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.

Small ELSE COMPARES to the audio of Québécois composer Claude Vivier. His get the job done delivers, in the phrases of composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher, “great brilliance, fantastic severity, wonderful archaism, excellent emotions”: glimpses of other worlds firmly rooted in our possess. Even though he was admired by leading composers such as György Ligeti, Gérard Grisey, and Louis Andriessen, Vivier, who was murdered in 1983 at the age of 30-4, remains regrettably obscure. A a few-working day Vivier competition at London’s Southbank Centre previously this month made available a welcome option to redress the equilibrium.

For the opening live performance, new tunes winner Ilan Volkov led the London Sinfonietta in performances of two parts from 1980 taken from an unfinished “opéra fleuve” about the composer Marco Polo. Zipangu, for string ensemble, will take its title from an archaic name for Japan. The operate opens with massed violins participating in one particular 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 once total of drama nevertheless entirely static, it seems to hover in the air.

Vivier was obsessed with the notion of sonic “purity.” But he forces us to hear purity otherwise, as the overtones, sum tones, and distinction tones established from juxtaposing notes towards just about every other open up up monumental, microtonal worlds from the smallest dimension. Alongside with glistening substantial strings, alternate bowing strategies deliver scratchy, groaning creaks—the sound of substances beneath force. Yet the audio as a whole continues to be oblivious to any disturbance, ending just as it began.

The second of the two items led by Volkov, Lonely Kid, is most likely Vivier’s very best-regarded work. It is an extended lullaby, setting Vivier’s individual fairy-tale textual content, partly in French and partly in the “langue inventée” that suffuses quite a few of his vocal is effective. Here are magical worlds of wizards, palaces, acrobats, and fairies, places where “the stars make prodigious leaps in area, time, dimensions.” A jewellike significant vocal line—here exquisitely delivered by soprano Claire Booth—merges with ceremonious punctuation from tuned percussion and what Vivier termed “great beams of colour!” in the orchestra. Vivier conceived the piece as a “long tune of solitude.” But disappointment, loneliness, and failure are included into the music, without destroying its serenity. Producing on the female operatic voice, Wayne Koestenbaum observes that, “listening, we are the suitable mom . . . attending to the baby’s cries, inform to its pulling inscriptions, and we are the toddler listening to the mom for symptoms of passion and consideration, for reciprocity, for entire world.” Like Blake’s “infinity in the palm of your hand,” Vivier’s piece, an full work generated from a single melody, seems to achieve the countless appreciate it seeks, if only for a moment.

The previously items offered by Canadian ensemble Soundstreams on the 2nd night time have been additional topic to theatrical disruption. Quick and lyrically turbulent, the Novalis environment Hymnen an die Nacht (1975) methods the territory of Alban Berg and Viennese Expressionism, whilst the piano piece Shiraz (1977), influenced by Vivier’s come across with two blind singers in an Iranian marketplace, was commissioned as a deliberately virtuosic analyze, the pianist’s arms leaping at furious speed from the substantial and lower finishes of the piano by way of to the middle and again once again. Additional typical ended up the Cinq Chansons (1980) in which a solo percussionist approximates music, like that of Balinese gamelan ensembles, supposed for several participants. As in Lonely Youngster, fantasy and stunning invention compensate for solitude. The last get the job done of the evening, Appreciate Songs (1979), qualified prospects, as Vivier the moment joked, “from the Bible to the brothel.” Exploring many sorts of adore by means of a panoply of vocal effects—whistling, speaking, hand-around-mouth tremolos—the names of legendary fans this sort of as Tristan and Juliet sit together with nursery rhymes and nonsense syllables as relationships come with each other and apart in a form of celebratory musical nonmonogamy minimize by 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 evening was framed around Vivier’s tragic death at the hands of a guy he’d picked up at a Parisian gay bar. In what was essentially a a person-hour theatrical display with music, instead than a concert for each se, Zack Russell’s opening monologue narrated the composer’s last night amid flickering neon, clouds of smoke, ominous rumbles, and a general atmosphere of nocturnal menace segueing into the overall performance of Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do You Imagine in the Immortality of the Soul)?, whose unfinished rating was located on Vivier’s desk after his loss of life. In the initially fifty percent, overlapping, rhythmically jagged strains for a compact choir threaten to overwhelm an achingly austere adore tune sung by a tenor. In the second, a speaker recites into a vocoder an eerily prescient desire narrative in which a stranger stabs them to dying on the metro. Concurrently sung and spoken traces continue to be resolutely impartial whispers, trills, and clouds of seem from the choir, percussion, and synthesizers refuse to resolve. Glaubst du is a potent get the job done, a person that indicates new directions slash woefully small. But the staging, whilst substantially productive, risked dealing with the piece as a type of dramatic prop somewhat than a operate in its personal proper. Offered this, it should be emphasized that Vivier’s murder was not in some way the inescapable conclude of his existence or function, but a horrible coincidence. The piece is an interrogation of the circumstances that develop the abyss, somewhat than an embrace of it.

The night concluded with a efficiency 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 20-4. As a set of light-weight bulbs descended from the ceiling, the vocalists walked about the stage: singing, chanting, conversing, coming collectively and breaking aside. Vivier described the singers as “beings no extended in lifetime but in death.” Here they came across as mourners, grieving alongside one another and alone, their new music a ritual of consolation, protection, and reflection. Towards the conclude, a stranger enters the concert corridor and joins the performers on stage, firing off a collection of unanswered queries: “Where do I arrive from? Who am I? Where by am I likely?” The element was taken by a younger actor: the “lonely child” remaining on your own as the choir exits and the lights go out, leaving only silence and darkness.

Nevertheless this ending was, at the time once more, dramatically productive, it was also, the moment again, problematic. It’s as well easy to frame Vivier’s everyday living and do the job among the twin poles of the “lonely child” in search of affection and the recklessly promiscuous grownup trying to find hazard. A lot more than straightforward, it’s pernicious, fitting into the vintage stereotype—at when glamorous and moralizing—of the outsider whose tragic conclude is all but inevitable, the queer sufferer who plays with fire. Vivier himself firmly turned down this sort of narratives. In 1981, he penned a short piece for the journal Trafics environment out his visions for the upcoming of music—a future he noticed as inseparable from the potential of society as a total. “Earthly terminology acquiring alas currently categorized the a few benefits of despair as submission, suicide, and the imaginary (creation),” Vivier writes, “I suggest the fourth alternative: revolution.” At the time of his loss of life, he was organizing an opera-cum-requiem which took Tchaikovsky’s suicide as the foundation 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 initial world war and “its sequels, Hiroshima and Vietnam.”

For Vivier, it was crucial that artists split out of these damaging clichés. Any thought that his is a new music of martyrdom, victimhood, or some type of death desire quickly dissipates on the sheer, sensuous effect of its otherworldy textures, its disarming theatricality. The 3rd movement of the Cinq Chansons is, Vivier notes, “an exuberant hymn to the sunshine, which constantly repeats and in no way stops.” It’s at this ecstatic peak, not the trope of ending, death, and decline, that we ought to remember his accomplishment. Vivier’s function embodies new techniques of conceiving new music and sexuality alike a new purchase of seems, timbres, hues a different environment.



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