Before reviewing the present release spanning some
twenty five years of Goeyvaerts’ composing life, it may be useful to
retrace, albeit briefly, his early musical progress up to the period
when the pieces recorded here were written.
Though he had completed a number of pieces before 1950,
Goeyvaerts composed his first substantial works during his stay in Paris
when he studied with Milhaud and Messiaen. Some of these, which earned
him his first successes, include his First Violin Concerto (1948) first
performed by Marcel Debot, Muziek voor viool, altstem en piano
(1948) on words by Shakespeare, Tre Lieder per sonare a venti-sei
(1948/9) for 26 instruments including Ondes Martenot which he had studied
with Maurice Martenot, the song cycle La flûte de jade
(1949) and Elegische muziek (1950) for alto and orchestra
presented for his diploma at the Paris Conservatoire. When leaving Paris,
Goeyvaerts started rethinking his music aiming at formal rigour, purity
of sound and complex organisation. The first product of what may be
referred to as his "radical" period is the complex, serially
structured and demanding Nr.1 (1951) for two pianos which
became a key work of modern music which impressed Stockhausen a great
deal. This was followed by two works for ensemble and three electronic
pieces. In 1957 he completed his orchestral work Diafonie
with which he nevertheless was dissatisfied to the point of banning
any performance. At that time Goeyvaerts went through a severe personal
and aesthetic crisis. He stopped composing and began working for the
Belgian airlines SABENA now defunct.
Improperia: Cantata for Good Friday,
written in 1959, marked his return to composition. This is a curious,
puzzling piece, quite unlike anything else he had written before. (In
his autobiography Goeyvaerts admits that he cannot remember where or
why he wrote this work.) When set against other Goeyvaerts pieces, it
sounds almost reactionary though on closer acquaintance it shares a
recurring characteristic of Goeyvaerts’ mature works, i.e. some sort
of a ritual. It is a serious, dark-hued piece, scored for alto, double
mixed chorus and six instruments (flute, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet/bass
clarinet, viola, cello and percussion). A curious work by any count
but a moving and beautiful one well worth reviving.
Zomerspelen (1961), for three instrumental
groups, is Goeyvaerts’ most overtly impressionistic piece. It was written
while the composer and his wife were on holiday on the Riviera. This
colourful, almost lush music obviously reflects what were happy, carefree
moments. The three sections (Végétations, Fruits-Vibrations,
Chaque instant) play without breaks and are written in a comparatively
straightforward musical idiom, although the third section originally
contained some aleatoric passages which the composer fully wrote-out
Bélise dans un jardin (1972) belongs
to a group of works in which Goeyvaerts experimented with words in an
attempt to get as far beyond the semantic meaning of the words as possible.
Thus, the text, if such there is, is completely de-constructed and its
bits are used as sound objects. So, as a result, much use is made of
different voice techniques (hissing, speaking, humming, singing, etc.)
though this short, colourful work ends with a clear, consonant chord.
The title refers to Garcia Lorca’s play Amor de Don Perlimplin con
Belisa en su Jardin, set as operas by Wolfgang Fortner and Bruno
Maderna, but the words used in this work also include multi-lingual
excerpts from newspapers and from other sources.
...Erst das gesicht, dann die Hände, und
zuletzt erst das Haar (1975) is scored for ten instruments,
i.e. five winds (oboe, clarinet, trumpet and trombone) and string quintet
(with double bass). The title is a quotation from a poem by Berthold
Brecht (Ballade der ertrunkenen Mädchen) and the tripartite
structure of the piece refers to the three parts of the body mentioned
in the title: Gesicht alternates brief wind interjections and
almost static string phrases, whereas Hände is more dynamic
and das Haar almost desperately soft. This fine work clearly
points to many later ensemble pieces, especially those derived or related
to Goeyvaerts’ opus magnum Aquarius and in 1990 Goeyvaerts
wrote another piece ...das Haar (also for ensemble) reflecting
his experience after having been carried to hospital.
One of Goeyvaerts’ early works was a Poeme de
Georges de Chirico (1944). Much later, in 1975, in Mon
doux pilote s’endort aussi for unaccompanied mixed chorus, he
set another poem by de Chirico. In this beautifully peaceful work, Goeyvaerts
adopts some sort of Minimalism which will be the hallmark of many of
his later pieces such as Pour que les fruits mûrissent cet
été, also from 1975, written for Renaissance instruments
and arranged later for small orchestra. As much of his late output,
this hypnotic work is, in its own way, some sort of ritual.
Avontuur (1985) is a short concerto for
piano and ten wind instruments in which rhythm is an important feature
though not in the usual, forward-moving sense. Short rhythmic phrases
or blocks are rather juxtaposed or opposed than developed, so that this
piece is again some sort of ritual, much similar to what happened in
the later Litanies composed between 1979 and 1982.
Karel Goeyvaerts was an influential and much respected
composer whose musical progress was far from straight. His quest, usefully
and excellently retraced in this double CD set, brought him to explore
many different territories before reaching his ultimate vision fully
realised in his last completed work, the ‘abstract opera’ Aquarius.
The performances are all very fine and well-recorded.
The older recordings (Zomerspelen which, to the best of
my knowledge, was never released on disc and Pour que les fruits...)
have been cleanly transferred. This set is a must for all those who
want to appreciate Goeyvaerts’ musical evolution over more than a quarter
of a century. I believe that it is by far the best introduction to Karel
Goeyvaerts’ music for the music is always gripping, thought-provoking
and very varied. Warmly recommended.