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Tristan Murail

Couleur de mer (1969)
Editions Transatlantiques
Year Composed
13 Minutes
Programme Note
Tristan Murail Couleur de mer (1969)
Couleur de Mer is my first piece to have been played in a "real" concert. I was studying with Olivier Messiaen during my second year of Conservatory. The fashion was "post-serial" techniques that Messiaen himself labelled "forward looking" - and therefore recommended. Not without a bit of opportunism, Couleur de Mer recuperates the stylistic elements of that epoch (12 tone scales, fragmentation, certain abuse of the percussion instruments...) but recycles and subverts them for other purposes. The organization of the piece does not owe anything to the contrapuntal academism inherited from the Viennese. Here we are concerned with plastic forms, contours, images and spaces. Semblances of counter-point are made up only of textures, clouds of sound wherein instrumental lines are divided. Retrospectively, in this I especially notice research into colour, blending of timbres and the beginning of research into "processes". The 12 sounds are grouped, more empirically than theoretically, in a way that produces characteristic harmonies.
The 5th part very clearly breaks free from the post-serial model, and constructs transparent aggregates that announce future "spectral" harmonies. The last chord, based on a pentaphonic harmony, is (by chance ?) almost the same as the initial chord of L'Attente.
Couleur de Mer bears an inscription that is a quote from one of my father's poems:

"...the space, reproduced in the lamp's pollen
and decaying the azure windowpanes,
I hold it in my sea-coloured thought..."

The sea here is a symbol of life, of distance and of escape. It is also the sea as I saw it at Le Havre: a sea deep and wild, but at the same time a bubbling estuary of human industries. The five parts of the piece are actually linked to each other, with the exception of the third. The latter is also detached because of its style, more reminiscent of the "great epoch" of serialism. The apparent melodic and rhythmic counterpoints do not hesitate to blend into textures, expressions or sound "objects" that exist in and of themselves. It is a reflection of the contradictions of the piece, written in a style that does not correspond to its musical and poetic ideas. I tried to renew the experience, but without success: I needed to find other means of expression.

Tristan Murail

  • 28 FEB 2014
    Tapiola Hall, Espoo, Finland
    Tapiola Sinfonietta
    John StorgÄrds, conductor
  • 31 MAR 2012
    Orchester der Musik-Akademie Basel
    Marino Formenti, conductor
  • 20 OCT 2011
    Centre Pompidou, Paris, FRANCE
    Ensemble InterContemporain
    Alejo Perez, conductor
  • 13 MAY 1969
    Couleur de mer World Premiere
    Maison de la Culture, Le Havre, France
    Ensemble Musique Vivante
    Diego Masson, conductor

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