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Dalbavie studied at the Paris Conservatory from 1980 to 1986 and he rounded out the decade in the research department at IRCAM and studying conducting with Pierre Boulez. He was much influenced by the musique spectrale of Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail, emphasizing the harmonic spectrum of the overtone series and the idea that all musical matter derives from the physical properties of sound. In the 1990s he became increasingly interested in spatial effects and in exploring the physical, sonic, and social boundaries between performers and audience.
One of Dalbavie’s newest pieces is Axiom, a floridly virtuosic quartet for piano and winds commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Emanuel Ax and premiered in 2004. Dalbavie’s axiom here is a sort of sonic postulate – octaves crashing down over wide intervals at increasing speed – from which the theorems of this musical geometry can be derived, expanded, and extended. The piece is dedicated to Ligeti, and it does suggest some of Ligeti’s equally rigorous musical logic, going back as far as the early Musica ricercata solo piano pieces.
The cascading octaves start to fill in the broad spaces, until they become chromatic scales that coalesce to a unison D. The manipulation of the axiom is quite clear in many respects, and the sectionally articulated music takes on theme-and-variation aspects. It ends in reverse order, with the rushing descending chromatic scales gradually slowing into a restatement of the axiom, chopped off with a blast in each instrument’s lowest register.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.