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The Sea on Fire: Jean Barraqué

The Sea on Fire: Jean Barraqué

Paul Griffiths
Volume: 25
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 238
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    The Sea on Fire: Jean Barraqué
    Book Description:

    Jean Barraqué is increasingly being recognized as one of the great composers of the second half of the 20th century. Though he left only seven works, his voice in each of them is unmistakeable, and powerful. He had no doubt of his responsibility, as a creator, to take his listeners on challenging adventures that could not but leave them changed. After the collapse of morality he had witnessed as a child growing up during the Second World War, and having taken notice of so much disarray in the culture around him, he set himself to make music that would, out of chaos, speak. Three others were crucial to him. One was Pierre Boulez, who, three years older, provided him with keys to a new musical language-a language more dramatic, driving and passionate than Boulez's. Another was Michel Foucault, to whom he was close personally for a while, and with whom he had a dialogue that was determinative for both of them. Finally, in the writings of Hermann Broch-and especially in the novel The Death of Virgil-he found the myth he needed to realize musically. He played for high stakes, and he took risks-with himself as in his art. Intemperate and difficult, even with his closest friends, he died in 1973 at the age of forty-five. Paul Griffiths was chief music critic for the London Times (1982-92) and The New Yorker (1992-96) and since 1996 has written regularly for the New York Times. He has written books on Boulez, Cage, Messiaen, Ligeti, Davies, Bartók and Stravinsky, as well as several librettos, among them The Jewel Box (Mozart, 1991), Marco Polo(Tan Dun, 1996) and What Next? (Elliott Carter, 1999).

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-619-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Paul Griffiths
  4. Chapter 1 Family and Formation
    (pp. 1-15)

    It begins like this, Jean. You were born around midday on 17 January 1928 at a clinic in Puteaux, which was then a small town just outside Paris on the western side, though the city has since engulfed it. Your mother had gone there to be with her parents, Louis and Cécile Millet.

    Louis Millet, your grandfather, you loved. He was a baker, but his family’s roots were among the vine growers of the Loire, the agricultural aristocracy. Consciousness of social position, though, he left to his wife, and in particular concern that their two daughters—Gabrielle (Bela) and Germaine,...

  5. Chapter 2 Langlais, and a Beginning
    (pp. 16-18)

    You returned from the 1947 summer break to the rue Jacquard, and to your parents, who gamely supported you in the life of an artist. One wonders what thanks they got. A kind of silence seems more likely: the couple below, with their own rancours; the boy above, working at his music. Composition studies had started—the date is uncertain—with Jean Langlais, an organist-composer in the French tradition who had been blind since early childhood. As he remembered it, you were eighteen at the time, but it seems more likely you were nineteen, and that the lessons started in...

  6. Chapter 3 Messiaen, and Friendships
    (pp. 19-33)

    Whatever might have been your intention when Riri wrote in January 1948, you did not enter the Conservatoire, but after the summer holiday you did begin attending Olivier Messiaen’s classes there as a non-enrolled student. How this came about is unclear. Maybe Langlais recommended you to move on to his colleague. Possibly there was an awareness in the Beerblock circle of Messiaen’s class, which for the past few years had been alive with revolutionary ideas about developing Arnold Schoenberg’s serial method of composition, reinvigorating rhythm, exploring new tone colours and learning from the music of the world.

    Messiaen, who was...

  7. Chapter 4 Sonata
    (pp. 34-51)

    Messiaen’s course in 1949–50 had covered western music from Monteverdi’s Orfeo to some of his own piano pieces, played in class by Loriod, and also music from Japan and India. After spending the latter part of the next summer holiday again in Montmorency, with your cousin René and his family, you returned in late September or early October to a new home, for your father had given up the butchery business, on grounds of poor health, and you all now shared a fifth-floor apartment at 2 rue de l’Abbé Patureau, in Montmartre.

    A visitor to the apartment, which was...

  8. Chapter 5 A Nietzsche Sequence
    (pp. 52-63)

    Your determination to go on was fuelled in part by your sense of artistic mission, and you were making it your mission to express that determination. Music, as you had recognized in your teens, was your vocation. Music—or, more precisely, your obligation to music—would provide one certainty amid the doubt. Not self expression but music would be your cause: making music as much as it could be, in full awareness of the difficulties, historical and social.

    On this lonely path you had your guides. Nietzsche, surely, was on your mind as you wrote those letters to Boulez and...

  9. Chapter 6 Musique Concrète
    (pp. 64-68)

    There was another work of the early fifties, besides the Sonata and Séquence, and one at a tangent to the rest of your output, unusual in its brevity as in its medium: the Etude you produced at the Club d’Essai, the experimental department of Radio Diffusion Française, which was housed at 37 rue de l’Université in the seventh arrondissement, not far from the Gare d’Orsay. This Etude is a study in musique concrète, a term you explained in a brief introduction to the subject you wrote for Le guide du concert in 1952:

    When a composer organizes elements on staff...

  10. Chapter 7 Foucault
    (pp. 69-80)

    Your creative achievements of 1950–55—the Sonata, Séquence and the electronic Etude—inevitably came with personal and professional change.

    Some things did not alter. You went on living with your parents in the Montmartre apartment, and you stayed close to Fano and his wife Claudette (they were married in 1952). In other respects, you were moving from the life of a student to that of an artist. You found new friends at the Club d’Essai—Hodeir, Philippot—and you found something else you needed: a job. Hodeir introduced you to Raymond Lyon, which was how you became a regular...

  11. Chapter 8 The Death of Virgil
    (pp. 81-88)

    The Death of Virgil—La mort de Virgile, Der Tod des Vergil—was the major work of the Viennese writer Hermann Broch, begun in the winter of 1936–7 and completed in 1944. Moving through the last hours in the poet’s life, the book finds scope to reflect on the purpose and meaning of art in an age of transition. Virgil’s problems are those of Broch or any artist nearly two thousand years later: how to create a work that will speak the truth, that will be real, in itself, and not just a symbol of reality, that will avoid...

  12. Chapter 9 You
    (pp. 89-97)

    Many of those who knew you felt compelled to leave some record.

    His friendship, as with all the great egocentrics, was difficult and exacting.

    He was obsessed with music. He lived in music, for music. He said you couldn’t love it enough. Every musical reverse was, in his view, caused only by an insufficient love of music. But his love of music was very selective. He loved only the great classical and romantic masters, plus a few modern composers, from Debussy to Webern inclusively.

    He had his opinions, in musical history as in life. He had a curious weakness for...

  13. Chapter 10 Time Regiven
    (pp. 98-105)

    Your reason for embarking on La mort de Virgile at once with Le temps restitué seems quite evident. You were drawn to the second part of Broch’s novel, and would never have thought of starting anywhere else. Also, since your first plan was to voice only the verse sections of the text, one obvious place to begin was with the first three such passages, which are placed close together. Le temps restitué sets these complete, but also includes fragments from the prose links, while the title comes from the prose immediately before the first break into poetry: ‘the regiven, reawakened...

  14. Chapter 11 . . . Beyond Chance
    (pp. 106-120)

    It was an appropriate title. delà du hasard arrived from beyond the chance of a theatrical occasion, flotsam and jetsam fixed from the wreckage of a collaboration with the stage director Jacques Polieri.

    What Polieri envisioned was ‘kaleidoscopic theatre’, to quote the title of his 1955–6 manifesto: ‘My plan is to realize a spectacle in which I will effectively take as my point of departure the design element, around which will be built the music, the dance, the action, the singing and even the text. . . . One of the essential principles of this kaleidoscopic theatre—a...

  15. Chapter 12 Since Debussy
    (pp. 121-124)

    André Hodeir was, of course, your ally in more than delà du hasard and your courses of that period: he was devoted to your cause. Quite apart from introducing you to Polieri, he had kept you at the front of his mind during a trip to New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City in February-May 1957. Though so far away, he had continued to exert himself on your behalf with Polieri, with David Tudor and with the composer-conductor Gunther Schuller, who was to introduce you to your publisher and give you your first American performance. Also in 1957 Hodeir...

  16. Chapter 13 Silence
    (pp. 125-132)

    In three and a half years, between the summer of 1955 and the end of 1959, you had written three works which, in terms of duration, represent half your mature output: Séquence, Le temps restitué and delà du hasard. In the next six years you achieved nothing but two beginnings, for Discours and the Concerto.

    To the obvious question why, you left traces of several answers. For one thing, you were busy with other enterprises.

    In the summer of 1960 you were putting together an application to the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, a government body which supported academic...

  17. Chapter 14 Debussy
    (pp. 133-142)

    Between the spring of 1956 and the end of your life—alongside La mort de Virgile and balancing it, but balancing it as negative against positive, because this was partly the quarry out of which you created your music—came your work on Debussy, and especially on La mer.

    That work began in your private classes of 1956–61 and continued during your time with the CNRS (1961–8), but, as with La mort de Virgile, much more of it remained subterranean than was ever expressed. In October 1962 Editions du Seuil brought out your book on Debussy, written for...

  18. Chapter 14a Citation: Hommage à Claude Debussy
    (pp. 143-146)

    A text of homage should certainly exalt one or more aspects of an artist’s work. This year¹ will doubtless see the birth of a prolix exegesis of La mer or of Pelléas. But is it not equally important, indeed urgent, that the contemporary musician should try to place the geometrical site of a creation of the past, to define the historical coordinates, to unveil, finally, what is evoked today by the appearance of a composer of genius?²

    To what sort of immediate meditation—already a signal of our creation—does Debussy invite us then?³ Why not let ourselves glide, by...

  19. Chapter 15 Song After Song
    (pp. 147-163)

    Chant après chant was the only work you wrote to a commission—from the Strasbourg Festival on behalf of the locally formed but already internationally renowned percussion sextet. Founded in 1962, the group had a vigorous commissioning policy—of necessity, since at that point the active repertory for percussion ensemble was rather small, comprising Varèse’s Ionisation, Cage’s First Construction (in Metal) and a few other pieces. You could have heard the ensemble at any of a number of concerts in 1964–5, including the Domaine Musical evening for which you had once been writing your Concerto (13 May 1964) as...

  20. Chapter 16 Concerto
    (pp. 164-174)

    Later in June 1967, in further letters to Jeanne, you talked about the première of the Sonata two months before in Copenhagen—‘I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you’—and about the dangerous world situation, of ‘the recent declaration (an hour ago) from the left (for once pessimistic) speaking of the danger of world war. That’s all there is on the radio. Conflict seems near. . . . What will we become then, our love, the future, the work. . . . I believe, as always, in man, in germination, in love, in the work (that for certain).’

    This was...

  21. Chapter 17 The Man Lying Down
    (pp. 175-184)

    You returned from the London première of the Concerto to your apartment in the rue de l’Abbé Patureau—the apartment where all six of your major works had been written—for one last night. During that night of 23 November 1968, as you wrote to Hopkins when you resumed your correspondence, the place ‘exploded because of a gas escape.’

    ‘There followed a fire’, you went on. ‘Happily I was awakened by the burning and had time to put on a shirt and trousers before extirpating myself from the flames. I’ll spare you the details. In the evening I was able...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 185-198)
  23. Chronology
    (pp. 199-204)
  24. Catalogue
    (pp. 205-210)
  25. Writings
    (pp. 211-212)
  26. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-216)
  27. Index
    (pp. 217-224)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-227)