Horatiu Radulescu
Interview by Guy Livingston
September 4th, 2007



He wants to be larger than life, and actually, he is larger than life: a big man, with big black sunglasses and unruly hair, he jokes that the businessmen having lunch at the next tables will think he's a hippy, but I doubt it. He's wearing an expensive Swiss watch, closing a deal on an apartment rental in Versailles (yes, near the chateau), and putting money in the parking meter for his BMW 530XD, a nifty 6-speed diesel with a monster of an engine, which delights him, and terrifies the heck out of passing cyclists and motorists alike. Horatiu Radulescu is a struggle in contrasts, a man who claims not to need the public, but then ranks his concerts according to whether they were packed or full—a hit or a stampede.

He can't stand Shostakovitch (“de la merde!”), dismisses Schnittke (“tuttifrutti!”), cordially dislikes Boulez (but admits that “he opened up a new sound world for all of us and his management skills come out well in front of the orchestra”), listens to Algerian rai, and Nashville blues while he accelerates in the BMW, and unwinds to Monteverdi and Josquin des Prez when he de-accellerates at home.  

His own music is unclassifiable. Though frequently called spectral, it has diverged totally from the French academic spectralism which is so hot in institutional circles in Paris these days. Colleagues of his who have become well-known such as Dusapin (the tritones of whose cello concerto “set my teeth on edge”) annoy him through their business skills, and he refers to the music spectrale crowd in Paris with scorn (“they're the mafiosi”). He reserves his respect mostly for the dead: Wagner, Bruckner (“not Mahler, his music is empty!”), Josquin des Pres, and Xenakis, whom he venerates, adores.  

Radulescu is Romanian. Born there, raised there, studied there, “the best training anyone could have had anywhere: I had wonderful teachers... Niculescu, orchestration with Aurel Stroë... I took fifty-five exams in six years: at the end, there were only two students remaining. I was one of them. When I wanted to leave the country, I said to the police, I'm the best student in this place, you have to let me do what I want. I had a different invitation in every pocket: from conservatories in Belgium, Holland, Germany, everywhere. They didn't want to let me in or out, they didn't know what to do with me. I was questioned for four hours by the border police, then I got inspired. I said I had to go to the WC, and they let me out of the room. I pretended I was heading to the toilets, but at the last minute, I ran up the stairs...I figured the boss would have his office on the top floor. Sure enough. I told him I was getting married. I lied about everything. I said I would be back for my fiancée's birthday. I showed him my diplomas. He was impressed, and gave me my exit visa. Then I tried to give him a present: a French silk tie. That terrified him. He couldn't take it. I thought they were watching only us, but they were watching everybody, the police were watching the other police. Anyway I got out. Of course I came right back. It's my country. The director of the conservatory saw me when I came back, and he said, ‘sure you came back, but you're just like all the others: you'll come back each time, and then suddenly the 17 th time, you won't come back any more, and you'll stay on the outside.' Well, I couldn't come back. [Some years later] when I wrote Doruind, I was in Greece, only 45 kilometers from the Romanian frontier. I was so close to where I had lived for 25 years, that it was like blood was pouring from me. I spent one month on that island— ‘the island of the wind' it was called! Writing that piece six years after I left was like committing hari kiri , like stabbing myself: the blood just kept pouring out.”


*[Radulescu on spatialization in Mirabilia Mundi (1986): This is scored “for seven large ensembles (ca. 88 players): twelve strings, seventeen flutes, organ, eight trombones, twelve players with gold & silver crotales, thirteen very large tam tams, twenty-five bass voices of monks (moving sound source) – and is a ritual for the ... resonant Speyer Basilica. The resonance of fourteen seconds in the Speyer Basilica inspired us to use a special display of the sound sources in concentric circles, as close as possible to the audience, and at ‘sacred' points, resembling imaginary knots of the total space vibration.” – Brain and Sound Resonance , opus cit.]

Doruind is his signature piece: scored for 48 voices, it's a monstrous, huge, draining, gorgeous composition. “I invented the title—it's a made-up word, but it sounds like a gerund derived from ‘dor' which in Romanian means both desire and longing. That's a good combination. Desire and Longing. The Germans say Zehnsucht, so they understood immediately what I meant. The French don't have a word like that. Neither do the English. The singers had some trouble singing it. They each had to sing and whistle at the same time, so it was like a combination of 96 voices.” Radulescu demonstrates, to the fascination of the rest of the café. Excitedly, with big gestures, he pursues the story: “They were a very nice German choir, from all over the country, but they couldn't sing the ‘z' sound, they kept turning it into a ‘tss.' Between rehearsals, I kept grabbing the singers one-by-one, and teaching them how to say ‘z.' So I told them over and over that it was an international ‘z,' like in zero, but the conductor—he was great,but hard-headed—didn't listen. So in the end it sounded more like Kagel, or some other composer! This was [at the Festival de] Royan.”


So how did he get started on this path, after a fairly traditional conservatory schooling in Romania? “I chose musique spectrale in 1969. My conclusion was that because of Pythagoras you had to do it. This music gives pleasure to the public. You know...it's natural music. I was biologique before it was even a word! My music is ecologique ! Now audiences love it, it's popular, my concerts are a hit. In Darmstadt, I was pursued in the streets by fans afterwards...and my piano concerto [‘The Quest' with conductor Lothar Zagrosek and pianist Ortwin Sturmer] sold 25,000 copies!” But later in the conversation, more soberly: “it doesn't matter what the public thinks now. In 100 years, Boulez will be remembered as an administrator. I'm writing for the future, I'm writing for posterity.” After lunch, his cousin takes me aside, and confides: “You know what's great about Horatiu: he's writing for eternity .”


Radulescu moved to Paris in 1969, and became a French citizen in 1974. There is a gigantic Romanian community in Paris, indeed it's so extensive that it has its own political struggles and was divided under the communist occupation between supporters of the regime, and refugees/rebels. Radulescu himself tried to stay away from such political conflict, and prides himself on having remained above it all. Eventually he moved to Switzerland, but remains inextricably linked to France and French culture. His music is big like his personality; gigantically mystical. He shies away from religious talk, dismisses philosophy (admittedly perhaps over a steak-frites was not the best time to discuss philosophy so dear to his spectral French colleagues), and prefers to address the technical issues (number of performers, length of applause, types of instruments, measurements of tuning) rather than delve into the real mysticism. Either he is shy of discussing it, or else it's a bit opportunist. But the music is large. And it's worth the effort. The intricacies challenge the performers (they nearly go crazy sometimes): “in London we played Capricorn [Capricorn's Nostalgic Crickets for 7 flutes, plus he added 7 bass clarinets] and there were so many microtones within microtones; the musicians quipped that the piece was a... “celestial mammoth.”


Das Andere   was written for viola but has also been re-worked in versions for violin, cello, or double bass. Horatiu's cousin Rodrigue is eating lunch with us, and himself played the violin premiere: “it was a hit!” Aha.


[two or more sounds with a frequency difference of less than 1 mm create ‘critical bands', with distinctive and fascinating properties: masking effects, beating effects, and spatial disorientation]

They discuss other interpretations of the piece: Radulescu remembers “the huge viola of Gerard Caussé so large that the detunings were huge. Maybe he used gut strings?” —Radulescu and Rodrigue debate this for a while— “He had a large viola, perhaps from 1500's. He performed it in 1984 at the festival of La Rochelle in France.” “Rohan [de Saram, former cellist for the Arditti's] played Das Andere for me in a 10 th century church, the Abbazia di Fiastra, near Macerata, Italy, and that was spectacular. When Rohan played my music, he was basing his tunings off of the spectra from a vibration of 1 hertz. That leads to 641 resultant tones! Microtones within microtones...” Rodrigue is the only violinist to have ever played the piece.   Radulescu spends much of the lunch trying to convince him to record the Bach first Violin Partita on a disc with Das Andere ... “it will sell out !” Rodrigue wants to be in the bins at FNAC [France's answer to Tower records – ed.]. FNAC, c'est foutu, [fucked]” retorts Radulescu; “never mind them, we'll sell lots of copies elsewhere.” Radulescu waxes rhapsodic about the ‘tierces de Tartini' which create the differentials that give the piece its distinctively piquant character. The differentials*, sound best in churches. Any church? “Yes, any church will do, but I prefer Romanesque churches: the period from 900 to 1200 is best.”

“I want to do a concert of my Do Emerge Ultimate Silence [34 children's voices, 34 bowed monochords] for 340 [sic???!] children : boy's choir – in the Pantheon in Rome. That will be great. The children are organized in pentagrams, squares, and circles, all around the space, and they have that lovely quality of young boy's voices: the music would really stand out in that space. The audience will walk around, be able to enjoy it as they move through the building, around the musicians. We also want to do something in the Panthéon in Paris, but that is more complicated: there are no chairs, and it is a cold space.”


Mirabilia Mundi is inspired by a Persian miniature in the British Museum: a central feature of the composition is the monks choir: they wander around the space, as if navigating an imaginary labyrinth. The music is about the seven wonders of the world, seven global sources. “Neutral fourth (neither tritone nor perfect 4 th ) creates chords that never existed before. Geneological trees of sound. Lots of flutes. The monks were the softest.” Rodrigue laughingly suggests adding rock elements, and amplification: “you'll sell out, you'll make a fortune in ticket sales, three thousand people will be there!” Radulescu scoffs, but he's obviously pleased at the implication that he could be a pop star. I look at him, with his sunglasses, and I think: yeah, this guy is ready for stardom. Obviously the exceedingly attentive restaurant owner thinks so too, as does an elegant burberry-clad lady of a certain age who is watching him hungrily from the other side of the restaurant. But Radulescu is more interested in the attractive young med students walking down the sidewalk, and heckles the cutest girls.


*[Horatiu Radulescu. “Brain and sound resonance: the world of self-generative functions as a basis of the spectral language of music.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Nov. 2003 Volume 999.]

Did I mention the sound icons? This is a brilliant concept: grand pianos on their sides, the strings free to resonate, and struck with gold coins. He's used them in at least eleven pieces. In his paper, he writes, “ A Doini (1974) and Alt A Doini     (1980) [are scored] for seventeen players with sound icons – vertical grand pianos bowed with rosined threads. The piano strings are retuned according to a ‘spectral scordatura.' The principal compact zone covers a range of a twelfth, from harmonic 8 to harmonic 24 for version alpha, and of two and a half octaves for version beta, from harmonic 6 to harmonic 33 (seventeen unique harmonics, with no repetition at octaves). The score symbols are micro-music processes, combining Jung's compass of the psyche (thought-feeling-intuition-sensation) with my ‘sound plasma' compass: noise-sound-element-width.”*


He's just been to the Dutch premiere of Pablo Casals a San Marco di Venezia (1998). “This project is not my music, only my space, performed by Conjunto Iberico.” It's an arrangement of the Sarabande from Bach's 5 th cello suite. And Ricercare de Webern also inspired by San Marco. Choirs are inspired by Gabrielli's chori spezzatti , and the other sections (in alternation) according to his concept: “I need to go further and I have gone further into this micro -cosmos than other composers. I am influenced by Bach and by Webern for this next project: to re-create the Sarabande, which is really the most beautiful melody in the history of man: it's like a brick/gift ??? from God. I spent 20 years analyzing it. I know why every sound is there. The picardy third at the end is because of the spectrum. Why otherwise in this sarabande?” I am incredulous: Bach used picardy thirds in hundreds of endings of minor works: does this mean that he was a composer of musique spectrale? “I don't think so: it means that he was hewing to a convention typical of his time.” And by “Brancusi couché” [see illustration], he means moving back and forth, up and down, like a Brancusi sculpture. Of course the sculptor Brancusi was also a Romanian who lived in Paris.


This makes me think of George Crumb, who is also a marvelously-off-the-beaten-track- mystic. Actually, neither of them has any real scientific nor religious background: they just go on gut feeling. And the results are fantastic. Naive, and spectacular. Charles Ives had big ideas, which were based on mis-readings of the quintessential American philosophers. In his book Serendipities: Language and Lunacy , Umberto Eco makes a point about artistic and philosophical discoveries that from false assumptions, the misinformed ‘worldbook' that we carry around with us, and which is assumed by each culture to hold the truth. From this societal tendancy to misinterpretations can come extraordinary discoveries. Perhaps Radulescu falls into this inspiring category? He gives me a news report with gusto: “scientists have discovered that the big bang is not the beginning of the universe, as previously thought. Rather, it's a continuum: the universe gets bigger, then smaller, then implodes, then explodes...one big bang follows another!” He is thrilled. “This just proves what I always said, and what's more, it proves what Lao Tse said in the 6 th century B.C....that the universe is more like a vibrating string with nodes, than like a world created from nothing.” We agree that this fits perfectly with his world/musical vision, and that it justifies every kind of spectral thought. Perhaps Radulescu is the one who is right after all, and our ‘science' just needs to catch up with him? Eco (also a great medievalist and a fan of echoing churches) would be proud.

After the science lesson, Radulescu gives me the Roumanian history lesson: “Our heritage is a complicated one. We are a bit of a salad. The Macedonian heritage, the Greek heritage (Bacchus and Orpheus), the heritage of Attila the Hun, and the conquering Romans. It was known as ‘Dacia felix' [one of the most flourishing Roman provinces of the first century]. And the Thracians were cousins of the ancient Greeks.”

Lunch concluded, our steaks eaten, we amble over to the BMW. Horatiu fumbles around with the controls a bit, and then suddenly we are rocketing through Paris. He's an excellent driver and the machine handles marvelously. He lets me out in heavy traffic, and then roars off into mystical eternity.

Interview 2007 copyright by Guy Livingston. Upcoming performance: In October Ian Pace will give the world premier of Radulescu's 6th Piano Sonata in Leuven, at the Transit Festival of Flanders, Belgium. For this month's PT magazine, click here..