Suite delphique (1943) Duration : 22’
I – Prélude (Aurore magique)
II – Les Chiens de l’Erèbe
III – Orage
IV – Repos de la nature
V – Procession
VI – Joie dionysiaque
VII – Invocation
VIII – Cortège
Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, 2 horns, Trumpet, Trombone, Onde Martenot, Harp, Timpani, 2 Percussions
A paradox: in 1946 French composer André Jolivet expressed a desire ‘to restore music’s original, ancient meaning when it was still a magical and beseeching expression of the religiousness of tribal communities’. But to achieve this idealised vision of primeval, pagan antiquity – of music untouched by the classical tradition as defined by a lineage that ran from Bach to Mahler – he grabbed at ideas unique to his own time and place.
Jolivet was obsessed with the music of Edgard Varèse, the renegade French composer who relocated to New York City in 1925 and responded to his new urban environment by filling his pieces with sirens and percussion, and who imagined the potential of electronic music long before technology existed to make it possible.
When technology eventually did catch up with Varèse, he created Déserts, which implanted an electronic tape part inside the orchestral metropolis, and the purely electronic Poème électronique: music designed to move classical composition far outside its musty European origins, towards the expanded consciousness of the mind and into outer space.
Varèse took Jolivet as his only European composition student and they bonded over a shared fascination for exotic mythologies and ancient cultures, and over the idea that a pseudo-scientific mode of control could provoke bold, chaotic sound masses. Magic and ancient ritual occupied an important role in Jolivet’s music; titles such as Cinq incantations pour flûte seule, Cinq danses rituelles and Épithalame (Epithalamium) all relate to mysterious spiritualities, while Suite delphique refers to the ancient musical practices of the Greek city of Delphi.
The suite form appealed to Jolivet. His 1942 Suite liturgique set sections of Catholic liturgy for choir and mixed ensemble, but Suite delphique grew from a different type of impulse. In 1943 Jolivet had provided incidental music for performances by theatre group Comédie Française of Iphigenia in Aulis by the classical Greek writer Euripides, who died in 406bc. The project allowed Jolivet to unearth and transform ancient Greek material, as he constructed his music from the modalities and melodic motifs of an ancient Delphic hymn. Suite delphique filets that same music into a concert version.
Jolivet called for an orchestra that resonated with the past and the future: surrounding an acoustic ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, two horns, trumpet, trombone and harp is a vast percussion section (manned by two percussionists) and an ondes martenot (the electronic instrument invented in 1928 that combined the electric wizardry of the theremin with a keyboard). The work begins as the hymn is intoned in the woodwinds, with strangely clashing harmonic overtones seeming to ‘detune’ the orchestra. It ends with a dignified funeral cortège.
Annotated by Laurent Warnier