It is still a moot point whetherSatie got his harmonic ideas from his fellow student and friend Claude Debussy,or whether the debt was on Debussy’s side. It is quite clear, however, thatSatie’s tasteful principles influenced Debussy in the composition of his operaPelleas et Melisande and that Satie was the main influence in helping Debussy tofree himself from the musical domination of Richard Wagner. Satie becameinterested in plainsong through his association with a so-called Rosicruciangroup, while he earned his living as a cafe pianist in Montmartre. Satie was a conscious eccentric and a determined enemy of allestablishments, including the musical. The comical titles that he attached tohis small piano pieces are characteristic of the Bohemian wit in the Paris ofhis day.
Irony and a deceptively childlike attitude, a dislike for pomposity ofall kinds, and an instinctive secretiveness were hallmarks of both the man andhis music. In 1916, Satie was befriended by Jean Cocteau and wrote the musicfor a ballet, Parade, on which Pablo Picasso and Leonid Massine alsocollaborated. By far the most important of Satie’s works is Socrate , an harshsetting for four sopranos and chamber orchestra of Plato’s account of the deathof Socrates. The young composers who formed the essentially Parisian groupknown as Les Six regarded Satie as a kind of tutelary genius, and in 1923 one ofthem, Darius Milhaud, tried to found an “Ecole d’Arcueil,” named for the obscureParis suburb where Satie lived in extreme poverty.