Programme Guide

The Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, to which Barbara Hannigan, members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle devote themselves at this late hour, is Gérard Grisey’s last composition, a work that bids farewell to the world. Its four songs deal repeatedly in different ways with crossing the threshold to death – introduced by a shadowy prélude and linked by three intermezzi to form a cycle lasting about 40 minutes. The music, with a vocal line in discreet dynamics and a fragmentary sound, exudes almost continuously an atmosphere of sorrow and leave-taking. This is also reflected in the texts on which it is based.

The first song, “The Death of the Angel”, based on a poem by Christian Guez Ricord, has the character of a desperate self-reflection with descending scales in half-tones, three-quarter tones and whole tones, with an expressive soprano line above. The second piece is based on fragmentary inscriptions on Egyptian sarcophagi, entered into the record in small syllabic values by the voice, which proceeds almost parlando. Number 3 then leads the listener into the mystical underworld of ancient Greece, where “the echo dies unheard” and “the voice is lost in the realm of shadows”. Finally, the fourth song, after an excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh, provides a look back at the Deluge; whether the certainty of cosmic reincarnation was in the foreground for Grisey or a fatalistic insight into the end of all times is left open, however, by the music…

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