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Erik Satie, published in 1975, was Harding's fifth biography set against the backdrop of French music.
Reviews of Erik Satie
"James Harding is one of the most entertainingly informative, as well as prolific, interpreters of French music and letters." Robert Henderson, Daily Telegraph





 
The book
Erik Satie (1866 - 1925) loved animals, children and his art.  He disliked women and money-making.  Though he was often dismissed as a charlatan and publicity seeker, the story of his life is ultimately one of self-sacrifice to the highest ideals.  Harding's witty and sensitive portrait of this very private, self-contained figure is at once affectionate yet clear-eyed.  The wounding epigrams, the ultra-sensitive reactions and the frequent bouts of alarming rage were the signs of a man who never really grew up, whose character remained innocent and childlike in a world of perplexing harshness.  Yet the stubborn eccentricity hid a unique musical intelligence.  Harding portrays Satie in relation to his friends - Montmartre Bohemians of la Belle Epoque, the impassive humorist Alphonse Allais, the mountebank "high-priest" Péladan, that strange inhabitant of the Paris night Léon-Paul Fargue, and Debussy and Ravel, with whom the volatile Satie conducted uneasy friendships.  Others who play their part in the tragi-comic tale include Cocteau, Stravinsky and Diaghilev.
The man
Satie, born in 1866, probably inherited from his Scottish mother the fey sense of humour which was balanced by the quirky hard-headedness of his Norman ancestors.  Devotedly, implacably, with ridicule and many a sardonic joke, he undermined the structure of Romantic music.  What Satie put forward in its place was an inimitably personal concept, cool, serene, understated.  By the nineteen-twenties he emerged as a prominent member of the hilarious Dada movement, pioneer of Surrealism and godfather of the irrepressible group of musicians known as "les Six".  Satie's only physical solace was the alcohol that brought death at the age of fifty-nine.