Claude Vivier

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Vivier in 1980

Claude Vivier (14 April 1948 - 7 March 1983) was a Canadian contemporary composer, pianist, poet and ethnomusicologist of Québécois origin. After studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne, Vivier became an innovative member of the "German Feedback" movement, a subset of what is now known as spectral music. He was also among the first composers in either Europe or the Americas to integrate elements of Balinese music and gamelan in his compositions, alongside Lou Harrison, John Cage and fellow Quebecker Colin McPhee.




  • I love Germany as much as I hate France.
    • Summer of 1971, Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • Already in October at the same time as my course with Stockhausen I will have to learn 2 African languages. Probably around January I will go to South Africa to study African music. This project is terribly important for me because for me to spend one year at the sources of music and to understand the fundamental reasons for music is terribly important, essential to the formation of a composer.
    • Letter to the Canada Council for the Arts, 1973 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • I've always been passionate, crazy about music, and believe me it's wonderful.
    • Letter to Serge Garant, Spring of 1974 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • As in the story where the master asks the pupil what he has learned and the pupil repeats shyly by heart what the master said, upon which the master responds by giving him a slap and asks the pupil to come back when he understands, I don't want to get a slap and I certainly don't want to write Balinese music!
    [...] How can one not speak of love when a friend, by way of farewell, dances for me, when an old woman offers me a piece of fruit for my journey to Java because for her the furthest you can go from Bali is Java!
    • Letter to Musicanada, 26 December 1976 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • [It is] a work for Javanese and Balinese gongs and other types of metal that I brought back with me from my journey, here the vision will be fundamentally a religious one.
    • Letter talking about Pulau Dewata to the Canada Council, March 1977 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life


  • For the first time in my life I feel good in Paris!
    • Letter to Thérèse Desjardins, 21 June 1982 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • What is very strange musically is that the only music that can really inspire me now is my own music — and I think that’s perfectly normal.
    I’ve found what I wanted: solitude and the space to think. [...] Soon my piano will arrive, because for composing I really need my instrument.
    • Letter to Thérèse Desjardins, 2 July 1982 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • As I told you on the phone, I'm not going to leave Paris, I'm staying home (I even made my first spaghetti sauce), I listen to the radio a lot (right now to marvelous Iranian vocal music), I compose, go to the cinema, to gay bars, and sleep.
    • Letter to Thérèse Desjardins, 10 August 1982 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • It will be rather sad music. It will also probably be one of my most beautiful and deepest works. I've been thinking a lot about music, and life, but particularly about music because it's only in thinking about music, and about sound, that I can be happy. [...] This piece I'm doing is an important bridge to cross before beginning the opera, technical work, obviously, a rediscovery (A) of counterpoint (B) of more dramatic musical time, closer to speech, with atomic elements of different kinds.
    • Letter talking about Trois air pour un opéra imaginaire to Thérèse Desjardins, 10 August 1982 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
  • Mahler is perhaps the musician with whom I have the most in common, an exaggerated sensibility, Schmalz and at the same time a deep desire for purity, but an almost libidinal purity — a harmony of Judeo-Christian opposites, in balance—and moreover a horror of origins, in fact all the inherent complexes of a Jew and a Christian.
    • Letter to Thérèse Desjardins, mid-September 1982 Gilmore (2014), Claude Vivier: A Composer's Life
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