updated 30 October 2012

Jean Barraqué

French composer born 17 January 1928 in Puteaux; died 17 August 1973 in Paris.

Jean Barraqué was born 17 January 1928 in Puteaux (Hauts-de-Seine, France), the only son of two shopkeepers, Grat Barraqué (1898-1975) and Germaine Barraqué, née Millet (1903-1987). In 1940, he enrolled in La Maîtrise de Notre-Dame, part of Paris’ diocesan school system. There, he discovered Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, the Unfinished Symphony. Its emotional impact on him was such that he decided to become a composer. As a student at the Lycée Condorcet, where he remained until 1947, he intended to join the priesthood, found a second family with Maurice Beerblock and his entourage, and fell in love with Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. In 1947, however, he experienced a nervous breakdown and was sent to Solesmes Abbey to recover, preventing him from sitting for his baccalaureate.

He studied piano using the Jaëll Method, and then went on to study harmony, counterpoint, and fugue with Jean Langlais, who introduced him to the treatises of Théodore Dubois, Marcel Dupré, and Vincent d’Indy. In the autumn of 1948, Barraqué audited a class with Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatoire de Paris. There, he developed friendships with Michel Fano, Karel Goeyvaerts, and Sylvio Lacharité, among others – and would go on to meet Pierre Boulez and John Cage, who presented Sonatas and interludes at the Conservatoire in 1949. In 1952-1953, he participated in a course with the Groupe de recherches de musique concrète, during which he composed an Étude for magnetic tape.

In the 1950s, Barraqué taught for the Jeunesses musicales de France, took part in a monthly broadcast titled “Jeune Musique”, for which André Hodeir was the editor in chief, and wrote a “Musical Analysis Guide and various analyses of major works in the repertory for Le Guide du concert while teaching private classes, which, from 1956 to 1960, became group courses in musical analysis.

In 1952, he completed Sonate, which Yvonne Loriod recorded in 1959, but which would not premiere in concert until 1967, in Copenhagen. Meeting Michel Foucault opened new horizons for him, including the poetry of Nietzsche, which he set to music in Séquence, along with Hermann Broch’s novel The Death of Virgil, with commentary written in that same period by Maurice Blanchot. After Séquence, which premiered as part of a concert series at the Domaine musical in 1956 (the work was revisited in Hamburg in 1957, conducted by Bruno Maderna), and in the wake of his dramatic break with Foucault, Barraqué drew up an outline of The Death of Virgil, a vast cycle of pieces based on Broch’s novel, to which he intended to devote the rest of his life, and from which emerged such works as Le Temps restitué, …au-delà du hasard, Chant après chant, as well as several drafts, Discours, Lysanias, Portiques du feu, Hymnes à Plotia, and Arraché de… commentaire en forme de lecture du “Temps restitué,” which he often abandoned after a few measures.

Between 1957 and 1959, Barraqué worked on two dramatic composition projects with Jean Thibaudeau and Jacques Polieri, with whom he studied Kandinsky’s The Yellow Sound. After another breakdown in September 1958, he was hospitalized on many occasions throughout the 1960s. In 1961, with support from Olivier Messiaen, Barraqué was appointed a philosophy post with the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) under the direction of Étienne Souriau (a post he held until 1970). He published Debussy the following year, which was translated into several languages and which Varèse praised as “a work written with love.”

Concerto, also unfinished, premiered in London in 1968, conducted by Gilbert Amy. Following an explosion and a fire in his apartment that required him to move several times, spending months with friends or in hotels, Barraqué lost what he had composed for Portiques du feu. In 1969, he began work on a lyrical drama modelled on Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, titled L’Homme couché, which was also based on The Death of Virgil, writing out its literary themes. Illness and the “moral damages” he was ordered to pay by the High Court of Paris to the estate of Erik Satie because of what he had written about the composer in Debussy, and his failure to secure a position as professor of analysis at the Conservatoire national de musique de Paris made 1971 a particularly difficult year for Barraqué. In 1973, he was named Chevalier dans l’Ordre national du mérite. He died of hemiplegia on 17 August 1973 at the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière in Paris.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2012

By Laurent Feneyrou

At the time of his death, Jean Barraqué’s body of work counted just seven opuses: Sonate, Étude, Séquence, …au-delà du hazard, Chant après chant, Le Temps restitué, and Concerto. The man Michel Foucault called “one of the most brilliant and unsung musicians of the current generation” devoted his life to “ceaseless incompleteness”, and to the glories of finitude – qualities heightened by his early death, which quieted the harsh, intransigent, and tragic beauty of his art. The recent publication and performance of his early works (Pièces pour piano, Mélodies de jeunesse, Ecce videmus eum, Sonate pour violon, La nature s’est prise aux filets de ta vie, Quatuor à cordes, Trois Mélodies…), most of which were composed between 1947 and 1951, has changed the reception of Barraqué’s oeuvre and make it possible to identify two distinct periods in his life, delimited by his reading of Hermann Broch’s novel The Death of Virgil.

First period

Tu es Petrusin C major for choir, brass, and organ is Barraqué’s first dated work, from 28 May 1943. Starting from this piece and working towardMelos(1950-1951), a ballet for orchestra whose orchestration remained unfinished that offers the listener an overview of the often-incomplete scores he wrote while learning to compose, one sees Barraqué successively borrowing and then outgrowing different models. The first is the music Barraqué grew up with, French religious choral music from the first half of the twentieth century. Notable among composers in this field was Lazare Perruchot, a disciple and collaborator of Dom Joseph Pothier. Pothier, who had studied Palestrina, influenced Charles Bordes in his understanding of ancient music, and along with Bordes and Vincent d’Indy, helped to found the Schola Cantorum. In turn, d’Indy’sCours de composition musicale would be one of Barraqué’s touchstones in the course of his studies with Jean Langlais.

The second model is that of Romanticism: first Schubert, then Beethoven, whose tonality of C-sharp minor in the “Moonlight” Sonata Barraqué innocently reprised in piano pieces and tonal melodies. Already animated by an ambivalence accentuated by instrumental densities or irregular meters, as well as diminished seventh chords, at times over a pedal, these works tend to finish as they began, often even on their opening note, and in this way describe a cycle from beginning to end. Baudelaire’s poetry, in François Porché’s reading of it, crystalizes Barraqué’s intuitions: a damp and futile languor – spleen; dreams and dreaming as a reaction to reality and an arm against its affronts; intoxication – drug-induced, for Baudelaire – through which reality is also obliterated; death, always close – brutal, but a consolation for the poor, the forgotten, the used-up, for lovers who take refuge in its embrace – and a dissociated self. This is the measure of Barraqué’s identification with Baudelaire – which only intensified as fantasy, intoxication, and madness became the more or less central features of his relationship with Michel Foucault.

While his discovery of the language of Bartók inspired the insistent reiteration of the chromatic cells in Deux Mélodies sur des poèmes de Paul Valéry (1948-1949?) and in La Nostalgie d’Arabella (1949) for voice, trumpet, piano, and percussion, based on a poem by Maurice Beerblock, and while he experimented with ostinato in the tradition of the bacchanalian rhythms of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which he studied with Messiaen, Barraqué’s third model is above all Debussy, especially his layering of notes to create aggregates and his use of intervals, in which resonate the points where sound emerges and retreats. As for form, it is in his later writings, and primarily in his major and masterly analysis of La Mer, that Barraqué revealed an “autogenic compositional organization” – in statu nascendi: the work lives and dies continuously, inventing its own destiny based on its sonic orders. With Debussy, a ceaseless outpouring allows the work “to somehow propel itself by its own force1”. Ens existentialis and not ens essentialis, as his student Bill Hopkins, put it: the work is tragic, consumed by its own twists and twirls, by its own delirious gyrations, and its open form, forever suspended on its own becoming, needs no help from any pre-established structure.

Fourth model: Viennese dodecaphonicism, which Barraqué studied in René Leibowitz’s Schoenberg and His School. It is not clear whether he read the book immediately after it was published, in 1947, or whether, as the documents stuck in the pages of his copy of the book would indicate, in 1949 – in other words, whether he read it before composing Sonate pour violon seul, the first of his serialist pieces, before the song La Porte ouverte and the cantata La nature s’est prise aux filets de ta vie, both based on the poetry of Paul Éluard, before Quatuor à cordes, and before Trois Mélodies, written for an excerpt of the Song of Songs and prose poems by Baudelaire and Rimbaud. “As they say of novels – I ‘devoured’ it2”, wrote Barraqué, whose notes show that he was attentive to retrograde imitation (from Machaut to Webern), to critiques of the tonal system – inasmuch as it was inadequate for the counterpoint that the Viennese had brought back to the foreground, to their abolition of the distinction between the main voice and the accompaniment, to their principle of perpetual development that upended the traditional order of theme and variation, to the melodic and harmonic implications of the row, to unity and the economy of means in a work, and finally, to the eminent purity of their writing. “[T]o derive an abundance of thematic forms from the least possible musical material in the smallest possible space, while at the same time holding all these forms to a strict unity, so that in spite of the brevity and condensation of the work the variety and wealth of thematic forms will not create confusion3”. Barraqué took this view of Webern to heart and concluded, with Leibowitz, that knowledge of his field would “inevitably” lead any composer “where he must go – probably, that is, to the twelve-tone technique4”. But unlike Schoenberg and Berg, who were guilty of having equated the row to a theme, and, moreover, of bringing tonal functions back into their later works, Webern the contrapuntalist saw formal archetype and form in and of itself as contrary to any concern for the organization of sounds in space: “The very choice of form indicates that the author has a desire not to follow a given plan – as vast as Berg’s may have been – but instead, to realize a ‘possible’. An ‘open’ form, of which he gives us one aspect, among many other unformulated ones 5”.

So what is a row, for Barraqué? Two well-known taboos, first of all: 1) “None of the twelve notes in the row can be repeated before the eleven others have been played, to avoid any polarization of melody or harmony.” 2) “The octave is banished – in such music, the octave would in fact play a privileged role6”. Second, five theses: 1) Rows imply a strict identity for the horizontal and the vertical. 2) Primal, the interval acquires a functional role. 3. The row is not a mode or a theme. It sets a limit; it defends against the threat of fracture. 4. From his first serial works all the way to his Concerto, and unlike many of his contemporaries who used defective rows, Barraqué remained faithful to the modulus of 12, which ordered a chromatic whole. 5. Intervals and notes themselves introduced a tension beginning with Séquence, based on poetry by Nietzsche, which in 1955 brought an end to Barraqué’s first period: “Its serial composition was built on a “space-time” duality that, we believe, encompasses the essential features that the word “row” contains today. The first form is the interval. There is a concurrence (or not) between two aspects of the interval: the space that separates the two sounds and the time it takes to cross it. The second form is the note. Each note possesses its own density; it [can?], in the course of the work, be favored, in a way: either through accents, or by placing it in a different register, or through elision7”.

Over the course of this first period, serialism and atheism, both mastered with determination, elicited a sacerdotal behaviour from the creator, the inflexible direction of his conscience and the knotting together of aesthetic and ethic. For Barraqué was searching for a form of asceticism, an art ethic and an existential aesthetic: “I believe that music… well, I’ll say it harshly: keeps you from being an asshole”, as he put it8. His work sought a kind of modification of the self, a conversion of one’s life to certain artistic values. At the same time, Barraqué experienced a tragedy that took superhuman force to overcome, in which Jean Genet of The Maids and The Thief’s Journal would be a kind of brother in despair. This is apparent in the two movements – between slow and fast tempi, between rigor and freedom of style – of the monumental Sonate for piano, which is shot through with complex variations and rhythmic textures. In it, sound confronts its enemy, toxic silence. Just before the end, the discourse reaches extreme density, in an “excessively broad” lyric sequence, fffff, with seven-note harmonies creating gigantic sound barriers that dig into the adjacent silences. The work has no other choice but to reconsider itself; it attempts to return to its beginning, and it ends, after a brief fermata, with a bare, monodic repetition of the mirror of the prime row, with the direction “Between fast and slow” – time abolished.

Second Period****

Shortly thereafter, with Foucault, probably in 1953, Barraqué read Thus Spake Zarathoustra by Nietzsche, and then became fascinated by Dream and Existence by psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger. In 1955, again at Foucault’s urging, he discovered The Death of Virgil, a novel by Hermann Broch, in Albert Kohn’s French translation, which had just been published. As he is dying, the author of the Aeneid contemplates the rocks and the tides and wonders what will happen to his work. He sinks into darkness, sleep, the bringer of dreams, and then death, through which he achieves ultimate knowledge. On Saturday, 24 March 1956, Barraqué laid out, on two facing pages, an overview of a cycle based on the novel, which he would continue working on until his death in 1973. He drew on it for most of his themes, which he intended to bring together in a barely sketched-out opera, L’Homme couché. Dreams, childhood, love, vengeance, radical revolt, submission, offering, accepting offering, rigor, solitude, genius, deadly illness, sainthood, the exercise of selfhood… “Burn the Aeneid!” shouts Broch’s Virgil. There, up close, in the very moment of his passing, a strange concord between the book and its destruction opens up. Moving up to this instant, attempting to circumscribe it in a movement whose scale, lyricism, grandiloquence, and cries to the sublime grant outsized solemnity to the verb – nothing less than this would be the creative task. The poet of an expiring civilization, Broch’s Virgil moves on a vertical axis, for the tragic motion he describes is always one of climbing and crumbling, a crumbling all the harsher because the moral drive had reached so high. And so, set with the task of being or not being, Barraqué’s work exacerbates a crisis in which a man comes unmoored and, in the same motion, descends into and rises from himself. These analytical ideas translate a similar ascension, a relinquishment of the shared ground: the interval and the note, as in Séquence; the note-tone and the note-sound, terms Barraqué introduced with regard to La Mer that designate a note included in harmonic system, considered as a degree, or, within a row, whose fate is therefore bound together with the others’, as opposed to a note placed in a prominent position by the some aspect of the sound (intensity, duration, timbre, its place in the polyphony…), a note in and of itself, set apart: the note of fear, or the “intensely strange” note that has been ripped from its own world, a toneless note-sound, hanging suspended, in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, of which Barraqué wrote a celebrated analysis. And yet, the imbalance created between ascension and the lack of foothold denotes a kind of missing form of human presence, which Barraqué translated so well in his work – through time, alteration, oscillation between Fear or Terror’s lurching, shattering immanence and the myth of hollowed-out eternity – between fracturing anguish and whirling madness.

Barraqué threw serial unity into crisis, as can be heard in his heterophonies, in which a note splits off and skitters across the instruments. Moreover, Séquence, a work that arose fromTrois Mélodies, which Barraqué revised and filled out, adding instrumentation, a brief introduction, and linked them with two interludes, uses two rows to link its three movements together: with the exception of the three opening measures, “Trois fragments” and “Musique du midi” (first movement) are based on the first row (A: E E-flat F C B C-sharp D A-flat A F-sharp B-flat G); “De la pitié ! De la pitié !” (second movement) is based on the second row (B: C-sharp G F-sharp A C E-flat E F A-flat B-flat B D); and the third movement, “Plainte d’Ariane” moves between row A and row B. The order of the notes in these rows is often inverted, such that, given that the row is a given order in the chromatic whole and that this order is not immutable, then it can be modified by inversions, and thus the row is defined less as an order than as an “ordered whole”, an “order in process”. By the late 1950s, Barraqué had adopted rows of rows. As a general rule, Le Temps restitué simultaneously presents multiple row forms, which describe an immense cycle which comes to a close at the point of its beginning. With the help of sketches, Heribert Henrich analysed the work’s structure, composed of cycles, each of which contains the twelve transpositions of one of the four fundamental forms. Unlike Webern or Boulez, deducing the form from the internal laws of their rows, Barraqué’s approach takes in the work as a whole.

But this structuring was not yet sufficient to break serial unity, or, as Barraqué put it, “serial tonality,” which arose from a reprise of the four fundamental forms and their transpositions. In deducting from what had preceded it, he also invented the technique of proliferating series, which he used in …au-delà du hasard, Chant après chant, and Concerto, which he also described as the “interpenetration and self-reproduction of serial matrices”. Barraqué never theorized it, although he did imagine writing a book “on musical creation and my technique of incompleteness through proliferations – an expressive phenomenon of both rhetoric and aesthetics”, as he wrote in a letter to Bill Hopkins on 28 July 1967 9.

In other words, an Order 0 and an Order 1:

Order 0: 123456789101112 ↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓↓ Order 1: 121110987654321

Tone 1 of Order 0 is associated with tone 12 of Order 1; tone 2 is associated with tone 1, etc. The process that produces Order 2 reproduces these associations between the two first orders, with the proliferation building not from the tone or the interval, but from the tones in the series: 1 → 12, 2 → 1… etc.

Order 2: 111234618291057

And so on:

Order 3: 711432126110985; Order 4: 573411121291068; Order 5: 854312711110926; Order 6: 683411512791012; Order 7: 264378115109121; Order 8: 0123456789101112.
The orders are then subject to the permutations of the 12-tone system (prime, retrograde, inversion, retrograde-inversion, and their transpositions). Through proliferation, which also, knowingly, strives to create textures that defy analysis, he created the serial orders of his Concerto, which themselves were produced by two rows in …au-delà du hasard, one of which was also the original row of Temps restitué. The relationships among the tone rows in Le Temps restitué, …au-delà du hazard, Chant après chant, and **Concerto link these works together in a cycle based on La Mort de Virgile that illustrates the total nature of this approach. With his proliferating “series of series”, Barraqué demolished the very essence of the idea of serialism. Does a tone row exist in and of itself, or as the product of the different rows that originated it, or does it exist as a thing in motion, constantly becoming? The very need to go through every order until the original row is found translates a philosophical principle that, according to André Hodeir, was particularly important to Barraqué: certainly, through slow and spiralling evolution, proliferation “can almost suggest the idea that each row contains every possible row”, creating “the possibility of more or less infinite material10”, but at the same time, in each of Barraqué’s works, the matrix closes up in the end and reflects the whole11. A whole that once experienced duality. As a return to Unity.

  1. Jean Barraqué, “La Mer de Debussy, ou la naissance des formes ouvertes”, Écrits (Laurent Feneyrou, Ed.), Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2001, p. 268.
  2. Jean Barraqué, “Hommage à René Leibowitz” [1972], Écrits, op. cit., p. 185.
  3. René Leibowitz, Schoenberg and his School, translated by Dika Newlin, New York: Philosophical Library, 1949; reprinted in 2007, p. 384-385.
  4. Ibid., p. 521.
  5. Jean Barraqué, “Berg et Webern ou deux aspects d’une même rhétorique” [1953?], Écrits, op. cit., p. 42.
  6. These two famous prohibitions are mentioned in Barraqué’s text “Berg : Concerto pour violon et orchestre,” Le Guide du concert, 57 (1954-1955), p. 495-496.
  7. Jean Barraqué, unpublished, archives of the Association Jean Barraqué, Paris.
  8. Jean Barraqué, “Propos impromptu” (1969), Écrits, op. cit., p. 183.
  9. “A certain practice of the row, based on serial matrices, makes it possible, by numbering, to rationally conceive of a sequence of all the possible permutations times twelve. Using constantly updated numbering, these “proliferating series” would begin with the central, mother-row, and set in motion a whole landscape of radiating sequences of rows.” This is the only mention of proliferating series in Barraqué’s writing. See “Une analyse: la Cinquième Symphonie de Beethoven,” Écrits, op. cit., p. 406.
  10. Alain Bancquart, “Les séries proliférantes de Barraqué,” Le Monde, 30 January 1974.
  11. “And I wouldn’t want you, at least, to think that I had created this network of impossible things to escape from the work. I know, I feel that this network of complications, of machineries, will end up in the Unity, the center, the gyration”, worried Jean Barraqué in a letter to Jeanne Bisilliat dated 6 June 1967.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2012



  • Le Courrier musical de France, n° 44, 1973.
  • Dossier Jean Barraqué, Champigny-sur-Marne, 2e2m, 1974.
  • Entretemps, n° 5, 1987.
  • Musik-Konzepte, n° 82, 1993.
  • Dissonance, n° 73, 2002.
  • Alain BANCQUART, « Les séries proliférantes de Barraqué », Le Monde, 30 janvier 1974.
  • Jean BARRAQUÉ, Écrits, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2001.
  • Cyril BÉROS, « Le silence de l’inquiétude. Autour de Jean Barraqué », Les Cahiers du Cirem, n° 32-34, 1994, p. 101-107.
  • Laurent FENEYROU, « Gens de la plus grande foi… Introduction à l’œuvre de Jean Barraqué », Conférence, n° 19, 2004, p. 379-423.
  • Laurent FENEYROU, « Rêve – Crise – Cycle. Jean Barraqué analyste et compositeur », Musicalia, n° 1, 2004, p. 107-132
  • Laurent FENEYROU, « Une donnée immédiate. Jean Barraqué et le rythme (1948-1952) », Filigrane, n° 10, 2009, p. 41-73.
  • Paul GRIFFITHS, The Sea on Fire. Jean Barraqué, Rochester, Rochester University Press, 2003 – traduction française, La Mer en feu : Jean Barraqué, Paris, Hermann, 2008.
  • Heribert HENRICH, « …la manière ultime d’imaginer. Zu Jean Barraqués Concerto», Berliner Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft, n° IX/2, 1994, p. 47-58.
  • Heribert HENRICH, Das Werk Jean Barraqués, Kassel, Bärenreiter, 1997.
  • André HODEIR, La Musique depuis Debussy, Paris, Puf, 1961.
  • Bill HOPKINS, « Barraqué and the Serial Idea », Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, n° 105, 1978-1979, p. 13-24.
  • Alain POIRIER, « L’histoire “toujours recommencée”… Introduction à la pensée analytique de Jean Barraqué », Analyse musicale, n° 12, 1988, p. 9-13.
  • *Dorothea REDEPENNING (sous la dir. de), Mnemosyne, Zeit und Gedächtnis in der europäischen Musik des ausgehenden 20. Jahrhunderts, *Sarrebruck, Pfau, 2006.
  • Werner STRINZ, Variations sur l’inquiétude rythmique. Untersuchungen zur morphologischen und satztechnischen Funktion des Rhythmus bei Oliver Messiaen, Pierre Boulez und Jean Barraqué*, Francfort, Peter Lang, 2003.


Jean BARRAQUÉ, Sonate, Herbert Henck, piano, 1 cd ECM, 1999, 1621.Jean BARRAQUÉ, Œuvres complètes, Stefan Litwin, piano, Vokalensemble NOVA Wien (Colin Mason, dir.), Klangforum Wien, direction : Sylvain Cambreling, Jürg Wyttenbach et Peter Rundel, 3 cds cpo, 1998, 999 569-2. - Jean BARRAQUÉ, Le Temps restitué et Concerto, Anne Bartelloni : mezzo-soprano, Groupe Vocal de France, ensemble 2e2m, direction : Paul Méfano, 1 cd Harmonia Mundi, 1987, 905199.

  • Jean BARRAQUÉ, …au-delà du hasard, Irène Jarsky et Catherine Gayer : sopranos, Anne Bartelloni : contralto, ensemble 2e2m, direction : Paul Méfano, LP Astrée, 1981, AS 50.
  • Jean BARRAQUÉ, Sonate, Roger Woodward : piano, LP EMI, 1973, EMSP 551.
  • Jean BARRAQUÉ, Séquence et Chant après chant, Josephine Nendick : soprano, Noël Lee : piano, Les Percussions de Copenhague, direction : Tamás Vetö, LP Astrée-Valois, 1970, AS 75 / MB 951.
  • Jean BARRAQUÉ, Sonate, Claude Helffer, piano, LP Astrée AS 36 / Valois MB 952, 1969.

Jean BARRAQUÉ, Sonate et Séquence, Yvonne Loriod : piano, Ethel Semser : soprano, ensemble du Domaine musical, direction : Rudolf Albert, LP Véga C 30 A 180, 1958.