Great Composers: Claude Vivier

Great Composers: Claude Vivier



his work was seen as among the most important since Stravinsky but his birth was shrouded in mystery and he seemingly predicted his own murder I'm a classical nerd and today we're talking about Claude vivy a Claude Vivienne was born in Montreal in April 1948 and was abandoned by his parents shortly after his birth when he was three years old he was adopted by a working-class québécois family his teenage years saw his education in a boarding school that prepared its students for life as Catholic priests vivy a was always haunted by not knowing his birth mother and although he was obsessed with finding her he never succeeded music for him had come in a single moment of inspiration singing in a midnight mass once he had discovered music he quickly caught up to current musical trends and his early pieces reflect the influence of béla bartók he also took up the organ and several early works are for this instrument soon after he began composing he was asked to leave the seminary probably because of how openly gay he was but the official line of the administration took was because of his overly sensitive and excitable nature after the end of his time at the seminary he focused a hundred percent on music and enrolled at the Montreal Conservatory when Vivian was 23 he got a grant to study music in Europe where he did so eventually with the acclaimed electronic music master wizard karl-heinz Stockhausen Stockhausen did not think much of a VA at first among other objections he felt that the upstart french-canadian smelled bad Stockhausen had a profound influence on the VA still budding musical language and while Stockhausen influence is palpable it would be unfair to characterize vva as merely a Stockhausen acolyte even the earliest pieces of vva composed under Stockhausen tutelage have a flair for the dramatic and a focus on expressivity especially in melody that Stockhausen never really had after three years of study he left Europe in order to establish himself on his home turf in Montreal home turf turned out to be a mixed blessing while his presence in the musical community was welcomed by and card ensembles looking to dig their teeth into new pieces it also began an era where many of his largest pieces were not her the National Youth Orchestra of Canada commissioned a VA to write a piece for them and the resulting piece called Siddhartha was deemed too difficult and went unperformed by that ensemble it was with this piece that Vivian's worldly influences began to show as he attended to incorporate the sounds and the cultures of other lands into the Western tradition soon thereafter he traveled to East Asia soaking in the musical cultures of Japan Thailand and most importantly Bali where the sounds of the gamelan influenced his later works his one opera Copernicus written to his own libretto was intended to be his first foray and to a style he called opera live literally River opera written in the late 1970s the opera concerns a woman who after death meets Copernicus along with various other historical and fictional stock characters in a universe reminiscent of that of Alice in Wonderland he called the dreamlike piece a ritual opera of death among others Mozart makes an appearance along with his own queen of the night from the Magic Flute post Copernicus he planned a second opera in the same style about Marco Polo a figure with whom he highly identified these dream worlds came about according to vva himself as a way for him to shape his own mysterious origins into something that he could do something with on an artistic level what existed of this Marco Polo opera at his death was later modified and performed by the Dutch opera interpolated with Copernicus as well as other dreamlike pieces in the same vein in summer 1982 vivy a returned to Paris having recently been given a grant to write an opera about the death of pyotr ilyich tchaikovsky in January 1983 he picked up a man at a gay bar who later attacked him with a pair of scissors and made off with his wallet that spring he met a 19-year old male prostitute who later broke into his apartment and murdered him his body was found five days later he was 34 years old in a mysterious and outright creepy turn of events the last piece that I ever wrote was a dramatic piece that concerns a man named Claude who falls in love with a young man only to have the young man stabbed him through the heart at the very end suddenly and without warning his killer was a drifter he was motivated by monetary reasons and after he was captured that October confessed to other crimes in the same vein and he was sentenced to life imprisonment while french-canadian his works have an air of Frenchness about them inheriting a refined economy of means and a focus on the human voice in Vivian's case he often wrote for the voice in a language of his own invention the circumstances of his life dominate the themes of the music which he wrote death for instance becomes an omnipresent force and his most poignant works have often been interpreted as his attempts at communicating with his birth mother this is most openly expressed in his piece lonely child for soprano and orchestra were Vivi's constant focus on melody makes for some of the saddest music of the whole 20th century melody is always first and foremost and whenever he wrote program notes to any of his pieces these mostly concerned the melody and how it functioned within a particular piece in lonely child for instance he conceived of the music as one unending melody where the orchestra didn't work as a company mental or contrapuntal it simply was a method of tamra inflection he was very attuned to the complexities of the overtone series and of electronic synthesis something he had picked up from Stockhausen he used various acoustical phenomenon known as combination and different tones in order to microtonal e inflect these melodies Georgie Ligety was quite fond of Vivian's music calling it one of the most significant advancements in the 20th century since that of Igor Stravinsky and Olivier Messiaen while his untimely demise certainly has something to do with the fact that he's not particularly well known what works even more against him is the fact that his scores operate seemingly between the poles of very specific and very hard to understand especially when it comes to unique playing techniques or especially unique percussion that he called for in his pieces his synthesized elements often call for synthesizers that have long since gone out of production and so performing his pieces is a labor of love but well worth the effort when done well it draws listeners into a world where complexity creates a childlike simplicity [Applause] you

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