Obituaries: Gerard Grisey

GERARD GRISEY was one of the most original composers of the generation which followed Pierre Boulez.

An initiator of so-called "spectral" composition, a new style of music developed mainly in France from the detailed study of the acoustical life of sounds, Grisey produced a large and varied output of colourful works, often laced with unexpected touches of humour and caprice. He was also an influential teacher, whose numerous pupils included such prominent figures as Magnus Lindberg.

Born in Belfort, France, in 1946, Grisey initially studied in Germany at the Trossingen Conservatoire, later returning to his native country to study with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire and Henry Dutilleux at the Ecole Normale. From both his teachers Grisey inherited a sensitivity to sound, harmony and instrumentation, and he shared with Messiaen an almost naive freshness and sense of wonder in his attitude towards culture in general.

Grisey's fascination with Oriental and African music was matched by an unusually catholic taste in Western music - he was one of the few French composers to love the music of Jancek and Sibelius, for example. Grisey also attended the Darmstadt Summer School for New Music where he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose 1968 work Stimmung was a crucial influence.

Grisey won the coveted Prix de Rome, and stayed at the Villa Medici between 1972 and 1974. He remembered this as one of the most exciting periods of his life: he struck up a friendship with a fellow composer, Tristan Murail, with whom he founded the ensemble L'Itineraire; and composed his first mature work, the orchestral Derives.

Grisey had been a keen student of acoustics during his Paris years, and his personal style emerged through investigating sound and exploring the nature of human perception. For instance, Periodes for seven instruments, from 1974, was based around sections of regularity and consonance, distorted into chaotic and unpredictable textures, which in their turn transform back into simple harmonies.

It was a characteristically simple yet expressive idea, which Grisey also used the following year in the Partiels for 18 players. These two works became the centre of a vast cycle of six pieces, ranging from a viola solo to music for large orchestra, entitled Les Espaces Acoustiques ("Acoustic Spaces", finally completed in 1985), lasting over an hour and a half.

Each can be played on its own, or connected to any adjacent work in the cycle - the ending of the first piece is the beginning of the second, and so forth. Grisey was very proud of Les Espaces Acoustiques, and its complete performance in September 1996 at the Strasbourg Ars Musica Festiva, where he was featured composer, played to a sold-out hall to great acclaim. He was also featured composer at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on two occasions.

Grisey's sudden emergence as a new voice in French music, quite distinct from the school of Boulez, won him immediate attention and he began to be much in demand internationally both as composer and teacher, especially in Italy (where he signed a long-term contract with Ricordi Publishers) and in Germany (where he taught for many years at the summer school in Darmstadt).

From 1982 to 1986 he taught composition at the University of California at Berkeley, and then returned to Paris in 1987 as Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire, where he remained until his death.

He made an ideal teacher - widely read and very witty, he had a ready sympathy for young composers and was proud that, on the whole, his pupils wrote such different music from both him and each other. His class was notable both for its lively, often hilarious atmosphere, and for the range of music he analysed - anything from Machaut to Stockhausen, via such favourites as Jancek, Messiaen or Scelsi.

A thoughtful man and a fastidious composer, Grisey preferred to work patiently at those pieces which really mattered - there are no minor works. After 1986, his style changed substantially, with such works as the compelling Vortex Temporum for ensemble (1996), which created a sensation at Huddersfield last November, and above all the major song- cycle to texts by Piero della Francesca, L'Icone Paradoxale, a commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic who premiered it under Esa-Pekka Salonen in 1996.

Wilder and more agile than his previous music, these bold pieces confirmed his position as one of Europe's key composers, whose music appealed to audiences, without any stylistic compromise or concession. Just before his untimely death, he had completed a BBC commission for the London Sinfonietta, inspired by the inscriptions on ancient Egyptian sarcophagi and to be premiered in London next February.

Gerard Grisey, composer: born Belfort, France 17 June 1946; teacher of composition, University of California, Berkeley 1982-85; Professor of Orchestration and Composition, Conservatoire de Paris 1987-98; married (one son); died Paris 11 November 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
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
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.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?