Prior to today, I had never heard the music of Jean-Luc Hervé, a contemporary French composer. However, I will definitely be looking into his music more after listening to his 13-piece large chamber ensemble piece, Germination. This is an extremely interesting piece that sends the listener on a very gradually unfolding journey much like a plant emerging and developing from a seed. This piece demonstrates masterful orchestration techniques that create unique timbres from the instruments themselves and their combinations, showing the influence of his time spent studying with Grisey. More interesting to me than the orchestration, however, is the way in which Hervé creates continually evolving textures that utilize proliferation of musical material to create a musical germination.
This process of germination creates silky smooth transitions of texture that allow the music move forward very naturally and subtly. The beginning of this piece demonstrates this procedure fairly cleanly. It starts bombastic unison cells of sound created by strings played with excessive pressure, the lowest register of piano, and a lion’s roar. After a few asymmetrical repetitions of this material, the bass and contrabass clarinets follow with wild sounds that (I think) are created from teeth being placed on the reed. Another motive is introduced where the lions roar is combined with a crescendo and diminuendo from the bass drum. These sounds proliferate into a number of similar, yet never identical sequences, while new material is simultaneously created from them. When the winds and strings later emerge in textures made by breathing through their instruments by breathing and playing harmonics respectively, Hervé creates links to the old material by giving them similar rhythmic language like the opening statement of the piece and the crescendo from the bass drum. After a couple minutes, this new material becomes the dominant material in the music pushing the other material to the background. A few minutes later, this new material becomes the old material and gives way to fresher material. This process repeats itself again and again much to the listener’s delight.
The germination of ideas that occurs throughout the piece makes the music interesting to listen to because of its perpetually dynamic, very coherent nature. When a plant becomes fully grown, it shares very little in common on the surface with the seed from which it originated. However, the plant undoubtedly did emerge from the seed and as a result has continuity. The music here moves through a state of constant development that creates a similar effect. I find this to be a beautiful way to conceptualize germination as a musical device. Some highlights:
- 3’45”-5’ video 1: The ethereal quality of the music is wonderful.
- 50”-1’30” video 2: The mixing of glissandi, pizzicatos, sul ponticello figures, etc. creates some very beautiful textures
- 0”-45” video 3: I can’t get enough of the sul tasto sounds of the violins here with clarinet.
- 1’35”-2’50” video 3: I love the extremely precise chaos of the pizzicato in the strings contrasted by the scalar figures over the bass glissandi sound.
- 5’20”-end video 3: The electronics tie up the loose ends of this piece so satisfyingly
Enjoy and check out the score here!