(Kopie 1)
24.05.2017 12:40

The search for the “best” art: Jean Barraqué’s “Melos” in Cologne

The scenario by Marie-Laure de Noailles tells of a young man’s search for the ideal art, which can easily be translated to the situation of the young composer – and culminates in an apotheosis of music. The reconstruction of the incomplete orchestration by Laurent Feneyrou, Aurélien Maestracci and Frédéric Durieux will be performed on 24 June 2017 as part of “Musik der Zeit” in the Cologne WDR Funkhaus.

Olivier Messiaen admired him for the “noble style of his art and his thinking”: now, two unpublished works of Jean Barraqué’s artistic legacy, from the archives of the Association Jean Barraqué and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, are being published.


Melos, a ballet composed in 1950/51 for the Prix Biarritz, is the synthesis of the musical way of thinking which Barraqué had acquired in the years 1948–1951 through reading the works of René Leibowitz and studying with Jean Langlais, then subsequently with Olivier Messiaen. In this – refined through particular orchestral sounds used for the first time – Barraqué’s song Les nuages s’entassent sur les nuages to a poem by Tagore, his cantata La nature s’est prise aux filets de ta vie to a poem by Paul Éluard, and a string quartet, are found again. The scenario, a gloriously antiquated plot by Marie-Laure de Noailles (1902–1970), contrasts clearly with the melancholic overtones of the piano sonata composed at the same time; it breathes the air of the Parisian salons frequented by Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel, Jacques Lacan and even Francis Poulenc. Poulenc, alongside other greats from musical life, was a jury member of the Prix Biarritz. According to Barraqué the work is about “the efforts of a young man who is unsure which art he should dedicate himself to, and who then decides on his first love, music”. 

The ballet comprises seven sections or “morceaux”, as Barraqué called them: Prélude / I. Rêverie et danse du jeune homme / II. Entrée de la promeneuse Poésie (pas de deux) / III. Entrée du promeneur Peinture (pas de trois) / IV. Jalousie du jeune homme (pas seul) / V. Entrée de la promeneuse Sculpture, puis double pas de deux (en canon) / VI. Entrée du promeneur Architecture (fugue) / VII. Final: 1. Introduction, 2. Entrée et chant de Mélodie, 3. Danse du jeune homme et de Mélodie (Rondo), 4. Final. 

After an elaborate Prélude in the form ABA, which introduces some fundamental lines of the work, the curtain rises, and a youth expresses “his pride, his indecision, his hopes”. In the music, percussion, short serial figures and a penetrating line on the oboe alternate. The poetry begins with a unison ostinato on the strings col legno. A flute solo rises above the orchestral writing, which steadily becomes denser. The flute and a horn lead, completely independently, into an intensification before the cor anglais tenderly and sadly portrays the melancholy of the youth, whose glance is submerged in the waves. Then follows the entrance of the art of painting, accompanied by an extremely dense polyphony (initially for three, then expanding to seven, and back again to three parts). Elements from the fast movements of the String Quartet written shortly before seem to have been included here, in augmented form. The jealousy of the young man who is henceforth abandoned by poetry representing the art of painting, is reflected in a violently moving section, interspersed with many octaves and orchestrated in blocks. This culminates in a spectacular “fff” and a coda. After this, a serial polyphony develops with the majestic appearance of the allegorical figure of sculpture; in this, melodies, harmonies and canons stack up over a series, the basic forms of which are not transposed. With the entry of architecture, appropriately a fugue begins in three parts and with a staccato theme, an exposition, an episode, a counter exposition and a stretto. 

In the finale the apotheosis of music takes place: the introduction is a kind of duo for piano and celesta, with some interjections from the orchestra and the previously-mentioned obsessive line from the first movement in the bassoon; this then becomes a lullaby on the cor anglais of the personified melody for the slumbering youth, whose part contains the following verses: “Connais-tu le pays / Où fleurit l’adagio? Où la fugue mûrit / sur les noires clefs de sol ? / Reconnais-tu l’abeille / Mourante sous nos archets ? / Le son du cor sommeille / Au fond de nos vergers” (“Do you know the country, / Where the adagio flowers? Where the fugue ripens/ on the black treble clefs? / Do you recognize the bee, / Dying under our bows? / The sound of the horn dozes / At the end of our orchards”). A frenetic dance by the youth and the melody then lead into the finale, where elements from the preceding movements are interwoven with each other in highly virtuoso fashion in a wedding march. An embarcation of three pairs to Kythira: the youth and the melody, poetry and painting, sculpture and architecture.

Musique de scène

In the years 1958/59 – the Piano Sonata was complete, as was Séquence, a study for electronics to poems by Nietzsche, and (not yet orchestrated) Le Temps restitué – Barraqué composed a Musique de scène to short pieces by Jean Thibaudeau for a performance by the director and theorist Jacques Polieri. Several artists, including Sonia Delaunay and Jean-Michel Atlan, were intended to participate in the incidental music, which “translates music into images”, and even Maurice Béjart’s involvement was considered. Barraqué had just worked on a project for a staged composition with Jacques Polieri (1928–2011) under the title Sonorité jaune (after Wassily Kandinsky), a few sketches of which existed as early as 1957. Jean Thibaudeau (1935–2013) was a novelist, essayist, dramatist and translator of Calvino, Cortázar and Sanguineti; he also worked as editor of the highly-regarded magazine Tel Quel. With his novels he was close to the style of the ‘Nouveau Roman’. The seven short pieces were written in the second half of the 1950s; they were withheld by Barraqué and remained unpublished: La ChambreInvitation au voyageÉchelle visuelleComédie intriganteLe Voyage and Le Regard

The work was then rewritten and considerably extended under the title … au-delà du hasard. It is intended for spoken voice and instrumental ensemble and is far distant from the purely linear dramaturgy of Melos. For the first time Barraqué used his technique of the “proliferating series”. Shorter and longer sections alternate with each other, which seem like “shards” or “fragments” and which become a mosaic in …au-delà du hasard. Thus La Chambre comprises a single section of five bars. Comédie intrigante is divided into twelve sections of two to eleven bars, whereas Le Voyage and Le Regard show greater developments – and Barraqué’s abrupt intense lyricism.

With Melos and Musique de scène we now have two works which were conceived for the stage, and lie far distant from Hermann Broch’s world; Barraqué drew almost exclusively on Broch’s works for his completed compositions. Special mention should be made of the opera project L’Homme couché, of which unfortunately only text sketches exist: Virgil waits for death and reflects on his childhood, on love, revenge, radical revolt, subjugation, talent and how to accept it, on strength, loneliness, genius, deadly disease, sacredness, and his approach to himself.