The Sunday Edition

The tragic real-life story of Quebec composer Claude Vivier is mirrored in his music

He has been described as the most important Canadian composer in the second half of the twentieth century. But Vivier's passion, towering talent and tragic death are relatively unknown here at home.
Quebec composer Claude Vivier (April 14, 1948-March 7, 1983) (Montreal Gazette Files)

The world renowned Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan once said that, as a young singer, she was transported and changed by the "unique soundworld" of the Quebec composer, Claude Vivier.

He has been described as the most important Canadian composer in the second half of the twentieth century.   

From the early 1970s until the early 80s, Vivier's compositions were unlike anything a Canadian had ever produced — and the international community loved them. 

And yet, he remained largely unknown at home.

Born in Montreal in 1948, he was, as he said himself, a "bastard" child — abandoned and left in an orphanage at birth. His was a tough childhood.

In his early twenties, he went to Europe and Asia, seeking musical inspiration and hoping to live a life "without boundaries."

He didn't live long enough to fully realise that dream. When he was 34, he was murdered in his Paris apartment by a man he met in a gay bar.

Late last year, the new music organization, Soundstreams Canada, mounted a unique production about Claude Vivier at the Crow's Theatre in Toronto.

It is said to be the first full staging of "Musik fur das ende," based on a piece by the same name composed in 1971.

A production of Claude Vivier's 'Musik für das Ende' by Soundstreams (Claire Harvie)
Part play and part concert, it has an eerie quality to it, much like Vivier's work.

The production caught the attention of international artistic directors and, over the next three years, will travel to a number of venues around the world.

Lawrence Cherney is Soundstream's Artistic Director. He is a respected oboist and composer himself, and he wrestled Vivier's work into the score. 

He spoke to Michael Enright about Vivier's passion, towering talent and tragic death.

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.