The Sea on Fire: Jean Barraqué

December 2003
1 black and white illustrations
238 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC BIO004000, MUS050000, MUS020000

The Sea on Fire: Jean Barraqué

Paul Griffiths

The life and works of one of the most difficult yet rewarding composers of modern time.
Jean Barraqué is increasingly being recognized as one of the great composers of the second half of the 20th century. Though he left only seven works, his voice in each of them is unmistakeable, and powerful. He had no doubt of his responsibility, as a creator, to take his listeners on challenging adventures that could not but leave them changed. After the collapse of morality he had witnessed as a child growing up during the Second World War, and having taken notice of so much disarray in the culture around him, he set himself to make music that would, out of chaos, speak.
Three others were crucial to him. One was Pierre Boulez, who, three years older, provided him with keys to a new musical language -- a language more dramatic, driving and passionate than Boulez's. Another was Michel Foucault, to whom he was close personally for a while, and with whom he had a dialogue that was determinative for both of them. Finally, in the writings of Hermann Broch-and especially in the novel The Death of Virgil-he found the myth he needed to realize musically.
He played for high stakes, and he took risks with himself as well as in his art. Intemperate and difficult, even with his closest friends, he died in 1973 at the age of forty-five.

Paul Griffiths was chief music critic for the London Times (1982-92) and The New Yorker (1992-96) and since 1996 has written regularly for the New York Times. He has written books on Boulez, Cage, Messiaen, Ligeti, Davies, Bartók and Stravinsky, as well as several librettos, among them The Jewel Box (Mozart, 1991), Marco Polo (Tan Dun, 1996) and What Next? (Elliott Carter, 1999).

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Table of Contents

Family and Formation
Langlais, and a Beginning
Messiaen, and Friendships
A Nietzsche Sequence
Musique Concrete
The Death of Virgil
Time Regiven
Beyond Chance
Since Debussy
Citation: Hommage a Claude Debussy
Song after Song
The Man Lying Down


Paul Griffiths's telling of Barraqué's life makes for an engrossing read: he does a masterful job in writing up his hearing of the music. --Robert D. Morris, Professor and Chair of Composition, Eastman School of Music

Paul Griffiths's long-awaited Barraqué biography explodes with fresh details about the composer's professional and personal relationships. --Roger Woodward, Director and Professor, School of Music and Dance, San Francisco State University

Griffiths -- who has published novels as well as many books on music -- strikes a distinctly personal note in search of his subject. . . a real labour of love. . . this is a book to read like a novel rather than keep on the shelf for reference. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE, March 2004

Griffiths' welcome addition to the literature of 20th-century music opens a window that, though never completely closed, had been sufficiently shuttered to prevent a truly balanced view of mid-century serialism. Current texts certainly do not focus on Barraqué; indeed, many do not even include his name in their indexes. Thanks to this book, all that may change. Highly recommended. CHOICE

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