Nouritza Matossian

about “Nuits”

It is worth remembering that as Xenakis was working on Nuits (and Medea) in 1967, his country, Greece, was plunged into the darkness of dictatorship by military junta. He, too, had been a political prisoner as a student in occupied Greece and, still under death sentence by military tribunal, was living in exile. He sought to bring attention to the plight of political prisoners in his own country and elsewhere, heading the score with the following dedication:




Xenakis has synthesized the text from Sumerian and ancient Persian in phonemes and syllables. This is a language freed from semantics, where phonology is everything. The carriers of meaning are the shapes and gestures of the voices themselves. The a cappella soprano voices burst into keening quarter-tone melodic plaints which are neutralized by the basses, altos and tenors. The vocal elements are set in constant opposition, as if different parts have to fight for survival. It is a work of agon (“contest”), with a basic armoury of phonic elements which range from high shrill to open vowels treated rhythmically in polyphony. Xenakis is able to produce interference beats and purely “orchestral” timbres with voices. He seems determined to strip them of linguistic connotation, just as the prisoners to whom he has dedicated the work had been deprived of free speech, their words stripped of meaning and reference. Nonetheless, the expressive medium of disjointed bits of words and their emotional deployment, discharges a highly combustible message with great depth and tragic dimension, eschewing long-sung phrases.








To you, unknown political prisoners—Narcisso Julian (since 1946), Costas Philinis (since 1947), Eli Erythriadou (since 1950), Joachim Amaro (since 1952). And for you, the thousands of the forgotten whose very names are lost.

Also a pioneer in the field of electro-acoustics, author of more than a hundred works for all training, he now appears as one of the most radical avant-garde, who invented the most compositional techniques characteristic of the music after 1945, but also one of the few designers whose vitality has never denied, and which, moreover, gained a large audience.

Architect of the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958 and other architectural achievements such as the Convent of La Tourette, he composed Polytopes - sights, sounds and lights - for the French Pavilion at Expo of Montreal, for the show Persepolis, mountains and ruins of Persepolis, for Polytope of Mycenae ruins of Mycenae, Greece, for Diatope at the inauguration of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

He was founder and president of the Centre for Mathematical and Automatic Music (CEMAMu) of Paris and founder of the Center for Mathematical and Automated Music (CMAM), Indiana University, Bloomington. 

Text: ©Editions Salabert

Inventor of musical concepts masses, stochastic music, music symbolic introduced with the probability calculus and set theory in music composition intrumentales, he was one of the first to use the computer to calculate of musical form.

Vivier spent the last months of his life in Paris. On March 12, 1983, Vivier was found stabbed to death in his apartment. His murderer, a 19-year-old man who may have been a prospective lover, was later caught and sentenced.

In a New York Times profile, Paul Griffiths observed, “The harmonic auras are suddenly more complex, and the fantastic orchestration is unlike anything in Vivier's earlier music, or anyone else’s. Perhaps he found it by listening intently to bells and gongs, for the huge chords that march along—around—the voice commonly have deep fundamentals with a fizz of interfering higher tones, rather like metallic resonances.” During this period, Vivier began to create texts in an invented language, mirroring the singularity of his musical idiom.

Born in Montréal of unknown parents, Vivier was adopted at the age of three. After being expelled from a seminary at sixteen for “immature behavior”—from an early age, Vivier was open about his homosexuality—he studied at the Conservatoire de Musique in Montréal, where his teachers included Gilles Tremblay (composition) and Irving Heller (piano). In 1971, Vivier left Canada for Europe, studying electroacoustic music with Gottfried Michael Koenig in Utrecht, and composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne. Although Vivier was influenced by the latter, he nonetheless developed a highly personal language. Chants, composed during this period, represented for him “the first moment of my existence as a composer.”

Many consider Claude Vivier the greatest composer Canada has yet produced. At the age of 34, he was the victim of a shocking murder, leaving behind some 49 compositions in a wide range of genres, including opera, orchestral works, and chamber pieces. György Ligeti once called Vivier “the finest French composer of his generation.”

Vivier advocates include Mauricio Kagel, Kent Nagano, Reinbert de Leeuw, David Robertson, and Dawn Upshaw. Vivier’s music featured prominently in Holland Festival 2005, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra opened its 2005/06 season with Lonely Child, with David Robertson conducting and Dawn Upshaw as the soprano soloist. In 2005, the Montréal Symphony Orchestra inaugurated the Claude Vivier National Prize for the best work by a Canadian composer.

Text: Boosey & Hawkes, New York.