New music from the old world

Interesting article in French over on about twentieth century music in general and Alex Ross' new book in particular. (Flaky machine translation here.) The writer is sometime Overgrown Path contributor Antoine Leboyer who highlights some overlooked contemporary European composers, and particularly recommends exploring Philippe Boesmans (above right), Guillaume Connesson, and Pascal Dusapin.

Connesson and Dusapin are both French, but Boesmans is Belgian. Today, Belgium has been without a government for 157 days, and as time ticks by the possibility of a permanent split between the country's Dutch and French speaking communities comes closer. It is a story that has attracted surprisingly little international media coverage, and that is not because Belgium is of little importance. It was the German invasion of the country in 1914 that caused Britain to enter the First World War, a conflict that changed the world political landscape for ever.

Since 1831, when the country was created by the Catholic Flemings and Walloons separating from the Protestant Netherlands, Belgium has had an identity crisis. This is shown by the following list of Belgium born figures from the arts who are commonly thought to be French, César Frank, Georges Simeon, Jacques Brel, and Renée Magritte, whose Ceci n'est pas une pipe (below) connects him with Simeon's Parisian detective Maigret.

Composer Philippe Boesmans was born in 1936 in Tongeren, in French speaking Wallonia. He worked as a producer of Radio-Télévision Belge de la Communauté Française (RTBF), and since 1985 has been resident composer at the Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie in Brussels. The 1993 premiere of Boesmans' opera Reigen was given at La Monnaie. This performance took place against a back-drop of possible federalisation, as this article from the New York Times recounts.

My header photo shows Boesmans (right) talking to director Luc Bondy during the production of the composer's new opera Julie at La Monnaie in 2005, and the lower photo is from that production. Julie is a one-act chamber opera is based Strindberg's play, Miss Julie, as is William Alwyn's eponymous opera from 1976. If you want to sample new music from the old world, Philippe Boesmans' Julie is available on Cypres Records in a live recording from La Monnaie.

More on new music in Europe here. And as Christmas is approaching why not visit Le village de Noël in César Frank's birthplace, Liège?
Image credits. Header and footer La Mediateque. Magritte from Wikipedia. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Garth Trinkl said…
Interesting short report on Belgium, and interesting recommendations by your French colleague Antoine Leboyer of Philippe Boesmans, Guillaume Connesson, and Pascal Dusapin.

Interesting (to me and perhaps you and others), is that Guillaume Connesson has had, I believe, two works performed by the National Symphony, in Washington, over the past 5 or 6 years -- by visiting young French conductor Stephane Deneve, who the NSO has been courting with some degree of intensity since Ivan Fischer took himself out of the running to succeed Leonard Slatkin. I had a favorable reaction to Connesson's colorful, somewhat lush works. The audience applause was also warmer, I recall, than usual for NSO performances of contemporary works.

Pascal Dusapin has also been quite well represented here in conservative Washington (compared, say, to the French 'spectralists'), by his numerous chamber works performed regularly at the French Embassy, but also at the National Gallery Sunday evening concerts (to mixed reception). I splurged this past summer on the video of Dusapin's 'Faustus, the Last Night' -- which I will probably get around to viewing a second (or third) time this winter.

Philippe Boesmans -- your Belgian -- I like *very* much. Besides the operas 'Reigen' and 'Miss Julie', there are 'La Passion de Gilles' and 'Wintermärchen' (composed with director Luc Bondy on The Winters Tale)-- both of which I have recordings of. (I may also have a recording of Reigen, I can't recall now.) I've seen 'Wintermärchen' twice at Vienna's alternative music theater venue, Odeon; and I'm hoping the slightly European melancholic work (with prominent accordian solos)will come to the New York City Opera (under Gerard Mortier), the San Francisco Opera, or (gasp) the Washington National Opera.

Note that while I see recordings, on DG 20/21, of 'Wintermärchen' going for over $200 on British or German Amazon sites, the American Amazon site lists about $55. (Or check your public library.)

(I'm now trying to decide between the recording and the video of Boesmans's Miss Julie.)
Pliable said…
Email received:

I suppose you do not want me, as a Belgian, to comment. Against the current background of foolish nationalism – mostly in politics & in the media.

I can see that in the UK as well the Scottish Nat Party is gaining strength.

This might be an early taste of the shape of things to come.

It’s double.

The upcoming Europe might have to face two trends:

- micro nationalism. For instance Flemish nationalism will further develop to micro – nationalism, overlooking state borders. West FL wants to be much closer to Nord – Pas De Calais in France. BE/ VL Limburg – possibly rightly- wants to develop an economic area encompassing Köln( Cologne / Keulen), Maastricht, Liège ( Luttich, Luik) and Limburg ( Dutch province). Etc.. There will be one major victim : Brussels.

- growing importance of major cities with a huge hinterland. It’s not excluded that within x years people will have a look at the world, starting from this concept.

Back to our beloved Music.

Belgium happens to be a country with a very lively musical performance scene.

However it’s not a country of many, many great musicians. Here and there there’s an exception. In classical music Boesmans & Breways, performers Ph. Herreweghe and the Kuiken Brothers. In present day free jazz ( he’s.. 70 years old) : Fred Van Hove,,445837,00.html . I overlook many courageous BE people now.

The best in arts that ever happened to us was Bruegel, for instance ; ; .

Bernard Tuyttens
Pliable said…
I knew I was getting into tricky waters with this post ...

Dear Pliable, Thank you for highlighting the music of Philippe Boesmans in your blog today.

I would like to make a small, but important correction, though: You write: "Composer Philippe Boesmans was born in 1936 in Tongeren, in French speaking Wallonia." While Mr Boesmans is French speaking, Tongeren is in Dutch speaking Flanders.

Sincerely, Ivo SwinnenAs, Belgium

P.S.: Belgium became independent in 1830, not 1831. ;-)
Drew80 said…
In the very late 1970's or very early 1980's, Philippe Boesmans wrote a magnificent violin concerto. The work is so fine, in my opinion, that it should have entered the repertory by now.

A recording of the Boesmans Violin Concerto is still in print, I believe.

I wish Anne-Sophie Mutter would take it up.
Civic Center said…
I have nothing but respect for your proofreading, especially with all the proper names from so many languages, but you're missing an "n" in Georges Simenon.
Pliable said…
Thanks Mike. I never cease to be amazed what an erudite bunch my readers are. And it appears the Yanks know their Belgian authors better than the Europeans!

I can honestly say my readers are my proofreaders. And it works.

Why is why I made the theme of my Cambridge University paper 'Blogs -the new wisdom of crowds?'
Kyle L said…
I see that Belgian serialist Henri Pousseur is not mentioned. Or, perhaps, he has already been forgotten.

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