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Claude Vivier © Fondation Vivier

Portrait Claude Vivier : second chapitre

While the avant-garde of the 1950s and 60s was abstract, operating mainly in structures, Claude Vivier advocated art in an autobiographical light, creating life, rendering life incarnate, or even taking life away. Musical composition, written with his hand, on his body, is one such life, the one and only authentic life. Here childhood is happier than any real-life childhood, the one which, for Vivier, had involved abandonment and abuse. Here there is no fear when enchanted by the sight of imps, dwarves and giants, or other fairytale heroes; nor is there fear of primordial laughter, of the naive innocence of a voice in the dark calling on angels, nor of language invented (na ka wa lo-i mi kou mi kou ya), of such babbling featured in vocal rituals. Thus the lullaby of a cosmic Mother can also be heard, or the song of a lone child and of universal love where heavenly bodies are the most reliable, most loving parents.
Composing his life also meant, conversely, setting down in writing what takes life away. Vivier’s final work, Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? [Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?] tells the tale of the narrator named Claude and his desire for a man named Harry encountered in the Paris metro, and who stabs him. A version of this tragic fate was to befall Claude Vivier, in Paris, shortly after he completed the composition. The score, initially said to be incomplete, was not; it is a work written while dying. This is music which, ultimately, is both an ending and from a realm beyond the end where divine forces can unite souls. The autobiographical focus turns Claude Vivier’s work into a notebook, a diary, similar to his 1977 composition where songs include nursery rhymes, lovers transcending time (Romeo and Juliette, Tristan and Isolde), Lewis Carroll, Novalis, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Catholic liturgy. It was not a matter of noting moments of exaltation or the torments of life on earth to keep them at bay, but rather to make them more intense through the creation of art.
The present work, in notebooks, is also noteworthy for the empathy extended to the other person who appears and comes into the work. Every life has a way of opening up to a language, culture and art. Vivier sets the world on fire with his own candid love, traveling to Japan, Thailand, Iran and, crucially, to Bali. As he wrote on returning from his travels: “It has become apparent to me that this journey has ultimately been nothing more than a journey into the depths of my own being.” From these distant lands, he brought back works bearing the names of cities of legend, of centuries of history: Shiraz in Iran, and Samarkand with the Greeks, Sasanians, Umayyads and Mongols, and Bukhara, the center of Islamic theology and culture on the Silk Road. As was the case for the return to childhood, love, death and realms beyond this world, so space too became imaginary, following the path of Marco Polo, or paths invented by dreamers before setting off in search of unknown lands.
So music expresses this in its own way, with its own syntax. It is no longer the combinatorial approach that prevailed at the time, but a form of harmony transposing the alliance of notes, as for the alliance of beings and stars, into a fantasy shimmering with different timbres and shades. This is no longer classical or romantic consonance, but euphony that has emerged from the experience of electronics and the study of acoustics, exploring the very essence of sound. In the 1970s and 80s, Vivier initiated a latter-day revival of melody (abandoned by twelve-tone and serial composition) after his encounter with Balinese music and the discovery of the inexhaustible potential for invention with one melody, featuring each of its component notes in never-ending scope and light.
Claude Vivier’s mysticism can thus be seen to arise from purification, from invocation. “I want art to be a sacred act, a revelation of forces, communication with such forces. Each musician must organize not the music, but sessions for revelation, for invoking the forces of nature, i.e. forces that have existed, still exist and will exist, forces that are the truth. A genuine revolution can only occur for the purpose of bringing a civilization that has lost its bearings back onto the path of these forces, following in the wake of such forces.” Tending towards infinity are spirituality and the soft breathing of works, their thirst for wisdom, concealing our own despair for the duration of the concert. “To write music is to attempt to do as the gods do.”
Claude Vivier has left a legacy embracing these and many other expressions of freedom, freedom combined with life and death, as well as with the conventions of his art, while, in a naive and misguided way, running the risk of succumbing to it.
The “Portrait” of Claude Vivier is presented with support from the Canadian Cultural Center in Paris.
In partnership with France Musique