Tempo (2007), 61:239:2-17 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007


Bob Gilmore 

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There is an uncanny symmetry in the life of the French–Canadian composer Claude Vivier: we do not know the exact time or circumstances of his birth, and we do not know the exact time or circumstances of his death. The first of these two facts haunted Vivier all his life. Born to unknown parents in Montreal in April 1948 and placed in an orphanage, he became obsessed with the identity of his birth mother, whom he never knew. Several of his compositions can be heard as a poignant attempt to communicate with her. The second fact – his murder in March 1983 by a young Parisian criminal in circumstances that remain not fully investigated – has, you might say, haunted the posthumous reputation of his music. It seems impossible to discuss Vivier's work without mentioning the cruel and sordid circumstances of his death. For some, his murder is the key to an understanding of his life and – even more controversially – of his work.