interviews with his son (July 21, 1969)






It is difficult to analyze one’s own work, and I don’t care for clichés or classifications. Everything was different each time; every one of my pieces is different from the others.

Naturally, certain artists have had a decisive influence on my work: when I was quite young, there were Puccini and Bizet, then, through Boris Godounov, Moussorgski; then Debussy with his Pelléas et Mélisande, but still more so Ravel. Later, something of Richard Strauss – never Wagner. But a ‘legacy’ is so complex and uncertain. In the end, whatI have retained from Ravel and Debussy is a bit of harmonic inspiration…

A rumor says that I’m allergic to serial or dodecaphonic music – balderdash! I even used these modes in the Silence de la Mer and the Symphonie du Tiers-Monde. But I only use them occasionally, when needed, at times when I feel they are called for. What I did say was that I can’t stand systems and sectarianism. And I do maintain that the continual absence of modulation weakens a piece and can only result in monotonous, boring music. In my opinion, color is necessary, as in the juxtaposition of reds and greens, at least in the theater. The best example proving this is the work of Berg himself, who has virtually left the serial mode out of his Wozzeck. Moreover, serialism too has now for all intents and purposes been superseded by electronic music which once again displeases me since it is used as a system. Life could care less about systems – it is constantly undoing them – death to systems! But with electronics, there is a real danger: the end of the human factor, the end of the heart – a world filled with nothing more than the sound of machines!

I repeat: everything changes with every composition! But it’s true that around 1960 I consciously began questionning myself; Le Silence de la Mer (1959) marks this breakoff. Its language is completely different from that of Don Juan de Mañara, for example; its lyricism is unembellished, suggestive, free of those harmonic indulgences which attracted me during the Miguel period and which were, in fact, necessary for writing that piece. In Le Silence, everything is insinuated; the characters’ emotions are expressed by orchestra and no longer by voice. The Concerto pour Violoncelle has the same starkness. How to classify Le Silence de la Mer ?..Perhaps somewhere between Ravel and the serial movement…

The Concerto pour Guitare is yet another story, a dramatic one. It is quite obsessive, because I used in it the melodic themes I had chosen for Noces de Sang (Blood Wedding) Lorca’s drama; and the Symphony is based on Césaire’s drama, Une Saison au Congo… Finally, this is perhaps the only constant in my work: I always base it on a text, even if I don’t use the words written therein… Undoubtedly because the only things that really interest me are Man and his passionate side…

These past ten years, I’ve changed my skin, like a snake! I wanted to recapture the ten years lost between 1930 and 1940 when, because of my activity conducting orchestras, I didn’t have enough time to delve deeply enough into composition and the analysis of musical forms. I had neither the freedom nor the resources that most of my Conservatory comrades from bourgeoise families had. I had to make it on my own. However, while it is true that I regret having lost time conducting, I have to admit that it gave me an advantage that others don’t have. There is no doubt that today, no one can beat me for orchestration – hands down!

L’Éloge de la Folie (In Praise of Madness), my last lyrical composition (1965), mirrors the evolution that I have undergone on every level. Philosophically and historically, absurdity and barbarianism reign supreme – I’ve ceased believing in anything, I have no more hopes for mankind! The finale in l’Éloge is the beginning of a sort of manhunt, of Wisdom being brutally hunted down by madmen who are driven to the height of insanity and evil impulsions by Wisdom’s screams. During exactly five minutes, there is a play-dance of persecution that goes as far as torture and ends with an expulsion-cum-death sentence. Goya, the SS, racism, napalm!…

With regard to the stage, the director should feel absolutely free, with no limits. This is both an opera and a ballet, or rather, neither; it is total drama, and, as a matter of fact, could even be a piece split between the public, the stage and the orchestra!

My ‘succession of truths’ has led to my sincerity being called into question. My answer to this is: he who does not move ahead retreats; he who does not evolve is done for! Do not expect me to become the 55th mummy of the Red Marble Room in Atlantide’s necropolis !