[Grand angle] What is left of Iannis Ksinakis?

Iannis Xenakis was, in the 1960s and 1970s, like Karlheinz Stockhausen, an icon of musical modernity. For the centenary year, the celebrations, on this side of the Atlantic at least, have been fairly secret.

What is the legacy of this composer? duty Discuss it with Anne Sylvie Barthel Calvet, musicologist, professor at the Faculty of Music at the University of Strasbourg and a specialist in Xenakis.

The composer, architect and engineer of Greek origin, born in Romania and naturalized in French, Yiannis Ksinakis drips an aura of mystery, if only through the obscure titles of his compositions – BethopractaAnd the TerretektorhAnd the PersivasaAnd the cranerge

The image that remains of it is that of a musician who introduced mathematics into the composition process. appeared from Metastases, in 1954, this discipline was theorized with “random” music two years later. Music becomes organized according to the laws of probability that relate to musical note heights, glissandos, and durations. Xenakis is also recognized, particularly in Montreal, by polytopthe installation presented at Expo 67 for his work in music and space.

Should we be surprised when we hardly hear more of Xenakis’ work at the concert? Was it experimental production? What is the permanent part?

glaring example

Part of Xenakis’ productions undoubtedly stands the test of time: his music for percussion, inspired by Sylvio Gualda, for singles, and Percussions de Strasbourg.

In conservatories around the world, young percussionists are graduating Boomerang And the Bwhich are not necessarily the most successful tracks, or savaa true masterpiece ”, sums up Ann Sylvie Barthel Calvet. At the same time, “all the work for the solo percussion ensembles was commissioned for the Percussions de Strasbourg: Persivasa (1969), chandelierand ballet music (1979) and Edman A And the B (1985). » These tracks are surprisingly long (30 minutes for Persivasa45 minutes chandelier) is the ammo symbol.

Anne-Sylvie Barthel-Calvet breaks prejudices about necessarily barren zanakis: “It’s easy to get to some music. In rushesThere is a melody in the beginning. Everyone enters. Within the small format orchestral music, the contemporary style intergroup, the London Sinfonietta or the New Modern Ensemble there are also very beautiful accessible compositions. »

With regard to symphonic formations, the issue, according to our interlocutor, is the creation and dissemination of what might be called the classics of XXe century. “The question arises as to the complete vanguard of the second half of XXe Horn – Poles, Stockhausen, Berio and Ligetti – which cross the gray area. “If we don’t see many Xenakis scheduled in North America in 2022, Ann-Sylvie Barthel-Calvet considers the festivities in Europe to have been ‘decent’, but wonders ‘what will give the centenary of Ligeti in 2023 and the Berio and Boulez Centenarians’ In 2025”, considering that “in contemporary music festivals there is a race for creativity, because there have not been a large number of composition classes and young composers, while symphony orchestras do not include Xenakis Boulez, Berio and Ligeti in their seasons”.

Diffusion brake

If the orchestra is cautious, this is certainly a fear of the audience’s lack of curiosity. When the famous cellist Sol Gabeta came to Strasbourg, the room was half empty. She had planned concerto Lutoslawski,” remarks by Ann Sylvie Barthel Calvet.

But Xenakis can be associated with star composers. From the late seventies to the nineties [Xenakis est mort en 2001]For orchestral tracks, formatting requires 90 musicians, and these tracks are often 15-20 minutes long. So we can relate very well rushes into a Mahler symphony, or incorporated into a three-part program using the Sibelius Symphony. »

However, the complexity of the music requires preparation time that is often incompatible with the schedules of orchestras on our continent. “It is true that it requires more work, especially since many pieces of music treat the orchestra as a group of soloists. Thus the first great work of an orchestra of soloists. Metastases (1954), where 12 first violins, 12 second violins, 10 violins, 6 cellos and 4 double bass each have their own part, with quarter tones and glissandos. »

You have to see that Xenakis receives five to six requests per year. You can’t have a configuration process, where you do a lot of research with a lot of calculations for hours, when you have to honor many requests per year. And the strength of Xenakis compared to other composers […] He fulfilled his orders.

However, there is, according to Professor Barthel Calvet, who highlights this rushesAnd the Metastases and Nekuia (As a result of chorus and orchestra) Like the three acts to be played in priority, some clouds explain the current reluctance towards Xenakis. She wants proof of this in the fact that in the context of the Xenakis exhibition at the Philharmonie de Paris and the concerts held in parallel “the shocking Xenakis of the 50s and 60s are highlighted”.

The musicologist, for example, noted that the most recent instrumental music on show dates from the early 1970s. However, in her eyes, “everything that comes next is more accessible, with more harmonious work.” Was there a break between the research period and the “covered research” period?

“You have to see that Xenakis received five to six requests a year. You can’t have a composition process, where you do a lot of research and calculations for hours, when you have to fulfill many requests a year. And the strength of Xenakis compared to other composers, Dutilleux for example , was respecting his orders. So it was necessary to have operations moving quickly. The “Second Factor”, in 1972, Maurice Floret and Henry Louis de la Grange escorted Xenakis with Betsy Jolas and Takemitsu to Bali. It was a shock, not just for worn scales or sets gamelans, but for the possibilities of harmonic proportions. He began to wonder about the constructions. He wasn’t the only one: Stockhausen and Leggety followed the same path at the time, but began to compose differently, and, as he explained in an interview: “Thanks to composing random music using computations, I was very well able to write a pointer Stochastics without having to do the math first! ” »

All this is not known enough, according to Anne Sylvie Barthel Calvet. “If we go back to the repertoire of the orchestra, you should know that there are wonderful and unusual pieces that have not been played before: Koeranoi (1995), which was first shown on Hamburg Radio, exists only in the radio archives, ”confirms the composer specialist, who sees that the exploration of this late Zinakis will be a mine for leaders and directors. Bold arts.

Xenakis and Quebec

The history of Xenakis in Quebec is connected with Expo 67 and the French Pavilion of Jean Faugeron. “Xenakis was in the game, because he was noticed at the Royan Festival with him Terretektorh, a work in which the orchestra is arranged in a circle with the audience in the middle. We kind of asked Xenakis to do something Terretektorh in the ward,” says Ms.I Barthel Calvet.

Since it was impossible to muster an orchestra, another solution had to be found. “Initially, the idea was for an object hanging in the large courtyard on which the pictures would be displayed, a kind of remake From the Philips pavilion at Expo 58, in Brussels, the Le Corbusier pavilion, on which Xenakis collaborated. “When the Xenakis went there,” he suggested networks of cables stretched into the hollow of the yard that hung white or colored flashes. Recorded orchestral music was played every two hours from four speakers in the basement. »

Simultaneous playback of music and light show has been called into the pavilion Montreal Polytop. Then, “the show itself stopped, but the cables, a conical structure, remained in place until it was converted into a casino in the early 1990s. Building the escalators, the Xenakis installation was dismantled, and, apparently, no one found fault with it, neither in Quebec nor in France, just as no one warned Xenakis, who was still alive.”

Anne-Sylvie Barthel-Calvet tried to find out what happened to polytop During his search for a book to be published on the composer. without success.

Let’s see in the video

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