Gérard Grisey: Accords Perdus – Cinq Miniatures

Not every piece of music that is beautiful is also pleasing to the ear, nor does music need to be beautiful to have value.

Gérard Grisey was a French composer of spectral music, which focuses primarily on the timbre (or tone color) of the music and frequently uses mathematical analysis of sound. Accords Perdus is a series of five short pieces for two horns written in 1988 for Elliot Carter’s 80th birthday and is a rare example of a microtonal horn duet. Much of the work features very gradual changes in tone and often contrasts different tonal techniques between the two horn parts.

An example of the notation in Accords Perdus, from the 4th movement.
An example of the notation in Accords Perdus, from the 4th movement.

I. Mouvement: This miniature features the two horns in a slow, mostly parallel descent while a microtone apart. The emphasis in this piece is on gradual motion in pitch and dynamics, while accent and rhythm are used as a call and response.
II. Accord Perdu: The first section contrasts the first horn’s open sound with that of the stopped horn of the second, with the second horn serving as an echo to the first. As the piece gradually increases in tempo, the second horn changes to a half-stopped (echo) sound before a wild series of two-octave glissandi in call and response.
III. Faux Mouvement: Similar in many respects to the first miniature, although the pitch gradually ascends instead. The harmony in this piece is extremely harsh and features some of the smallest intervals possible between two horns: as little as 10 cents (or a twentieth step).
IV. Cor à Cor: Rhythm is a more prominent aspect of this violent movement than in the other pieces. In addition to many complex rhythms, the use of flutter-tongue, glissandi, wide interval leaps, trills, and tremolos give a disjointed, awkward, almost computerized sense to this piece.
V. Chute: Directly attached to the fourth miniature, Chute is a drastic change from the other four pieces. It features the lower ranges of the horn and relies on pitch-bending with the embouchure and hand-stopping to obtain microtonal effects. Toward the end, the addition of multiphonics (horn chords) give an almost ominous sense before the piece ends abruptly, seemingly exhausted.

The piece has been published at least twice, once in 1988 as a manuscript copy and again in 2007 as a German edition edited by Hans Gebhardt.

Author: Allan Mathieu Perkins

I am interested in the horn, microtonal and just intonation music, instrument building and design, and other things.

One thought on “Gérard Grisey: Accords Perdus – Cinq Miniatures”

  1. Your initial comment is certainly an intriguing idea Allan. I remember being quite surprised at first when one of my music professors disclosed that he found Ives’ microtonal works to be beautiful. However, I began wondering how much of what we find beautiful is merely a matter of socialization. I certainly don’t endorse complete relativization of beauty, but do you believe that we could find atonal or microtonal pieces beautiful were we exposed to them very early on in life and taught to look for aspects of beauty?

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