Erik Satie and Furniture Music. What Is the Relation?

Have you ever walked into an elevator and notice the serene calm, yet prominent music that echoes out of the elevator speaker? It has grown to be viewed as a comical entity, as it paints awkward noise if stuck in the moving room with a person you don’t know. But this initial purpose and musical design are quietly lingering throughout our lives. You hear this kind of music at the grocery store or at airports. This musical narration is background music or in other terms Furniture music! 

I always can recall my visits to the doctor’s office as a little child. The feeling of waiting for the doctor to arrive in the room was like waiting for the movie to start during the unbearable previews. As I sat there in the doctor’s chair, I would hear a faint noise arriving from the speakers. A smooth relaxation of melodic sounds would dance around the room in hopes of creating a soothing atmosphere. At times, I would get lost in the sounds. Smooth jazz paired with flutes and clarinet. Whispered piano with a touch of a violin presence. To my surprise, this music is played on purpose. Through the world of ambiance music, the outcome of its creation is to produce a sense of relief. But where did this almost scientific musical entity form?


Muzak and Ambient Music

According to, background music refers to a mode of musical interpretation that focuses on the character, content, and volume level chosen to influence emotional and behavioral responses such as relaxation, concentration and excitement, and distraction. This ambiance music culture is commonly played in a non-audience atmosphere. We hear the distinct music genre in empty business hallways, restrooms, and even times of casual spending at Shopping Malls or fitting rooms. Some would say that the widespread immersion of background music began with the founding of Muzak, a brand of music played in retail stores and various public establishments in the 1930s. Through multiple researches, music lent, or related to consumer behavior in the retail environment, workplace satisfaction, and employee productivity. However, the world of music has been seeing the development of ambiance music racing back to as far as 1917. Furniture music, in fact, is one of the first genre of ambiance music to hit the global stage.

Through the eyes of film television and possibly any wide range of musical scoring, you may have encountered the workings of French Composer and Pianist, Erik Satie. It’s hard to imagine today, that the monumental musician was known as talentless and crazed. His approach and outlook on experimentation only substantially influenced further artists such as “Aphex Twin” and “Kraftwerk”. An eccentric musician such as Satie is the father of furniture music. With short passages of classical proportions with indefinite number of repeats, furniture music was indeed the pioneer of all things ambiance music.


Father of Furniture Music

Satie’s first experience with music was with an organist at just 6 years old. Through rigorous lessons and further musical developments, he began creating his own composition. In his teenage years, he gained mini-musical success with the publishing of a few pieces. In 1879, at the age 13 years old, Satie enrolled in the Paris Conservatory.

Negative reviews of his work habits and musical interpretation later prompted him on quitting his conservatory affairs. In 1885, he reluctantly returned in hopes of musical redemption. Sadly, it was not successful and the young 19-year-old Satie ended his studies abruptly. In 1887, the young musician moved to Montemarte. Through his integration in the artistic scene of Le Chat Noir, publications such as “Gymnopedies” arise. By 1891, Satie was the official composer of the Rosicrucian Order, a spiritual and cultural movement developed in the early 17th century. A composition such as “Sonneries de la rose+Croix” was birthed during this time.

Listen to “Sonneries de la rose+ Croix” Now!

By 1893, the musician had founded the “Eglise Metropolitaine d’Art de Jesus Conducteur”. Being the only member, he started to compose “Messe des Pauvres” additionally creating pamphlets, articles and letters for religious and artistic purposes. Upon moving to Arcueil, the composer developed the workings of “Pieces Froides” in 1897. Satie would later enroll in the Vincent d’Indy’s Schola Cantorum de Paris where he would study music counterpoint.

Throughout his life and publications of musical endeavors, you begin to see how and why people may have found his music absurd or having a lack of talent. With a reflection of the music and art of the time, Satie’s creations rejected certain particles of Romanticism. With the rejection of musical development, in which was the combining of various themes in the three-part musical structure of sonata form, his compositions were fairly short. This is a strong aspect of furniture music. In 1912, the musician began to form success. His artistic obscurity was now a focal point of his fame; however, his modern work was being unrecognized. Young artists such as “Roland-Manuel” and “Jean Cocteau” became a musical connection that would later continue is furniture music legacy and inspiration.

Through the core being of background and or furniture music, the objective that Satie proclaimed could be deemed for distinct situational purposes. The term furniture music can be placed or formed by these particular pieces. For example, the first set consists of a piece called “Tapisserie en get forge” which is made up of flute, clarinet, and strings. This material would find itself being played as guests would arrive, through a very rich context.

Listen to “Tapisserie en get forge” Now!

The 2nd set would consist of a piano duet, 3 clarinets, and a trombone. The premier entr’acte would be of a piece titled “Chez Un Bistrot”

Listen to “Chez Un Bistrot” Now!


In today’s modern background and ambiance music, you can hear the heavy influence of Satie and the structure of furniture music. Through these music developments, the music world has created many powerful trance infused pieces that will aid us in times of relaxation or add the cherry on top to a good evening. So, the next time you have a few guests over, maybe surprise them with a lovely entrance of furniture music!

Photo: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

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