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Jazz, musiques improvisées et écritures contemporaines

Pierre Michel
janvier 2012


1As was the case in the 1920s and 30s with Ravel, Milhaud, and Stravinsky among others, it seems that nowadays, modern jazz and improvised music have a particular impact on certain types of contemporary composition. Ever since Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II (1965) and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Befristeten (1967) up to recent works by Philippe Hurel, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Yan Maresz, Denis Levaillant, Heiner Goebbels or Wolfgang Mitterer, there are a large number of musical traits – whether stylistic or technical – that reveal an infiltration of sonorities, rhythms, melodic lines, improvisation and an overall jazz or improvisation feeling in certain contemporary works. Conversely, free jazz and modern forms of improvised music display undeniable links with certain musical languages of “serious” repertories from the second half of the 20th century.

2Hindsight now enables us to overstep some of Olivier Messiaen’s or Pierre Boulez’s negative and rather blunt judgments (in the 70s and even later) about jazz and improvisation, and to better assess the impact of cultural “transference”. It thus becomes vital to consider exchanges between certain types of music, and to break free from a purely progressive or linear view of music history, as might be gleaned from Célestin Deliège’s writings for instance. Today’s musical reality spans a much wider spectrum than what comes across in certain texts of avant-garde lineage written in the 50s and 60s. Several factors of today’s reality are often ignored – or hushed up – such as music without interest for certain musicologists and commentators of the post-1945 era, but which we deem utterly “respectable”, substantial, and sometimes even thrilling. While various publications abroad (especially German or English-speaking) have, for some time now, been probing these issues of exchange among modes of expression that stem from oral traditions and contemporary languages (see our bibliographical selection), France continues to eye with mistrust whatever was not hatched in its prestigious institutions for music education and dissemination, sometimes even scorning whatever isn’t read from a score: Denis Levaillant’s book L’improvisation musicale (Actes Sud, 1980) was a lone wolf in France before Derek Bailey’s work was translated into French in 1999.

3In order to enrich the debate and the musicological / musical research on these topics, we organized a seminar in November 2007 in the city of Strasbourg. The seminar was entitled Jazz, musiques improvisées et écritures contemporaines: convergences et antinomies, and took place in the framework of the Marc Bloch University (Department EA 3402, “Approches contemporaines de la réflexion et de la création artistiques”), in collaboration with the Conservatoire National de Région de Strasbourg and the Jazzdor festival.

4The overall aim was to foster a broad spectrum of viewpoints and experiences, and to avoid an emphasis on theory to the detriment of the valuable discourse of practitioners. We therefore invited improvisation instrumentalists (Jean-Marc Foltz, Stephan Oliva), improvisation composers (Henry Fourès, Denis Levaillant), improvisation musicologists (Vincenzo Caporaletti, who is also a theoretician, and Pierre Michel), and musicologists (Christa Haring, Kai Lothwesen). We encouraged dialogue between composers and improvisers, and incited musicians to tell us about their experiences with composers (such as Henry Fourès and Luc Ferrari). This 8th issue of Filigrane is comprised of the papers read at our international seminar, complementary articles by Philippe Michel and Jean-Luc Guionnet, as well as an interview with Vincent Lê Quang and Alexandros Markeas.

5The viewpoints are wide-ranging and sometimes even contradictory, going from pure theory (Caporaletti) to accounts of varied experiences (Foltz, Oliva, Fourès). We hope it will shed light on certain thought processes, both past and present, and on diverse ways that artists grapple with sound-material. It will undoubtedly stress the need for regarding orality and its diverse associations with musical composition as being utterly pertinent artistic criteria.

6This review comes with a CD in order to provide readers with concrete examples of the music discussed in the articles. We wish to thank all the musicians who kindly agreed to contribute, as well as Brunhild Ferrari, who authorized us to re-issue Luc Ferrari’s piece “À la recherche du rythme perdu”.

This issue of Filigrane was made possible by the Masters students (2007-2008) in the Music Department (Université Marc Bloch), who were instrumental in the November 2007 seminar and in certain cases transcribed lectures. We thus wish to thank : Nathalie Boff, Clara Goormaghtigh, Kévin Jost, Kisito Essele, Amélie Pavard, Anne-Claire Pfeiffer and Wu Dan.

The seminar, from which many of the articles are drawn, was enabled by the Conseil Scientifique of the Université Marc Bloch de Strasbourg and the support of the Conseil Général d’Alsace. We extend our thanks to both of these institutions.

And special thanks to the reading committee : Vincent Cotro et Christian Tarting. Their patience, precision and editing skills are priceless !


Arnd Jürgen, Jazz und Avantgarde, Hildesheimer Musikwissenschaftliche Arbeiten Band 5, Hildesheim, éditions Olms, 1998.

Bailey Derek, L’improvisation. Sa nature et sa pratique dans la musique, Paris, Outre mesure, 1999.

Brinkmann Reinhold (éd.), Improvisation und Neue Musik: acht Kongressreferate, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung Darmstadt, Band 20, Mayence, Schott, 1979.

Clements Andrew, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Londres, Faber & Faber, 2000.

Cotro Vincent, Chants libres – Le Free-Jazz en France 1960-1975, Paris, Outre Mesure, 1999.

Ebbeke Klaus, « Le Jazz dans la musique de Zimmermann », Contrechamps n° 5, novembre 1985, p. 102-123.

Erwe Hans-Joachim, « Dodekaphonie und Jazz – Die Entdeckung des Populären in der Neuen Musik der fünfziger Jahre », in Bullerjahn Claudia et Erwe Hans-Joachim, Das populäre in der Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts, Hildesheim, éditions Olms, 2001.

Jazz & Neue Musik: review Neue Zeitschrift für Musik n° 5, septembre 1993.

Kumpf Hans, Postserielle Musik und Free-Jazz – Wechselwirkungen und Parallelen. Berichte, Analysen, Werkstattgespräche, Rohrdorf, Rohrdorfer Musikverlag, 1981.

Levaillant Denis, L’improvisation musicale, Actes Sud, 1980 (réédité en 1996).

Lothwesen Kai, Strategien einer Synthese – Zur Annäherung von Neuer Musik in Jazz in Werken zeitgenössischer Komponisten der 60er und 70er Jahre, Thèse, Giessen, 2000.

Lothwesen Kai, « Zeiten gewissermaßen auf dem Meeresgrund – Zum Jazzverständnis von Bernd Alois Zimmermann », MusikTexte n° 86/87, 2000, p. 80-95.

Lothwesen Kai, Strategien einer Synthese – Anmerkungen zum Jazzverständnis der Neuen Musik, Beiträge zur Popularmusikforschung n° 27/28, 2001.

West Marvin Elizabeth (et Hermann Richard), Concert music, Rock, and Jazz since 1945 : Essays and Analytical Studies, Rochester, University of Rochester Press, 1995.

Wilson Peter-Niklas, Anthony Braxton. Sein Leben – Seine Musik – Seine Schallplatten, Waakirchen, Oreos, 1993.

Zimmermann Bernd Alois, « Réflexions sur le Jazz », Contrechamps n° 5, novembre 1985, p. 60-63.


Pierre Michel, «Jazz, musiques improvisées et écritures contemporaines», Filigrane. Musique, esthétique, sciences, société. [En ligne], Numéros de la revue, Jazz, musiques improvisées et écritures contemporaines, mis à  jour le : 26/01/2012, URL : https://revues.mshparisnord.fr:443/filigrane/index.php?id=346.


Pierre Michel