Mp3 Blog #12: Claude Vivier

Claude Vivier:
”Zipangu” (1980)
For string orchestra
Unknown performers

”Lonely Child” (1980)
For soprano and orchestra
Performed by Marie-Danielle Parent and the Metropolitan Orchestra

Go buy this other performance of both works on this recording by the Schoenberg and ASKO Ensembles

Although virtually unknown in the United States, Claude Vivier is widely regarded in Canada and most of Europe as the greatest Canadian composer. I was first told about his music and tragic life story by some of my fellow Canadian composer friends soon after arriving to Montréal. One friend initially recommended I listen to his orchestral piece “Orion,” which I loved on the first listening. However, it wasn’t until I found a four compact disc CBC collection and first heard “Lonely Child” that I discovered the strength of Vivier’s personal expression.

I could easily fill this entire entry with Vivier’s biographical details; however, I’ll highlight I what consider significant since one can find a longer biography on the great website for The Canadian Music Centre.

Rather than focus on furthering the musical advances of the European vanguard, Vivier’s greastest compositions focus on his personal obsessions – loneliness, ritual, and death. Claude Vivier was born in Montréal to unknown parents and is quoted as saying that upon learning of his adoption he felt a great freedom because he could now be anybody. When a teenager he attended a seminary school but was expelled for ‘inappropiate behavior.’ After receiving some early recognition in Montréal he went to Europe to study sonology at the Hague and, later on, to study composition with Stockhausen. He later traveled to Asia and spent a significant portion of time in Bali before returning to Montréal for a prolific period in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He later left for Paris on a grant from the Canadian Council for the Arts and was stabbed to death at 34 in his Parisian apartment, supposedly by a male prostitute.

Vivier’s best compositions come from an incredibly fruitful period that started after he returned from Bali in late 70’s and continued until his death in 1983. Particularly notable are his works for voice or voices and various ensemble that he wrote the lyrics for in both fragmented and made-up languages. These deeply emotional works include “Bouchara,” “Trois Airs pour un Opéra Imaginaire,” “Prologue pour un Marco Polo,” “Kopernikus (A Ritual Opera of Death),” “Lonely Child,” and the unfinished work “Crois-tu en l’immortalité de l’âme?” (“Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?”). The latter work abruptly ends with a narrator describing his own murder and, eerily enough, was found on Vivier’s desk in the same apartment where he was murdered. Although, many of these later works rely upon spectral techniques such as frequency shifting, the effect never sounds hollow and didactic like in some of his contemporaries’ works. In these later masterpieces, what I mostly hear is the singular longing of Vivier’s inner voice and the horrific suspended creative acceleration before his horrible tragic end.

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