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Darasse, Xavier

The French composer Xavier Darasse was born in 1934 in Toulouse in a family of musicians (his mother was an organist). He died before his time in November 1992. The organ left a deep imprint both on his life and work in the most various manners, ranging from highly concrete to very abstract ones.

The fourteen years Darasse spent at the Paris Conservatoire may seem like a long time; however, during that period he also had several professional activities: he performed at international level, did research work both on organ making and on original musical sources; at the same time he was producer at Radio France and in charge of cultural institutions.

Darasse wanted to bring the organ out of its religious context without making of it a mere substitute for the symphonic orchestra. He listened to the instrument in a new manner, bringing out its quality as a wind instrument (with continuous or interrupted sound), making use of a clear-cut discourse (hence the importance of touch and of finger articulation), of registration and of colours (the latter he inherited from his analysis teacher, Olivier Messiaen).

For all these reasons, it is not far-fetched to claim that Xavier Darasse made of the organ a more humane instrument. He kept up all his activities until a serious road accident in 1976 definitely interrupted his concert career. Though maintaining the same language, Darasse started giving priority to another instrument: the organ gave way to the human voice. In Organum I the voice is present in abstract manner, through breath and articulation, whereas A propos d’Orphée marks the beginning of the "new manner": “A propos d’Orphéeis a sort of tiny opera in which remain the basic elements: a voice and an instrument. They intermingle to the point of being confused one with the other”.

But the unifying factor in Darasse’s work is a digital volubility, a high capacity to capture the instant –hence an improvisatory and spontaneous quality; piled-up levels of timbres and registers are used, within which is used a characteristic figure, the arpeggio. This figure is the common denominator between chords and a linear movement; it is the ideal place where Darasse confronts the harmonic field, present in all his sketches, and unique source of all his works.

Apart from being deprived of an unfinished opera, we will never learn anything about that towards which he strove: the human voice.

Frank LANGLOIS


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