Greek composer Georges Aperghis, born in Athens in 1945 has lived and worked in Paris since 1963. In 1971, after a few instrumental pieces more or less inspired by serial techniques, he composes his first musical play La tragique histoire du nécromancien Hiéronimo et de son miroir (for two female voices: singing and speaking, a lute, a cello). This piece is at the root of much of his future investigations into the relationships between music and text, between music and stage. Thus, he takes part in the great adventure of musical theater that begun in France at the Festival d'Avignon. He went on to create La tragique histoire… (1971), Vesper (1972), Pandæmonium (1973), and Histoire de loups (opera, 1976) for the festival. Starting in 1976, Aperghis’s work is divided among three main areas: musical theater, concert music and opera.
With the founding of ATEM (Atelier Théâtre et Musique) in the Paris suburbs of Bagnolet (1976 to 1991) and Nanterre (at the Theatre des Amandiers from 1992 to 1997), he reinvents his approach to composition. Employing musicians as well as actors, the ATEM performances were inspired by ordinary life and social issues transposed into an often absurd, satirical and poetic world. These works were progressively built up through successive rehearsals. All the ingredients (vocal, instrumental, gestural, theatrical ...) are treated equally and contribute, along with the pre-existing text, to the drama of the shows. From 1976 with La bouteille à la mer until 1997, when he left the ATEM, he created a total of over twenty shows, including Conversations (1985) Enumérations (1988), Jojo (1990), H (1992), Sextuor (1993) and Commentaires (1996). After 1997, Georges Aperghis goes on working on musical plays in a more versatile way, especially in Zwielicht (1999), Machinations (2000) Paysage sous surveillance (2002), after Heiner Müller, Le petit chaperon rouge (2003), Luna Park (2011).
His concert music includes a large series of instrument or vocal solo pieces (among them his masterpiece Récitations, 1978), introducing theatrical elements here and there, sometimes purely gestural. His chamber music, either orchestral, vocal, or instrumental, is rich with many pieces composed for a wide variety of performing ensembles. In these, he does not give up his taste for experimentation, nor for a certain kind of provocation (Die Wände haben Ohren, for large orchestra, 1972), but unlike musical theater, nothing is intentionally stage-oriented, all is composition-driven. The music of Georges Aperghis is rhythmically complex, always charged with a vigorous energy obtained by the treatment of limits (ranges, nuances, virtuosity), and combinations (voice + instrument / string instruments + percussion / sound + noise, etc.). Georges Aperghis partially abandons concert music in the eighties to focus on musical theater, but in the nineties it becomes a particularly fertile ground for him again. The pieces Tingel Tangel (1990, trio), the series of Simulacres (1991-1995), L’Adieu (1994, mezzo-soprano and orchestra) and Faux mouvement (1995, trio) inaugurate a great creative period in the field of chamber music and orchestra. This creative period continues very recently with Contretemps (2006, soprano and ensemble), Teeter Totter, (2008, for ensemble) and Seesaw (2009, for ensemble).
This third area can be considered as a synthesis : here the text is the unifying and decisive element and the singing voice is the main vector of expression. Georges Aperghis has composed seven lyric works based on Jules Verne (Pandaemonium, 1973), Diderot (Jacques le fataliste, 1974), Freud (Histoire de loups, 1976), Edgar A. Poe (Je vous dis que je suis mort, 1978), a letter from Goethe to Bettina Brentano (Liebestod, 1981), Alain Badiou (L’écharpe rouge, 1984), Levi-Strauss (Tristes Tropiques, 1996). Les Boulingrin, after Georges Courteline (2010) returns to the genre, abandoned for many years. Since the early 2000s, classifying Georges Aperghis’s works in these three distinct domains is more confusing than ever because of their very nature.
Die Hamletmaschine (2001), an oratorio based on Heiner M¸ller’s work; Dark Side (2004), a "monodrama" based on Aeschylus Oresteia); Avis de tempÍte (2004) an opera; perhaps even Wˆlfli Kantata (2006), a cantata based on Adolf Wˆlfli’s texts) or Happiness Daily (2009, for soprano, mezzo-soprano and ensemble); all of them call into play questions of drama, of performance, of staging and they illustrate the freedom with which Georges Aperghis plays on classifications and genres, in concert as well as in theater. A prolific composer with a never-ending inventiveness, Georges Aperghis is building a very personal corpus of works, serious and humorous at the same time, rooted in tradition as well as free of institutional constraints. Skillfully opening up unexpected horizons of vitality and ease for his performers, he seamlessly reconciles the sound and visual, as much as he broaches issues embedded in the tragic or derisory of his time.
In October 2011, Georges Aperghis received the Mauricio Kagel’s Prize.
© Antoine Gindt – Translation Stéphanie Potier
His music is published by Universal Classical Music Publishing
Photo : © Kai Bienert