Jean-Louis Robert

In May 1979 a brutal car accident put an end to the life and work of Jean-Louis Robert. There remains, however, the ever-vital memory of his eminently warm influence, vibrant with a passion for discovery, assimilation, transmission and communication through music, together with his fervent desire to bring us closer to a more convivial society, one that is respectful of all and based on genuine human relationships, such as is reflected in the sparkling diversity of his output, teeming as it does with beautiful sounds, with overwhelming emotion and density. This is a voice of supreme independence and freedom, indebted to no school, system or fashion, and this is where his significance lies, as well as his eternal relevance, happily attested to by a few recordings. Born near Haine-Saint-Pierre in 1948, Jean-Louis Robert was a pianist, a composer, a teacher (at the "Académie de Nivelles"; in the workshops of the "Centre de Recherches" and the Liège Conservatory; at the music school of Grez-Doiceau - where his position as director enabled him to give free rein to his pedagogical ideas) and also organiser (in the "Centre Culturel du Hainaut"; for the "Jeunesses Musicales" in Nivelles; at the "Centre de Formation d'Animateurs Musicaux" - Cefcam - that he had founded in Nivelles). He realised very early on that composition would be his way. In 1967 he attended a concert of the "Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles", presented and directed by Pierre Bartholomée, a concert that included a work by Henri Pousseur. It was a revelation and a turning-point. In October 1971 he enrolled in Pousseur's composition class in the Liège Conservatory. There was instant osmosis between these two men, brought together by many ideas - utopian society, absence of ostracism towards any musical genre, performer or audience -, yet this identity of views never made Jean-Louis Robert an imitator of Pousseur. Their relationship was always, as Philippe Perreaux has emphasised in his study of the composer, of the same order as that between Webern and Schönberg. He was a passionate lover of Sibelius's and Mahler's music - to which his own has often been compared, he was fascinated by the repetitiveness of Steve Reich, and was a discerning connoisseur of Messiaen's language, of which he admitted the influence on his own music (especially in the use of percussion and keyboard instruments). He also admired Cage's approach and Varèse's style (a direct influence of which can be seen in the alternation of oboe and orchestra at the start of Aquatilis). He discovered, with Icare obstiné, the technique of networking, by which Pousseur reintroduced harmonic colour into music without renouncing the acquisitions of serialism, a feature lying atthe heart of most of his works. It was here also that he increased his knowledge by taking an active and enthusiastic role in the detailed analysis of twentieth-century scores, in particular of Stravinsky, Webern, Stockhausen, Berio, and of earlier masterpieces such as the Dichterliebe, from which Pousseur drew the essence of his book Schumann, le poète and its musical pendent Dichterliebesreigentraum (CD Cyprès CYP7602). In April 1973 the class took part in a national weekend of the "À Cur Joie" choirs, focusing on the song Le Temps des Cerises and on its potential for elaboration, for which Jean-Louis Robert composed an intermezzo, Le Cerisier éclaté, a large-scale mobile and "one of the most beautiful piano pieces for many a year" (Henri Pousseur). In June 1976 he took part for the first time as pianist in a concert of the "Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles", and from then on a number of his scores were written for the soloists of that group. His first extant work, Instant for piano, dates from before the seventies, and was followed, in 1971, by two pieces for voice and piano, Au bord du lac and Chao-Chun. From then on, in addition to some orchestrations prepared for Pousseur (4e Vue sur les jardins interdits in 1974, Parade de Votre Faust in 1975), his output was enriched with an impressive number of works: Icare obstiné Vol III for piano, first performed by Marcelle Mercenier at Saint Hubert in July 1972, Le Coin d'Icare, eleven teaching pieces for piano "their inspiration stemming from Debussy and Webern"), D'Icare à Liège, three pieces for piano, Conte de veillée de Nouvel An for piano. In 1973 there followed Le Cerisier éclaté for piano, L'Arbre sans ombre, a setting of three short texts by Michel Butor for baritone and orchestra, Clav Icar, a "game to stimulate improvisation" for any keyboard instrument and for at least two players. In 1974 he composed: Le Silence du Micocoulier for flute and guitar; in 1975: Le Jardin des Cercles for tcheng, written at the request of Andrée Van Belle and composed in the style of a minimalist piece by Cage, Ascèse de Traversée for clarinet, piano and double bass, which was to be "the source of other [works]: the beginning and the conclusion, in particular, were re-used in Lithoïde VIII, and the idea of starting in the prolongation of a chord was taken up in Aquatilis" (Philippe Perreaux), L'Arbre des Sources, a work in four sections for instrumental ensemble, dedicated to Pierre Bartholomée and written for the event of the same name organised by Robert in Nivelles; L'Arbre des Utopies déchiffrées for various ensembles and choirs, dedicated to Henri Pousseur, in which are quoted, in a very successfully integrated manner, works and styles of particular composers: Debussy, Stravinsky, Varèse, Pousseur, Webern, Xenakis, Bartholomée, Boesmans; Le Verger perdu, a work in three parts for mixed chorus or mixed chorus and instruments, Antigone for small ensemble and unison male chorus, L'Horizon des Eaux for amplified clavichord and instrumental ensemble (a homage to Pierre Bartholomée, whose "poetic rigour" Robert Liked, the work quoting rhythmic figures from Fancy), Miroir des Sources, a very Mahlerian piece for string orchestra; in 1976: Lithoïde I, II, III and IV, all for indeterminate ensemble, except for the second, written for three unspecified instruments or for horn, trumpet in C and trombone, Calycanthe, a tape piece based on a mix of his own works, Lithoïde V for cello; in 1977: Lithoïde VI for violin, VII for organ and trumpet, Aquatilis for orchestra "a summing-up work" (Philippe Perreaux) written at the request of Pierre Bartholomée to inaugurate his new policy of first performances by the "Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège", Lithoïde VIII for brass quintet; in 1978: Domino for percussion and piano or two non-specified instrumental ensembles, Milarepa for four percussionists and tcheng or any instrumental ensemble; in 1979: Takshasilâ I for clarinet, Lithoïde IX, a large-scale mobile for oboe, which was left unfinished at his death. Written within a brilliantly assimilated and ever-living tradition, the works of Jean-Louis Robert all seek to establish a new relationship between the composer, the composition and the performer. To mention only those works on the present CD, Aquatilis offers the orchestra a maximum of independence as it starts and finishes without the conductor, Lithoïde VIII allows the performers to choose the tempi, and Domino is mainly based on improvisation.