Death of a major French composer, 89

Le Monde reports the death yesterday of Pierre Henri, inventor of musique concrète and the most important French modernist after Pierre Boulez.

Working in 1950 with Pierre Schaeffer, Henri composed a Symphonie pour un homme seul, followed by several works of electronic abstraction. In 1958 he founded his own studio.

His works achieved wide currency through the ballets of Maurice Bejart and he stood for several decades at the centre of public debate on the shape of modern music.

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    • Thank you for the link, David. I very highly recommend the Medici documentary ‘The Art of Sounds (2007) – Pierre Henry’, which is on YT. I’d provide that link if I could, but it is easy to find via Google. That 52-minute video had quite a few surprises for me. The sounds coming from the walls of a tunnel certainly provided one. Henry also early on says, in effect, that his recording the sound changes the sound, parallel to the finding of quantum physicists that observing an object changes the object observed. All in all, thought-provoking and time very well spent.

  • I should point out that his last name was ‘Henry’, not Henri. More importantly, it does not diminish Pierre Henry’s accomplishments and importance at all to acknowledge that Pierre Schaeffer, 17 years his senior, was the originator of musique concrete, as do all sources I’m aware of. Schaeffer’s technological innovations during the 1940s were many in number and highly significant, and he coined the term ‘musique concrete’ in 1948. His first book, A la recherche d’une musique concrete, appeared in 1952. Henry joined him at the Club d’essai studio in 1949. Henry’s death is a significant event and a significant loss, for he was a vital force. As for ranking Schaeffer, Henry and Boulez, the last only briefly an associate and on a very different track, I should myself steer clear of doing so. Enough to say that Schaeffer was the technological wizard who originated musique concrete, to which Henry made invaluable contributions musically, for in music per se he was the more accomplished.

    • The dance is beautiful, for the simple reason that the human body is in itself an aesthetically creative thing, but the ‘accomanying music’ is so thin and uninteresting that all attention goes to the ballet. The human body can never be ‘modernistic’ since it is a natural thing. The sounds added to the dance in this video are entirely nonsensical and lacking any aesthetic or musical interest.

  • I still treasure his contribution with the Rock band Spooky Tooth on the Ceremony album of 1969 which first on LP I have now on cd>

  • One of the early pioneers of sonic art. Musique concrète has nothing to do with music, and also nothing with musical talent, because it is pasting of existing sound samples, manipulated, like the concept art of Rauschenberg which has nothing to do with painting and for which no painterly talents are necessary. It opened the doors to thousands of ambitious youngsters looking for a way of avoiding the difficult craft of music and the problems surrounding the musical tradition as it had got stuck in the 20th century, and yet being able to embark on a musical career. Like purely electronic music, it is all a playground with impressions, and very easy – effects without a cause:

    The propaganda and ideological polemics surrounding this stuff did great damage to contemporary music and helped to turn the central performance culture into a museum bunker. Thank you, Mr Henry!

    • Let’s hope that when you pass away, those who have found your work tedious and reactionary are, nonetheless, more kind in their remembrances of you than you are to others.

      • I don’t care. In music life, there’s much too much hypocrisy. And as for tedious and reactionary: for people with a modernist mind set, all ‘oldfashioned’ music must sound very, very tedious and reactionary; for them, a regular classical concert must be very hard to endure, such programmes being stuffed with all those tedious and reactionary pieces.

  • Yesterday the pianist Marc-André Hamelin said that ‘Apocalypse De Jean’ is a “true masterpiece” and among his “favorite pieces of music in any medium.”

    I listened several times to this work last night and I genuinely could not discern anything of worth in it.

    • What an incredible courageous enterprise to listen to that piece more than once, it is in itself almost an hour long, I believe. I tried to listen to it but gave-up after 10 minutes, it is merely the usual playing around with sound samples. But for people who are interested in pure sound and its manipulations, without any association with musical works, it will be interesting: you never know what is going to happen next, and you tumble from one sonic surprise into the other. And with the context of the Apocalypse, that can be very engaging and maybe, dependent upon one’s world view, uplifting.

    • This from a musician who loved and performed Gershwin with such elan!! Henry’s work to music is like fish to a bicycle.

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