Wo bist du Licht! (1981)

Claude Vivier

mezzo-soprano, twenty string instruments, percussion, and fixed medium

Commission: Société Radio-Canada (SRC)

Wo bist du Licht! is a long and continuous melody and a meditation on human sorrow.

Formal Aspect: Vivier develops here a “very important form of music”: the sinusoidal wave. Following an instrumental opening that shifts from noise to sound, a slow development begins with “smooth spectral music” leading to “spectral music that melodically follows the contours of a sinusoidal wave.” […] Un-metered rhythmical elements will slowly come together in a “steady beat.” […] The spectral range will progressively decrease [and] when it has thinned down in the centre, it will grow towards the extremes, articulated by a pulsation that quickly dissolves. Soon, this suddenly pulsated music will transform itself again, in order to follow the exact contours of the melody’s end (homorhythmy).

Melodic Aspect: Here we have a long recitative, more or less ornate. At the beginning and at the end of the melody, Vivier centres the voice part around the spectrum’s fundamental notes. In the central development, the melody uses modes derived from the upper partials.

Textual Aspect: Hölderlin’s text Der blinde Sänger is superimposed on three types of texts:

1. “An emotional one that is extremely significant for America: Martin Luther King’s last speech and a recording in situ of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.” Both texts are heard at the beginning of the melody, as some faraway recollections looming up in the music.

2. “Abstract text, with no signification” (invented language). A sung text superimposed on the recording of another voice (male) reading Höderlin’s text.

3. “Finally, a descriptive text about torture. This text has an enormous emotional power due, in part, to the almost neutral tone [of the two radio speakers]. “Hölderlin’s text, Der blinde Sänger, holds the key to understanding my composition. An old blind man remembers his past, beautiful picturesque scenery; greeneries, clouds, etc. The present is evoked by harsh sound images: thunder, earthquakes. He longs for light, freedom, death perhaps….”

Michel Gonneville (From a text written in 1984, using large extracts of a quote by Claude Vivier)