Claude Vivier

Claude Vivier

A Composer's Life

Bob Gilmore

Personal eBook

University of Rochester Press



In 1983, French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier was murdered in Paris at the age of thirty-four. Based on unrestricted access to Vivier's personal archives, this book is the first to tell his story.
Claude Vivier's haunting and expressive music has captivated audiences around the world. But the French-Canadian composer is remembered also because of the dramatic circumstances of his death: he was found murdered in his Paris apartment at the age of thirty-four. Given unrestricted access to Vivier's archives and interviews with Vivier's family, teachers, friends, and colleagues, musicologist and biographer Bob Gilmore tells here the full story of Vivier's fascinating life, from his abandonment as a child in a Montreal orphanage to his posthumous acclaim as one of the leading composers of his generation.
Expelled from a religious school at seventeen for "lack of maturity," Vivier gave up his ambition to join the priesthood to study composition. Between 1976 and 1983 Vivier wrote the works on which his reputation rests, including Lonely Child, Bouchara, and the operas Kopernikus and Marco Polo. He was also an outspoken presence in the Montreal arts world and gay scene. Vivier left Quebec for Paris in 1982 to work on a new opera, the composition of which was interrupted by his murder. On his desk was the manuscript of his last work, uncannily entitled "Do You Believe in the Immortality of the Soul." Vivier's is a tragic but life-affirming story, intimately connected to his passionate music.

Bob Gilmore was a noted musicologist and performer who taught at Brunel University in London. He wrote or edited five previous books, including Harry Partch: A Biography.

Listen to BBC 3's radio programme about Claude Vivier here


25 black and white illustrations
330 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
Hardback, 9781580464857, June 2014
Personal eBook, 9781580468428, June 2014
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC BIO004000, MUS050000, HIS006000
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Table of Contents

"The fact of knowing I had no father or mother"(1948-67)
"I want art to be a sacred act, the revelation of forces" (1967-71)
"To push my language further" (1971-72)
"A need to communicate with the rest of the cosmos" (1972-74)
"Something different is coming, something more precise, more clear" (1974-76)
"A journey into the depths of myself " (1976-77)
"Subtle musics / Filling my soul" (1977-79)
"A mystical enchantment" (1978-79)
"Oh beautiful child of the light" (1979-81)
"The passionate love for music that sometimes stops me from composing" (1981-82)
"It's only in thinking about music, and about sound, that I can be happy" (1982-83)
"In Quebec people die easily" (1983-)
Appendix 1: Chronology of Compositions
Appendix 2: Selected Discography


The Quebec composer Claude Vivier made some of the most haunting and personal musical statements of any composer of the later twentieth century, and in recent years his music has been entering the canon of twentieth-century concert music. . . . Gilmore deftly describes (the biographical) contexts and then reaps maximum literary mileage from an analysis of the ways Vivier was both in and out of phase with his environment. An astounding late work by one of the most sensitivecommentators on the music of the second half of the twentieth century. MUSIC & LETTERS

Direct and to the point, but enriched with wonderfully descriptive passages, seamlessly paraphrasing, quoting and analysing a wealth of sources. An accessible and virtuosic work. TEMPO

An informative and moving account of the composer, his works, and their context. A strong sense of place infuses the narrative. Discussion of Vivier's music (is) enlightening. CHOICE

A labour of love on (Gilmore's) part, more than ten years in the writing, and making much use of interviews with friends and colleagues. Interweaves biography and discussion of the music in a single narrative, which is clear and very readable. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE

Most Famous Canadian Composer is not a hotly contested title. Now the multilateral champ -- francophone, anglophone, living or dead -- is surely Claude Vivier. . . . As assured as (Gilmore's musical) analysis is, it is of course the life that keeps the pages turning. MONTREAL GAZETTE

Gilmore moves gracefully between the gay scene in Paris or Montreal and the scores on the composer's desk (as Vivier himself did) to create a deeply engaged and engaging portrait. TLS Books of the Year. TLS

(S)trikes a rare balance between putting Vivier in a meaningful context and leaving much of the enigma intact. Gilmore unlocks a realm that conjures up the vivid sounds and colours of an idealized fantasy world. . . .(A) thoroughly rewarding experience. MUSICWORKS

Claude Vivier lived a life we had thought extinct: that of the doomed creative genius, casting off masterpieces from an unstoppable ride into the abyss. Bob Gilmore brings immediacy, sensitivity, and care to telling the story of Vivier's life, while also guiding us through and into some of the most breathtaking music of the late twentieth century. This is a necessary book, and an exciting one. --Paul Griffiths, author of The Sea on Fire: Jean Barraqué

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