Luc Ferrari (1929-2005)

I am hugely chagrined to learn from the latest issue of Signal to Noise that composer Luc Ferrari died last August 22 and I never even heard about it. Along with Henri Pousseur and Bruno Maderna, Ferrari was one of those figures peripheral to Darmstadt serialism who seemed so much more intriguing than the central protagonists. I can’t say I ever quite understood Ferrari’s music – in fact, that was what was so damned interesting about the three of them, whereas what Boulez, Stockhausen, and Nono were doing was so obvious, so minutely explained and explainable. The signal piece for Ferrari was, of course, Presque Rien No. 1, a 1969 piece of musique concrète of which I find this decription at the Other Minds website:

By 1970 he had completed Presque Rien No. 1, a kind of musical photography, in which unassuming ambient sounds of a small village in Yugoslavia, recorded throughout a long day, are telescoped by means of seamless dissolves into a 21-minute narrative in which no apparent “musical” sounds are included.

That’s more detail than I’d ever gotten before, and I had never understood exactly how Ferrari seemed to crowd so many sounds into a 20-minute tone poem. Many of his concrète pieces are similar, but he also wrote strange, more serial-sounding instrumental works, and seemed obsessed with the naked female form, which figured on his CD covers and several titles. I kept thinking something would happen to bring him out into the open, and I was excited when, in 1991, he made a seeming comeback and began to put out CDs after a long absence from public visibility. And now he’s dead at 76, with my having been little wiser about him than I was in 1980. I hope some critical dialogue arises around him, brushing away the unfortunate clouds of serialist mystique that obscured the movement’s less dogmatic masters.


  1. says

    My sentiments exactly. Every now and then, I would run into a Ferrari recording or performance, and they never quite seemed to tell the story of his work but always left me wanting to know more. We need some serious musicology on this body of work, I think. (BTW I’ve never thought of his work as having much to do with serialism – perhaps one of those aspects of his I just didn’t quite ever run into?)
    A similar case from the periphery of the european avant-garde is, I feel, Clarence Barlow. Clarence is still alive of course but I feel that some more structural attention to his work would be very helpful.
    These are composers with a very rich output, a body of work that is not easy to get an overview of, and that can’t be pigeonholed. Institutional music life everywhere being conservative as it is doesn’t make things any easier to learn about such people.

  2. says

    Given that Samuel has just said it’s difficult to get an overview of someone like Ferrari, this might be an impossible question to answer, but what works/albums would you recommend as standing out? (I have Presque Rien and Impro-Micro-Acoustique, but I gather the latter is somewhat unusual.)