Thursday, September 30, 2010

Erik Satie's Vexations at Scotiabank Nuit Blanche October 2/3 in Toronto

This weekend at Toronto's Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, all-night arts-goers will have an opportunity to hear a rare performance of one of the longest works ever written - Eric Satie's Vexations.

The Vexations performance at Brookfield Place in downtown Toronto will be curated by Martin Arnold and Micah Lexier. About Vexations and how it will unfold over the night:
Written in 1893, Erik Satie’s Vexations was never published nor publicly heard during his lifetime. He left 39 beats of hand scrawled, insidiously vexing music—hard to read and hard to remember—and the following cryptic instruction: “to repeat 840 times this motif, it is advisable to prepare oneself in the most absolute silence, by some serious immobilities.” A number of performers (most notably John Cage) have ventured to take him at his word and successively play the piece 840 times, taking between 15 and 27 hours to do so. We only have 12 hours so we’re dividing it: two pianos playing simultaneously, 420 passes per piano. Our Vexations is staged in the majestic arched expanse of a cathedral of commerce, perhaps therefore taking part in a highly irregular sort of exchange. We’ll be counting; tonight, by playing 840 scores—each a vexation—once. After each score is played it is transformed into a folded paper sculpture—840 scores creating 840 objects—giving shape to the sound and echoing the team of pianists weaving the composition's unmonumental but resolutely vexing notes. Satie said: “Before I compose a piece, I walk around it several times, accompanied by myself.” We invite you to walk around Vexations, hopefully several times as it accumulates through the night.
Among the large number of pianists performing throughout the evening will be Eve Egoyan and Attila Fias. If you're looking for a Vexations score to ponder, you can find one at IMSLP.

For those unfamiliar with the Nuit Blanche concept, it's an all-night free arts festival that features a massive number of venues spread throughout an entire urban area.


  1. Anonymous2:55 PM

    I am delighted to see Vexations being played again.
    As a student in Ottawa in 1975, I coordinated the first and maybe only Canadian playing to that point, so its great to see it especially in such wonderful circumstances!
    Burns Wattie

  2. Hi Chris,

    I've just found this post. It reminded me of a complete Vexations performance I attended part of at York University, Toronto in 1974. Pianist and York Music Dept. professor Casey Sokol was involved in the performance, as were several York Music undergrads.