Bertrand Madrigal for soprano and ensemble

Madrigal was commissioned by the André Boucourechliev Foundation for the Ensemble Accroche-Note. This piece, created at the Festival Musica on 30 September 2005, is dedicated to Françoise Kubler and Armand Angster.

A short prologue, essential at the level of the form, and three sections make up the piece. The instrumental prologue, although very short, is a veritable distillation of things to come. It presents the harmonic fields developed later, but also a number of figures developed later, and some of the markers, strong and easily identifiable signals, which run the length of the work.

The three sections of Madrigal are based on three texts. However different these appear (both in terms of style – narrative, descriptive and philosophical – and the age of the writing), they are in the end very close in terms of the form borrowed, namely the arrangement of words in the form of enumeration.

The first, from Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, describes the composition of ‘lunar milk’ as old Qfwfq went searching on the Moon in its youth. This milk contains a mish-mash of ‘vegetal juices, tadpoles, bitumen, lentils, honey, starch crystals, sturgeon eggs, mould, pollens, gelatinous material, worms, resins, pepper. Mineral salts, combustion waste […] nails and cartilages, bolts, sea horses, nuts and peduncles, fragments of crockery, fishermen’s hooks, and sometimes even a comb’. Musically, this section is subdivided into three further parts in which the voice seems to be split: by the differentiation of registers, attacking forays and textual zones (one in narrative form, the other a pure enumeration), the singer seems almost crazy, on the edge of schizophrenia. The other musicians produce sounds and crystalline arpeggios one by one, each at its own speed, in a diatonic halo.

The second text is based on the chapters of Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes, translated below, and ordered alphabetically in the French original: ‘S’abîmer/to be lost; Absence/absence; Adorable/adorable; Affirmation/affirmation; Alétration/alteration; Angoisse/anxiety; Annulation/annulment; Ascèse/askesis; Atopos/atopos; Attente/waiting; Cacher/to hide; Casés/married off; Catastrophe/catastrophe; Circonscrire/to circumscribe; Cœur/heart; Comblement/fulfilment; Compassion/ compassion; Comprendre/to understand; Conduite/behaviour; Connivence/connivance; Contacts/contacts; Contingences/ contingencies; Corps/body; Déclaration/declaration; Dédicace/ dedication; Démons/demons; Dépendance/dependency; Dépense/expenditure; Déréalité/unreality; Drame/drama; Ecorché/ flayed; Errance/wandering; Etreinte/embrace; […] Je-t-aime/I-love-you.’ The clarinet and the voices mingle, imitate and embrace one another, accompanied by a maze of trills, pizzicatos, glissandi and tremolos, as they climb to a high-pitched summit before subsiding into a calm, ethereal range of murmurs.

Finally, the third section is a comprehensive and earthy physical description of the Rabelaisian monster Quaresmeprenant, surveying all body parts, from ‘heels like bludgeons’ to a ‘skull like a hunter’s gamebag’ via ‘cheeks like a pair of clogs’, a ‘chin like a pumpkin’ and ‘buttocks like a farmer’s harrow’. The music is compelled to reflect this turbulent rise: the instruments engaging in a frantic virtuoso race against the clock, filling more and more harmonic space, before narrowing to an extreme acuteness at the point of no return.

Relations with the madrigal are numerous; certainly without being a carbon copy of Montedverdi’s madrigals (even though the piece is closer to Tancred and Clorinda than to Palestrina), we can easily find similarities: the idyllic subject as well as the presence of burlesque and satire, the number of stanzas (three parts in this piece, as often in madrigals), the interlocking contrapuntal melodic lines, the solo voice accompanied by a small group of instruments (like the concerted madrigal prefiguring the cantata).