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  • Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 32: Jacques Hétu

A monumental work this week! In February, I was glad to spend a few days in Montréal for the International Conductors Guild's annual conference. As with any professional conference, there were many speakers and events scheduled for the attendees. One of those speakers was the conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and one of those events was an open rehearsal with his Orchestre Métropolitain.


Now, I've obviously attended a number of open rehearsals over the years, and I've always been familiar with the repertoire being rehearsed...but not this time! The orchestra was working on the Fifth Symphony by Jacques Hétu, a Canadian composer and teacher who passed away in 2010, just three weeks before its premiere. In Yannick's keynote, he had passingly referred to the symphony as a "masterpiece," a term that gets thrown around WAY too freely and is usually undeserved...but not this time! :) Hétu's Fifth Symphony is a modern masterclass in form and orchestration; and, more importantly, a work of tremendous emotional depth. I dare say it's the most impressive symphony of the 21st century (that I've heard, anyway)!


The symphony is a four-movement work with a choral finale à la Beethoven's Ninth, and it depicts life in Paris before, during, and after the Nazi invasion of 1940. The finale is a setting of Paul Éluard's poem, "Liberté," whose text is below.




On my school notebooks

On my desk and the trees

On the sand on the snow

I'm writing your name


On all pages read

On all white pages

Stone blood paper or ashes

I'm writing your name


On the golden images

On the weapons of the warriors

On the crown of kings

I'm writing your name


On the jungle and the desert

On nests on broom

On the echo of my childhood

I'm writing your name


On the wonders of the nights

On the white bread of the days

On the engaged seasons

I'm writing your name


On all my azure cloths

On the moldy sun pond

On the living moon lake

I'm writing your name


On the fields on the horizon

On the wings of birds

And on the mill of shadows

I'm writing your name


On each puff of dawn

On the sea on boats

On the crazy mountain

I'm writing your name


On the foam of the clouds

On the sweats of the storm

On the thick and bland rain

I'm writing your name


On the sparkling shapes

On the bells of colors

On the physical truth

I'm writing your name


On the awakened paths

On deployed roads

On the squares that overflow

I'm writing your name


On the lamp that lights up

On the lamp that goes out

On my houses together

I'm writing your name


On the fruit cut in half

From the mirror and my room

On my empty shell bed

I'm writing your name


On my greedy and tender dog

On his erect ears

On his clumsy paw

I'm writing your name


On the springboard of my door

On familiar objects

On the flood of blessed fire

I'm writing your name


On all flesh granted

On the forehead of my friends

On each hand that reaches out

I'm writing your name


On the window of surprises

On attentive lips

Well above the silence

I'm writing your name


On my destroyed refuges

On my collapsed headlights

On the walls of my boredom

I'm writing your name


On absence without desire

On naked solitude

On the steps of death

I'm writing your name


On returned health

On the risk gone

On hope without memory

I'm writing your name


And by the power of a word

I'm starting my life again

I was born to know you

To name you


Freedom.


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