Magazine article Musical Times

Carry on Regardless

Magazine article Musical Times

Carry on Regardless

Article excerpt

Carry on regardless Claude Vivier: a composer's life Bob Gilmore University of Rochester Press (Rochester, NY, 2014); xiv, 295pp; £19.99, $34-95-ISBN 978 1 58046 485 7.

A musician divided: André Tchaikovsky in his own words Edited by Anastasia Belina-Johnson Toccata Press (Rochester, NY, 2013); x, 434pp; £30, $50. ISBN 978 090768988 1.

The LaSalle Quartet: conversations with Walter Levin Robert Spruytenburg The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, 2014); xxi, 398pp; £25, $45. ISBN 978 1 84383 835 7.

Born in i 948, Claude Vivier was one of many composers to emerge when the avant-garde austerities and rigours of the post-war decade were beginning to be contested - and not just by experimentalists and minimalists. Had he survived beyond 1983, he might have invited comparison with Kagel, whose migration from Argentina to Germany launched a highly distinctive take on any notion of orthodoxy: or with Saariaho, whose move from Helsinki to Paris was so decisive in promoting the richness of texture and concern with aspects of spirituality that dominate her mature work. Vivier's violent death in Paris set the seal on a short career marked by otherness: this orphan from Montreal was never at ease with institutions of any kind, and only now, when almost as long has passed since his death as he actually lived, has a book-length study appeared - its author himself now sadly deceased - that aims to describe his particular achievements, and to argue for their continued importance, despite the fact that those surviving contemporaries with whom he tends to be compared have inevitably produced much more work and evolved rather more decisively than Vivier himself did.

By including a sheaf of photographs but avoiding all score extracts (save a detail from one page of Lonely Child) Bob Gilmore doesn't attempt to show what is special about Vivier's music as far as its notational character and note-to-note technical processes are concerned. An associated website with sound-files would have been valuable, but CD and DVD recordings (listed in a Discography) are to be found, and Gilmore might have decided that the vividness of his biographical narrative would not have been enhanced (or even usefully complemented) by forays into detailed technical analysis. A story of such immediacy, with such a degree of documentary depth, and with so many credible eye-witnesses willing to be quoted, cannot fail to be absorbing: yet perhaps for that very reason Vivier as man and musician seems to recede from the reader's grasp the more determinedly the text attempts to pin him down.

Sometimes Gilmore might have risked going beyond his sources: when one of Vivier's Canadian teachers, Gilles Tremblay, says that Vivier 'saw the end of Wopgeck as "a reflection of his own destiny'", might it not have been the lonely unawareness of the child in the final scene that he was thinking of, not - or as well as - 'the impoverished, mentally unbalanced soldier' becoming 'progressively more of an outcast from society'? But Gilmore still manages to provide a grippingly detailed account of the background - not just musical - against which Vivier's compositions emerged, emphasising how his awareness of new developments, particularly in Germany, with von Bose or Walter Zimmermann, intersected with his absorption in ethnic, especially Balinese, musics. Gilmore is also good on the positive ways in which Vivier was able to respond to the powerful influence of Karlheinz Stockhausen, not least to the hypnotic 'spectral' aura of Stimmung. So the question arises: were his compositions more decisively prompted by the circumstances of his life than is the case with others? Is something missing, musically - some aspect of transforming experience into art? Did those aspects of his personality that seemed to have links with autism also limit his creative powers?

Gilmore is more inclined to romanticise Vivier's strangeness than to indulge in scepticism, asking of the tape piece Hommage: musique pour un vieux Corse triste (1972) - 'might it not be that in some strange way he is here identifying, as a young homeless and penniless creative artist, with the dregs of humanity, the clochards and the robineux who, throughout his brief life, would always arouse his sympathy and compassion? …

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