Born in 1939 in Sutton Coldfield in Warckickshire, England, Jonathan Harvey was a chorister at St. Michael's College, Tenbury. The practice of choral singing will leave the imprint on him of the polyphonic music of the Renaissance. He studied the cello, an instrument that is very present in his creations. His work covers all types, music for a capella choir, large orchestra, ensemble and solo instrument. He is considered one of the most imaginative composers of electroacoustic music.
Harvey continued his studies at St. John's University of Cambridge. On the advice of Britten, he also studied with Erwin Stein and Hans Keller, both pupils of Schoenberg, and thus became familiar very early with the twelve-tone technique.
The meeting at Princeton University in 1969, with Milton Babbitt, who introduced him to the possibilities of computer music, has a considerable influence on his work. New technologies, however, still in an early stage at the time, opens him out to avant-garde compositional dimension : the exploration of sound. In this domain, another decisive encounter was that of Stockhausen who guided him in his learning of studio techniques. Their ideas converge on the fact that electronic technology can transcend the physical limitations of traditional sound sources. These composers are both looking for a reconciliation between the rational and the mystic, the scientific and intuitive. In 1975 Harvey published a book on the works of Stockhausen.
The invitation of Pierre Boulez to work at IRCAM in the early 80s is at the origin of an important collaboration giving rise to many works affirming his personal style: Mortuos Plango, Vivis Voco, one of the major compositions of electronic music (1980), Bhakti (1982) for chamber orchestra and quadraphonic tape. His practice of electronics had already imposed itself and the cycle of Inner Light is the result of five years of this experience (1973-1977). But he met, however, at IRCAM the spectral current, which he considers crucial to the evolution of music today. In addition, the electronic sound seems to him an opening to the transcendent and spiritual dimensions he wants inherent in his work.
Jonathan Harvey receives commissions from around the world, he is one of the contemporary composers most frequently programmed, interpreted by, among others, the Ensemble Modern, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Asko, Nieuw Ensemble (Amsterdam) and Ictus Ensemble (Brussels).
Jonathan Harvey has honorary doctorates from the Universities of Southampton and Bristol, a member of the European Academy, honorary professor of music of the University of Sussex where he taught for 18 years, professor emeritus of music at Stanford University in California where he taught from 1995 to 2000. He was resident composer at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
In 1993 he received the prestigious Britten prize for composition. He published two books in 1999, respectively, on inspiration and spirituality. In this quest for spiritual syncretism, the composer associated himself with writer Jean-Claude Carriere for the realization of his opera Wagner dream on the life of the young Buddha, created in June 2007.
Radio France, IRCAM and the BBC joint commissioned from J. Harvey a work for orchestra, "Speaking" is created August 19, 2008 by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, directed by Ilan Volkov, in the London Proms. The topic: How to move towards speaking or singing by purely instrumental means ? Jonathan Harvey in turn takes up this challenge with the computer and an orchestration approaching his target voice. Jonathan Harvey receives in 2007, the "Giga-Hertz Grand Prize" for all his work with electronics. In 2009, he wrote a new work of 90 minutes for the Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle and Rundfunkchor.
In 1883, with his second wife Cosima, Wagner is in Venice, installed at the Palazzo Vendramin since september 16 the previous year. At the age of 70 years, the world famous composer thinks only of writing an opera of which he has long dreamed: the story of Prakriti, discovered more than a quarter of a century earlier. Regardless of his desire for isolation, he agrees to accept a young english soprano Carrie Pringle (a flower-girl of the Parsifal). This decision stirs the jealousy of Cosima, and causes at first a domestic quarrel in the couple, and then the collapse of the musician, struck by an attack. Is he dead ? Is he just in a coma
A strange man then appears, who said his name was Vairochana. He addresses a few reassuring words to Wagner, adding that the decisive moment of choice has come. The musician seeks to understand the words. The song then begins, replacing the actors who spoke in german on a musical background, and with it the story of his dreamed opera. As if time was suspended, Wagner, dying, assists the meeting of Ananda (bliss, in sanskrit), a cousin of the Buddha himself, with Prakriti (natural order, primitive form, in sanskrit) the young waitress at the inn. The love of these youths is mutual, but Ananda is a monk whose life is governed by strict rules, such as the rejection of physical love. Tortured by desire, Ananda asked the Buddha how to satisfy his love. She learned that, in a previous life, she was a contemptuous woman who rejected the love of Ananda, under another identity. By the test of chastity, by the loss of oneself as redemption, Prakriti found a place in the Buddhist community.
While the opera continues for him alone, Wagner sometimes finds forces, intervenes, questions. But he is no longer capable of grasping the meaning of a work so long matured in him: to offer the choice between a quiet entrance into eternity, or an attachment to the cycle of rebirths. When the story comes to an end, Wagner dies on stage.
Laurent Bergnach (Anaclase)
Wagner Dream or the motionless moment of a last breath
Inspired by the last moments of the life of Richard Wagner and his opera project Die Sieger, itself inspired by the Buddhist legend of Ananda and Prakriti, "Wagner Dream", an opera by Jonathan Harvey, seems to expand and illuminate the veils of illusion. It is with Jean-Claude Carriere who shares his attraction to Buddhism, that Harvey built this illusion-revelation given to Wagner "a time to blink".
An opera about Richard Wagner ? No. What is the relationship between Wagner and the english composer Jonathan Harvey ? And IRCAM in all this ? If the contributions for the type of opera and Wagner's ideological excesses are well known, we too often forget the complexity of the character and his thoughts. It should be emphasized, for example his knowledge of the philosophy of Schopenhauer and his interest, perhaps more surprisingly, for Buddhism. However, this interest did not wane in the last decades of the composer's life. Until his death in February 1883 in Venice, he thought of an opera on a subject buddhist. Very quickly, the philosophy of Schopenhauer, based on a pessimistic view of the human condition, is adopted by Richard Wagner, beset by personal difficulties. Schopenhauer published in 1819 Le Monde comme volonté et comme représentation, where he highlights the primordial role of our representation. This distancing from the real world is not so far from the idea of renunciation adopted by Buddha himself rediscovered by the intellectual europe of the twentieth century. Schopenhauer's philosophy is based on those of Plato, Kant, but also of Indian spirituality. Wagner is fascinated by both Schopenhauer and buddhism. From summer 1855 in Seelisberg, Wagner began to preoccupy himself with a buddhist opera he later called Die Sieger (The Victors). On may 16, 1856, he wrote a brief synopsis from a story found in the Introduction to the history of indian buddhism of Eugene Burnouf. Prakriti, a young indian girl of the lowest class, burns with an impossible love for Ananda, a relative of Buddha. She can only live with her lover by entering his religious order and making a vow of chastity. Renunciation of the world as a redemption, the story of Ananda and Prakriti is also a metaphor for the inequality between men and women. Death will not leave time for Wagner to complete this essay nor to compose Die Sieger. The end of Wagner's life is well known, including the testimonials of his relatives. On September 16, 1882, he moved to the Palace Vendramin in Venice with his second wife Cosima. His daughter Isolde reported a violent quarrel Tuesday, February 13, 1883 with Cosima. The reason was the invitation to Carrie Pringle (the interpreter of one of the flower girls in Parsifal) to come to Venice to visit him. The maid Betty Bürkel, remaining close to Wagner, was the first witness of the heart attack that seizes the composer. In Wagner Dream, composer Jonathan Harvey and librettist Jean-Claude Carrière, both interested in Buddhist spirituality, have linked two events in the life of Wagner: the narrative of his last moments and his project to compose an opera on a buddhist subject. And the technologies of IRCAM ? Spectacular special effects ? No, or not only: they give meaning to the drama. Of course, to complete such a project is not an ordinary task for a composer accustomed with IRCAM. From the first idea of Wagner until the completion of Wagner Dream, the work deserves to be seen.
The Birth of an Opera
While drafting Wagner Dream, Jonathan Harvey has written several works related to buddhism, since Bakhti and The Path of Devotion to the two Buddhist Songs. The composer also has extensive knowledge in electronics, acquired with the thirty pieces made especially at IRCAM. Announcing directly Wagner Dream, The Summer Cloud's Awakening (2001, for mixed choir, alto flute and piccolo, cello and prepared electronics) brings together texts of Wagner and Shakyamuni (Buddha) as well as a real-time device performed with the musical assistant Carl Faia. In addition, the music of the opera will use the principle of "melodic lines" already experienced in From Silence (1988) and Ritual Melodies (1989-1990). Before looking for collaborators, the composer wrote himself a first draft of a synopsis and libretto in February 2002. The idea is to stage a vision of Wagner during the brief moment of his death. This vision is simply the buddhist opera that he did not write, set in the final moments of Wagner. At that time, the opera has three scenes surrounded by a prologue and an epilogue. In this draft, the end of the drama is so very different from the final version. The final disappearance of the setting and indian characters had to show the unreality of the buddhist story. There were two interpreters planned for Wagner, a german speaking actor and a singer offstage. The entire system will be simplified in the final version. Shortly after the development of this first draft of the text, the name of Jean-Claude Carrière is suggested to Jonathan Harvey by Pierre Audi for writing the script, who agrees to stage the opera. The lights will be provided by Jean Kalman, who, as Carriere, has worked with Peter Brook. Like Jonathan Harvey, Jean-Claude Carrière is deeply impregnated with the spirituality of buddhism and India. He has written in particular, La Force du Buddhism avec le Dalai Lama in 1995 and Un Dictionnaire amoureux de l'Inde 2001. Scenarist well known to Buñuel (Belle de Jour, Cet obscure objet du désire, etc..) Forman (Taking Off, Valmont), Deray (Borsalino), Schlöndorff (Le Tambour, Le Roi des Aulnes), Godard (Sauve qui peut (la vie)), Wajda (Danton), Louis Malle (Milou in Mai)... He also pursues a career as a playwright and adapter, in particular with Jean-Louis Barrault and Peter Brook. In early 2003, the music of the most important passages of the draft proposed by the composer are rough copies, without mentioning explicitly nor Wagner nor the buddhist rituals. It does not include collage or pastiche, but suggests atmospheres with a few melodic allusions to Wagner's harmony. In addition, the sponsors and producers gathered together little by little. Pierre Audi chooses Opera for Amsterdam, and Sally Cavender of Faber Music, supports the publication of the score.
L'éclair de la mort
Gradually, the general sense of opera becomes clearer: it is not assen buddhist teachings, but to live a buddhist text in the sparking moment of the death of Wagner. All must remain mysterious, but evocative of buddhist thought. The role of Wagner, a familiar figure in the culture of opera cannot be sung, it will be spoken. And if Ananda and Prakriti choose the renunciation of love on earth, the loss of oneself self as redemption, Wagner himself, ultimately rejects the abandon of all desire. He wants to relive, conquer, overcome. He choses "the heroic blood of Siegfried" against "the tasteless water of Prakriti". As written by Jonathan Harvey in a letter to Jean-Claude Carriere, "Romanticism glorifies suffering as illumination, the self (subjectivity) as a barometer of truth". In June 2003, Jean-Claude Carrière wrote a synopsis detailing the progress of the action. In the flash of death, time is suspended, the story is revealed to Wagner, it is given to him completely. He never wrote it. For Jean-Claude Carriere, "he died after experiencing what no one before him knew: time stood still, the vanity of glory, the illusion of all identity and even of all reality, the evidence that all people make one, that our whole life can be decided at the last moment, a split second, and we join in the great crucible of emptyness in which all living things, like it or not, are reconciled."
Electronic for a buddhist opera
Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, a few fragments of the opera are composed in 2003 and constitue Two Interludes and a Scene. The interludes are played in Berlin March 5, 2005. The ensemble will be given at the Centre Pompidou in Paris March 25, 2006. The electronic part of the interludes is very important and foreshadows the magnitude of the overall technology used for the opera.
The final Opera
Early 2005, the librettist and composer develop the final booklet. The opera will include nine scenes. The roles of german characters are spoken while the indian characters are sung. The choral arrangement is redefined and simplified. A chorus of soloists sing in Sanskrit fragments of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The end of the booklet is still reworked the spring of 2005 to erase any action or speech too explicit. The writing (vocal, instrumental and electronic) makes great progress during 2005 and early the following year. The work of the electronics of the opera ends in March 2007.
Le temps d'un battement de paupières
As in Shakespeare's La Tempête: the world is not what we believe, appearances are deceptive. For the composer, "things are and are not, the dream as reality are two illusions, we are in a theater". First, the exempale of the spiritual quest in charge of great emotional intensity bathes the opera in the world of Wagner and romanticism. The myth and universality join the individual psychological context. On the other hand, Wagner whoes personality was so complex and selfish, was one of the first few occidentals of his time to take interest in India. The opera world is rooted in the ancient oriental buddhism and its detachment, its philosophical approach to human suffering and joy.