BBC Radio 4, 15 July 2013
Misunderstood genius or just the
classical equivalent of a one-hit wonder? That was the question posed about Erik Satie, writer of the wonderful
Gymnopiedes. As portrayed by McGowan himself, he came across as an eccentric, fond of collecting umbrellas - he
had over 140 at one time in his life - and wearing the same suit every day, whatever the weather, that made him look like
a bank manager. From an early age he was blessed with the gift of writing music; but his approach was so esoteric (by
the standards of his time) that critics tended to dismiss his work, especially when compared with that of Claude Debussy (Nathaniel
Parker) and Maurice Ravel.
In McGowan's play Satie's eccentricity seemed something of a fašade, designed to compensate for feelings
of intense loneliness and rejection. Even when he had a close relationship, either with Debussy or Suzanne Valadon (Imogen
Stubbs), he could seldom disclose his true feelings. As a result both abandoned him. If he had been more forthcoming,
Suzanne would certainly have spent her life with him, as she admitted towards the end of the play.
Three Pieces in the Shape
of a Pear was constructed in three short movements, each one very brief (almost like the Gymnopiedes).
They dramatized different moments in Satie's life, but cumulatively showed how no one really took him very seriously,
in spite of his talent for writing music and dispensing witty observations. At the end we were left feeling profoundly
sad for him. The director was Emma Harding.