In performance, however, the overall impact is quite different from anything of Boulez, being more akin in spirit to the late sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven. The sonata was recorded commercially by Yvonne Loriod in the late fifties, but it was not given its first performance in public until 1967, when the Danish pianist Elisabeth Klein played it in a recital in Copenhagen, seemingly unaware that she was in fact giving the world première. Barraqué then produced his only electronic piece, the musique concrète Etude (1954), made at Pierre Schaeffer's studio. He planned a large-scale piece, or rather collection of pieces, based on Hermann Broch's novel The Death of Virgil, a book which Barraqué's friend and sometime lover Michel Foucault recommended to him. He completed two of the projected parts: Chant aprés chant (1966), and Le temps restitué (1957/68 before his death.
Fragments of the other parts exist. Barraqué also wrote ... au dela du hasard (1959) for three female voices and ensemble, and a concerto for clarinet, vibraphone and ensemble in 1968, which are related to The Death of Virgil, but not actually part of that cycle. The only other extant piece by Barraqué is Séquence (1955-56), a setting of Nietzsche for soprano and ensemble which is partly a re-working of three unpublished songs for soprano and piano from the early fifties. Barraqué's use of tone rows in his work is quite distinctive. Rather than using a single tone row for an entire piece, as Anton Webern did, or using a number of unrelated rows in one work, as Alban Berg or Arnold Schoenberg sometimes did, Barraqué starts by using one row, and then subtly alters it to get a second.
This second row is then used for a while before being slightly altered again to make a third. This process continues throughout the work. He called this technique 'proliferating series'.[verification needed] A book published by the French music critic André Hodeir, titled Since Debussy (1962), created controversy around Barraqué by claiming his Piano Sonata as perhaps the finest since Beethoven. As the work had still not been publicly performed, and only two other works by him had at this time, the extravagant claims made for Barraqué in this book were treated with some scepticism by the musical community at large.
Whilst with hindsight it is clear that Hodeir had accurately perceived the exceptional features of Barraqué's music—notably its searing Romantic intensity, which distinguishes it from the contemporaneous works of Boulez or Stockhausen—it could be said that at the time the tone of Since Debussy did the young composer some harm and did not improve his prospects for the serious and sustained public exposure which eluded his music throughout his lifetime. Nor can the fact that Hodeir explicitly pitched the work of Barraqué much higher than the extensive achievements of his much better-known contemporary Pierre Boulez have eased relations between the two, at a time when Boulez was arguably the most powerful advocate for new music in France. As Paul Griffiths' recent biography has clarified, Boulez had in fact attempted to get the Barraqué Piano Sonata performed for some years after it was finished. When that failed to materialise, Boulez had given Barraqué prominent early performances at his famous Domaine Musicale concerts in Paris, even taking on the world première of "...au delà du hasard" at relatively short notice, when an earlier commission for it had fallen through. Even following the publication of 'Since Debussy', Boulez wrote to Barraqué asking him for a new work—this was eventually to be the Concerto, but complications surrounding this venture meant that the work received its first performance in London in 1968.
Barraqué's music was published in the sixties by the relatively small firm of Bruzichelli, who provided much needed material assistance for the composer, but whose promotion could not perhaps compete with that of the better known Universal Edition in Vienna who published Boulez, Berio and Stockhausen. In any event, Barraqué did not obtain ready access to the better known new music festivals and concert series until much later than they. Barraqué was involved a car accident in 1964, and his apartment was destroyed by fire in the late sixties. He suffered from bad health for much of his life. Nevertheless his death in Paris in August 1973, at the age of 45, was sudden and unexpected, and he appeared to have resumed serious work on a number of larger compositions from the 'Death of Virgil' cycle.
His relatively small output has left him as a somewhat obscure figure, although his work is often praised, and the sonata is seen as one of the great pianistic challenges of the 20th century. In 1995 the record company CPO issued his entire output on CD, in performances by the Austrian ensemble Klangforum Wien, and since then performances of his work have been increasingly frequent. Leaving aside the more excessive claims a few specialists have occasionally made on his behalf, Barraqué is now recognised as one of the most important and distinctive French composers since 1945; the lyrical passion and explosiveness of his finest music—notably "...au delà" and le temps restitué—is steadily finding the wider, non-specialist audience it deserves. The major reference work on his music is a biography entitled The Sea on Fire by the British music critic Paul Griffiths, published by Rochester University Press in 2004. His music is now published by the German firm of Bärenreiter. Read more on Last.fm.
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