Claude Vivier

Claude Vivier: A Biography

BOB GILMORE
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 351
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt4cg67b
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  • Book Info
    Claude Vivier
    Book Description:

    Claude Vivier's haunting and expressive music has captivated audiences around the world. But the French-Canadian composer is remembered also because of the dramatic circumstances of his death: he was found murdered in his Paris apartment at the age of thirty-four. Given unrestricted access to Vivier's archives and interviews with Vivier's family, teachers, friends, and colleagues, musicologist and biographer Bob Gilmore tells here the full story of Vivier's fascinating life, from his abandonment as a child in a Montreal orphanage to his posthumous acclaim as one of the leading composers of his generation. Expelled from a religious school at seventeen for "lack of maturity," Vivier gave up his ambition to join the priesthood to study composition. Between 1978 and 1981 Vivier wrote the works on which his reputation rests, including 'Lonely Child', 'Bouchara', and the operas 'Kopernikus' and 'Marco Polo'. He went to Paris in 1982 to work on a new opera, the composition of which was interrupted by his murder. On his desk was the manuscript of his last work, uncannily entitled "Do You Believe in the Immortality of the Soul?" Vivier's is a tragic but life-affirming story, intimately connected to his passionate music. Bob Gilmore is a musicologist and performer and teaches at Brunel University in London. He is the author of 'Harry Partch: A Biography'.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-841-1
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE “THE FACT OF KNOWING I HAD NO FATHER OR MOTHER” 1948–67
    (pp. 1-22)

    Together with the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia and the coastal mountains of British Columbia, Canada’s Saint Lawrence Valley is among the snowiest places on earth. Winter in southern Quebec can last five long months, during which time as much as four meters of snow may fall on the streets of Montreal. The thermometer will drop to thirty below zero and stay there for days on end; evenings of raging wind and blowing snow can turn a walk to the cornerdépanneurinto a full-scale expedition. If winter defines much of our vision of the Quebec landscape and culture, there are...

  6. CHAPTER TWO “I WANT ART TO BE A SACRED ACT, THE REVELATION OF FORCES” 1967–71
    (pp. 23-52)

    The Conservatoire de musique in Montreal has a nomadic history, having been obliged to relocate several times in its relatively short existence for reasons of expansion, renovation, or economy. During the period of Vivier’s studies there, 1967–70, it was located in the premises of the former Palais du commerce at 1700 rue Berri, in what was felt by general student consensus to be “a horrible building” with poor soundproofing: the present state-of-the-art facilities on avenue Henri-Julien were still several decades in the future.¹ The place had a long prehistory, with the pianist Léo-Pol Morin and the composer Claude Champagne...

  7. CHAPTER THREE “TO PUSH MY LANGUAGE FURTHER” 1971–72
    (pp. 53-72)

    For a young Canadian composer at the beginning of the 1970s, the decision to study in Europe was not uncommon. In Vivier’s case, had encouragement been needed, it would have come amply from Gilles Tremblay, who had himself as a younger man studied in Europe for a period of seven years. Study in Europe was more than simply a “finishing school”: in the eyes of an important minority in Quebec it was a passport toward an international career and a crucial step away from parochialism. Relatively few of Vivier’s fellow students at the Conservatoire followed suit—Michel-Georges Brégent and Walter...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR “A NEED TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE REST OF THE COSMOS” 1972–74
    (pp. 73-95)

    In his works Stockhausen wants to expand the field of human consciousness, to show us new planets,” wrote Vivier in December 1978 of the music of his former teacher. “But who is Stockhausen the man? InMomente, at the moment ‘KK’ (K: Klang/sound and K: Karlheinz) he gives us his self-portrait: a great call, solitary and sad; his need to speak comes from a great solitude, from a need to communicate with the rest of the cosmos.”¹ It is striking that these last words seem to apply equally well to teacher and student: for what better characterization could there be...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE “SOMETHING DIFFERENT IS COMING, SOMETHING MORE PRECISE, MORE CLEAR” 1974–76
    (pp. 96-116)

    Vivier’s return to Montreal in August 1974 was the result of economic necessity and not of any conscious wish to reintegrate himself in the Canadian scene, no matter how positive a spin he tried to put on the matter in his recent correspondence with Serge Garant. Had his grant application for a further year’s study (including the proposed trip to South Africa) been successful, he would certainly have remained in Europe, perhaps indefinitely. It is tantalizing to imagine how differently his music would have developed had he stayed. The years immediately following his departure saw the beginnings of what in...

  10. CHAPTER SIX “A JOURNEY INTO THE DEPTHS OF MYSELF” 1976–77
    (pp. 117-126)

    In 1981 Vivier told an interviewer: “My whole relationship with Asian music was one in which I avoided all possible preconceptions. I didn’t want to do anything about it before going there. I just wanted to put myself there, like a child, and learn it out of nothingness.”¹ While this is probably a fair reflection of his state of mind as he began his journey in September 1976, preconceptions could not be entirely avoided. Writing to Harry Halbreich that March, he had commented that one of his intentions when there, besides composing, was “a lot of thinking about music and...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN “SUBTLE MUSICS / FILLING MY SOUL” 1977–79
    (pp. 127-151)

    Exactly when Vivier returned to Montreal after his journey to Asia is unclear. There are two conflicting pieces of evidence. One is his letter to the Canada Council, already cited, date-stamped March 10, 1977, in which he writes: “I’ve just arrived in Montreal to realize the second part of my project ‘journal d’un voyage en Orient.’” This suggests an arrival date perhaps around the beginning of the month, allowing for a few days to collect his thoughts and to write to them (which he may have felt was an urgent task). The second is the manuscript of a new composition,...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER EIGHT “A MYSTICAL ENCHANTMENT” 1978–79
    (pp. 152-161)

    In a brief text he prepared for the premiere ofKopernikus, Vivier first defended his desire to compose an opera at all, then spoke of the work itself: “Why an opera in 1980? Since its beginnings, opera has always ‘represented’ archetypes of history, the deep desires of human beings. To ‘represent’ means to tell a story, characters in their pure state and behavior, therefore a bit excessive. Opera, as a form of expression of the soul and of human history, cannot die. The human being will always need to represent his/her fantasies, dreams, fears and hopes.”¹ This last sentence is...

  14. CHAPTER NINE “OH BEAUTIFUL CHILD OF THE LIGHT” 1979–81
    (pp. 162-178)

    On November 6, 1979, Vivier arrived in France at the beginning of a month-long stay in Europe. The exact purpose of his visit remains unknown, though he would surely have been glad to escape the Quebec winter for a few weeks; and although the visit was not tied to any performances of his music there, it may well have had the aim of promoting some. After a few days in France, a card postmarked November 15 to his Montreal friend Thérèse Desjardins announced his arrival in Germany: “Finally Cologne—and also what you read for me in the cards! The...

  15. CHAPTER TEN “THE PASSIONATE LOVE FOR MUSIC THAT SOMETIMES STOPS ME FROM COMPOSING” 1981–82
    (pp. 179-201)

    TheLe Droitreview of Vivier’s Carleton University talk in February 1981 provides the earliest mention we have of the new opera he was now planning. If the musical portrait he had produced some months before of Marco Polo’s Zipangu was the first musical manifestation of this, he was at work now on an even more ambitious part of the edifice: thePrologue pour un Marco Polo, a twenty-five-minute cantata for five singing voices, speaking voice, six clarinets, two percussion, thirteen strings, and tape, which he completed in Montreal on March 1, 1981. The work was commissioned by Radio-Canada as...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN “IT’S ONLY IN THINKING ABOUT MUSIC, AND ABOUT SOUND, THAT I CAN BE HAPPY” 1982–83
    (pp. 202-222)

    In all probability Vivier arrived in Mitterrand’s France in a mood of optimism and even relief following the recent fruitless months in Montreal. A letter to the Canada Council a few weeks later thanks them for their grant “which saved me from a deep compositional crisis.”¹ It was the third time he had left his native city for an extended period, but unlike previous times he was not traveling to terra incognita: by now he knew Paris fairly well. The most immediate problem, finding a place to live, he solved quickly. A card postmarked June 21, 1982, to Thérèse Desjardins...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE “IN QUEBEC PEOPLE DIE EASILY” 1983–
    (pp. 223-232)

    The tragic news first became public in Quebec in a notice in theJournal de Montréalon Sunday, March 13, 1983. Under the title “Claude Vivier Strangled,” the paper reported:

    The composer of music Claude Vivier, 35 years old [correctly, 34], originally from Montreal, was discovered strangled, yesterday afternoon in his Paris apartment where he had been living for less than a year . . . .

    Alerted by friends who had not heard from the victim for several days, the police gained entry to the apartment after breaking through the door. They discovered the dead body of the composer...

  18. Appendixes
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 253-280)
  20. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 281-286)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 287-295)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-299)