Gérard Grisey

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Gérard Grisey (/ˈɡrɪzɨ/; French: [ɡʁizɛ]; June 17, 1946 – November 11, 1998) was a French composer of contemporary music.


Gérard Grisey was born in Belfort, France on 17 June 1946. He studied at Trossingen Conservatory, Germany from 1963 to 1965 before entering the Conservatoire de Paris. Here he won prizes for piano accompaniment, harmony, counterpoint, fugue and composition (studying under Olivier Messiaen from 1968 to 1972). During this period, he also studied with Henri Dutilleux at the Ecole Normale de Musique (1968), as well as summer schools at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena (1969), and in Darmstadt with György Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis in 1972.

Grisey won the highly coveted Prix de Rome and stayed at the Villa Medici in Rome from 1972 to 1974, and in 1973 founded a group called L’itinéraire with Tristan Murail, Roger Tessier and Michael Levinas, later to be joined by Hugues Dufourt. Dérives, Périodes, and Partiels were among the first pieces of spectral music. In 1974-75, he studied acoustics with Emile Leipp at the Paris VI University, and in 1980 became a trainee at the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). In the same year he went to Berlin as a guest of the D.A.A.D., and afterwards left for the University of California, Berkeley, where he was appointed professor of theory and composition (1982-1986). After returning to Europe, he taught composition at the Conservatoire de Paris, and held numerous composition seminars in France (Centre Acanthes, Lyon, Paris) and abroad (Darmstadt, Freiburg, Milan, Reggio Emilia, Oslo, Helsinki, Malmö, Göteborg, Los Angeles, Stanford, London, Moscow, Madrid, etc.) For notable pupils see: List of music students by teacher#Gérard Grisey.

Gérard Grisey died at the age of 52 in Paris on 11 November 1998 due to a ruptured aneurysm.

Among his works, most of which were commissioned by famous institutions and international instrumental groups, are Dérives 1974, Jour, contre-jour 1979, Tempus ex machina 1979, Les chants de l’amour 1984, Talea 1986, Le temps et l’écume 1989, Le noir de I’etoile 1990, L’icône paradoxale 1994, Les espaces acoustiques (a cycle consisting of six pieces), Vortex temporum 1995 and Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil 1998.

Musical style[edit]

Grisey's music is often considered to belong to the genre of spectral music, which he is credited with founding along with fellow composer Tristan Murail, although he later disowned the label in interviews and writings. Nonetheless, he spent much of his career exploring the spectrum of tone colour between harmonic overtones and noise. In addition, he was fascinated by musical processes which unfold slowly, and he made musical time a major element of many of his pieces.

He expressed the opinion that: "We are musicians and our model is sound not literature, sound not mathematics, sound not theatre, visual arts, quantum physics, geology, astrology or acupuncture" (Fineberg 2006, p. 105).

List of works[edit]

  • Echanges, for prepared piano and double bass (1968)
  • Mégalithes, for 15 brass players (1969)
  • "Charme", for clarinet solo (1969)
  • Perichoresis, for 3 instrumental groups (1969–1970)
  • Initiation, for baritone, trombone, and double bass (1970)
  • Vagues, chemins, le souffle, for clarinet and orchestra (1970–72)
  • D'eau et de pierre, for 2 instrumental groups (1972)
  • Dérives, for 2 orchestral groups (1973–74)
  • Les espaces acoustiques – II – Périodes, for flute, clarinet, trombone, violin, viola, cello, and double bass (1974)
  • Les espaces acoustiques – III – Partiels, for 18 musicians (1975)
  • Manifestations, for youth orchestra (1976)
  • Les espaces acoustiques – I – Prologue, for viola and optional live electronics (1976)
  • Les espaces acoustiques – IV – Modulations, for orchestra (1976–77)
  • Sortie vers la lumière du jour, for electric organ and 14 musicians (1978)
  • Jour, contre-jour, for electric organ, 14 musicians, and tape (1978–79)
  • Tempus ex machina, for 6 percussionists (1979)
  • Les espaces acoustiques – V – Transitoires, for large orchestra (1980)
  • Solo pour deux, for clarinet and trombone (1981)
  • Anubis, Nout, for Bb contrabass clarinet (1983)
  • Les chants de l'amour, for 12 voices and tape (1982–1984)
  • Les espaces acoustiques – VI – Epilogue, for 4 solo horns and large orchestra (1985)
  • Talea, for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, and piano (1986)
  • Le temps et l'écume, for 4 percussionists, 2 synthesizers, and chamber orchestra (1988–89)
  • Accords perdus: Cinq miniatures, for 2 horns (1989)
  • Le noir de l'étoile, for 6 percussionists, tape, and live electronics (1989–90)
  • Anubis, Nout, for bass saxophone and baritone saxophone (1990)
  • L'icône paradoxale (Hommage à Piero della Francesca), for 2 female voices and 2 orchestral groups (1992–94)
  • Stèle, for 2 percussionists (1995)
  • Vortex temporum, for piano, clarinet (bass, Bb and A), flute (bass, C and picc.), violin, viola and cello (1994–96)
  • Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, for soprano and fifteen instruments (1997–98)


  • Arrell, Chris. 2002. "Pushing the Envelope: Art and Science in the Music of Gérard Grisey". Doctoral Dissertation, Cornell University.
  • Arrell, Chris. 2008. "The Music of Sound: An Analysis of Gérard Grisey's Partiels". In Spectral World Musics: Proceedings of the Istanbul Spectral Music Conference, edited by Robert Reigle and Paul Whitehead. Istanbul: Pan Yayincilik. ISBN 9944-396-27-3.
  • Fineberg, Joshua (2006): Classical Music, Why Bother?: Hearing the World of Contemporary Culture Through a Composer's Ears. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97174-8, ISBN 978-0-415-97174-4.
  • Grisey, Gérard: "Écrits ou l’invention de la musique spectrale" (edited by Guy Lelong and Anne-Marie Réby), « Répercussions », Musica Falsa, Paris 2008 [388 p. ; ISBN 978-2-915794-31-1]
  • Cohen-Levinas, Danièle (ed): "Gérard Grisey ou la beauté des ombres sonores. L'Harmattan / L'itinéraire, Paris, 2004.
  • Hervé Jean-Luc: "Dans le vertige de la durée (Vortex Temporum de Gérard Grisey)", L’Harmattan, Paris, 2001.
  • Baillet Jérôme: "Gérard Grisey, Fondements d’une écriture", L’Harmattan, Paris, 2000.
  • Grisey, Gérard / Murail, Tristan: "Entretemps (8)", Paris, 1989.
  • Levy, Fabien: "Gérard Grisey, eine neue Grammatologie aus dem Phänomen des Klangs" [Gérard Grisey, a new grammatologie from the Phenomenon of Sounds], in "20 Jahre Inventionen Berliner Festival Neuer Musik", ed. by I. Beirer/DAAD, Pfau Verlag, Berlin, 2002.

External links[edit]