On this date the French composer JEAN BARRAQUE was born in the Paris suburb of Puteaux. He studied in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and, through Messiaen, became interested in serialism. The densely dissonant polyphonic texture of his work is often compared to that of Pierre Boulez. Barraque planned a large-scale collection of pieces based on Hermann Broch’s novel “The Death of Virgil”, a book which Barraque’s friend and sometime lover Michel Foucault recommended to him. Barraque’s use of tone rows in his work is quite distinctive.
Rather than using a single tone row for an entire piece, as Webern did, or using a number of related rows in one work, as Berg or Schoenberg sometimes did, Barraque started by using one row, and then subtly altered it to get a second. This second row was then used for a while before being slightly altered again to make a third. This process continues throughout the work. He called this technique “proliferating series.” The French music critic Andre Hodeir claimed that Barraque’s Piano Sonata was perhaps the finest since Beethoven.
Barraque was involved in a car accident in 1964, and his apartment was destroyed by fire in November 1968. He suffered from bad health for much of his life.
Nevertheless, his death in Paris in August 1973, at the age of 45, was sudden and unexpected. His relatively small output has left him as a somewhat obscure figure, although his work is often praised, and the sonata is seen as one of the great pianistic challenges of the twentieth century. Barraque is now recognized as one of the most important and distinctive French composers of the post War period.