updated 14 September 2020
© Harald Hoffmann / Ed. Durand

Alberto Posadas

Spanish composer born in 1967 in Valladolid.

 Alberto Posadas first studied music in his hometown of Valladolid, and then in Madrid. In 1988, he met Francisco Guerrero, with whom he would later study composition and consider to be his mentor. With Guerrero, Posadas explored new musical forms based upon combinatorics and fractal theory. Nonetheless, Posadas’ self-determination and desire to achieve greater control over the aesthetic characteristics of process-driven approaches to composition led him to undertake research into other compositional models, notably involving the transposition of architectural designs into music, the application of techniques related to perspective associated with painting and topography, and a meticulous exploration of the acoustic phenomena which characterise certain musical instruments.

Posadas’ electroacoustic works, such as Liturgia de silencio (1995), Snefru and Versa est in luctum (both from 2002), and Cuatro escenas negras (2009), demonstrate the evolution of a distinctly personal approach to the medium. His interest in the juxtaposition of physical movement with electronic transformations of sound gave rise to the composition of Glossopoeia, an interdisciplinary work composed at IRCAM in 2009 in collaboration with choreographer Richard Siegal. He continued his research into the use of electronics in Tenebrae for six voices and ensemble, premiered in 2013 by Ensembles Intercontemporain and Exaudi, conducted by François-Xavier Roth.

In 2006, he received a grant from Casa de Velázquez which allowed him to conduct research, in collaboration with Andrès Gomis, on new techniques for the bass saxophone and their practical application in music.

Posadas’ catalogue comprises works for orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble, and solo instruments, as well as works with electronics. His career became truly international in 1993. Several of his pieces resulted from commissions from prestigious international festivals and performers, ensembles and orchestras, including Esteban Algora, Andrès Gomis, Alexis Descharmes, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Itinéraire, Court-Circuit, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, the Arditti and Diotima Quartets, Orchestre National de France, and the Luxembourg Philharmonic.

In 1991, Alberto Posadas became a professor of analysis, theory, and composition at the Majadahonda Conservatory in Madrid. He has taught composition extensively at festivals and music institutions, such as Royaumont Voix Nouvelles in 2012, Takefu in 2013, Philippe Manoury’s composition academy at the Musica Festival in 2016, ManiFeste Academy in 2017, and at the Lucerne Musikhochschule in 2017 and 2018.

In 2002, he was awarded the Audience Prize at the Ars Musica Festival in Brussels for A silentii sonitu, and in 2011 the Premio Nacional de Música.


© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2017

By José-Luis Besada

Alberto Posadas is a shining example of a generation of Spanish composers who, since the 1990s, have become fully integrated into the fabric of European contemporary music – in contrast with the cultural paradoxes of Franco’s regime that came before. Alongside Posadas, others from this generation include, in birth order, Mauricio Sotelo (born in Madrid in 1961), Ramon Lazkano (born in San Sebastian in 1968), Elena Mendoza (born in Seville in 1973), and Hèctor Parra (born in Barcelona in 1976).

The renowned Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero, sometimes known as the “Spanish Xenakis,” became Posadas’ mentor upon meeting him in 1988. Guerrero is key to understanding the international reach of Posadas’ career. Although the Spanish music world of the time still suffered from the grip of isolation, in the 1980s Guerrero received support from several remarkable members of the French-speaking music world, including musicologist Harry Halbreich, who perceived early on the creative potential of Guerrero’s young student, as well. He included Posadas’ Postludio (“Postlude”, for ensemble, 1992) in the program of the Brussels Ars Musica festival in 1993, an event that marked the beginning of Posadas’ international career.

Posadas’ link with Guerrero was part of a symbolic chain that reached back to the art-science of Edgard Varèse and the formalized music of Iannis Xenakis. However, an overly formalist view of Posadas’ poetics would not do justice to his style, which is a crucible of rich, diverse influences and unexpected coincidences. For example, his occasional use of harmonic-timbre models as well as his extensive exploration of the sonic possibilities offered by musical instruments may be seen as connecting him to spectral thinking in certain ways. Cripsis (for ensemble, 2001) can be read as a nascent compromise between Xenakian formalization and a spectral approach. At the same time, his desire to identify and freeze or crystalize certain musical parameters in order to make space for refined listening is relatively easily discerned in certain works from his youth, including Ápeiron (for orchestra, 1993). It shows an unexpected and unplanned-for connection to the catalogue of Giacinto Scelsi (who was practically unknown in Spain at the time).

Mathematical transfer

Of all the influences Guerrero’s thinking had on Posadas’ work, his interest in a mathematical approach to compositional practice appears at first glance to be the most obvious. This approach does not stem from any structuralist ideology, however – rather, it sees mathematics as a tool for describing nature, one that in certain metaphorical ways can be transferred to music composition. Posadas is not seeking to establish a formalist perspective on music from a mathematical point of view; rather, his goal is to model several of his compositional strategies on the tools and concepts offered by science.

Posadas’ attraction to fractal geometry is a recurring element of his compositions. The way in which each part of a fractal has the same character as the whole struck him as a mechanism that would make it possible to distribute durations iteratively in the formal construction. His first explicit use of fractals was for the creation of the tape part in Liturgia de silencio (“Liturgy of Silence”, for flute and electronics, 1995); they reappear in a similar fashion in Memoria de “no existencia” (“Memory of ‘non-existence’”, for piano and electronics, 1997). These two pieces both feature the digital application of fractal algorithms in the distribution and mixing of pre-recorded samples. Not long after, Invarianza (“Invariance”, for flute, clarinet, and string quartet, 1999) was the first of his pieces to be composed entirely from fractal geometry.

His major fractal opus is Liturgia Fractal (“Fractal Liturgy”, 2003-2007), a cycle of string quartets written for the Quatuor Diotima. Except for the first two, each of these quartets is based on a different fractal construction. Ondulado tiempo sonoro (“Undulating Sound Time …”, 2003) and Modulaciones (“Modulations”,2006) borrow the meandering, random pathways of Brownian motion — of which Xenakis was a pioneer1. Órbitas (“Orbits”, 2007) uses the Mandelbrot Set — a set of complex numbers whose boundary is a fractal curve — as a model. This was followed by L-systems (or Lindenmayer systems) — a model that describes plant growth also used by Hanspeter Kyburz2. L-systems abound in Arborescencias (“Embranchments”, 2007). Finally, the musical structuring of Bifurcaciones (“Bifurcations”,2007) was inspired by bronchial trees and vein embranchments. In general, these mathematical models federate the temporal construction of the quartets, and provide several pitch reservoirs from which the harmonic and contrapuntal pillars of the pieces are then built. The result is some fifty minutes of continuous transformations, full of hybridizations and reprises of the gestural material throughout the cycle, posing a major challenge to the audience’s auditory memory.

Lindenmayer systems are now the fractal system Posadas uses the most: they appear in Glossopoeia (“Poiesis of a Language,” a ballet for mixed quartet, video, and electronics, 2009) — a work composed during an IRCAM residency that won Spain’s Premio Nacional de Música in 2011 — and in Del reflejo de la sombra (“Shadow reflection”, for bass clarinet and string quartet, 2010), as well as in La Tentacion de las sombras (“The temptation of the shadows”, for soprano and string quartet, 2011) based on a text by Emil Cioran. The latter two works were part of a collaboration with Quatuor Diotima titled Sombras (“Shadows”, for soprano, bass clarinet, and string quartet, 2010-2012). By contrast, one of the pieces in this project, Elogio de la sombra (“In praise of shadow”, for string quartet, 2012), was inspired by the Bézier curve, widely used in computer-assisted drawing; here, an array of these curves are used to create interdependent polyphonic voices.

Models from architecture and painting

The Bézier curves, as they are used by Posadas, are a surprising contrast to the fractal models, in that their smooth curves appear to be a kind of opposite to the often spiky and chaotic shapes created by fractals. This is not unusual in the composer’s catalogue, however. His attempts to control the progressive evolution of his material with techniques that resemble the harmonic interpolations of spectral music and his interest in gradual transformation have drawn him to differential topology. In Anamorfosis (“Anamorphosis”, for ensemble, 2006), these transformations aim to recreate the artifice of anamorphosis found in painting3.

The influence of pictorial representation in Posadas does not always require mathematics as its intermediary: Cuatro escenas negras (“Four Black Scenes”, for ensemble, electronics, and video, 2009) — created in collaboration with Carlos Franklin, with support from the IRCAM — shows his deep admiration for Francisco de Goya’s Pinturas negras series. La lumière du noir (“The light of darkness”, for large ensemble, 2010) bears traces of the emotional impact of a visit to a retrospective of the work of painter Pierre Soulages at the Pompidou Center in 2009. The evocation of darkness in both titles parallels the darkness of the rather morbid musical content.

Architecture is the second source of interdisciplinary dialogue between the composer and the visual arts. Several of his pieces are attempts to translate the architecture of certain pyramids into musical form, inspired by his fascination with ancient Egypt. Notably, the tomb of Khufu (Cheops) was his point of departure for the composition of Pri em hru (for ensemble, 1994), while the singular pyramids of Khufu’s father Sneferu are mathematically transferred into Snefru (for accordion and electronics, 2002) and Nebmaat (for clarinet, saxophone, and string trio, 2003)4/ But the impact of this ancient culture is not limited, in Posadas’ music, to stirring contemplations of their architecture. His catalogue also includes works such as Resplandor (poema lírico dedicado a Atón) (“Radiance (lyric poem dedicated to Aton)”, for bass saxophone and orchestra, 2008), a piece created for saxophonist Andrés Gomis that explores the non-dialectical possibilities of concert music.

Analyzing the instrument

The writing of the concerto Resplandor was the culmination of a joint research project by the instrumentalist and the composer on the sonic possibilities of the bass saxophone, conducted during a residency at the Casa de Velázquez in 2006. His collaborative partnership with Andrés Gomis also made it possible for Posadas to compose such works as Anábasis (“Anabase”, for tenor saxophone, 2001) and Fúlgida niebla de sol blanquecino (“Blazing fog; whitish sun”, for bass saxophone and electronics, 2009). This is not unusual for Posada: his closeness to the flutist Julián Elvira and his work with Jaime González exploring the possibilities of the bass oboe, which led to Kerguelen (for flute, oboe, clarinet, and orchestra, 2013), show his enthusiasm for in-depth research. Elvira’s involvement in the creation of Eridsein (for flute, 1995) made it possible for Posadas to compose Prónomo (for Pronomos flute, 2010), a work specially written for a prototype designed by Elvira that expanded the multiphonic potential of the standard flute.

In the course of these collaborations and outside of them, Posadas often tries, as an amateur performer, to play the instruments himself, seeking direct interaction with them as a way to better understand their potential. He searches for sounds’ interstitial qualities, the ones concealed by their standardized production. For example, certain trill effects – which the composer calls “bichromatic scales” – found in woodwinds resemble the experiments of Salvatore Sciarrino, but in an entirely different aesthetic context. The prospect of future musical creations has also led him to prepare or to manipulate instruments with foreign objects, either to significantly modify their timbre, or to bring out parasitic noises, or to offset the rapid decay transient of certain instrumental resonances. Examples include the use of magnets on the tam-tams in Oscuro Abismo de llanto y de ternura (“Dark abyss of cry and tenderness”, for large ensemble, 2005) or an e-Bow to sustain the vibrations of the piano strings in Huellas (“Prints”, for saxophone, percussion, and piano, 2011).

The vocal path

Posadas came late to composing vocal pieces, with the exception of a still unpublished work, Gethsemani (for twelve mixed voices, 1990). For a recent opera commission – ultimately cancelled – by Gérard Mortier for the Teatro Real de Madrid — based on the text El otro (“The Other”) by Spanish author Miguel de Unamuno — the composer immersed himself in the universe of the singing voice to create a kind of experimental laboratory for the project. His vocal writing, without ever falling into a neo-melodic approach, generally denotes a relatively restrained degree of speculation compared with his instrumental experimentation, and offers direct insight into the texts being used. And yet, in those moments where the voice does find itself absorbed into an instrumental context, Posadas does not hesitate to clothe it in sumptuous, complex sonorities, while at the same time allowing himself to use voice to mark out the key pathways of the sonic flow. By contrast, in Tenebrae (“Service for Shadows”, for vocal sextet, ensemble, and electronics, 2013) listeners find themselves confronted with a far more sophisticated mix of instrumental and vocal sound. Here, the composer tended to pulverize the phonetic multiplicity of texts by Novalis, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George — Der siebente Ring, a source that coincides deliberately with the choice of Arnold Schoenberg for his String Quartet n°2 in F sharp minor op. 10 — and the Tenebrae responsories of the Catholic liturgy. The work also sets out to rethink certain musical techniques of the Middle ages, such as the electronic emulation of the hocket.

In addition to the vocal pieces cited above, the composer’s catalogue also includes Vocem flentium (Homenaje a Tomás Luis de Victoria) (“The Voice of Those Weep (Tribute to Tomás Luis de Victoria)”, for vocal sextet, 2011). This piece — as Versa est in luctum for mixed quartet and electronics (2002) and the Office des Ténèbres in Tenebrae — displays Posadas’ unending admiration of the 16th century Castilian polyphonist Tomás Luis de Victoria, for the balance he struck between sobriety and musical expressiveness and his shunning of superfluous ornamentation.

*

The music of Alberto Posadas draws on a vast array of non-musical sources of inspiration – from the sciences, in dialogue with other forms of artistic expression, through literature. However, he distances himself clearly in this varied approach from certain postmodern hybridized or eclectic musical perspectives: Posadas is always searching for ways to strip his style of anecdotal references or ornamental elements. The music that emerges is built on extremely solid formal foundations – but the color of the resulting sound gives it tremendous expressive impact.


  1. Although Xenakis’ treatment of them is entirely different from that of Guerrero and Posadas, cf. Makis SOLOMOS, “The Unity of Xenakis’s Instrumental and Electroacoustic Music: The Case of Brownian Motion,” in Perspectives of New Music vol. 39 n°1, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1998, pp. 244-254; Carlos SATUE, Carlos FRIAS, “Diversas geometrías aplicadas a la música (a la memoria de Francisco Guerrero y Miguel Ángel Guillén),” in Quodlibet n°39, Alcalá de Henares: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Alcalá, 2007, p. 115-148.
  2. Cf. Martin SUPPER, “A Few Remarks on Algorithmic Composition,” in Computer Music Journal vol. 25 n°1, MIT Press, 2001, p. 48-53.
  3. Which links him in some ways to Tristan Murail, cf. Rozalie HIRS, “Frequency-based compositional techniques in the music of Tristan Murail,” in Contemporary compositional techniques and OpenMusic (Rozalie Hirs, Bob Gilmore, eds.), Paris, Editions Delatour / Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2009, p.93-196.
  4. Cf. José Luis BESADA, “Egyptian Architecture: Posadas’ Metaphor for Composition,” in Bridges Coimbra. Proceedings 2011 (Reza Sarhangi, Carlo H. Séquin, eds.), Phoenix, Tessellations Publishing, 2011, p.97-104.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2013

Documents

Liens Internet

Conférences de ou sur Alberto Posadas

(liens vérifiés en septembre 2020).

Discographie

  • Alberto POSADAS, Anklänge An François Couperin ; Anklänge An “La Cathédrale Engloutie” ; Anklänge An Robert Schumann ; Anklänge An “Aitsi” ; Anklänge An Stockhausen ; Anklänge An B. A. Zimmermann, Florian Hoelscher : piano, dans « Erinnerungsspuren », 1 CD WERGO, 2018, WER 7377 2.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Sombras, Sarah Maria Sun, soprano ; Carl Rosman, clarinette ; Quatuor Diotima, 1 cd Naïve, 2017, 5442.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Anamorfosis ; Tratado de lo inasible ; Tres pinturas imaginarias, Klangforum Wien, Nacho de Paz, direction, dans « Poetics of the Gaze », 1 cd Neos, 2017, 11715.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Sinolon, Armand Angster : clarinette, dans « Solo clarinet » avec des œuvres de Yann Robin, Brian Ferneyhough, Christophe Bertrand, Ivan Fedele et Helmut Lachenmann, 1 cd Triton, 2016, TR1331202.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Fulgida niebla de sol blanquecino ; Anábasis, Ricard Capellino : clarinette dans « Introspect(on)s » avec des œuvres de Mark Andre, Hèctor Parra, Raphaël Cendo, 1 cd Orlando Records, 2016, OR0025.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Kerguelen, Bläsertrio recherche, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden and Freiburg, direction : François-Xavier Roth, dans « Donaueschinger Musiktage 2013 », avec des œuvres de Georges Aperghis, Bernhard Lang, Philippe Manoury, Enno Poppe, 1 cd Neos, 2014, 11411-14.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Del reflejo de la sombra, dans « Donaueschinger Musiktage 2010 », avec des œuvres de Vinko Globokar, James Dillon, Georg Friedrich Haas et al., Quatuor Diotima, Alain Billard : clarinette basse, 4 sacd, Neos, 2012, 11114-17.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Vocem flentium (Homenaje a Tomás Luis de Victoria), dans « Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik 2011 », avec des œuvres de Hans Zender, Gérard Pesson, Heinz Holliger et al., Ensemble vocal Exaudi, 2 cd et 1 dvd Kulturforum Witten, 2011, WD 2011.
  • Alberto POSADAS*, Oscuro abismo de llanto y de ternur* ; Nebmaat ; Cripsis ; Glossopoeia, Ensemble intercontemporain, direction : François-Xavier Roth, coproduction Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 1 cd Kairos, coll. « Sirènes » 2010, 13112KAI.
  •  Alberto POSADAS, Resplandor, dans « Nueva Creación Sinfónica Vol. 3 », avec des œuvres de Tomás Marco, Zulema de la Cruz, Enrique Franco et al., Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid, Jacques Mercier : direction, Andrés Gomis : saxophone, 2 cd promotionnels de l’Asociacion Española de Orquestas Sinfónicas et la Fundación Autor.
  • Alberto POSADAS, Liturgia del silencio, dans « La flauta del siglo XXI », avec des œuvres de Cristóbal Halffter, José María Sánchez-Verdú, Jacobo Durán-Loriga et al., Julián Elvira : flûte, 1 cd Sello Autor, 2009, SA01567.
  • Alberto POSADAS*, Liturgia fractal* ; Ondulado tiempo sonoro… ; Modulaciones ; Órbitas ; Aborescencias ; Bifurcaciones, Quatuor Diotima : Yun-Peng Zhao : violon 1, Naaman Sluchin : violon 2, Franck Chevalier : alto,n, Pierre Morlet : violoncelle, 1 cd Kairos, 2009, 12932KAI.
  • Alberto POSADAS*, Memoria de « no existencia »,* dans « Le piano diversiforme », avec des œuvres de Tosi, Casanova, Pablo, Mestres Quadreny, Jean Pierre Dupuy : piano, 1 cd Ars Harmonica, AH189.
  • Alberto POSADAS*, Anamorfosis,* dans « Donaueschinger Musiktage 2006 Vol. 4 », avec des œuvres de Mauricio Kagel, Schönberg Ensemble Amsterdam, direction : Reinbert de Leeuw, 1 cd Neos, 10727.
  • Alberto POSADAS*, Snefru,* dans « Esteban Algora - Confluencias », avec des œuvres de José Maria Sánchez Verdú, Alfonso Casanova, Enrique Igoa, Eduardo Polonio, Andrés Lewin-Richter, Guilherme Carvalho, Esteban Algora : accordéon, 1 cd Tañidos, Several Records, SRD-289.

Bibliographie

  • José Luis BESADA,  Metamodels in Compositional Practices, The case of Alberto Posadas’s Liturgia Fractal, préface de Lawrence M. Zbikowski, éditions Ircam-Centre Pompidou/Delatour France, collection « Musique/Sciences », 2017.
  • José Luis BESADA, « Spanish Contemporary Music Surges Ahead », dans Universal Music Publishing Classical Yearbook, 2013, p. 58-59.
  • José Luis BESADA, « Egyptian Architecture: Posadas’ Metaphor for Composition », dans Bridges Coimbra. Proceedings 2011 (Reza Sarhangi, Carlo H. Séquin, sous la dir. de), Phoenix : Tesellations Publishing, 2011, p. 97-104.
  • José Luis BESADA, La notion de modèle chez Alberto Posadas. Aspects, mémoire de Master 2, sous la dir. d’Anne Sèdes, Saint-Denis : Université París 8, 2010.
  • Véronique BRINDEAU, « La fabrique d’un langage », entretien avec Alberto Posadas sur Glossopoeia dans Accent n° 39, le Webmag de l’Ensemble intercontemporain (lien vérifié en septembre 2020).
  • Véronique BRINDEAU, entretien de Véronique Brindeau avec Alberto Posadas sur Oscuro Abismo de llanto y de ternura, dans Accents n° 27, 2005, le Webmag de l’Ensemble intercontemporain (lien vérifié en septembre 2020).
  • Alicia DÍAZ DE LA FUENTE, « Una mirada a Cripsis de Alberto Posadas », dans IN_DES_AR. Investigar desde el arte (Vicente Calvo Fernández, sous la dir. de), Madrid : Dykinson, 2011, pp. 173-185.
  • Bernard FOURNIER, Histoire du Quatuor à Cordes. De l’entre-deux-guerres au XXIe siècle, Paris : Fayard, 2010, p. 1202-1208.
  • Miguel MORATE, « Alberto Posadas, ‘Tensión constante’ », entretien avec le compositeur dans Audioclásica n° 139, 2008, p. 74-79.
  • María SANTACECILIA, « Alberto Posadas », entretien avec le compositeur dans Boletín Diverdi n° 192, 2010*.*