Claude Vivier (1948-83) - Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele?

Recorded live on 28th February 2008. Duration: 8 minutes 47 seconds

Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele?
In June 1982, wearied by the provincialism he felt around him in Montréal, Vivier moved to Paris. For any Québecois, the French capital was the centre of cultural life; for Vivier the city was more specifically the home of new music - the home, particularly, of the spectralists who were his contemporaries, composers such as Gérard Grisey and Hugues Dufourt. At a distance he had shared their exploration of overtone spectra as models of orchestral sound; now he was at the source, though it is unclear how much time he was willing to spare from other kinds of experience: Mahler in the concert hall, sex in bars. His life became a fling into the abyss. Meanwhile, he tried to find an operatic outlet for the new musical style he had discovered the year before, planning at one point a kind of opera-requiem on the last days of Tchaikovsky. Eventually, in January 1983, he set that project aside - or diverted it into answering a commission from the Groupe Vocal de France to write Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? ('Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?').

'Listen to me, listen to me!' says a tenor near the start of this piece. 'You know I always wanted to die for love strange it is, this music that doesn't move.' 'Speak', says a contralto, and the tenor goes on: 'I never knew -.' 'Knew what?' 'Knew how to love.' The contralto then asks him to sing a love song, and one follows - in the 'invented language' Vivier had often used before. But the song fades away, and the voices turn to what sounds even more alarmingly like autobiography. One of the synthesizer players, speaking into a vocoder, recounts an episode that Vivier told as a dream in a letter he wrote to one of his Montréal friends. The narrator is attracted to a young man on a Métro train, who sits down next to him, introduces himself, pulls out from his black jacket a dagger, 'and thrusts it right into my heart'. There the score ends. On 12 March 1983, Vivier was found in his apartment, where he had lain dead for five days. There were 45 knife wounds in his body.

© Paul Griffiths 2008

Nicholas Kok Conductor

Richard Casey Keyboard / Speaker
Paul Janes Keyboard
Jeremy Young Keyboard
Tim Williams Percussion

Margaret Feaviour
Micaela Haslam
Olivia Robinson

Lynette Alcántara
Jacqueline Fox
Penny Vickers

Edward Goater
Neil MacKenzie
Andrew Murgatroyd

Simon Birchall
Michael Bundy
Adrian Peacock

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