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Idiscovered this week that I share my birthday with French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Frenchman was born on November 24, 1864, while I first graced this world with my presence on November 24, 1959. Alas, the alcoholic Toulouse-Lautrec died when he was just 36 years old, while I have managed to imbibe my way to 55 in reasonable health.

Sipping champagne to celebrate my birthday, I noticed that good old Henri invented a celebratory cocktail called "Tremblement de Terre," or "Earthquake," a potent mixture of generous amounts of absinthe and cognac.

Absinthe was (and perhaps still is) a favoured drink among artists and composers of vision and flair, including composer Erik Satie and writer Ernest Hemingway who invented a similarly dangerous cocktail called "Death in the Afternoon."

Ernest instructed that one should "pour one jigger absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

Well, given that I had work the following day, I contented myself with a couple of glasses of straight champagne and dug out my CD of Erik Satie's music.

It's fascinating how one's appreciation of a piece like Satie's well-known Gymnopedie No 1 can be heightened after a glass or two of champagne.

Satie and Toulouse-Lautrec were both attracted to Montmartre, in Paris, where they lived and worked.

They were active during the Belle Epoch, a time of joie de vivre which we in these days of austerity can only view with envy, although it is true to say that the poorer classes were largely excluded from it. Plus ca change.

As the champagne slipped down nicely, and Satie's Nocturne No 2 floated in the evening air, I remembered that it was Satie who first coined the term "Furniture music", or background music. Long after Satie's death furniture music was revived, partly due to the American composer John Cage who is perhaps most famous for his 1952 composition "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds" during which the musicians do nothing and the listener takes in the sounds of the environment.

Furniture music crossed musical boundaries with Brian Eno, who developed "Ambient Music," citing Satie as a major influence. Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis, and even Pink Floyd are indebted to Satie.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 28, 2014
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