In memoriam: Christophe Bertrand


This post is a memorial to my friend Christophe Bertrand (1981.04.24 – 2010.09.17), a young French composer and pianist who died a year ago this month.   I first heard his chamber work, Treis, at a concert by Manchester-based new music group Ensemble 11 ten years ago.   Impressed by this music, I contacted him and we began a long and deep friendship, discussing his music, along with music and life more generally.

I had the honour and good fortune to be able to commission some music from him (Quartet #1 and Arashi).   Christophe’s compositions were marked by the use of Fibonacci sequences and other mathematical patterns and constructs, and so I recognized a fellow member of the matherati.  An early death is always sad, especially of someone whose life had had such achievement and even more promise.

Christophe co-founded a contemporary chamber ensemble, Ensemble in Extremis, and there are details of his works and prizes here.  Also, this site seems to have updated information about performances of his music, although without  mentioning his passing on.   The composer Pascal Dusapin has dedicated his work, Microgrammes (2011), 7 pieces for string trio, to Christophe.

I think of all the conversations and interactions we had, and feel the pain of losing future conversations which can now not occur.  And I recall George Santayana’s poem on the death of a close friend, here

Below I list Christophe’s complete works and works in preparation (derived from his former website,  here).   One work listed there, Dall’inferno, Christophe told me he intended to retract from his catalog, after some of the performers found the score too difficult to play.

POSTSCRIPT (2013-05-27):   Someone has uploaded to Youtube a recording of a performance by the Mangalam Trio of Virya along with co-ordinated images of the score.  That is a nice tribute.

POSTSCRIPT 2 (2013-10-31):  The Music of Today series at London’s Royal Festival Hall, curated by Unsuk Chin, held a free concert by players from the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Alejo Perez of Christophe’s works on 31 October 2013.  Works performed were:  Virya, Madrigal, and Yet.   About 100 people were present.  I wondered if anyone else in the audience knew him, and felt his loss.  Here is a review by Sofia Gkiousou, who had not heard Christophe’s music before this concert, and to whom the music spoke.

POSTSCRIPT 3 (2014-01-21):  A concert to remember Christophe was held in Paris last night, with his music performed by his group, Ensemble in Extremis, and Ensemble Court-circuit.   How difficult it must have been for his former colleagues to play his music last night?  But what an honour to do so.  Details here.
 

CHRISTOPHE BERTRAND LIST OF WORKS:
Works in Preparation:
O K H T O R  pour orchestre (15′)
Commande du Mécénat musical Société Générale
Création 11 février 2011
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg ; dir. Marc ALBRECHT
Q U A T U O R  I I   pour  quatuor à cordes (15′)
Commande du Festival Musica pour le Quatuor ARDITTI
Création au Festival Musica 2011
A R K A  pour soprano, cor, violon et piano (12′)
Texte original de Yannick Haenel
Commande de l’Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France avec le soutien de la SACEM
Ensemble des Musiciens de l’Orchestre National d’Ile-de France ; Françoise KUBLER, soprano
Création mai 2012 – Festival Iles de découvertes
Nouvelle Œuvre pour clarinette, violon et piano (12′)
Commande de l’Ensemble Accorche-Note
Création à définir
 
Completed and acknowledged works:
A y a s (2010) Fanfare pour onze cuivres et percussions (2′)
Commande de l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
A Cristina Rocca
Création mondiale : novembre 2010, Palais de la Musique et des Congrès de Strasbourg – Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
S c a l e s (2008-2009) pour grand ensemble (20′)
Co-commande de l’Ensemble Intercontemporain et du Concertgebouw d’Amsterdam
A Susanna Mällki et les musiciens de l’Ensemble Intercontemporain
Création mondiale : 24 avril 2010, Concertgebouw d’Amsterdam – Ensemble Intercontemporain, dir. Susanna Mälkki
Première allemande : 9 mai 2010, Philharmonie de Cologne – Ensemble Intercontemporain, dir. Susanna Mälkki
D i a d è m e (2008), pour soprano, clarinette et piano (9′)
Commande de l’Ensemble Accroche-Note
A Frédéric Durieux
Création mondiale : 5 ocotbre 2010, Festival Musica – Françoise Kubler, soprano; Ensemble Accroche-Note
S a t k a (2008), pour flûte, clarinette, violon, violoncelle, percussions et piano (13′)
Commande du Festival d’Aix-en-Provence
A Jean-Dominique Marco
Création mondiale : 11 juillet 2008, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence – Jérémie Siot (vn), Florian Lauridon (vc), Cédric Jullion (fl), Jérôme Comte (cl), Jean-Marie Cottet (pno), François Garnier (pc), Guillaume Bourgogne, direction.
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
H a ï k u (2008) pour piano (6′)
Commande d’Ars Mobilis, pour le festival “Les Solistes aux Serres d’Auteuil”
Création mondiale : 31 août 2008 – Festival des Serres d’Auteuil – Ferenc Vizi (piano)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
D a l l ‘ i n f e r n o (2008), pour flûte, alto et harpe (9′) (Retracted:  see note above)
Commande du Musée du Louvre
non encore créé
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
A r a s h i (2008), pour alto seul (5′)
Commande de P. Mc Burney
A Peter Mc Burney et Vincent Royer
non encore créé
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
K a m e n a i a (2008), pour douze voix solistes (6′)
Commande de l’Ensemble Musicatreize
A Roland Hayrabedian et l’Ensemble Musicatreize
Création mondiale : 15 mai 2008 – Marseille, Eglise Saint-Charles – Ensemble Musicatreize, dir. Roland HAYRABEDIAN
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
H e n d e k a (2007), pour violon, alto, violoncelle et piano (11′)
Commande du Festival “Les Musicales”
A Bruno Mantovani
Création mondiale : 10 mai 2008 – Colmar, Les Musicales – Ilya Gringolts (vn), Silvia Simionescu (al), Marc Coppey (vc), Claire-Marie Le Guay (pno)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
V e r t i g o (2006-2007), pour 2 pianos et orchestre (20′)
Commande de l’Etat Français et du Festival Musica
Création mondiale : 20 septembre 2008 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Hideki Nagano, Sébastien Vichard (pnos) – Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, dir. Pascal ROPHÉ
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
S a n h (2006), pour clarinette basse, violoncelle et piano (11′)
Commande de l’Etat Français
A Armand Angster
Création mondiale : 11 octobre 2007 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica / Ensemble Accroche-Note
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
Q u a t u o r (n°1) (2005-2006), pour quatuor à cordes (20′)
Commande du Beethovenfest de Bonn et de M. P. McBurney
Dédié au Quatuor Arditti
Création mondiale : 19 mars 2006 – Bruxelles, Festival Ars Musica – Quatuor Arditti
Création française : 20 juillet 2006 – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence – Quatuor Arditti
Création mondiale de la première version : 24 septembre 2005 – Kunstmuseum Bonn – Mandelring Quartett
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
M a n a (2004-2005), pour grand orchestre (10′)
Commande du Festival de Lucerne
A Pierre Boulez
Création mondiale : 9 septembre 2005 – Lucerne KKL – Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, dir. Pierre BOULEZ
Création française : 2 juin 2006 – Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, dir. Hannu LINTU
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
M a d r i g a l (2004-2005), pour soprano et ensemble (11′)
Commande de la Fondation André Boucourechliev
A Françoise Kubler et Armand Angster
Création mondiale : 30 septembre 2005 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Ensemble Accroche-Note
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
V i r y a (2004), pour flûte, clarinette en sib (+ clarinette basse), percussions et piano (7′)
Commande de M. Francis Rueff
A Frédéric Kahn
Création mondiale : 19 mars 2004 – Espace 110 Illzach – Ensemble In Extremis
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
A u s (2004), pour alto, saxophone soprano, clarinette en sib (+ clarinette basse) et piano (8′)  
Commande de la Radio de Berlin-Brandeburg
A Philippe Hurel
Création mondiale : 24 janvier 2004 – Berlin, Ultraschall-Festival – Ensemble Intégrales
Enregistrement : CD “European Young generation” par l’Ensemble Intégrales aux éditions Zeitklang (ez-21019)
Pour l’acheter : www.amazon.fr
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
H a o s (2003), pour piano seul (10′)
Commande du Festival Rendez-vous Musique Nouvelle de Forbach
A Laurent Cabasso
Création mondiale : 9 novembre 2003 – Forbach, Festival RVMN – Raoul Jehl, piano
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
I ô a (2003) pour choeur de femmes à huit voix (3′)
A Catherine Bolzinger
Création mondiale : 23 mai 2003 – Strasbourg, Palais du Rhin – Ensemble Vocal Féminin du Conservatoire de Strasbourg, dir. Catherine BOLZINGER
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
Y e t (2002), pour vingt musiciens (10′)  
Commande de l’Ensemble Intercontemporain
A Pascal Dusapin
Création mondiale : 29 septembre 2002 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Ensemble Intercontemporain ; dir. Jonathan NOTT
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
E k t r a (2001), pour flûte seule (5′)
A Olivier Class
Création mondiale : 16 juin 2001 – Strasbourg, Cercle européen, Académie des Marches de l’Est – Olivier Class, flûte
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
D i k h a (2000-2001), pour clarinette/clarinette basse et dispositif électronique (9’30)  
Réalisée dans le cadre du cursus de composition et d’informatique musicale de l’IRCAM
A Pierre Dutrieu
Création mondiale : 15 juin 2002 – Paris, Festival Agora, Espace de Projection de l’IRCAM – Pierre Dutrieu, clarinette
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
T r e i s (2000), pour violon, violoncelle et piano (10′)
Mention d’honneur au Festival Gaudeamus 2001/1er Prix Earplay 2002 Donald Aird Memorial Composers Competition
A Rosalie Adolf, Anne-Cécile Litolf et Godefroy Vujicic
Création mondiale : 7 octobre 2000 – Strasbourg, Festival Musica – Rosalie Adolf (vn), Godefroy Vujicic (vc), Anne-Cécile Litolf (pno)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
L a  C h u t e  D u  R o u g e (2000), pour clarinette, violoncelle, vibraphone et piano (11′)  
A Ivan Fedele
Création mondiale : 11 mai 2000 – Strasbourg, Oratoire du Temple-Neuf – Ensemble du Conservatoire de Strasbourg
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
S k i a ï (1998-1999), pour cinq instruments (8′)
A Pierre-Yves Meugé
Création mondiale : 11 mai 1999 – Strasbourg, Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame – Ensemble du Conservatoire de Strasbourg
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
S t r o f a II (1998), voix de femme, violon et piano (5’30) (Retiré du catalogue)
Création mondiale : 11 mai 2000 – Strasbourg, Oratoire du Temple-Neuf – Ensemble du Conservatoire de Strasbourg
inédit © Christophe BERTRAND
S t r o f a IIb (1998-2000), pour voix de femme, flûte alto (également flûte en ut), et piano (5’30)
Création mondiale : 2 juillet 2000 – Wangen (67), Vieux Freihof – Aline Metzinger (voix), Olivier Class (fl), Christophe Bertrand (pno)
© Edizioni Suvini Zerboni/SugarMusic S.p.A, Milano
Photo credit:  Pascale Srebnicki (2008).

Evolutionary psychology

In his Little Red Book, Mao Tse Tung said:   “Learn to play the piano.” [Fn #1]  However,  I don’t recall ever seeing a single piano in an African village, although I certainly saw (and heard) piano accordians in the villages and along the mountain paths of Lesotho (along with various hand-drums and mamokhorongs).  And settlements larger than traditional villages – Zimbabwe’s Growth Points, for example – sometimes had pianos in their churches or newly-built school halls.  Of course, the earliest of these pianos could only have been made in these last 300 years.

It seems to me that the historical absence of village pianos in Africa causes a problem for evolutionary psychology, since clearly a daily compulsion to play the piano is not something that has a long-standing evolutionary basis – at least, not for those of us descended from the peoples of the African savannah.  So if evo-psych cannot explain this very real human characteristic, what business does it have explaining any other human characteristic?  Why are some attitudes or characteristics to be explained by evolutionary means yet not others?  What distinguishes the one class of characteristics from the other? And what credence can we possibly give to any evolutionary explanation of phenomena which is not, prima facie, explainable in this way?   Surely, this limitation of the scope of evolutionary explanations completely undermines such arguments, since either all higher-level human characteristics have evolutionary explanations or none at all do.

Footnotes:
1. In: Chapter 10:  Leadership of Party CommitteesQuotations from Mao Tse-Tung.  Peking, PRC:  Foreign Languages Press, 1966.
 

The mystic piano


Every morning, for as long as I can remember, I wake up with an urge to play the piano.   My family tell me this desire was evident from when I was only a few months old (and, so surprised they were, they took photos to prove it) and it has been strong all my life.   When I asked to learn to play, my parents told me that I would be able to learn piano after I started school. Apparently I returned angry from my first day of school because the kindergarten teacher, despite the presence of an upright piano at the side of the classroom, had not given any instruction on how to play it.   Certainly, my desire to play existed long before I had any lessons, or any beliefs or opinions about whether or not I could play or whether or not I was musical, and before I even knew what music was. This desire, insistent and persistent, led to lessons and to years of practice, which in turn led to some ability, as well as a (justified, true) belief that I can indeed play.

Some people have similarly strong desires to engage in what we often refer to as religious practices – to sit quietly in solitude, to still the mind, to listen carefully, to meditate, to visit churches and temples, to commune with what may be non-material realms, to do Yoga – and they may experience these desires independently of any religious beliefs.  Arguably, such desires are the origin of the non-belief-based “religions” such as Zen Buddhism and Taoism, as well as of the mystical strains of belief-based religions.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have minority mystic strains – eg, the Kabbala in Judaism, and Sufism in Islam.    One can be a mystic Christian with very few if any actual religious beliefs, and certainly no beliefs that are particularly “Christian”, as conversations with many Quakers or Unitarians can attest.  I am expressing views here that I have before, there and there.

Not having any beliefs, but a strong urge to do something, is a very different state of mind to merely being skeptical about the matters in question, a position Andrew Sullivan expresses.    Many in the Western philosophical tradition seem unable to imagine how one can engage in a practice without first having a belief which justifies or supports doing this practice. But that inability of imagination just shows the hold that the Christian confessional tradition has over the minds of even our sharpest secular philosophers, such as Norm.   In a later post, Norm says he is contesting “the thesis of the unimportance of belief there” (his emphasis).   But, as any Zen adept will tell you:  belief (in the form of enlightenment) is what follows regular zazen practice, not what precedes or accompanies it, and it may only occur after a life-time of practice.  Belief is very unimportant in many of these practices, to the point where someone can even write a book called, Buddhism Without Beliefs.

Finally, en passant, it is a pity that Norm resorts to speculation about the motives of the people he disagrees with, as if doing so were somehow to weaken their arguments.   None of us can truly know the motives of others, so such speculation is ultimately fruitless, as well as being unbecoming.

FOOTNOTE:  I am not the only person with a daily compulsion to play the piano:

And yet playing the piano – or trying to play the piano – is now such a part of my life that a day now feels incomplete without having sat at the keyboard for even two minutes.    .  .  .   All this may one day become clear.  Until then I shall stumble on, feeling that the act of playing the piano each day does in some way settle the mind and the spirit.  Even five minutes in the morning feels as though it has altered the chemistry of the brain in some indefinable way.   Something has been nourished.   I feel ready – or readier – for the day.” (Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian)

Think again, Helen Vendler, think differently!

Helen Vendler wrote a superb and indispensible commentary on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, deconstructing the poems’ complex and subtle verbal gymnastics and providing a guide to the unmatched mental ingenuity Shakespeare manifests.   As her exegesis clearly shows, Vendler, as well as Shakespeare, is a master of verbal intelligence.   However, she seems to believe that the only intelligence that is, is linguistic.  

In a recent article in Harvard Magazine, Vendler presents a case for primary school education to centre around reading and words, with just a nod to mathematics.    It is good that she included mathematics there somewhere, since I presume she would like her electricity network to keep humming with power, her sewers flushed, her phones connected, her air-travel crash-free, her food and drink and flowers freshly delivered, her weather forecasted, her borders defended, and her online transactions safely encrypted.    None of these, in our modern, technologically-centred world, would be sure to happen if our schools produced only literati.  

But 15 periods per day – 1 of mathematics and 14 for reading – and yet no time for children to draw or paint?  They can look at art and discuss it (periods #7 and #10) but not do it!  How revealing is THAT about Ms Vendler’s opinions of the relative importance of words and images!    And no time in those 15 periods for learning or playing music, apart from group singing?  The only singing allowed in her day is the “choral singing of traditional melodic song (folk songs, country songs, rounds)” ?  Why should traditional melodies be so privileged?   That is like saying that children should only read books written before 1900.   Surely, a person so concerned with words and reading would be delighted if children engaged in rap, that most verbal and linguistically-intellectually-challenging of musics?    This list of activities begins to look merely like an anti-contemporary-world tirade of the sort we have seen before.

Not only does her syllabus have an anti-modern bias, but there is also a bias against other forms of human thinking, such as drawing-as-thought, and music-as-thought.   The philosopher Stephen Toulmin noted the pro-text tendency our culture has evidenced these last four centuries.  While this tendency still dominates us all, we are at last seeing the rise of minority tendencies:  an increasing role for film and video and image in our culture generally; the use of GUIs in devices which interact with humans; the use of graphically-oriented software development tools (so that no longer do all programmers have to be left-brained text manipulators); an attention to design in product development;  and the rise – for the first time since Euclid’s geometry – of a western mathematical discipline where reasoning occurs over diagrams.  

We are just at the beginning at understanding, modeling, systematizing, and using visual thinking and reasoning over diagrams, or musical and sonic reasoning.  We’ve hardly started this effort for the other types of human intelligence we know about:  spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.   And all the non-human forms of intelligence await even recognition and discovery.   What a great shame if all this rich diversity of intelligent modes of thought were to be squeezed out by a narrow school syllabus favouring just one-and-a-bit types of thinking.  

References:

Rebecca Donner [2021]: All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler. Canongate Books.

Helen Vendler [1999]:  The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Helen Vendler [2011]:  Reading is elemental.  Harvard Magazine, September-October 2011.

Postscript 1 (Added 2021-08-09):
In case of linkrot, here is an excerpt from the Harvard Magazine article by Vendler:

“In a utopian world, I would propose, for the ultimate maintenance of the humanities and all other higher learning, an elementary-school curriculum that would make every ordinary child a proficient reader by the end of the fourth grade—not to pass a test, but rather to ensure progressive expansion of awareness. Other than mathematics, the curriculum of my ideal elementary school would be wholly occupied, all day, every day, with “reading” in its very fullest sense. Let us imagine the day divided into short 20-minute “periods.” Here are 14 daily such periods of “reading,” each divisible into two 10-minute periods, or extended to a half-hour, as seems most practical to teachers in different grades. Many such periods can be spent outside, to break up the tedium of long sitting for young children. The pupils would:

1. engage in choral singing of traditional melodic song (folk songs, country songs, rounds);
2. be read to from poems and stories beyond their own current ability to read;
3. mount short plays—learning roles, rehearsing, and eventually performing;
4. march or dance to counting rhymes, poems, or music, “reading” rhythms and sentences with their bodies;
5. read aloud, chorally, to the teacher;
6. read aloud singly to the teacher, and recite memorized poems either chorally or singly;
7. notice, and describe aloud, the reproduced images of powerful works of art, with the accompanying story told by the teacher (Orpheus, the three kings at Bethlehem, etc.);
8. read silently, and retell in their own words, for discussion, the story they have read;
9. expand their vocabulary to specialized registers through walks where they would learn the names of trees, plants, flowers, and fruits;
10. visit museums of art and natural history to learn to name exotic or extinct things, or visit an orchestra to discover the names and sounds of orchestral instruments;
11. learn conjoined prefixes, suffixes, and roots as they learn new words;
12. tell stories of their own devising;
13. compose words to be sung to tunes they already know; and
14. if they are studying a foreign language, carry out these practices for it as well.

The only homework, in addition to mathematics, would be additional reading practices over the weekends (to be checked by a brief Monday discussion by students). If such a curriculum were carried out—with additional classroom support and needed modification for English-language learners or pupils in special education—I believe that by the end of the fourth grade, the majority of the class would enjoy, and do well in, reading. Then, in middle school and high school, armed with the power of easy and pleasurable reading, students could be launched not only into appropriate world literature, but also into reading age-appropriate books of history or geography or civics or science—with much better results than at present. If reading—by extensive exposure and intensive interaction—cannot be made enjoyable and easy, there is no hope for students in their later education.”

Postscript 2 (Added 2021-08-09):
Items #1 and #4 in Vendler’s list reminded me of the German Nazi Ministry of Education’s school manual, Erziehung und Unterricht in der Höheren Schule: Amtliche Ausgabe des Reichs und Preuszischen Ministeriums für Wissenschaft, Erziehung, und Volksbildung (Education and Instruction in the Higher Schools: Official Publication of the Reich and Prussian Ministry of Knowledge, Education, and National Culture) that included requirements that:

Boys of fourteen should study songs of medieval foot soldiers, modern soldier songs, marching songs. . . . Boys of sixteen are to learn military folk songs and an opera by Wagner.

Source: Donner (2021).

The macroeconomic dark ages

Paul Krugman, writing about the failings of macro-economists before and after the Great Recession, notes the wide social consequences of the pro-abstraction, anti-history turn in the study of economics this last half-century.   Sadly, this turn has been another instance of the dominance of Descartian autism in western intellectual culture.

Early in 2009, when the Obama stimulus was under discussion, I was stunned to read statements from a number of well-regarded economists asserting not merely that the plan was a bad idea in practice — a defensible idea — but that debt-financed government spending could not, in principle, raise overall spending. Here’s John Cochrane:
Continue reading ‘The macroeconomic dark ages’