Elena Kats-Chernin: Unsent Love Letters – Meditations On Erik Satie by Tamara-Anna Cislowska

Many years after Erik Satie’s death in 1925, friends gained access to his small and cluttered apartment where they found two grand pianos stacked on top of each other, a chair, a table, seven velvet suits, and hoards of unsent love letters. An apparently eccentric man, Satie lived a life of contradictions: he was an introvert but a compelling performer; he lived in squalor but dressed immaculately in velvet; he was branded a ‘worthless’ pianist by his conservatoire professor, and yet he composed some of the most strikingly beautiful piano music of the twentieth-century. Satie’s mysterious life has long since provided fascination for historians and musicians, and now, notably, our very own Elena Kats-Chernin (composer) and Tamara Anna Cislowska (pianist).

I raved about Kats-Chernin and Cislowska’s fine artistic partnership back in May 2016, following the release of their album Butterflying. Their latest project – a collection of twenty-six piano miniatures inspired by Satie’s unsent love letters – is equally outstanding. Each piece reflects some element of Satie: a line from a letter to his lover Suzanne Valadon, a segment of a composition, or an anecdote pertaining to his eccentricity. Kats-Chernin previously demonstrated her talent for interpretation in her 2004 Re-Inventions based on the music of J.S. Bach, but I think her style lends itself even more fully to Satie’s work. Their respective compositions are similar for their hypnotism, simplicity and creeping melancholy. Cislowska brings the Kats-Chernin/Satie amalgam to life with the same brilliance she displayed in Butterflying. She summons the ominous rise and decay of a funeral bell in the closing ‘for whom it tolls’, and elicits the excitement of young love in the opening ‘love token’. Unsent Love Letters is a triumph for Kats-Chernin and Cislowska, and a great tribute to the tender and exquisite music of Satie.

Alexandra Mathew