Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pousseur on film

A few years ago, Belgian composer Henri Pousseur donated all of his papers to the Paul Sacher Foundation in Switzerland. For his fourth trip to deliver his archives, he was accompanied by filmmakers Guy-Marc Hinant and Dominique Lohlé. The resulting documentary, Hommage au Sauvage, was released on DVD by Sub Rosa's video branch, OME. Most of the film is Pousseur seated in the back seat with the camera fixed in the same position, talking about various topics from the history and theory of the avant-garde to his views on aesthetics and the open work. Most of the chat relates to his music, although he also recounts a few personal moments of special significance. There are some sequences filmed at the Sacher Foundation, going over some of his papers with the archivists. What comes across most vividly in this 52-minute film is Pousseur's engaging personality and his incisive attitude.

Four interludes present his music directly. Two of them use selections from his electronic works Scambi and Trois Visages de Liège with a succession of images. There's a longer section of Pousseur rehearsing a very short string quartet (Piccolo Ricercare, about 2.5 minutes long) and its performance by the Quotour Musiques Nouvelles. At the time of filming, this was Pousseur's most recent work, and the rehearsel fragments illuminate the melodic aspects of the piece that were so important to him, but often easily lost in the abstractions and the angles.

I've written before about Pousseur's approach to open works, and the filmmakers get some interesting discussion about one particular problem, how to make an open work for more than one musician. One of Pousseur's solutions was the piece Les Ephémérides d'Icare 2, a 1970 work for unspecified soloists and ensemble. For the fourth musical interlude, he goes over a few pages from the score, then provides commentary from the old LP recording (unfortunately not reissued on CD).

The DVD, which is available as a purchase from the usual suspects or as a rental from Netflix, comes in both NTSC and PAL formats (on each side of the disc) and unfortunately has no extras. Archival footage of his musical theater would have been most welcome, or a moderately restored version of the ensemble work Les Ephémérides d'Icare 2 together with its score. In any event, another nice addition to the Pousseur legacy from Sub Rosa.

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