Claude Vivier had become Canada's most internationally respected composer by the time of his murder in 1983, at the age of 34. A variety of influences led to the development of his darkly mystical musical style, characterized by melodic simplicity linked to harmonic complexity, brilliant orchestration using an expanded percussion battery, and monumental, ritualistic gestures supported by intimate and expressive details. Vivier describes the transport he felt as a child singing the simple melodies of liturgical chant as a seminal musical experience. His studies with Stockhausen, as well as his interest in Balinese music led him to use the expansion, contraction, and overlapping of melodies as the foundation for his music, rather than either traditional thematic or serial development. As a result, his works, for all their timbral and gestural variety, are held together as cohesive structures by the melodic integrity of his materials.
In Vivier's largest orchestral score, Siddhartha (1976), for orchestra divided into eight groups, and in Orion (1979) for orchestra, influences of Messiaen can be heard in some of the harmonic language and in the abrupt textural juxtapositions. The orchestral works have an epic grandeur that demands and holds the listener's attention, and they share those qualities with Cinq chansons pour percussion, a set of strongly differentiated studies for Balinese instruments. The directness of the music and the resonance of the instruments give the five songs a stunning gravity and emotional depth.
Peter Rundel leads the WDR Sinfonie Orchester Köln in vivid and colorful performance, and percussionist Christian Dierstein plays with energy and sensitivity. Vivier may not be a household name, but his music would be of strong interest to any listener intrigued by new music that's outside the mainstream.