“In order to play this motif 840 times consecutively to oneself,
it will be useful to prepare oneself beforehand,
and in utter silence, by grave immobilities.”
In 1893, the eccentric French composer Erik Satie wrote these cryptic directions above his simple, three-line score entitled “Vexations”. This short piano piece, to be played, yes, 840 times in succession, proved to be the long-winded conceptual forerunner to John Cage’s “4’33” and other works. Cage, in fact, was the first to organize a performance of this piece in 1963, which lasted upwards of 18 hours and involved 12 pianists, among them a pre-VU John Cale.
As for the music itself, performed here by Brussels-based musician Stephane Ginsburgh, this repeated motif is played in a slow and deliberate fashion, with each note and chord provided ample space for consideration. Initially, it evokes a fairly somber, yet subtly suspenseful mood. But, depending on your attention span, those same chords can begin to sound positively buoyant after 30 repetitions or you might, at this point, have tuned out completely. Indeed, mental and physical stamina, on the part of the performer and the listener, are critical factors.
Of course, “Vexations” is probably far more interesting to read about than it is to actually listen to. However, the fact that this piece, and Satie himself, held special appeal to Cage, which is well-outlined in the generous liner notes, makes this release an indispensable historical document as Cage’s influence on modern music is undeniably vast. 8/10 -- David Perron (3 February, 2010)