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GÉRARD GRISEY : Les espaces acoustiques

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Audio CD, February 17, 2005
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Editorial Reviews

Gérard Grisey (1946-1998)

Les Espaces Acoustiques

Gerard Grisey died in Paris in November of 1998 at the unready age of 52. He and his comrades Tristan Murail and Hughes Dufour belonged to the French compositional school called "spectralism," but neither Grisey nor his music were well known in the U.S.

t seems somehow fitting that the spectral music movement -- a conscious effort to create new harmonies (in a departure from serialist traditions) by basing music on prescribed harmonic pitch series or spectra -- should have been spearheaded by a small group of French composers. For one thing, it was a Frenchman -- the Napoleonic-era mathematician Joseph Fourier -- who first postulated that any complex waveform of finite duration could be resolved into an infinite series of pure sine waves, each having its own frequency (thus, any time signal has its equivalent representation as a spectrum in the frequency domain). For another thing, Gallic composers have always remained aloof from the Germanic mainstream; from Janequin and Machaut to Messaien and Boulez, the French have always been possessed of a slightly different perspective and have tended to follow their own parallel but fiercely independent paths.

Gerard Grisey (b. 1946) was one of the founders of the spectral movement in France. Though he claims to have moved away from the tenets of spectralism in recent years, his association with spectral music is likely to dog him for the rest of his life -- in the same way that the Impressionist label followed Maurice Ravel to the end of his days and beyond. Grisey attended Germany's Trossingen Conservatory (1963-65) and the Conservatoire National Superieur in Paris (1965-72), where he studied composition with Messaien. He also studied under Dutilleux at the Ecole Normale Superieure and attended the seminars of Stockhausen, Ligeti and Xenakis at Darmstadt. He studied acoustics at the Paris Science Faculty (1974), won a study grant to the Villa Medici in Rome (1972-74), and was in residence at IRCAM in 1980. He has taught composition at Darmstadt, IRCAM, the Scuola Civica in Milan and at various American universities. From 1982 to 1986, he taught at U.C. Berkeley and thereafter! , at the Paris Conservatoire National.

Product Details

  • Composer: Gérard Grisey
  • Audio CD (February 17, 2005)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Accord
  • ASIN: B0007UXJ1K
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,534,343 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Gerard Grisey was one of the founders of the spectralist school of composers, who sought a way of writing music based upon the character of sound itself, throwing off the arbitrariness of 12-tone serialism and seeking harmonies even more consonant than common-practice tonality. "We are musicians, and our model is sound and not literature, sound and not mathematics, sound and not theatre, or fine arts, quantum physics, geology, astrology, or acupuncture," Grisey wrote. LES ESPACES ACOUSTIQUES is a cycle of six works the composer wrote early in his career, from 1974 to 1985. They serve as his masterpiece, a credo of the spectralist approach to composition, and they may even change the way you think about music forever.

The cycle begins small, with each movement bringing in ever larger forces, and there's a great deal of theatricality in live performance. In then "Prologue", a solo viola explores variations of a little melodic cell, from the purest overtones to transitions to noise. Grisey pulls so many sounds out of the instrument that its 18-minute length doesn't get tiring at all, but rather leaves the listener awestruck. As the violist completes his piece by playing on an open string, ostentatiously retuning as he walks over to the waiting ensemble, seven players strike up the eery opening notes of "Periodes", the second piece of the cycle. This movement explores the contrasts between clockwork periodicity and more supple rhythms suggestive of human breathing. Musical time was to become the major concern of Grisey's late career, but it was present even here in this earliest of his acknowledged pieces.

"Periodes" concludes with a trombone blast, and the ensemble expands to eighteen musicians to make this the first sound of the third movement, "Partiels".
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