19th century French author J.P. Contamine de Latour once penned a poem entitled “Les Antiques” (i.e. “The Ancients”), which included the following lines:
Oblique et coupant l’ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d’or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d’ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie
Cutting sidelong through the shadows, a brilliant torrent,
Flowing in waves of gold over the polished flagstone,
Where the atoms of amber shimmering in the fire
Mixed their sarabande with the gymnopaedia.
As the vibrant movements depicted in the poem sweep us up and take us down its lines, two enthralling transformations unfold before the eyes. What starts out as a “brilliant” stream morphs into flashes of “gold”, which then turns into sparks of “amber”. So we have, on the one hand, a deepening of hues, and on the other, a series of narrowing frames that offer close-ups of objects at smaller and smaller scales. Interestingly, all of these culminate in a blend of two dances: sarabande, the stately Spanish dance, and, assuming that the meaning of the debatable term “gymnopédie” was so intended, war dances involving bare-bodied youths in gymnopaedia, an ancient Spartan celebration. It can thus be hypothesized that in Latour’s mind, the most profound and intimate quality, which surpasses these visual marvels, is that of the human connection—a thread that links modern-day interactions in the form of social dances to their ancient forbears, with the latter’s candid beauty.
This reflection on a simple yet mystical form of art and human bonding might have moved Erik Satie, a bosom friend and collaborator Latour shared clothes and dreams with, to compose his most famous piano pieces, the Gymnopédies. Consisting of three short solo works, the series is regarded as a precursor to today’s ambient music. Among them, Gymnopédie No. 1 is made up of merely two basic building blocks: chords and a repetitive melody. The end result, though, is atmospheric and ethereal music that evokes the sensation of floating on clouds.
In the centuries to come, Gymnopédie No. 1 found its way into films, dramas, video game soundtracks and band music. In Korean musical drama Cantabile Tomorrow, Nae-il, a piano student sharing Satie’s laid-back personality and musical genius, played the work for her love interest, Yoo-jin, after he was painfully reminded of a childhood trauma that left him with a phobia of air travel, which barred him from pursuing his dream of studying music abroad. As music emanated under the hands of the charming girl before him, he mused to himself how something so simple could be simultaneously so rich.
From ancient celebratory dances to 19th century poetry and piano compositions to dramas and other popular art forms in the 21st century, a deep emotional bond between people has been extended down the centuries through the work of arts creators. The question now is whether broadcast dramas, one of the most prominent components of modern art culture, can fully assume the mantle of their forbears and inspire newer artistic genres in the coming decades and beyond to reproduce, in yet more mesmerizing ways, such simple beauty that touches minds and hearts.