radio in review

Xenakis must be one of the hardest composers to write about. He had no formal training as a composer, though Messiaen took him under his wing and told him to find his own way, not try to conform. Last Saturday afternoon, the Proms Feature, "Voices of the Stranger", made a pretty good job of picturing what Xenakis is about, weaving words and music continuously, informally, together so that they elucidated each other. At 75, Xenakis sounds resigned - he says he doesn't seek inspiration and doesn't even know if he ought to go on composing at all. His biographer, Nouritza Matossian, said his earliest works were inspired by Bartok, but he has always seemed to me one of the very few composers - Messiaen is another - who sprang upon the world fully armed. Which would certainly square with Xenakis's avowed intention to "get rid of what I am and behave as if I come from another planet".

"Powerful things are without sentiment," he said, and no doubt it's his privilege to contradict that by admiring the extremely emotional music of Brahms. Matossian said that Xenakis was very shy about talking of poetic inspiration and that, throughout his composing life, he has been responding to the early death of his mother. After Xenakis escaped from Greece in 1945, with an engineering diploma prudently stuffed in his pocket, he was lucky enough to get a job in Le Corbusier's office in Paris. He was one of a large cosmopolitan staff that worked long hours for little money, and when Xenakis designed the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958, he had to fight Le Corbusier to get due acknowledgement for what he had done. The hyperbolic paraboloids of the pavilion's walls were, according to architect Peter Buchanan, something that many architects were playing with at the time.

Buchanan provided the only real touch of critical sharpness in the programme. The few buildings that Xenakis designed after leaving Le Corbusier were, in his words, inept and naive, full of crude Corbusian cliches. Similar opinions of his music aren't rare, but if Xenakis's application of Brownian movements and stochastic principles to sound seems to result in something like cliches, at least he arrived at them in his own way, and it may well be, as he once pointed out in an interview, that our ears are pre-conditioned along lines that his are not. If musicians think Xenakis's music unmusical, so much the worse for them. Forty-odd years after it was written, his first orchestral piece, Metastasis, still sounds like a real breakthrough.

One of the teachers Xenakis tried in Paris was Arthur Honegger. Honegger didn't like what Xenakis was doing, and Xenakis didn't like Honegger as a person: "Milhaud was much kinder." By the end of Graham Fawcett's second programme in Composer of the Week, he had painted a brimming picture of French cultural life in the Teens and Twenties, without giving much idea of Honegger's character, beyond the fact that he listed four kinds of sport among his hobbies and drove around Paris in a red Bugatti. Honegger's passion for machines and speed linked him with the Italian Futurists and Revolutionary Russian composers such as Mossolov, though he would probably have despised both for their lack of musical craft. By accident, he was associated with Les Six, though he disliked the music of their artistic godfather, Satie, who, in turn, heard little he liked in Honegger's music. Honegger said he was more concerned to make good individual works than to cultivate an image or even a personal style, but excerpts from his operas Le roi David and Judith suggested that he spread himself pretty thin in trying to supply the musical equivalents of large public murals.

Outside this country, Honegger's five symphonies are played quite regularly. The first was commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1930, and the opening movement, heard on Wednesday, confirmed the impression of Honegger as a grim neo-classicist, with a taste for self-flagellation in the form of grey harmony and hectoring rhythms. Honegger greatly admired Albert Roussel, who, in the same year, for the same orchestra, wrote his Third Symphony - unimpeachably concise and exquisitely crafted - which, owing to many broadcasts by the BBC, has become a classic in this country. Although Honegger was 23 years Roussel's junior, he hardly added much to his mentor's musical language, and showed less wit and less sensitivity. Still, when the Nazis occupied Paris in 1941, he produced in his Second Symphony, heard in yesterday's programme, a statement that was concise, brave and sincere, with a particularly powerful slow movement. Perhaps it was irony, or perhaps it was mere inadvertence, that allowed him to indicate optimism at the end of the finale by breaking into a chorale in Lutheran style. He might have recollected how, in the previous war, Debussy had the wicked wit to turn "Ein feste Burg" into a menacing march.

Honegger: final programme 12noon today. Series repeated 11.30pm Mon-Fri next week

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice