Georges Aperghis (1945)

I LOOOOVE the music of Georges Aperghis.

Aperghis was born in Greece in 1945 and, like Xenakis, he established early on in France, where he was one of the main inventors of “théâtre musical”, music theatre, in the early 1970s, and still is today one of its foremost exponents. But he’s composed full-scale operas as well, like Tristes Tropiques after Levy-Strauss (1995, premiered at the Strasbourg Opera) and Avis de Tempête (2004, Lille Opera).

What makes Aperghis’ music so special is, to my ears, a special relation to the French language. Maybe because French is for him a language of adoption, and maybe because of the very dynamics of “théâtre musical”, Aperghis makes music out of speech, he seems to take all those elements in the spoken language that are “musical”, or the basic elements on which music builds, and makes music out of them. To him, what seems to count is not the meaning conveyed by words, but the very music of the words, the rhythms, the jumps of pitch and intensity. In fact, I would hypothesize that it is precisely that interest for the musicality of speech that fueled his interest for “théâtre musical”, rather than the other way around. And by way of paradox, it makes his vocal works extremely intelligible, because his rhythms and pitches are always modelled on those of the spoken language. He also extends these processes to his instrumental compositions as well: his instruments “talk” – and often very volubly – as much as they sing.

All this makes his music often wonderfully original – and always VERY French, too. I have no idea how non-French speaking audiences would react to his music, if they’d fully get the humor and wits of it.

For more on Aperghis (including free-access scores), visit his website:

I’ve reviewed many CDs of Aperghis’ music, and have many more in my collection that are crying for listening and reviewing time. Here are the links to those I’ve reviewed:

Récitations (excerpts). Martine Viard. Disques Disques Montaigne CD 782007 (1992) (originally recorded in 1983)

Récitations (excerpts). Pauline Vaillancourt, soprano (+ Giacinto Scelsi: Canti del Capricorno excerpts).  Société Nouvelle d’Enregistrement SNE-571-CD (1990)

Parcours (excerpts from “Eclipse partielle”, “Enumérations”, “Conversations”, “Tour de Babel”). Jean-Pierre Drouet on the machines of Claudine Brahem. Transes Européennes TE 008 (1995)

Tryptique (1982). Brigitte Sylvestre (harp) & Gaston Sylvestre (percussion). Transes Européeenes TE 014 (1997),

Simulacres 1, A Bout de bras, Les Sept crimes de l’amour, Cinq couplets, Il gigante Golia, 280 Mesures pour clarinette. Ensemble Accroche-Note. Accord 201992 (1992)

Triangle Carré for string quartet and percussion trio, in The Arditti Quartet Edition: Arditti String Quartet & Trio Le Cercle play Compositions for String Quartet & Percussion Trio by Georges Aperghis, François-Bernard Mâche, Iannis Xenakis, Allain Gaussin. Disques Montaigne 782002 (1991)

Sextuor – L’Origine des espèces, a piece of “théâtre musical” on texts by François Régnault and Georges Aperghis. Elena Andreyev (cello and speaker), Emmanuelle Zoll (soprano 1), Donatienne Michel-Dansac (soprano 2), Françoise Degeorges (soprano 3), Valérie Joly (mezzo-soprano), Frédérique Wolf-Michaux (contralto). Musique française d’aujourd’hui MFA 216004 (1995)

[die hamletmaschine-oratorio]. Soloists, Ictus, dir. Georges-Elie Octors. Cypès Records Cyp5607 (2002)


…and more Aperghis that I have in my collection and haven’t yet found the time to hear and review:

Works for Piano: A Tombeau Ouvert (1997), Les Secrets Elémentaires (1998), Printmusic (2001), Pièces pour jeunes pianistes (2004), Simata for prepared piano (1969). Nicolas Hodges. Neos 10912 SACD (2009), barcode 4260063109126

Works for Saxophone and Viola: Crosswind for viola and four saxophones (1997), Alter ego for saxophone (2001), Rash for viola & saxophone (2006), Volte-face for viola (1997), Signaux version for 12 saxophones (1978). Geneviève Strosser, viola, XASAX saxophone ensemble. Kairos / Musique Française d’Aujourd’hui 0012942KAI (2009), barcode 9120010281518

Musique de chambre: Cinq pièces pour Espérou et violoncelle (1994), Faux-mouvement (1995), Les Secrets élémentaires (1998), Requiem furtif (1998), La Nuit en tête (2000). Donatienne Michel-Blansac, Ensemble S.I.C., François Rivalland. Zig-Zag Territories Musique Française d’Aujourd’hui ZZT 020501 (2002), barcode 370009290174

Tingel tangel (Frédéric Daverio accordion, Françoise Rivalland percssion, Valérie Philippin soprano), Jacatations – 14 fragments (Lionel Peintre baritone). Musique Française d’Aujourd’hui Vand’oeuvre VD00426, no copyright indication, no barcode, recordings 2003

Récitations – complete. Donatienne Michel-Dansac. Col Legno WWE 1 CD 20270 (2006), barcode 4099702027022

“A Portée de voix”: Calme plat 1-5, Dialogue amoureux, Simulacre II, Rire physiologique, Monomanie 1-10, Fidélité, Pub I & II + DVD including three clips: Pub II, Simulacre, Dialogue amoureux. Valérie Philippin et l’Ensemble Kiosk. AmeSon ASCP 1019 (2011), barcode 3760087530193

Machinations, spectacle musical for four women and computer, on texts by François Regnault and Georges Aperghis. Sylvie Levesque, Donatienne Michel-Dansac, Sylvie Sacoun, Geneviève Strosser, Olivier Pasquet (computer). Accord 472 916-2 (2002), barcode 028947291626

Petrrohl (2001) in “alles theater!” with works of Manuel Hidalgo, Lucia Ronchetti, Luciano Berio, Paolo Perezzani, Carla Bauckholt. Stradivarius STR 33680 (2004), barcode 8011570336804

Avis de tempête (opera). Donatienne Michel-Dansac, Johanne Saunier, Lionel Peintre, Romain Bischoff, Ictus Ensemble, Georges-Elie Octors. Cyprès CYP5621 (2005), barcode 5412217056216

Comments are welcome