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At the beginning, it was chaos!
For this commission, the specifications by the ensemble Soli-Tutti actually stipulated a schizophrenic formation – meaning literally “split” into two independent worlds: an ensemble of 12 singers and an orchestra of 10 musicians – each directed by their own conductor – whose musical direction would swing from rigorous synchronisation to manifest autonomy.
Where can a text which boasts such extravagance be found?
Obviously a text which itself is extravagant and which very soon became apparent; an undefinable work: “Exercises in Style” by Raymond Queneau.
The relation between the simplicity of a story, indeed comical but also quite realistic, and the unexpected richness of its multiple spin offs, which juxtapose increasingly bizarre situations with a painstakingly eloquent work, shapes this gem of literature in absurd and unreal manner: in some sorts schizophrenic.
If the writer’s wish to be playful was fuelled by the numerous figures of style in the French language, a parallel had to be found in the musical interpretation and not only in the principle of the varied theme but in particular in the use of a specific style for each variation.
So that when Queneau uses alexandrines, sonnets, free verse, negation, hesitation, exclamation, litotes, apocope, hellenisms, anglicisms, onomatopoea, spoonerism, etc. the diverse musical movements alternate modal, tonal, polytonal, serial language, musical framework, sound sets, etc. whilst at the same time taking care to pastiche the characteristic features of a composer (clue in the title using puns, reference or spoonerism) or of a style of music; and of course always respecting the tripartite structure of a theme which describes the three phases of a short sketch: getting on the bus, a scramble, reunion in St. Lazare station.
These “Variations in Style” will perhaps see one or several follow-ups; in fact it proved to be very challenging to choose between the texts to produce a short twenty minute work. Many remain where the musical match is so very obvious: much pastiche is waiting to be used ….
Structure of « Variations de style » with mention of the Queneau’s texts used in each movement.
Ouverture (Notations – Télégraphique)
Thème (Botanique-Médical-Gastronomique – Gustatif-Tactile-Auditif – Ignorance- Impuissant-Probabiliste – Modern style- Définitionnel- Précieux)
Ornitholique 08.08 (Analyse logique)
Improvisation sûre (Vers libres)
Sérénade bretonne (Anglicismes)
Rap (Ode – Homéotéleutes – Paréchèses)
Singers on the front of the stage, facing the public – Orchestra backstage, back turned.
Conductors are facing one another.
Flute (also Piccolo)
Clarinet in B flat (also small clarinet in E flat)*
Bass clarinet in B flat*
Fagott (also Contra-Fagott)
Trumpet en C
Piano (also rattle, siren crank, typewriter)
Percussion : 1 vibraphone, 1 glockenspiel, 1 xylophone, 2 wood-blocks, 2 temple-blocks, symphonic bass drum, 1 Lion’s roar , 1 tam-tam large, 1 gong (D2), 1 cloche tube (A3), 1 rivet cymbal , 2 bongos, 1 tambourine, 1 cymbal-tambourine, 1 guiro, castanets, bells, 1 typewriter, 1 jazz drums
Singers : for the last movement, plastic sheet to be creased (« rain paper »)