Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Meetings with remarkable men

Actually not Gurdjieff, but another great philosopher-composer-mystic, Jacques Charpentier whose music has interested me for decades. Born in 1933 he spent a couple of years in Calcutta in the early 1950s and became fascinated by Indian classical music, long before the hippy trail, The Beatles and Ravi Shankar. On his return to France there were long years of study with Olivier Messiaen, then a succession of posts at the Paris Conservatoire, then with the government as a minister for culture.

Yesterday I had the honour to meet him at his home in Carcassonne, and we talked. Two hours flew by. I heard amazing stories about his life, his time in India as a 20-year old pianist, his first meeting with Messiaen, who after listening to his enthusiastic accounts of Indian music for an hour, said to him quietly "Mais vous êtes un Occidental". His magnum opus for piano - the 72 Etudes Karnatiques - is among many other things an acknowledgement of Messiaen's wisdom. Each étude is a self-contained composition using one of the 72 parent scales of South Indian music the melakarta but there is nothing 'Indiany' about them.

Another tale concerned a mission he was sent on by President Giscard d'Estaing in the mid 70s to meet with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi about setting up a centre for Franco-Arab culture in Tripoli. Gaddafi was by all accounts a funny, intelligent and very cultured man. Such a pity he was also a brutal dictator.

Here is no 67 of the Etudes Karnatiques...

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