It all began with Murakami.
Haruki, the Japanese novelist.
He of Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
And, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
It is somewhere in the Wind-Up Bird that there is mention of the piano music of Poulenc.
On my desk in my home office I have an Alexa. It was last year’s birthday present.
When I am alone, undertaking what used to be called paperwork, now click-work, where I sign results and forms relating to my patients, I like to listen to classical piano. It relaxes me and the absence of words stops my mind from wandering.
I may or may not have heard of Poulenc before.
There was however, something about his name that enticed me.
‘Alexa, play Poulenc.’
As with most digital technology, it is good but not that good.
First it played some ‘Lets Link’ by Who Heem (explicit lyrics) then some Pink before I repeated, ‘Play Francis Poulenc’ (emphasis on the final nasal ‘onc’) and it cottoned-on.
Straight away I was caught.
It felt like homecoming.
The answer to nostalgia.
First was Gnossiennes then Gymnopédies.
I have played these specific compositions daily, ever since.
It was only yesterday as we were driving in the car, I thought I’d ask Spotify to do the same.
‘You have to hear some Poulenc,’ (again hamming-up the ‘onc’) I said.
My daughter was sitting in the back practicing her French.
This was when I found Satie.
Gnossiennes by Satie.
‘Satie must be the pianist,’ I said, wishing to sound as if I knew what I was talking about.
Contrary to every other time I have ever played classical music in the car, my kids were entranced.
My son said, ‘Siri, what’s this music?’
It was all very 21st century.
After we arrived at our destination which was the centre of Sheffield, I followed-up on this uncertainty. What does Gnossiennes mean?
For a start I can’t speak French although learning lots of medical terminology has given me an insight into Latin and Greek. Gnossi… Gnosis. Knowledge. Must be something to do with that.
And here I found the music, the compositions had nothing to do with Poulenc. Érik Satie was the Late 19th / Early 20th century composer.
The creator of the romantically discordant notes, like raindrops, caramel sounds, drifting.
And here is the second diversion. For, during my searches, I came upon this definition:
I read the excerpt this morning before walking my dog round our local lake.
All the way I reflected on the music and the definition.
I thought of Alexander Trocchi and his view of the human condition. The tragedy of love.
Move ahead, I’ve had breakfast and I return to the definition. I read the Satie Wikipedia articles.
It appears Gnossiennes is a word Satie made-up. No one knows where it came from. And the definition I have provided above is also made-up, it is part of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows written by American artist, John Koenig.
After a time you start to question what you know and what you don’t.
Facts can be convoluted or linear.
They can be jaggedy or zigzag.
They can be true or false.
We base so much of this on our sense of the world.
How confused and lost we are.
How capricious the human tongue.
How slippery reality.
Stop now and have a listen.
There are no words.
Just the music.
I guarantee, if you can’t sleep tonight and you play this tune in your head you’ll be gone in moments.
Better than Temazepam.
Poulenc’s not bad either.