Trois airs pour un opéra imaginaire (1982)

Claude Vivier

soprano, two flutes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, horn, two percussions, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass

Composed in 1982 and premiered in Paris on March 24, 1983 by the ensemble L’Itinéraire, three weeks after the composer’s tragic death, this work concludes one of the richest and most original contemporary musical bodies of work imaginable.

Aside from two revealing sentences: “Wo bist du, O mein Liebe” (Where are you, O my Love) and “Wo ist die liebe hingegangen” (Where has Love gone), Trois Airs are exclusively based on an invented language by the composer and call upon the unique sound and spiritual universe so characteristic of his later works.

Extensive use of very slow tempos and unfolding of long melodies, “tinted by vowel and consonant free interaction and whose evolution […] is one of a sensuous chant with no end in sight,” harmony set by quarter tones and exotic sonorities—all contribute to cast a magic spell on the listener.

Throughout this composition, the solo voice systematically dominates—alternatively in and out of synchronization with the instrumental ensemble—within a rich homophonic texture criss-crossed by a counterpoint of timbral effects.

The work’s density has raised diverse comments and analysis, in fact all relevant, due to the musical richness of Trois Airs pour un opéra imaginaire: “a universe of lightly sonorous haze, in an overall tonality that reminds somewhat of Stockhausen’s influence” and “where the main drive is generated by a sound magma (first aria) that soon engulfs the soprano’s voice and whose colours evoke Alban Berg’s palette.” “A cry of despair, more and more agonizing, as the arias slowly unfold over a delirious instrumental compact mass.”

Michel Duchesneau