5. Eric Satie and the Picardi triad
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Gnossienne 3 : by 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
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 musiciansDmin7 (DFAC), Emin7 (EGBD)
and Amin7 (ACEG)
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 :
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. Dø (DFAbC) - G7 (GBDF) - Cmin (CEbG)
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
In the key of C minor :
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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Copyright © 2010 Michael Furstner