solo soprano, and fifteen musicians

The song cycle Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil is Gérard Grisey’s last completed work before his sudden and untimely death in 1998 at age 52. In an uncanny coincidence (or perhaps not), his final composition draws on four poems that contend with the subject of death, and in particular, the journey from life to death, and the nebulous line which divides these two realms.

Rather than conceiving of death with an attitude of desperation and fear, the selected poets, who hail from four different cultures spanning over thousands of years, view the world of death as place of acceptance and calm, giving rise to a new, lighter form of existence.

The first song, “Les heures à la nuit” by French poet Christian Guez Ricord (1948-1988) tells of the death of an angel; “La mort de la civilization” draws on inscriptions from Egyptian coffins and includes the lyrics, “Make me a path of light and let me pass on.” “La mort de la voix” sets the words of ancient Greek poet Erinna aus Telos and speaks of the silence and the shadow of “the world below”; and “La mort de l’humanité” takes its verses from the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, describing the aftermath of the Great Deluge.

As well as offering a meditation on the netherworld, Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil reflects Grisey’s broader aim of imbuing music with a sort of organic life; in this work and previous ones, he explores the natural rhythms of tension and release modeled on human breath; and the murmuring, muted pulse of the human heartbeat.

About the last movement, “Berceuse” Grisey himself said, “It is not intended to lull one to sleep; instead it is meant to awaken one to the dying of humanity, finally liberated from its nightmare.”

Performance

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