Vertigo -
Christophe Bertrand

is a piece written for two pianos and an orchestra of 83 musicians. It was commissioned by the Festival Musica and the French state. Vertigo (the title will be explained a little later on) is my first confrontation with what I would call my large form. Indeed, the longest piece I had written so far was my String Quartet, which lasts nearly twenty minutes, but consists of a mosaic of eleven short movements. is time, the formal stakes were high: to write a single movement of twenty minutes for two pianos and orchestra - certainly a challenge for me, usually preferring relatively short forms. It goes without saying that the architectural preoccupations and especially the perceptive concepts were the central issue in the composition of this piece.

Of course, a single movement does not imply a monolithic block; Vertigo is divided into eleven sections proportioned according to the Fibonacci sequence (and its mirror reflection): 1-2-3- 5-8-13-8-5-3-2-1, involving sections ranging from 23" to 306" (the middle section, too long in relation to the others, is therefore itself divided into five sections according to the proportions 1-2-3-5-3-2-1). All these durations are clearly not perceived in themselves, but give a sense of balance to the whole. My work has been centered on the notion of perception: how to guide listening How to give a unity to the whole Several solutions have been implemented.

Repetition and variation have been inevitable: I'll give three examples. At the beginning of the work, some instruments in the orchestra (a horn, two clarinets in unison, violas, etc.) play their notes , straight, raw, with no vibrato, almost "dirty." Both pianos play the unusual role of "active resonators" of the orchestra; very fast demisemiquaver motifs follow the harmonic evolution of the successive entries of orchestral layers. eir role here is very withdrawn, completely in the background. ese demisemiquavers reappear ten minutes later, but more to the foreground, over a single layer: scales of harmonics in the horns. Two layers, two levels. Finally, towards the end of the piece, these demisemiquavers become soloists, taking centre stage: it is the third cadenza of the piece (only a few discrete natural harmonics in the strings and horns decolour the pianos).

In the same vein, flutes, oboes and clarinets emit a very sharp arpeggio, consisting of two diminished seventh chords separated by a semitone. is is a clear signal. is nonoctave disposition will become increasingly present in the work, until it completely fills the whole harmonic and orchestral space during frenetic tutti. Finally, a strident quartertone cluster in the woodwind, held in the highest octave, occurs twice in a completely identical way: a very meaningful, instantly recognisable signal.

To ensure unity to the whole, I have also used a number of harmonies that recur throughout the work: for example, the matrix C-D♭-F-G (in all possible transpositions) or the superposition of two dominant sevenths within an octave (this has a very diatonic colour that seems almost modal). A certain novelty in my language (as if a pendant to that relative diatonicism): the cluster textures of all guises (held, rhythmised, clustered scales, sometimes to the extreme).

But above all, it is the role of the piano that is central to the unity of the piece (for it is a concerto!) and explains, in part, the title Vertigo. I tried to use many means of blurring: the superposition of different tempi in similar register, figures very close both harmonically and rhythmically in counterpoint (as can be done on the two keyboards of a harpsichord), impurities induced by the use microtonal environment (to give the illusion that the pianos are detuned) - this microtonal environment is based largely on the natural harmonics in strings and horns. The result is an almost "tipsy" feeling: blurred, opaque, like a reflection on moving water.

As suggested earlier by the orchestration of Mana, I require of the orchestra a great instrumental virtuosity, always for the same purpose of reaching a collective frenzy: it should sound like a huge ensemble of soloists. the orchestra is extremely divided: it includes no fewer than 43 parts independent parts at times 24 separate violin parts), high speed, extreme tempi (up to ♪=200), orgiastic tutti. I did not fail to remember the letter written to me by Helmut Lachenmann, which suggested I should use a little more "criminal writing"; I hope I have achieved it at times.

Finally, the second explanation of the title is a reference to Hitchcock's Scottie... because I am also afraid of emptiness (silence), and the twenty minutes of the piece know no respite, no dead time. No silence, no slowness whatsoever.

Christophe Bertrand