Les Litanies de l'ombre



11 mn

• World premiere: June 1991, salle Gaveau, Paris (France), during the final exam of the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris (imposed work).

• First public performance: 27/01/1992, salle Cortot, Paris (France), dans le cadre de la Société nationale de musique - Hideki Nagano.

• Publisher: Alphonse Leduc.

• Commissioned by the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris.

• CD “Chorus” (Accord/Universal 476 1282 - 2003).

• CD “En miroir” (Mirare MIR 362 - 2017).

Written when the composer was finishing his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, and more or less contemporary with his First Symphony (‘Kyrie d’une messe imaginaire’) for orchestra, this piece remains the most representative of his preoccupations at the time.

What strikes one upon listening is this violent incessant combat between mysticism and sensuality, between a Gregorian melody—and fake Gregorian at that—and polymodal colours, and a ‘theme series’ gradually taking form in much more moving harmonies and irrational rhythms reinforcing the unstable mood of the whole. Here, everything is stated in a wild, breathless, convulsive way. The opposition of contrasting sound worlds is both brutal and continuous. When they are not in confrontation, interrupting each other—like the abrupt eruptions of the introductory period sounding like premonitions of the later evolution—, these worlds are superimposed and combine, prompting writing by super- imposed strata that make the execution of the work particularly arduous.

The great final progression, for example, based on the obstinate persistence of a solemn chorale derived from the Dies iræ, witnesses, in the instrument’s middle register, Gregorian reminiscences distorting in a hazy counterpoint whereas, in a high third level a sort of danse macabre arises in a completely different tempo. Hence very frequent polyrhythrnic writing necessitated by the handling of the discourse. What one retains primarly, once the performance of the work is over, is an architecture based on two long formal progressions, the first falling back to its climax on an anthem evoked like a distant memory, whereas the second will lead to a sort of sound storm where all the ‘thematic characters’ flood in before leaving again, bloodless, under the pealing of an unchanging, bewitching knell.

Thierry Escaich
Translated by John Tyler Tuttle