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
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
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.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin