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QUATRE CHANTS POUR FRANCHIR LE SEUIL for Soprano and 15 instruments by GÉRARD GRISEY (France,1946 – 1998)

[#238] February 12, 2024

1999 | Solo Soprano and Ensemble | Grade 6 | 35’ – 40’ | Solo work

French composer Gérard Grisey

“Quatre chansons pour franchir le seuil”, by French composer Gérard Grisey is our Composition of the Week.

“Quatre chansons pour franchir le seuil” (Four songs to cross the threshold), was composed between 1996 and 1998, and it is Grisey’s last work.

It was premiered on February 3, 1999, by the London Sinfonietta, by Valdine Anderson, Soprano, and composer George Benjamin conducting.


“Quatre chansons …” is divided in five sections, where the last one, berceuse, emanates from the 4th, as an awakening song for a humanity at last free of nightmares.

The complete cycle has a duration of around 40 minutes, and it is edited by Ricordi.

The score calls for the following instrumentation:


Solo soprano

flute (also piccolo flute, alto flute), bass clarinet (also clarinet), bass clarinet (also contrabass clarinet), tenor saxophone (also alto saxophone, soprano saxophone), tenor saxophone (also baritone saxophone), trumpet (also piccolo trumpet), 2 bass tubas (also 1 euphonium), 3 percussionists, harp, violin, cello, double bass.


“I have conceived “Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil” as a musical meditation on death in four parts: the death of the angel, the death of civilization, the death of the voice and the death of humanity. The four movements are separated by short interludes of inconsistent sound dust, intended to maintain a level of tension slightly above the polite but relaxed silence that reigns in concert halls between the end of one movement and the beginning of the next. The texts chosen belong to four civilizations (Christian, Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian) and share a fragmentary discourse on the inevitability of death. The choice of the instrumentation was dictated by the musical need to contrast the lightness of the soprano voice with a deep, heavy yet sumptuous and colorful sound mass.” 

Gérard Grisey showed an early interest in music, and at the age of nine made his first attempts at composition. He began his studies in Germany, at the Trossingen Conservatory (1963-1965), before moving on to the Paris Conservatory, where he received a classical training (degrees in harmony, counterpoint, and fugue, where he excelled, as well as in music history and piano accompaniment). At the same time as attending Olivier Messiaen's composition class (1968-1972), he studied with Henri Dutilleux at the École Normale de Musique (1968) and was introduced to electroacoustic techniques with Jean-Étienne Marie (1969).


His stay at Villa Médicis from 1972 to 1974 was an opportunity for important encounters (with the poet Christian Guez Ricord) and discoveries (the music of Giacinto Scelsi). The Ligeti and Stockhausen seminars, and to a lesser extent the Xenakis seminar, which he attended in 1972 as part of the Darmstadt Ferienkurse, confirmed his own musical preoccupations and had a lasting influence on him.


In 1973, Grisey took part in the founding of the ensemble “l'Itinéraire”, whose vocation was to defend, through the quality of its interpretations, an emerging repertoire with specific requirements. Émile Leipp's courses in acoustics at Paris VI (1974-1975) laid the foundations for his scientific approach to sound phenomena. From 1982 onwards, he was active as a teacher, first in California at Berkeley until 1986, then at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, where he taught orchestration and composition. He died of an aneurysm on November 11, 1998.



Other works for winds include:


Perichoresis (1969) for 3 instrumental groups, manuscript.

Mégalithes (1969) for 15 brass instruments, manuscript.












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