Jean Barraqué

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Jean-Henri-Alphonse Barraqué (January 17, 1928 August 17, 1973) was a French composer and writer on music who developed an individual form of serialism which is displayed in a small output.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

In music, serialism is a method of composition using series of pitches, rhythms, dynamics, timbres or other musical elements. Serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, though some of his contemporaries were also working to establish serialism as a form of post-tonal thinking. Twelve-tone technique orders the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, forming a row or series and providing a unifying basis for a composition's melody, harmony, structural progressions, and variations. Other types of serialism also work with sets, collections of objects, but not necessarily with fixed-order series, and extend the technique to other musical dimensions, such as duration, dynamics, and timbre.



Barraqué was born in Puteaux, Hauts-de-Seine. In 1931, he moved with his family to Paris. He studied in Paris with Jean Langlais and Olivier Messiaen and, through Messiaen, became interested in serialism. After completing his Piano Sonata in 1952, he suppressed or destroyed his earlier works. A book published by the French music critic André Hodeir, titled Since Debussy, [1] created controversy around Barraqué by claiming this work as perhaps the finest piano sonata since Beethoven. As the work had still not been publicly performed, and only two other works by him had at this time, the extravagant claims made for Barraqué in this book were received with some scepticism. Whilst with hindsight it is clear that Hodeir had accurately perceived the exceptional features of Barraqué's music—notably its searing Romantic intensity, which distinguishes it from the contemporaneous works of Boulez or Stockhausen.[ citation needed ]

Puteaux Commune in Île-de-France, France

Puteaux is a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, France. It is located in the heart of the Hauts-de-Seine department 8.7 kilometres (5.4 mi) from the center of Paris.

Hauts-de-Seine Department of France

Hauts-de-Seine is a department of France. It is part of the Métropole du Grand Paris and of the Île-de-France region, and covers the western inner suburbs of Paris. It is small and densely populated and contains the modern office, theatre, and shopping complex known as La Défense.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

As Paul Griffiths' biography clarified, Boulez had in fact attempted to get the Barraqué Piano Sonata performed for some years after it was finished. [2] Barraqué's music was published starting in 1963 by the Florentine businessman Aldo Bruzzichelli, [3] who provided much-needed material assistance for the composer, but whose promotion could not perhaps compete with that of the better known Universal Edition in Vienna who published Boulez, Berio, and Stockhausen. In any event, Barraqué did not obtain ready access to the better-known new music festivals and concert series until much later than they.[ citation needed ]

Paul Anthony Griffiths OBE is a British music critic, novelist and librettist. He is particularly noted for his writings on modern classical music and for having written the libretti for two 20th century operas, Tan Dun's Marco Polo and Elliott Carter's What Next?.

Universal Edition (UE) is a classical music publishing firm. Founded in 1901 in Vienna, and originally intended to provide the core classical works and educational works to the Austrian market. The firm soon expanded to become one of the most important publishers of modern music.

Luciano Berio Italian composer

Luciano Berio, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI was an Italian composer. He is noted for his experimental work and also for his pioneering work in electronic music.

Embracing the Parisian avant-garde, Barraqué entered into a romantic relationship with the philosopher Michel Foucault. Together, they tried to produce their greatest work, used recreational drugs heavily and engaged in sado-masochistic sexual activity. [4]

Barraqué was involved in a car accident in 1964, and his apartment was destroyed by fire in November 1968. [5] He suffered from bad health for much of his life. Nevertheless, his death in Paris in August 1973, at the age of 45, was sudden and unexpected, and he appeared to have resumed serious work on a number of larger compositions from the Death of Virgil cycle. [6] [ not in citation given ]

Music and reputation

Barraqué stated that he wrote about 30 works before those that he eventually acknowledged; as far as is known they were destroyed by him. They included a Nocturne and Mouvement lent for piano, at least three piano sonatas, a sonata for unaccompanied violin, and a Symphony in C sharp minor. [7] The presumably fourth, but un-numbered Piano Sonata, for which he gave the date 1952, was his earliest acknowledged work. Barraqué then produced his only electronic piece, the musique concrète Etude (1954), made at Pierre Schaeffer's studio. Subsequently, he planned a large-scale cycle of pieces, La Mort de Virgile, based on Hermann Broch's novel The Death of Virgil , a book which Barraqué's friend and sometime lover Michel Foucault recommended to him. This cycle, along with other pieces deriving from it or acting as commentaries upon it, he envisaged as his principal lifelong creative project. Following the scheme of the novel, it was to be divided into four sub-cycles: 'Water (The Arrival)', 'Fire (The Descent)', 'Earth (The Expectancy)' and 'Air (The Return)'. Most of Barraqué's creative efforts went into the works which were to take their place in 'Fire (The Descent)', which - to give an idea of the projected scope of the whole design - was to have consisted of thirteen works. [8] Before his death he completed two of the projected parts: Chant aprés chant (1966), and Le Temps restitué (1957/68). Fragments of some of the other parts exist.

Symphony extended musical composition

A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music, most often written by composers for orchestra. Although the term has had many meanings from its origins in the ancient Greek era, by the late 18th century the word had taken on the meaning common today: a work usually consisting of multiple distinct sections or movements, often four, with the first movement in sonata form. Symphonies are almost always scored for an orchestra consisting of a string section, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments which altogether number about 30 to 100 musicians. Symphonies are notated in a musical score, which contains all the instrument parts. Orchestral musicians play from parts which contain just the notated music for their own instrument. Some symphonies also contain vocal parts.

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments and circuitry-based music technology. In general, a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means, and that produced using electronics only. Electromechanical instruments include mechanical elements, such as strings, hammers, and so on, and electric elements, such as magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, and the electric guitar, which are typically made loud enough for performers and audiences to hear with an instrument amplifier and speaker cabinet. Pure electronic instruments do not have vibrating strings, hammers, or other sound-producing mechanisms. Devices such as the theremin, synthesizer, and computer can produce electronic sounds.

Musique concrète is a type of music composition that utilizes recorded sounds as raw material, assembling them into a form of montage. It can feature sounds derived from recordings of musical instruments, the human voice, and the natural environment as well as those created using synthesizers and computer-based digital signal processing. Compositions in this idiom are not restricted to the normal musical rules of melody, harmony, rhythm, metre, and so on. It exploits acousmatic listening, meaning sound identities can often be intentionally obscured or appear unconnected to their source cause. Originally contrasted with "pure" elektronische Musik, the theoretical basis of musique concrète as a compositional practice was developed by Pierre Schaeffer, beginning in the early 1940s. From the late 1960s onward, and particularly in France, the term acousmatic music started to be used in reference to fixed media compositions that utilized both musique concrète based techniques and live sound spatialisation.

Barraqué also wrote ... Au delà du hasard (1958–59) for three female voices and ensemble, and a Concerto for clarinet, vibraphone and ensemble in 1962–68, which are related to The Death of Virgil, but not actually part of that cycle. (... Au delà du hasard is described as a commentary on Affranchi du hasard, which was to have been the eleventh piece of 'Fire (The Descent)' but was not actually composed.) [8] The only other extant piece by Barraqué is Séquence (1955–56), a setting of Nietzsche for soprano and ensemble which is partly a re-working of three songs for soprano and piano from the early fifties. [9]

Barraqué's use of tone rows in his work is quite distinctive. Rather than using a single tone row for an entire piece, as Anton Webern did, or using a number of related rows in one work, as Alban Berg or Arnold Schoenberg sometimes did, Barraqué starts by using one row, and then subtly alters it to get a second. This second row is then used for a while before being slightly altered again to make a third. This process continues throughout the work. He called this technique "proliferating series". [10]

Harry Halbreich has written that "Barraqué's whole work is marked by terrible despair, lightened by no religious or ideological faith, and entirely dominated by the great shadow of Death". [8] In 1998 the record company CPO issued his entire output on CD, in performances by the Austrian ensemble Klangforum Wien.

The major reference work on his music in English is a biography entitled The Sea on Fire by the British music critic Paul Griffiths (2003). In German, Heribert Henrich's book of 1997 is its complement. His music is now published by the German firm of Bärenreiter.


Barraqué wrote many articles on other composers (including Alban Berg, Monteverdi, Mozart and Messiaen) and on theoretical aspects of contemporary music. His major prose work is his book on Claude Debussy (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1962). He also made numerous analyses of works in the standard repertoire from J.S. Bach to Honegger, some of which he used in his teaching. [11] His few pupils included the British composer Bill Hopkins.


Completed works

Unfinished works


  1. Hodeir 1961.
  2. Griffiths 2003, 45.
  3. Griffiths 2001.
  4. Eribon 1991 , 65–68; Macey 1993 , 50–53; Miller 1993 , 66, 79–82, 89–91.
  5. Janzen 1989, 241–42.
  6. Page 1986.
  7. Henrich 1997, 7-8.
  8. 1 2 3 Halbreich 1987, 7.
  9. The songs are published in Henrich 1997, Abb. 21–23.
  10. Riotte 1987
  11. Full list in Henrich 1997, 276–78.


Further reading

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