The Composer Georges Aperghis
“I do not have a strong voice. I find it very difficult to speak. In front of many people, for example. And that is why I am highly attuned to the way someone speaks.”
In his own music, the Greek-French composer Georges Aperghis is also intent on the manner of speaking. In general, the articulation of sounds – regarding voices and instruments alike – is remarkably important and artistically differentiated in his voluminous and far-ranging oeuvre.
Born in Athens in 1945 to a sculptor and a painter, Aperghis became a largely self-taught composer and painter, listening to modern works whenever he could – Greece being rather remote on the map of avant-garde music and art at the time. Those works included Bartók, Stravinsky and Schoenberg; he also read any score he could lay hands on. Still, he was uncertain whether to pursue a career in music or the visual arts.
When he moved to Paris in 1963, he decided in favour of music, mastering the repertoire and inventory of new music. Thus, he was influenced by the haptic sounds of Iannis Xenakis, his older compatriot also living in Paris, whose musical ideas often resembled architectural concepts. The advances and techniques of “instrumental theatre”, which John Cage and Mauricio Kagel both developed during the 1950s, were another lasting influence.
Two decades later, he founded the theatre group Atelier Théâtre et Musique (ATEM) in Paris, within which all singers, actors and actresses, musicians and visual artists had equal status. With them, he conceived expressive forms in which banal, often brief situations from daily life were transformed into theatrical poetry. This manner of seeing, hearing and thinking and the resulting insights – the constant, odd fluctuation of our communication, the stumbling interplay of question and answer, the relation between action and reaction – also inhabits his instrumental music.
Thus, Aperghis’ interpreters must not only bring perfect command of their instrument to his works, but also of themselves. In his pieces – which number far more than one hundred – he gives exact prescriptions of mimicry and gestures, but frequently also spoken passages. The various possibilities of speaking, its timbres and resulting affect is calculated with exacting precision by the composer Aperghis, including the resulting micro- and interior dramaturgies constituting his scenes and larger forms.
Narration and recitation form the central notions of his aesthetics. This applies not only to his musical theatre works or vocal compositions; with the exception of the early studies, his purely instrumental pieces have also proven themselves rhetorical organisms ranging from solo to large-scale orchestral works. His pieces sing out in an idiom of astonishing rhetorical power, revealing themselves as elaborate recitatives. Not that Georges Aperghis would work like baroque composers, celebrating a catalogue and inventory of familiar rhetoric figures. Aperghis’ rhetoric is one of sonorous gestures, creating an effective narrative situation. In addition, we find surprising dramaturgical ideas, fragmentations, leaps and continuities which lend his music narrative elements, with humour and wit, but invariably also with the seriousness he demands of himself. After all, Georges Aperghis’ music is about mankind – for mankind.