A MEETING OF IMAGINATIONS
As Pierre Soulages once wrote half a century ago, “All art is in the imagination.” For Edith Canat de Chizy, this fundamental principle has guided her work as a composer since her earliest works. Knowing what close relationships are forged between painting and music, she has often wanted to confront the imaginations of painters such as Whistler, Monet, Staël, Turner and more recently Soulages, with Outrenoir (2020) for solo viola and ensemble.
In 2004, when she discovered the stained glass windows in the abbey church of Saint Foy in Clanques, it was like a trigger which lead the composer to confront the artist’s imposing black world, so rich, mysterious and powerful. “I love the authority of black, its severity, its obviousness, its radicalism,” asserts Soulages. Edith Canat de Chizy reflects the intense, fascinating shimmering of light in a stirring piece where it rests with the deep voice of the solo instrument to bring out “the secret light emitted from black“, as described by the painter, for whom each painting is a “poetic testimony of the world whose validity is left to the viewer” – or in this instance, the listener.
Unlike this quasi-contemplative, hieratic style, Edith Canat de Chizy was captivated by the dazzling chromatic abundance of Turner’s paintings and their formidable internal energy. In Waves Breaking Against the Wind, the violent opposition between the air and the sea gives rise to fulgurant interplay and blasts of tone colours, where the solo flute, agile and tumultuous, plays on the ocean spray and the erratic wind like birds of the open seas, such as the common tern or the storm petrel, tirelessly drawing free space.
After creating the latter piece in 2006, the following year another painting by Turner, Rain, Steam, Speed, inspires Edith Canat de Chizy to create a new work full of vibrations, outbursts and stridency, in strange contrast with the enigma of this painting whose details of which are revealed to the eye of the viewer only after patient observation, for the only image of real clarity at first sight is the chimney of the train. In this movement comparable to the focusing of a camera lens, this painting unexpectantly responds to one of the compositional principles appreciated by Edith Canat de Chizy: going from blurry to clarity. Added to this is this striking impression of space expressed by a summoning barrage of high-pitched wind instruments where, as Soulages reminds us, “space is a dynamic of the imagination.” Thus, its corollary – the weather – is hammered home at the end of the piece by an obstinate note from the piano, the crescendo of which strikes like a piercing light.
The Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet, who has inspired Edith Canat de Chizy on many occasions, entitled one of his collections A la lumière d’hiver (In Winter Light). This title could serve as an epigraph to the second concerto for violin and orchestra. In the light of a sunny winter’s morning in February 2012, the great violinist Devy Erlih died in a freak traffic accident while on his way to teach at the Ecole Normale de Musique. In 2016, the composer dedicated Missing in his memory. This trembling piece, as if illuminated from within by a violin which radiates all the timbres of the orchestra in an impressive ray of light, is as much a tribute to the deceased artist who has now gone (or, “missing”), as an eloquent palette of the violin’s infinite expressive breadth. Edith Canat de Chizy produced this version with ensemble in 2020, which brings to the foreground, perhaps even more, the relationship between transparency and colour, vibrancy and dullness between the timbres, in an ever more fleeting and impalpable dynamic.
However different they may be in their approach, size and structure, these four pieces for chamber ensemble converge on the same essence, summed up in a verse by Victor Hugo: “Everything is light.”
Loix en Ré, 8 July 2022
ABOUT THE WORKS…
The symmetry between the pictorial material and the musical material is for me an infinite source of research on timbre. With Outrenoir, I attempted to retrace Pierre Soulages’ direction, his transfiguration of the colour black. The stages are illustrated in five sequences:
1: Black, 2: Reflections 3: Rhythms, 4: Light/Space, 5: White.
Vagues se brisant contre le vent is in keeping with a composition style essentially based on the instrumental gesture, thus expressing the idea of movement that I pursue first in my works for strings, which I then expanded to other components. The work unfolds across three points using the three terms from the title of Turner’s painting, Waves Breaking Against the Wind:
1: Waves, 2: Breaking, 3: Against the Wind.
In Pluie, Vapeur, vitesse, the material is constructed from a precise element (for example, the trills and attacks at the beginning), gradually diffracted into multiple resonances, like the structure of another painting by Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed. Here, we could compare the diagonal line of the railway track to the idea of “trajectory” inextricably linked to the instrumental gesture.
Both contribute to accentuating the sensation of movement, illustrated here by the word “speed”. Similarly, the piece takes the three words from the title of the painting:
1: Rain, 2: Steam, 3: Speed.
Missing II is above all a work on the spatial dimension: by structuring the registers – particularly those of the highest treble and lowest bass, I sought to expand the soundscape in which the violin can enter into resonance with the orchestra, notably by an interplay of echoes appearing at various points in the score. As a violinist myself, I have worked to broaden this instrument’s range by using playing methods that generate a multitude of non-tempered spectra and a whole matter of timbres relayed, accompanied and amplified by the orchestral writing. This transcription for ensemble reproduces the essence of the original score for orchestra.
Edith Canat de Chizy
Edith Canat de Chizy – BIOGRAPHY
Edith Canat de Chizy has been composing since 1982, amassing a catalogue of more than 120 works (symphonic, concertante, vocal and chamber music). She became the first female composer to be elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in the musical composition section, before becoming its president in 2017.
After excelling in her undergraduate studies in History of Art and Philosophy, the classically trained violinist studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, where she obtained six first prize diplomas, including one in composition.
She later took up electroacoustic music as part of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and learnt electronics at the Ircam, where she created two mixed works: Over the sea (2012), for Ircam’s Festival Manifeste, and Visio (2016), for Radio-France’s Festival Présences. These two significant experiences left a lasting impression on her composition style.
She has completed numerous residencies, including at the Arsenal in Metz, the Festival de Besançon, the Orchestre de Lyon and most recently at the Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain, which resulted in major orchestral pieces including Times (2009), Pierre d’éclair (2011), Outrenoir for viola and instrumental ensemble (2021), and most recently Apocalypsis for chorus and orchestra, created in September 2021 at the Arsenal in Metz.
After having directed two conservatoires, she taught composition at the CRR de Paris from 2007 to 2017.
She has composed numerous works and commissions for many prestigious institutions and ensembles (Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, BBC Symphony Orchestra, the national orchestras of Lyon, Lille, Metz, Nancy and Cannes, Radio-France, Ircam, and Nederlands Kamerkoor, amongst others) which earned her numerous awards, including: the International Rostrum of Composers awarded by UNESCO in 1990 for her orchestral piece Yell; several prizes awarded by the SACEM, including the Grand Prix de la Musique Symphonique in 2004; the Coup de cœur of the Académie Charles Cros for her CD Moving in 2002; the Grand Prix du président de la République, again from the Académie Charles Cros in 2016 for the ensemble of her work; and the Prix Jeune Talent Musique in 1998, followed by the Prix Musique 2021, both awarded by the SACD.
She was made a chevalier of the French Légion d’Honneur, officier of the Ordre du Mérite and commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres.