Author Topic: Jean Barraque  (Read 6740 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Dax

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 640
  • Location: London
Jean Barraque
« on: February 08, 2009, 06:14:25 AM »
I've not seen much reference to Jean Barraque on this board so I hope the following may be of interest to some. It's an edited version of posts (effectively a review) which I made on a now-defunct message board a year or so back concerning CDs of the complete works by Klangforum Wien.



Concerto for clarinet, vibraphone and 6 instrumental groups

Started off with what is possibly my favourite Barraque work - the Concerto for clarinet, vibraphone + 6 instrumental groups. It was interesting to compare this to the Ensemble 2e2m version. The latter's duration is 26'48" whereas the KW version is 33'35" - a serious difference, or so it might appear. I do enjoy both versions, but the KW is likely to become the favourite: it's more expressive and dramatic, makes more telling use of silence (unsurprisingly), and architecturally presents more of an edifice. Ensemble 2e2m is well-behaved and precise, cool and neat. One problem I'd not considered (before hearing KW) is the recording: it's rather distant, but more seriously, displays an element which annoys me more and more about some digital recordings - the lack of treble frequencies. Apart from anything else, this plays havoc with the timbre: the instruments sound too similar and in tuttis certain instruments become masked. On KW the harpsichord, for instance, is heard in all its glory.

Sequence

My alarm on first listening was caused by the apparent lack of rounded phrasing, the whole thing sounding like an overfast exercise in musical pointillism. Seemed to make a mockery of the notion of "orchestra as instrument" . . .

Confirmed by listening with the score.
Part of the problem is the balance. The unpitched percussion is too resonant when loud and tends to swamp. The strings are generally too low in the mix. The dynamics are too often imprecise, if not actually inaccurate, especially in the piano part (little difference in markings between mf and ffff). No clearer example than in the brief piano around 6'00" in, which I remember Ian Pace delivering so impressively at Broadbasting House (BBC in London) a few years back. Alison Wells was the singer on that occasion: one of her strengths was the ability to convey a sense of past musical history within the composition itself (sorry; can't put it better than that at the moment).
Not much of that here. The singer on KW seems to follow the markings pretty well. But there's . . . no expression - I suppose I'd put it as strongly as that. I'd find much of her fairly frequent dodgy pitching (often a semitone or more sharp) forgivable were it not for that.
I need to compare it with the old Josephine Nendick performance which I'm delighted to find I still have on reel-to-reel . . .

. . . au dela du hasard

A wonderful piece but not one I know well.
There seem to be far more elements of musical history here than in any other Barraque piece, most noticeably in the gestures, but also in the (apparent) pitch-workings (organisation of pitches?). It's not so much the tonal associations, which are extensive, as the actual harmonies - pretty post-romantic at times. Perhaps the composer intended them as jazz chords? There is, after all, a significant and intentional jazz connection - and not only in the instrumentation (saxes + vibes included), their sonorities (not just because of jazz mutes) and playing techniques - and the work is dedicated to Andre Hodeir.
The references to the MJQ seem clear enough, but are there deliberate fleeting references to Western composers? I've noticed what seem to be para-quotes from Les Noces, Daphnis et Chloe and Octandre for starters, but perhaps that's my imagination. I'm sure I've heard the first chord of the piece elsewhere, but can't immediately place it. Paul Griffiths, Barraque's biographer, is of little help with any of this and furthermore makes the ludicrous claim that ". . . au dela du hasard remains without parallel in your [= Barraque's] music, or indeed almost anyone else's, in its embrace of jazz timbres without any trace of the harmonic-melodic substance of jazz".

The recording is far superior to that of Sequence. And I'm particularly impressed with the female vocalists - apart from anything else, it could have been a major wobble-fest . . .

Had a preliminary listen to the Piano Sonata ("preliminary" as I didn't follow it with the score; used the same approach with Sequence and . . . au dela du hasard). This was the first time I'd listened to it in years and this performance by Stefan Letwin was a strange experience. The opening was positively dreamy - I've never heard it played like that before - and the focus seemed to be solely on a lyrical, narrative interpretation. This actually works reasonably well in the first part, but is inappropriate to the second. Overall, I was left with a feeling that he'd got it completely wrong. Probably because I always related to the Andre Hodeir description - the Sonata "actually succeeds in expressing disbelief; it's the first fully-fledged expression in art of that grandiose sense of despair which has only been hinted at by literature. it gradually descends into death: it's the Orphean work par excellence, inviting the listener on a journey to the Underworld from which there is no return." No sense of that here, although he did make some attempt at "descent", an approach so often missing from performances I've heard in recent years. Few pianists seem able to increase, let alone maintain the intensity in the later stages; and silence does increase in the later stages here. But I suspect that following the score will leave me with a greater sense of dissatisfaction.

Despite its duration (usually 45-50 minutes), I've not ever found it a difficult piece to listen to. One of the reasons is to do with the repetition of fixed pitches - there's always a bit of feeling of being led from one landmark to the next. Pianistically, the overall architecture is often a big problem, although I rarely found this a failing of Roger Woodward's performances c.1972 (barring one occasion when he took close to 70 minutes). I've heard live performances by different pianists a few times since but I've not heard any more recent recordings than Woodward's. Any considered opinions of more recent recordings?

Chant apres chant

This is a terrific performance. Given the amount of percussionists and the dynamic writing for them, it must be a nightmare to a) balance and b) achieve any sense of tight ensemble. This recording scores highly on both. I'm impressed with the singer as well: clear-voiced but with the angst not overstated. And pretty accurate (apart from, strangely, the opening phrase) - no mean feat considering that pitch-wise, note-transference is less in evidence here than in any other Barraque work - and, of course, the vocal writing is far more demanding than that of Sequence. Although the musical polarities are well communicated, the notion of specific pitch seems more tenuous than with other performances I've heard: even the piano (the writing is quite different from that of other works) seems like a non-pitched percussion instrument part of the time.

Le temps restitue

I deliberately left a listen to this work until later on - it was the only piece I didn't particularly warm to when I first heard it. This was ages ago in the ICA in London (early 1980s?) where a recording was played. I have a memory of it sounding surprisingly cluttered and overwritten (quite uncharacteristic of Barraque, this. Parts of, say, Chant apres chant may look cluttered in the score, but they certainly don't sound it). The ICA occasion, incidentally, was a prelude to an evening concert which consisted of Sequence (with Josephine Nendick) and Woodward playing the Sonata. Woodward took the rapturous applause with a huge beaming grin, clutching his dog-eared copy covered in multi-colour markings . . . and then sat down and played the whole thing again as an encore . . . 
I've just come across this, which seems to suggest that he's played some sort of a version of a Second Sonata  [Paul Griffiths, though, believes this is most unlikely]

http://www.rogerwoodward.com/index.php/background/more/world_premieres/

I still find Le temps restitue the least striking and the least convincing overall, although admirable in patches - but this may be simply be down to my not being particularly familiar with it. In places, there's less direction and too many close proximity climaxes. Certainly it doesn't sound quite as cluttered as I remember, but then probably both the 2e2m and KW recordings are better performances. The overall sound has sharper definition in the KW version (as with the Concerto), but the 2e2m account seems clearer and better balanced.

I had another listen to the electronic Etude today, having remembered that it hadn't yet been mentioned. Rather strangely it seems more impressive on each repeated hearing, although the ending seems no less abrupt. It sounds as though Barraque originally planned something rather longer than what we're left with and was obliged to stop a third of the way through. My suspicion about Barraque's referencing (see . . au dela du hasard above) seems to have its confirmation here - there's what seems to be a pretty unsubtle allusion to the beginning of Clair de lune (of all things). It would be interesting to compare it with the efforts of his contemporaries: I've never heard the Boulez Etude, for example, although I do have fondish memories of Michel Philippot's Etude in comparison to the apparently serial Antiphonie and Vocalises of Pierre Henry.

But then Barraque's music does sound completely different to that of Boulez, however vaguely similar some of it does look on the page. Various recommendations of the Henck recording of the sonata seems to be confirmed by a number of reviews I've read. Unfortunately none of them, however, compares Henck's account with that of Roger Woodward, which seems to be universally accepted as the authoritative version of an earlier generation. Does anyone have views on this?

I've drawn a blank so far on whatever may or may not exist of the 2nd sonata. Roger Woodwards website is not accepting emails. Strangely it's not referred to in Paul Griffiths's book on Barraque, whereas Bill Hopkins clearly states that "shortly before his death in August 1973 [Barraque] had turned aside from his other projects to compose a new sonata for him [Woodward]". This quote from the Woodward sonata record sleeve. I seem to remember this being mentioned in the programme note for Woodward's Roundhouse performances in 1972 (which Barraque attended), but I could be mistaken.


Offline not edward

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3827
  • Hello, little man. I will destroy you.
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2009, 06:11:51 AM »
A few random comments:

I'd love to hear the Woodward recording of the Sonata, but haven't ever had the chance. I agree with you that Litwin completely misses the point of the
sonata--when I turn to the work I turn to Henck.

I respond much more positively to Le temps restitue than you do, it would seem. It may be my favourite Barraque work, though everything of his has an intensity that I couldn't mistake for any other composer.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
 -- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

Chafing Dish

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2009, 05:31:24 PM »
I do enjoy the concerto as performed by Ensemble 2e2m with Remi Lerner.

On the whole, the concerto is my favorite, but perhaps this has to do with a mild aversion to Barraque's vocal writing, which isn't poor in itself,... just not to my taste.

snyprrr

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2009, 01:10:03 AM »
i've enjoyed the 2e2m and henck for years.

how about comparing the piano sonata with boulez' "livre pour quatour" both written around the same time?

how does the piano sonata fit in, after the war? something like:

messiaen
barraque
boulez
stockhausen    ???

what are some of the other famous "silence takes over" pieces?

Sean

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2009, 01:17:07 AM »
I know the choral La mort de Virgile- …au dela du hasard with its septet accompaniment- it's in Le marteau's world and has a similar distanced Frenchified colouristic character, blurred by the nonesensical serial idiom. A weak if legitimate voice.

Offline Sequentia

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 36
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2012, 08:38:14 AM »

Offline Mandryka

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 17222
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2014, 01:56:32 AM »
My rough and rapid translation of part of an interview with Jean Barraqué, Claude Helffer and Florence Mothe, 30 April 1969.

FM: Jean Barraqué , because Claud Helffer is with us, I would like to ask you the following question: Do you need an interpreter?

JB: Of course. A composer always needs an interpreter the same as an interpreter needs a composer, if he is living, to reveal certain secrets of his thoughts.

FM: Just now I saw you make corrections in the run through of your sonata. Do you think that Claude Helffer adds something to your point of view, goes beyond your own idea?

JB: On the one hand you're talking to me about mistakes which were materiel mistakes, in the Bruzzichelli edition. On the other hand, Claude Helffer noticed, at a technical level, some mistakes which he made me aware of. I think he was absolutely right. Having said that Claude Helffer proposes a personal interpretation which I esteem and admire a lot.

FM: Claude Helffer, what special things to you find when you create a contemporary work, specifically in this sonata by Jean Barraqué?

CH: What is interesting when you create a contemporary work, is to approach a new style, and this sonata by Jean Barraqué is very personal so it's enthralling to look deeply into it.

FM: I believe it's not really a sonata

CH: Better ask that question to the composer who gave the title sonata to the piece. I think it's a sonata because oppositions are in it, which are always present in the idea of a sonata, between two opposing forces , in this case between  very rapid action [mouvement]  and a slow action, which manage to interpenetrate.

FM: Does the composer have the same idea about the work?

JB: Yes. The notion of a sonata [La sonate] does indeed imply a structural duality. Let's take, for example, classical sonatas (first theme, second theme with the bridge.) In my sonata there is a duality of two structures, rapid action and slow action, which are developped in a divergent way all the way through the piece. This is why I kept the term  "sonata", and for its anonymous aspect.

FM: Does the title also come from a certain way of treating the piano?

JB: Yes. In the sonata I'd wanted to adopt the grand style of pianism perhaps we knew a century ago. A very luxuriant style of pianism.

FM: This duality, do  you also find it at the level of energy [au niveau de la dynamique]?

JB: Yes. The sonata opposes two styles.: on the one hand a free style and on the other a rigorous style. In the free style, the greatest part is achieved by dynamics [dynamique] and by a rhythmic momentum [elan] which opposes some very striking contrasts. In the rigorous style the writing is very contrapuntal, the cells of the base structure are developed by a process of variation which I call " in closed-open circuit." All the variations on rhythmic schemes are superposed sometimes two at a time, even up to four or five voices, and call above all on the integration of silence which, progressively, impregnates the work and the emptiness of its contrapuntal and structural contents [imprègne l'oeuvre et la vide se son contenu contrapuntique et structurel] -- it's music which has slipped away  and silences which are of the greatest importance.

FM: Claude Helffer . . .

CH: Listen, I've got nothing to add to what the composer has just said, except that the pianistic style doesn't make it easy. It linear aspect, which is more important than its vertical aspect, makes approaching it difficult.  But, when you delve into it, you can really get to the heart of the matter  -- this is as true  for the performer as it is for the listener.
« Last Edit: June 08, 2014, 02:14:06 AM by Mandryka »
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

Offline Dax

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 640
  • Location: London
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #7 on: June 08, 2014, 07:22:31 AM »
Thanks for that. Clearly expressed.

Offline Mandryka

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 17222
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2015, 11:19:51 AM »
I think this is a new recording of the sonata, which I haven't heard yet (it's expensive!)



Available here

https://www.solstice-music.com/fr/album-reference/SOCD315-6-THINAT-joue-DUKAS-BARRAQUE

She makes some comments which are food for thought, I'll put it in English if anyone is interested

Quote
(...) Les trois premières pages de l’œuvre sont les plus difficiles à réaliser, à sentir, à vivre. Il faut s’y jeter avec l’élan désespéré du début de la Fantaisie de Schumann. Mais à qui, en 1952, s’adressait ce long cri d’amour désespéré que Schumann pour sa part dédiait à Clara ?
L’organisation du travail de préparation du concert s’est réglée miraculeusement. Tous les jours pendant ces mois, je prenais l’autobus ; je grimpais l’escalier pour retrouver le précieux et délicat mobilier Charles X, le piano magnifique et je reprenais les répétitions, minutieuses, précises, qui me permettaient petit à petit d’oublier l’écriture ardue pour aller au plus important. Fantaisie de Schumann, op.106 de Beethoven, Webern, Debussy (les sonorités opposées) : racines du travail de création de Jean Barraqué, sens caché de son œuvre, souffrance et violence toujours présentes ; je connaissais ces histoires, ce langage ; mon propre parcours personnel m’y avait habituée et les maitres rencontrés pendant ce voyage initiatique qu’est la formation du musicien m’avaient appris à reconnaitre la sincérité et la valeur de la douleur maitrisée. Ami de Michel Foucault, fou de littérature, exigeant et intolérant à tout ce qui n’était pas recherche de l’extrême, Jean Barraqué ne m’a jamais considérée comme une “spécialiste de musique contemporaine”. Du reste, nos longs moments de travail étaient entrecoupés de “pauses” un peu étranges où le piano n’arrêtait pas mais, sur demande, je devais jouer tant de compositeurs différents, inattendus et parfois très loin de la Sonate — Schumann, Beethoven, mais aussi, moment privilégié, les Variations de Webern significatives pour l’interprétation de la Sonate — et puis un soir de 14 juillet, volets fermés, une sonate de Beethoven et Jean les yeux pleins de larmes : — “C’est une musique de source”.
(...) Après le concert, moment de péril et d’émotion enregistré par France-Musique, j’ai conservé cette amitié précieuse. J’ai assisté comme tous ses amis à la trop rapide disparition de cet homme si grand dans son cerveau, son cœur, et qui cherchait l’équilibre dans le déséquilibre. La construction beethovénienne, l’angoisse schumannienne et tous ces passages délicats et mélancoliques, abstractions debussystes ou weberniennes, je ne pouvais qu’y adhérer totalement
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

snyprrr

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque SONATE
« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2016, 09:08:23 AM »
Just listened to Henck's recording. Such a great piece, I really did "feel" the silences... I'm still tickled... such a great 12tone canvas...

snyprrr

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque CONCERTO
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2017, 05:38:21 AM »
Listened to the 'Concerto' again... as if for the first time. It came across as kind of stern French Modern- bass clarinet and vibraphone- a bit violent, a bit spare. I suppose it almost comes off as "sad"?

Anyway, it has a cleanliness to it even though it's quite thorny. Not completely seducing, one has to work just a little, but towards the end I recall some very refined gestures.

2e2m version

snyprrr

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2017, 08:55:22 AM »
no one cares? :'(

Offline Mandryka

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 17222
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2017, 09:52:22 AM »
I cared enough to listen to the concerto, the one in CPO, I haven't heard 2e2m, but the first post here suggests it's very different. I wasn't in the mood to be honest, my musical life's dominated by Bach's C minor cello suite at the moment.
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

PotashPie

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2017, 10:57:45 AM »
Does anyone care to comment on the artistic content of Barraque's work? What I mean is, he is not just making these sounds to be sounds only; he is imbuing them with an artistic vision and meaning. It sometimes seems that music listeners are not really concerned with this artistic dimension of music. Instead of recording quality (which I am all for), what is your impression of the meaning that Barraque is conveying, meaning a "world vision" or philosophy, a set of emotions, etc? Is it irrelevant to be concerned with biographical information in this regard? Why, or why not?

Offline Mandryka

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 17222
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2017, 01:25:55 PM »
Does anyone care to comment on the artistic content of Barraque's work? What I mean is, he is not just making these sounds to be sounds only; he is imbuing them with an artistic vision and meaning. It sometimes seems that music listeners are not really concerned with this artistic dimension of music. Instead of recording quality (which I am all for), what is your impression of the meaning that Barraque is conveying, meaning a "world vision" or philosophy, a set of emotions, etc? Is it irrelevant to be concerned with biographical information in this regard? Why, or why not?

Have you read The Death of Virgil? (I haven't, though I've made two attempts, both times I failed to gat past the first 100 pages.)
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

snyprrr

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #15 on: February 18, 2017, 05:00:18 PM »
Does anyone care to comment on the artistic content of Barraque's work? What I mean is, he is not just making these sounds to be sounds only; he is imbuing them with an artistic vision and meaning. It sometimes seems that music listeners are not really concerned with this artistic dimension of music. Instead of recording quality (which I am all for), what is your impression of the meaning that Barraque is conveying, meaning a "world vision" or philosophy, a set of emotions, etc? Is it irrelevant to be concerned with biographical information in this regard? Why, or why not?

if its not about "God", then it gotta be about "Death"


I guess the Concerto is about a lot of virtuosity going nowhere? ennui? ... can one hear the man's suicide in the music?

As I've listened to it about three times lately, I have found some quality that keeps me giving it another shot... I don't hate it... but it doesn't have any seduction... the vibraphone seems "sad" to me, I dunno, I don't think there is any hint of any nostalgia in the serialist music, but it does seem to not have a Final Destination...

I can't say I like it, but I don't hate it... it's just there... a fairly Big "there"... 26mins.,... perhaps I like Ferneyhough's Complexity better?- I would certainly say this Concerto sounds like the Birth of the New Complexity, or, rather, Barraque comes out with a fairly straightforward piece in the heyday of 1968, overshadowed by Cage.

I dunno, I would define it as French and Atheist... leading to such a dour Composition, and, I do find it dour for a Frenchy- Boulez could be a bit dour in the 60s too... Messiaen not so much.


The HarmoniaMundi disc is just a "document" of a time (mid 80s) when discovering this kind of thing was all the rage. I just don't know how well this Concerto holds up- it's just not that seductive, but then, I'm currently having problems with Maderna, so, what do I know about "seductive"? The Barraque disc simply reminds me of WHEN I got it, which was mid-90s, in the BigCity, so, the music reminds me of the stale environment I was in,... thinking "I 'm supposed to like this stuff"...

snyprrr

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #16 on: February 18, 2017, 05:03:25 PM »
For me, Barraque IS that HarmoniaMundi disc, AND a Perfect Listening of the Sonata.

Maybe Barraque reminds me of (spiritually) Petterrssonn??

How many people really want to delve into some of these more dour Composers? Xenakis can be dour, but he can also bring the FUN. Ligeti too, sometimes...


Offline Mandryka

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 17222
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #17 on: February 19, 2017, 12:14:06 AM »


 a fairly Big "there"... 26mins.,...


Over 33 minutes for Cambrling. I still haven't heard the one you've got.

For me this concerto is a about futility and forgetting, no idea ever reaches a satisfactory conclusion, all the ideas are dispensed with, forgotten.


Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

snyprrr

  • Guest
Re: Jean Barraque
« Reply #18 on: February 19, 2017, 08:11:29 AM »
Over 33 minutes for Cambrling. I still haven't heard the one you've got.

For me this concerto is a about futility and forgetting, no idea ever reaches a satisfactory conclusion, all the ideas are dispensed with, forgotten.

ennui


yea, that's what I hear,- no satisfactories... so much effort put into futility, too,... oh, that 'ule gnarled tree existentialist rag...


You hear it too in the Sonata...