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.