• Nicolas Bacri
  • A Short Overture, Op. 84 (2003)

  • Le Chant Du Monde (World)

Commissioned by Musique Nouvelle en Liberté at the occasion of the 25 anniversary of the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. Dedicated to John Nelson.

  • 4 min

Programme Note

The music written during a composer’s training sometimes yields surprises in retrospect. That is what I said to myself when listening to the recording of a short piece that I had written in 1978, at the age of sixteen, which had the modest intent of being used as production music for radio or television.

Each composer’s beginning is unique to them. Mine, very luckily, began with a commission given to my father for about twenty orchestral pieces for the Orchestra of the National Theatre, Prague. Thanks to his generous trust, I also took part in this project and the result was, among other naïve errors, a little work then entitled Dances for string orchestra.

In re-examining the work recently, it appears to me that it profoundly anticipated the preoccupations I have today. More than twenty years after my official debut as a composer, which saw the merciless rejection of all that I had written until that point, I look every now and again over these ‘trials’ before my opus 1, and I notice that, despite their imperfections (which are now easy for me to correct) they are often closer aesthetically to what I wish to write today than the post-serial pieces I considered the only ones worth presenting to the public at the beginning of the 1980s.

As soon as John Nelson of the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris proposed I write an overture that ‘expresses a spirit of festivity, joy and good humour’, I decided to completely recompose one movement from these Dances. I considered the original work as interesting in its aesthetic aim as it was badly developed in terms of its writing and form.

Although the alternation between tarantella and gavotte remains in the new composition, it is no longer necessary to draw the listener’s attention the dance aspect of this music, but rather to the shifting from tonal to atonal, and from atonal to tonal, a phenomenon so new and disorienting for me in 1978 that I could not conceive of it in any way except from the angle of a musical joke.

In this Short Overture, I believe that I have kept the mischief of the original whilst intensifying its stylistic language. The work is based upon the antagonism of two heterogeneous materials: one fast (Allegro giocoso) and the other at a moderate pace (Gavotte). At its heart the work questions the harmonic potential of these two materials and makes them converge organically while respecting their individual identities. Indeed, unlike in a piece by Schnittke, which would have doubtless profited from the fundamental contradiction of these two themes to emphasise the impossibility of their reconciliation, I wished for a final feeling of unity to eventually emerge from a clear and formal progression. It therefore seems to me more fitting to qualify this music, and my music in general, as pan-stylistic (literally ‘across styles’) or meta-stylistic (beyond styles), rather than strictly speaking polystylistic.

I also tried to keep in mind that an overture traditionally has a very specific function in the concert programme compared to any other orchestral piece. Essentially its role is to allow the musicians, freshly seated on stage, to test the acoustics of a room, the cohesion of the orchestral sections and the sonic texture before turning to the heart of the program. Writing an overture therefore is an exercise in humility as much as it is of know-how. If it proved that I had managed to write a piece offering the opportunity to the musicians of the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris to display the diverse palette of characters and colours for which they are renowned, I would be extremely happy.

Nicolas Bacri, September 2003