The Death and Life of Spectral Music


Something is killing spectral composers. Gérard Grisey, the pioneer of the genre, died of a stroke at age 52, immediately following the completion of his funereal work “Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil.” Claude Vivier, the Quebecois Jonathan van Ness of new music, was murdered at 34 by a man he picked up in a gay bar, after writing “Glaubst Du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele,” a piece that seemed to predict the circumstances of the crime. The Italian Fausto Romitelli, whose work is tinged with distorted electric guitar and LSD, succumbed to cancer at 41. The Romanian Ana-Maria Avram passed away at 55, the Spaniard Francisco Guerrero Marín at 49. (Bob Gilmore, the musicologist who wrote groundbreaking biographies of Vivier and Harry Partch, died in 2015 at 54.) Besides a premature death, there is something else that ties each of these composers together—not necessarily their adherence to “spectralism,” which involves material drawn from the harmonic series, but the combination of intellectual rigor and passionate hedonism in their work.

One thought on “The Death and Life of Spectral Music

  1. It was especially hard to lose Ana-Maria Avram, who I had been in contact with for many years. She was good people, an amazing composer, and the wife of legendary composer Iancu Dumitrescu, who I haven’t heard any new music from in ages.

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