What shapes life more than the idea that it is finite? In reality, that small step over the threshold at its end is an eternity. In his final work, Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil (Four Songs to Cross the Threshold), Gérard Grisey sends the angel across this ominous threshold first, then civilisation, then the voice and, finally, the human race. And each time, the magical membrane seems more porous.
In his final composition, Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele (Do You Believe in the Immortality of the Soul), Claude Vivier looks the end of his life directly in the eye. And sketches it precisely as it would later turn out – as if death had moved into his life long ago. Does life also remain present in death?
In the musical theatre creation Ich geh unter lauter Schatten (I walk among many shadows), by Giacinto Scelsi and Iannis Xenakis, four women follow these rites of passage, pushing open doors to related worlds of sound and ideas – and through their transcendental exercises they allow some sense of metaphysical existence to become apparent in earthly life.
Grisey’s musique liminale (liminal music) is itself a product of transcendence: he enters the limits of the note and creates an entire vocabulary out of these fine microtones. Scelsi had begun this journey into the impalpable interior of the note in meditative séances and opened up a territory that paved the way for both Grisey and Xenakis. In their hands, stiff, limiting material becomes soft and lively. Concepts such as interior and exterior, or life and after-life, become redundant. In Grisey’s closing lullaby, at the latest there is an acknowledgement that the drastic gulf between life and death is perhaps only a chimera generated by human fears: one that we have lost the ability to see through – or that we never learned in the first place.
G. Ricordi & Co. Bühnen- und Musikverlag GmbH
Éditions Salabert, Paris
Boosey & Hawkes · Bote & Bock GmbH
Produced by Ruhrtriennale.
Photo: Jörg Brüggemann