in (Dø - G7 - Cmaj) or in (Gø - C7 - Fmaj)   the Cmaj and Fmaj chords are Picardi triads.

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