Gnossienne (The Painted Veil)

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Gnossienne #1 by Erik Satie. Performed by pianist Sally Whitwell (me!), on the album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward.

A few words from my digital booklet…

Based upon the novel by Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil follows the tale of Kitty and her marriage to Walter Fane, a bacteriologist based in Hong Kong.  Her reasons for marriage are somewhat questionable, at the outset it is certainly nothing to do with love, and she finds herself removed from her comfortable English life to relocate to China where she feels isolated and bitter.  When Walter discovers she is having an affair, he quickly moves them both to a more remote region of the country, where he has volunteered to assist efforts to control a cholera epidemic.  Here is where I feel Kitty comes of age, finds meaning.  She assists the nuns in the local convent by nursing children and teaching them music.  During one ‘lesson’ her playing of a popular dance tune causes much rowdiness from the children.  She is quickly interrupted by one of the nuns and is asked to play “perhaps something a little more soothing”.  That soothing piece is Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1. On the OST, it’s performed by Lang Lang but I prefer Naomi Watts own performance in the abbey’s classroom on a dreadful honky tonk piano that’s a major third flat.  Singularly moving. Walter watching from the classroom door, sees the real Kitty; courageous, caring, at once both fragile and resilient.

A scene from The Painted Veil (2006) starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton

At approximately the 5:55 mark in this video, you will find the most poignant performance ever of Gnossienne #1 by Erik Satie as performed by Kitty.

I love that the contextualisation of this piece says so many things without a single word being spoken.  Walter remembers why he fell in love with Kitty as she crossed the crowded room at that party in London all those years ago.  He can see the essence of her being all swept up in the music, the kindness of her nature wanting to share the joy of music with the children in the orphanage, her generosity, her frailty and her resilience.  In these few moments, Kitty very suddenly becomes so much more to him, rather than the pretty accessory she’s been for him up until this point. 

Thanks Mum for giving me this DVD for Christmas and reminding me of this wonderful scene that makes my heart go all fluttery!  And also reminding me of why it’s so important for me to include Gnossienne #1 on my album.  I just admire her so much!