Gilles Tremblay

LouLou_BeautyGilles Tremblay
À quelle heure commence le temps?
European premiere: May 29, 2011, Malmö Academy of Music, Rosenberg Hall
Aventa Ensemble w/ Vincent Ranallo bar. Miranda Wong pno.

One of Canada’s foremost composers, Gilles Tremblay has traveled an exemplary route. The Quebec pianist and composer has never stopped pushing back the frontiers of his research. His contribution to contemporary music is remarkable, distinguished as it is by an exceptional open-mindedness and a keen awareness of the very nature of sound.

Gilles Tremblay received his early music training in Montreal from Jocelyne Binet, Edmond Trudel and Gabriel Cusson; later on, he attended the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal where he studied piano with Germaine Malépart and composition with Claude Champagne. He pursued his studies in Paris with Olivier Messiaen, Yvonne Loriod, Maurice Martenot and Andrée Vaurabourg-Honegger, receiving a First Prize in musical analysis as well as a First Medal in ondes Martenot at the Conservatoire de Paris.

Upon his return to Quebec, Gilles Tremblay undertook numerous activities, dividing his time between teaching at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec and working for CBC radio. In spite of his busy schedule, he pursued his own research, composed music, received many commissions and dedicated much time to the sound installation for the Quebec Pavilion at Expo ’67, which won him the Calixa-Lavallée Prize. Major works include Fleuves (1976), Vers le Soleil (1978) and Compostelle I (1978), a tribute to Messiaen on his 70th birthday.

Acclaimed for its richness of sound and aesthetics, Tremblay’s music has earned an international reputation and strongly influenced the development of music and contemporary art in Canada.

À quelle heure commence le temps?
Gilles Tremblay’s 1999 work À quelle heure commence le temps? for baritone, piano soloist and 15 instrumentalists, is based on the text of Quebec poet Bernard Lévy. The work was commissioned by Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (Montreal) with the assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Words, music. The words enter into the resonance. The musician will be further struck by certain words, certain ideas. Elucidation and commentary, the enchantment takes form (like Gregorian vocalisation and exaltation) establishing itself as another poem, a musical one, in counterpoint from to the first.

An initial reading highlights the important moments and the metaphysical aspect of the question: “when does time begin? At what hour? At what instant? At which first instant?” However, the drama unfolds progressively, in a parallel movement to the composition, to the limits of endurance, like an immense metaphor of our époque and transition into a new millennium; it is thus a navigation. At the very heart of this navigation-poem: shipwreck and death. However the word “light” is engraved there (“light of the sea”) like an indelible desire. Its genesis is in the luminous splashes of the instrumental prelude radiating from the piano and especially at the end, a jet of rays, an epiphany, passionate as the pounding of waves.


At what time does the time to live begin?
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
Who will tell me when time… begins?
At what time? At what instant? At what first instant?
Is the answer in the raging wind? Is it audible in its silence?

I sailed as a solitary sailor.
I looked at the wind;
ceaselessly, it tried
to whip my brow, to erase
my face.
A woollen cap held back my yattering hair; in this way
I had silenced it.

Brow crowned by the wind.
Free, with the freedom of a ship’s stem,
I amazed the sun.
With my emaciated laugh,
I dazzled the night;
with a move of my hand I splattered
the stars and the rain.

I wanted to see the wind; it deleted my eyes,
swept away my words less ample
than the swell on which my voice
grated more raucously and wildly
than the cries of the ropes.

At what time does the time to live begin?
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

Sail. I was a sail, moaning and naked.
Wind and sail, fraternal adversaries.
Sail, haughty ally, the time of a brief detour;
betrayed friend, strange finery,
renascent desires of the wave and the wind.
Proud trophy of the ever-conquering trade winds,
I raised, upright, the grandeur and the glory of great seafaring navigators; a woman billowing in the wind, salty and azure this woman, proclaiming the sea and charming its heroes from tales of storms or infinite calm, ostensible conquest – heroic seductress – clutching the invisible, invincible wind.

Who will tell me when time… begins?
At what time? At what moment? At what first moment?

And then, I was the sea,
a salty and amber volley. The wind,
always the wind, eternal accomplice, scrapes my greasy skin…but never drowns in my foaming underside or my silver surplice.

I was the sea, unique and changeable,
fickle beauty, lethal flower,
I roll and I stretch,
I devour vessels, daring skiffs, and
use my blood to drown them.
With my voice I cover the voice of solitary sailors;
I marry them when they love me. Alas,
they always love me too much; I offer them
the haven of my depths: secret marriage,
mortal alliance.

At what time does the time to live begin?
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

I loved the sea.
I had proclaimed my love to her, alone
in mid-ocean. By her long starts, I sensed
she loved me too.

The wind, the jealous wind, the wind felt I was its rival. The sea was playing, cruel; she was laughing at my quarrel with the wind. Suddenly…

Is it the wind? Is it the sea?
Is it the sail bending, the sky being torn apart?
Is it me?

A wave sufficed.

What do I know about the time to live? What have I known of my life? Of its days, its hours and all its instants?

I have shattered. No boundaries. Grain of sand. Dust. Mass of molecules. Isolated molecule. Orphan. Atom. Particle. Vibration. Trace. Quantum quantity. Charm. « Colour ». Recollection. Nuance. Soupçon. Nothing. Less than nothing. Anti-particle. Inverse quantum
Quantity. Virtue. Dissipating variety. Symmetry. Uncertain movement. Memory. Force. Transistive phase, Imaginative value. Photon. Light of the sea.

Will the time of a wingbeat suffice to find out
how long a man lives – under what sky and on which fertile ground? Beneath
which wind, against which tide?

Improbable probability.
Therefore, lie.
Space. Black and white night; black from being white, Disgusting milky whiteness.
Empty, pallid…Virtuality at the confines of all virtualities: worse, far worse than a lie.
Too uncertain perhaps; paradise of the I-don’t-knows; final home of the I-don’t-knows.

At what time does the time to live begin?
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

Only the wind is real; the wind that spares no one and nothing.
The sea is the sole pleasure.
No song is greater than that of the sail, and no word freer than that of the human, not-so-human voice with the mad look of the ocean, with
the blind wind that blows in vain.

I wanted to see the wind…
I am the wind.
I am looking at you.
I attack your glance and burn the iris of your eyes.
I make love with the sea.
I am the beauty of the wind
and I make the sea beautiful.
I acclaim the horizon.
I am terrestrial and galactic space.
Hauler on the shore,
faith in distress,
I carry the horizon and carry it away.
No one knows it, no one sees me.
I steal, I cheat, I upset time and men.
I rape, I kill, I displace space, the sea, the earth,
sand, salt and sky and sun.
I erode the sailors’ hands.

I tame the swell and appease it.
I haunt the deserts.
I speak freely with the highest sails of noble lineage.
Little do I care when time begins.
I slap sailors on their foreheads. Fine, solitary players with diamond-sharp looks,
they all ask me questions and persist stubbornly as if I might know
at what time the time to live begins.
And even if I knew, I would say nothing.

Great anger, burning secret dissipated by the silence when the wind
dies down. Night gives morning colours to the night. Will you recognize me
at last?

Who is calling me? It is I – the light of all mornings. The light, all the light!

Translated by S. Miller-Sanchez