5th International Forum for Young Composers – Interview

“Dreaming and Innerness”

Interview of Mariana Ungureanu by Makis Solomos. Logbook of the 5th International Forum for Young Composers – 2008

> Would you sum up your itinerary?

>> I studied music in specialist schools in Moldavia, then at the Chisinau Higher Conservatory.

At the time of the opening up of the borders – during the fall of the Soviet empire, we had a slight possibility of going abroad, and I grasped it. I went to Bucharest, where I studied composition at the Higher Conservatory. After that I obtained a bursary from the Flemish Ministry of Culture for studying in Belgium, which enabled me to take advanced studies and, especially, to become acquainted with more contemporary languages. It was through this that I came to Paris. The cultural wealth of the city impressed me and so I decided to stay.

> In Romania you studied with Anatol Vieru, Octavian Nemescu and Aurèle Stroë. The latter was invited, during the second Aleph forum in 2002, to give a talk as part of the residence (a talk that can be found in the second Logbook, under the title “On morphogenesis in music”). Do you feel close to him?

>> I .reatly appreciate his theoretical approach as well as the influences he draws from different domains such as physics or thermodynamics, or ancient sources such as Greek mythology. But, from the point of view of style, I am not a follower of his, nor indeed of Anatol Vieru. Since I have been in France I have changed a lot. Whereas, on arriving, I composed in a modal manner – a manner inherited from Anatol Vieru, here I very quickly started composing atonal music. I was delighted to discover the musical language of the second half of the twentieth century, of which I had known very little until then.

> You come from the former Soviet Republic of Moldavia, you have Russian and Romanian origins, you have studied in Romania and Belgium and you currently live in France… There is therefore an intercultural aspect to your itinerary. Moreover, you have a master’s degree in musicology on the notion of “inter-textuality”.

>> Yes. I think that inter-textuality is to some extent an existential question. I come from a country that has no identity: a false country, which was invented and supported by artificial political means, with a pseudo-real language, with a completely fake culture. So it is normal, natural, that I have started by questioning my identity. I have tried to find the ancient sources of my civilization – for the Soviet “civilization” was not one. I therefore drew from the Russian tradition and the Romanian tradition – the Moldavians are a mix of the two. On arriving in the West, I wanted to enrich myself with untold numbers of new things I had not known before. From the artistic point of view this was not obvious either, as these multiple influences do not necessarily give a solution. I think the solution comes with time, with maturity. As for the musicological work I have undertaken, the subject dealt with the inter-textuality in the music of the twentieth century, in relation to my itinerary, since I felt very varied influences within me, but I could not understand their interaction. I don’t know if I can already draw some conclusions…

> Among the composers of the past, which ones interest you the most?

>> I find it hard to make any claims on the past, I care more about contemporary trends. At the time I started to compose – I was a teenager, about fourteen years old, in order to be able to do it I had to start by forgetting all the music of the past, all the music I had played. It was not by constructing, in a rational manner, building up from what I already knew that I managed to compose, but by clearing the decks: this is how I gave myself the courage and the freedom to express myself. This is no doubt an atypical itinerary, but it was my way of doing things… It also comes from the fact that, until then, my musical teaching had been extremely traditional, and I did not find any openings in the works of Rachmaninov or Mozart that I was playing at the time: I found the solution quite elsewhere.

> And among contemporary composers, which ones interest you? I think you feel close to Matthias Pintscher.

>> From the point of view of musical sensibility, composers like Pintscher, Enno Poppe, Klaus Huber, Nicolaus A. Huber or other great composers of the twentieth century such as Berio for the lyrical vein, Boulez, of course, for musical construction have greatly influenced me. But I don’t know if, from the point of view of language, my music has affinities with theirs.

> Your music is, however, close to that of Pintscher.

>> I confess I don’t know his music very well! I think I have only heard two of his pieces. But it is true that, judging from these two pieces, I feel close.

> To what do you feel close in his music ?

>> It has a beautiful sound, but this is not that aural “hedonism” in which you lose yourself. There is pleasure in sound but it is blended with a very consequential approach. It is music that has no rigid construction; it creates a feeling alongside a controlled structure and a very sensitive aural perceptiveness.

> What is the nature of this feeling? What do you mean by “feeling”?

>> For me the feeling has to do with spontaneity: it can enter into the construction of the form. We all have an idea of form, that you decide on before starting a piece, you know where you want to go and how to do it. Sometimes, however, this form is adhered to too rigidly; in listening to it, you can feel that. With Pintscher, form is highly elaborate, but it possesses a natural quality, its musical discourse is very fluid. So the musical feeling is perfectly fulfilled. This very natural form, which is not absolutely rigid, should constitute the finalized work of art, which thus manages to combine an intellectual aspect with an individual sensitivity.

> Trying to grasp your music from what I have been able to discover in the course of the
residency at La Tourette, I shall suggest a few characteristics, and then tell me if they seem to you adequate. First, on the level of construction, I would call it melodico-timbral, a mix of sophisticated use of tone-colour and melodic figures, in which the attention can move constantly from tone-colour to melody.

>> Yes, tone-colour is a complex concept, being not only colour but also an element that has its own, inherent life – each sound has its own attack and fall; but I also try to construct this timbrel envelope by supporting it and modifying it through melodic interventions: I work on the tone-colour from within thanks to these interventions, which are in general fairly short. Melody interests me greatly in itself, I put great store by it…

> … it comes from your modal past?

>> I don’t know. It comes rather from the language. I truly feel the need to write at length, melodically, just as I like to talk at length. Melody is for me a musical expression very close to the spoken word. The Russian language – which is in part my mother tongue – is even more a language of length, it is melodic. Hence, in my music, the presence of melodic lines as well as vocal works, often with Russian texts. But I have also written a piece in French…

> … the Histoire de poèmes…

>> … yes, re-baptised Plus ombre que l’ombre, with texts from surrealist authors. In composing it, I was very wary, as I did not find the lyrical aspect I was used to in the French language. I ended up by discovering another approach: music theater. The playful side of the libretto by Emmanuel Reibel gave me the key for a different kind of vocal writing which now fascinates me to the point of wanting to turn it into an opera.

> Another characteristic to describe your music: I have the impression that it consists of small, isolated elements, though in the end they come together.

>> I have written very dense pieces, for example a String Trio, in which there is no silence. I love extremes: in this context I found pleasure in dealing with very dense matter. Then, I discovered the power of silence. I remember that one composer fascinated me when I listened to his music for the first time…

> … Sciarrino…

>> It’s true, you find it in Sciarrino, but it was not he: I was thinking of Toshio Hosokawa. The first time I listened to one of his pieces, I was holding a chronometer and counting the number of seconds between two attacks. I was totally fascinated! I had the impression he was drawing out time to a considerable degree and that, in consequence, I could no longer control the flow of seconds at all. It was then I discovered that, when you accord enough place to silence, it acquires a force much more powerful than sound itself. This is why the piece for the Aleph Ensemble, Intermedio e Coda, makes so much room for silence that it intervenes in the sound itself: it diminishes it, it removes its consistency