The musical otherworlds of Claude Vivier


A performance of Claude Vivier’s Musik für das ende (1971) at London’s Southbank Centre, May 2022. Photo: Claire Harvie.

Little ELSE COMPARES to the tunes of Québécois composer Claude Vivier. His perform provides, in the text of composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher, “great brilliance, fantastic severity, wonderful archaism, great emotions”: glimpses of other worlds firmly rooted in our own. While he was admired by leading composers these kinds of as György Ligeti, Gérard Grisey, and Louis Andriessen, Vivier, who was murdered in 1983 at the age of 30-4, continues to be regrettably obscure. A three-day Vivier pageant at London’s Southbank Centre previously this month supplied a welcome prospect to redress the stability.

For the opening live performance, new tunes champion Ilan Volkov led the London Sinfonietta in performances of two pieces from 1980 taken from an unfinished “opéra fleuve” about the composer Marco Polo. Zipangu, for string ensemble, can take its title from an archaic name for Japan. The get the job done opens with massed violins participating in just one of Vivier’s characteristic melodies in unison in excess of an implacable bass drone. This is classic Vivier: austere, gamelan-like melodies, homophonic masses of audio. A songs at at the time entire of drama nevertheless solely static, it appears to hover in the air.

Vivier was obsessed with the notion of sonic “purity.” But he forces us to listen to purity in another way, as the overtones, sum tones, and variance tones established from juxtaposing notes towards every single other open up monumental, microtonal worlds from the smallest dimension. Alongside with glistening significant strings, alternate bowing methods produce scratchy, groaning creaks—the sound of substances underneath tension. But the music as a total continues to be oblivious to any disturbance, ending specifically as it started.

The second of the two parts led by Volkov, Lonely Little one, is probably Vivier’s ideal-recognised operate. It’s an prolonged lullaby, location Vivier’s very own fairy-tale text, partly in French and partly in the “langue inventée” that suffuses quite a few of his vocal operates. In this article are magical worlds of wizards, palaces, acrobats, and fairies, places wherever “the stars make prodigious leaps in space, time, proportions.” A jewellike higher vocal line—here exquisitely delivered by soprano Claire Booth—merges with ceremonious punctuation from tuned percussion and what Vivier called “great beams of colour!” in the orchestra. Vivier conceived the piece as a “long track of solitude.” Still disappointment, loneliness, and failure are included into the songs, without destroying its serenity. Crafting on the female operatic voice, Wayne Koestenbaum observes that, “listening, we are the excellent mom . . . attending to the baby’s cries, inform to its pulling inscriptions, and we are the little one listening to the mom for signs of affection and awareness, for reciprocity, for entire world.” Like Blake’s “infinity in the palm of your hand,” Vivier’s piece, an whole do the job created from a single melody, seems to achieve the infinite really like it seeks, if only for a second.

The before items presented by Canadian ensemble Soundstreams on the 2nd evening were being extra subject to theatrical disruption. Brief and lyrically turbulent, the Novalis setting Hymnen an die Nacht (1975) approaches the territory of Alban Berg and Viennese Expressionism, while the piano piece Shiraz (1977), encouraged by Vivier’s encounter with two blind singers in an Iranian marketplace, was commissioned as a deliberately virtuosic analyze, the pianist’s arms leaping at furious pace from the substantial and lower ends of the piano by way of to the middle and back once again. Much more regular were being the Cinq Chansons (1980) in which a solo percussionist approximates music, like that of Balinese gamelan ensembles, supposed for a number of participants. As in Lonely Kid, fantasy and stunning creation compensate for solitude. The ultimate function of the night, Appreciate Songs (1979), qualified prospects, as Vivier when joked, “from the Bible to the brothel.” Exploring different sorts of really like through a panoply of vocal effects—whistling, talking, hand-above-mouth tremolos—the names of legendary lovers these kinds of as Tristan and Juliet sit together with nursery rhymes and nonsense syllables as relationships appear together and aside in a kind of celebratory musical nonmonogamy reduce via with times of wrenching loneliness.

A view from Southbank Centre’s three-night program “The Music of Claude Vivier.” Photo: Claire Harvie.

The festival’s ultimate night was framed all over Vivier’s tragic loss of life at the fingers of a person he’d picked up at a Parisian gay bar. In what was basically a a single-hour theatrical show with new music, relatively than a concert for every se, Zack Russell’s opening monologue narrated the composer’s past evening amid flickering neon, clouds of smoke, ominous rumbles, and a basic environment of nocturnal menace segueing into the functionality of Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do You Believe that in the Immortality of the Soul)?, whose unfinished rating was located on Vivier’s desk following his death. In the 1st fifty percent, overlapping, rhythmically jagged strains for a small choir threaten to overwhelm an achingly austere adore song sung by a tenor. In the 2nd, a speaker recites into a vocoder an eerily prescient desire narrative in which a stranger stabs them to demise on the metro. Concurrently sung and spoken traces continue to be resolutely independent whispers, trills, and clouds of seem from the choir, percussion, and synthesizers refuse to solve. Glaubst du is a strong operate, one particular that indicates new directions slice woefully brief. Nonetheless the staging, when drastically helpful, risked dealing with the piece as a variety of remarkable prop relatively than a perform in its possess suitable. Supplied this, it must be emphasised that Vivier’s murder was not by some means the inevitable close of his daily life or work, but a awful coincidence. The piece is an interrogation of the circumstances that generate the abyss, fairly than an embrace of it.

The evening concluded with a performance of Musik für das ende (1971), Vivier’s “grand funeral ceremony” for his good friend, actor and playwright Yves Sauvageau, who died by suicide at age twenty-4. As a set of light-weight bulbs descended from the ceiling, the vocalists walked about the phase: singing, chanting, chatting, coming with each other and breaking aside. Vivier explained the singers as “beings no for a longer period in existence but in dying.” Here they came across as mourners, grieving collectively and alone, their audio a ritual of consolation, security, and reflection. Toward the conclude, a stranger enters the concert hall and joins the performers on phase, firing off a series of unanswered issues: “Where do I come from? Who am I? Wherever am I likely?” The section was taken by a younger actor: the “lonely child” left by itself as the choir exits and the lights go out, leaving only silence and darkness.

Although this ending was, at the time all over again, considerably helpful, it was also, the moment once more, problematic. It’s way too simple to frame Vivier’s daily life and perform amongst the twin poles of the “lonely child” seeking passion and the recklessly promiscuous grownup seeking threat. Additional than straightforward, it’s pernicious, fitting into the vintage stereotype—at once glamorous and moralizing—of the outsider whose tragic conclusion is all but unavoidable, the queer target who performs with fireplace. Vivier himself firmly turned down these kinds of narratives. In 1981, he penned a brief piece for the journal Trafics location out his visions for the future of music—a potential he noticed as inseparable from the potential of culture as a entire. “Earthly terminology owning alas presently labeled the three results of despair as submission, suicide, and the imaginary (generation),” Vivier writes, “I suggest the fourth solution: revolution.” At the time of his demise, he was arranging an opera-cum-requiem which took Tchaikovsky’s suicide as the basis for a broader interrogation of the archetype of the queer and feminized martyr, from Saint Sebastian to Joan of Arc to Pasolini, ending by connecting the “law of power” that condemns Tchaikovsky to dying with the 1st planet war and “its sequels, Hiroshima and Vietnam.”

For Vivier, it was essential that artists crack out of these damaging clichés. Any notion that his is a audio of martyrdom, victimhood, or some kind of demise want soon dissipates on the sheer, sensuous effects of its otherworldy textures, its disarming theatricality. The third movement of the Cinq Chansons is, Vivier notes, “an exuberant hymn to the sun, which constantly repeats and in no way stops.” It’s at this ecstatic peak, not the trope of ending, death, and reduction, that we need to remember his achievement. Vivier’s function embodies new approaches of conceiving audio and sexuality alike a new order of appears, timbres, colours one more planet.


Resource url