A harp, lit intensely from above. A man leads a woman to the harp, then moves away and sits. She begins to play the harp, but also to sing: at first only syllables, then a few words, fragmentary and seemingly unconnected. She breathes and sighs, gesturing to the man who remains mute and passive. The music and her demeanour gradually become more impassioned as she pours out her emotions, from gentle and playful to scornful and violent, now addressing him with full sentences. Their mysterious relationship becomes somewhat clearer as we witness her obsessive emotional turmoil. The initially random musical repetitions and gestures evolve and unfold; a harrowing portrayal of loss and despair emerges.

After a last outburst, exhausted, she comes slowly to a close. He calmly rises, goes to her and leads her away in silence. A music theatre piece by Georges Aperghis.


April 1999

Who is Georges Aperghis?

Georges Aperghis
Patricia Dietzi/Ed. Durrant

With over 100 pieces composed and commissions from Ensemble Intercontemporain, Radio-France, WDR, the Strasbourg and Avignon Festivals and Lyons Opera, Georges Aperghis is still unknown in Britain. The bare facts of his life - born in Greece in 1945, early aptitude in visual art, moved to Paris in 1963, formed his own company, ATEM, in 1976 - do not distinguish him. Yet he follows directly from the post-war composers of music theatre and opera: Kagel's 'instrumental theatre' in which players become actors, gesturing with the very motions of playing; Berio and Globokar's emphasis on the meanings and sound of words and phonemes; Stockhausen and LigetiÕs preoccupation with the spatial elements of performing. Other influences include Beckett and Ionesco and their obsession with non-narrative forms and the ambiguities of language. Compositionally, Aperghis fully absorbed serial techniques of organisation and the music of Schaeffer and Xenakis.

There are hurdles, however. Aperghis has composed extensively for particular performers and exploited their abilities in productions of his own mise-en-scene. This presents other performers with a daunting unfamiliarity, especially since printed scores sometimes lack vital details of theatrical execution. The dramaturgical complexities, shared by all music/theatre hybrids, greatly extend performers beyond ordinary practise. The imaginative demands require direction, design and lighting and thus extend rehearsal time and increase the ÔproductionÕ needs, often in concert halls where there is little provision for such. Who would want to surmount these difficulties? What musician wants the challenge of encompassing these unfamiliar demands? Any performer who can attest to the dramatic insight, playful wit and musical invention of so original a composer.

That's who Georges Aperghis is.

The author Philip Headlam conducts The Continuum Ensemble in Recitations and Conversations, three concerts at the South Bank on 15, 16, 17 April featuring the music of Georges Aperghis and other contemporary composers from France.

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Previous articles:

March 1999
On frost, birth and death

February 1999
Keeping busy...

January 1999
Now that's what I call contemporary!

December 1998
Forty years of madness?

November 1998
To plug in or not to plug in?

October 1998
No, honestly it is a cello

September 1998
Composing for film

July/August 1998
New music on old instruments

June 1998
Blue sheep of record companies

May 1998
spnm looks to the future

April 1998
New Music 98 in Manchester