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A Mammal's Notebook: Collected Writings of Erik Satie.

Erik Satie. Ed. Ornella Volta. Trans. Antony Melville. Atlas Arkhive Documents of the Avant-Garde. Atlas Press, 1996. 206 pp. $24.99.

Fifth in Atlas Arkhive's Documents of the Avant-Garde series, this handsome volume boasts "the largest selection (in any language) of Erik Satie's writings yet to appear." Compiled by the noted Satie scholar Ornella Volta, these frequently hilarious pieces reveal a great deal about Satie's artistry, and for those who know him only through the first and third "Gymnopedies," this compilation would be an ideal place to begin acquainting oneself more thoroughly with this musical, theatrical, and literary innovator.

Volta divides the collection into texts written for performance, publication, and private diversion. Among those written for performance are poems to accompany (silently!) various experimental piano pieces; a long list of his antic tempo directions ("Be-dig yourself"; "Laugh without anyone knowing"; "Scratch"); and facsimiles of his elegantly calligraphed scores. From a literary standpoint, the most interesting item in this section is a brief absurdist drama, Le Piege de Meduse [Medusa's Snare], in which one can detect anticipations of Ionesco and, perhaps more appropriately, Groucho Marx. The texts Satie wrote for publication include his cheeky open letter to Saint-Saens, in which he demands recognition from the Academie des Beaux Arts; the fragmentary Memoires d'un Amnesique [Memoirs of an Amnesic]; and twelve informal articles, some of which discuss immediate contemporaries like Debussy and Stravinsky, others of which reveal a broad knowledge of European literature. Volta and Melville have also reproduced a number of unpublished writings, most notably the wacky semiprivate journal, "A Mammal's Notebooks," and even a generous selection of the 4,000 "private advertisements" discovered in cigar boxes in Satie's room after his death. Informative endnotes and a brief bibliography follow, and the collection is topped off with an annotated and illustrated catalogue of Satie's musical and literary works.

Volta's introductory overview of Satie's career and significance is brief, but such editorial reticence is appropriate in a collection that does a superb job of letting Satie come to life through his own sketches and writings-the latter mediated by the vivid, droll translations of Antony Melville. This volume and the rest of the series in which it appears will be invaluable resources for students of the avant-garde in music, art, and literature in France, Germany, and elsewhere.
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Author:Hove, Thomas
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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