PIERRE HENRY (1927-2017): La Dixième Symphonie “Hommage à Beethoven”.
Catalogue Number: 10W050
Description: This strange piece is more than merely a curiosity, though it is very curious indeed. The pioneer of musique concrète, tape composition and the mixing and transformation of sounds had a deep admiration for Beethoven from his earliest years, and this extensive hommage was conceived and first executed in the 1970s as an electro-acoustic composition; two further electronic versions followed in 1988 and 1998, which were "performable" live via spatially disposed loudspeakers. Despite its title it has nothing to do with any speculation or sketches to do with what an actual 10th symphony by Beethoven might have been like. Henry's piece is assembled entirely from excerpts - anything from a chord to a few bars - of the completed nine. For the electro-acoustic precursors of this version he meticulously planned the editing between fragments - spliced, faded into one another, mixed over one another - using strips of paper cut out of scores, and then created this acoustic collage on tape. There was nothing random about the process whatsoever. What the creators, or reconstructors, of this version have done is to painstakingly track down the original fragments as assembled by Henry and compile a score reflecting his intentions in what is "essentially a combinatorial work" as he put it. Absent the sound processing, this is a good deal less avant-garde than the electronic versions, as the timbres are exclusively Beethoven’s own - but not the textures, due to the frequent practice of simultaneously presenting symbiotic themes. This is the great virtue, musical value, and sheer pleasure, of this unusual composition; the way Henry's ear, attuned through long practice to identifying the combinatorial possibilities of "sound objects" or samples, juxtaposes his materials such that, for instance, a repeated (looped) phrase from one symphony is used as an accompaniment to a chord sequence or melody from another, or Beethoven’s sometimes startling modulations provide a completely logical "edit" between a phrase from one piece and one from somewhere quite different. This eight-movement (of a projected 12), 75-minute version makes a satisfying structure in its own right, very different from the studio-created versions, in which evocative movement titles suggested expressionistic explorations of mood, more abstract and "concrète", whereas here each movement takes a particular Beethovenian 'genre' of movement and constructs a coherent musical statement out of different examples thereof. If nothing else, a way of listening to over-familiar works in a completely new way, recapturing, perhaps, something of their shocking novelty to their first audiences. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris, Chœur de Radio France, Le Jeune Chœur de Paris; Pascal Rophé, Bruno Mantovani, Marzena Diakun (conductors).