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Serge NIGG

Serge NIGG

SERGE NIGG (1924–2008)

Serge Nigg was born in Paris in June 6th 1924. At the age of 17, he entered the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique (1941), in Olivier Messiaen’s class for harmony, then in Simone Plé-Caussade’s class for counterpoint and fugue.

He left in 1945 and met René Leibowitz who initiated him into the dodecaphonic technique. However, from 1943, his first works were performed in concert - thus, the Concerto pour piano et instruments à vent, the Concerto pour piano et orchestre à cordes (“La Pléïade” concerts with the National Orchestra at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées), the First Piano Sonata. While he was still only 19, his first orchestral work was given a repeat performance by the National Orchestra (conducted by R. Désormière, 1944) : this was the Symphonic Poem Timour.

In 1946, he wrote what may be considered as the first strictly dodecaphonic work conceived in France : the Variations for piano and 10 instruments, which the author performed himself as a soloist during the First International Festival of Dodecaphonic Music organised in Paris in 1947 by R. Leibowitz. The work was reprised in London, Brussels and at the S.I.M.C. Festival in Palermo in 1949.

Then came the Quatre Mélodies, settings of the poems by Paul Eluard, the ballet Billard, commissionned by the Holland Festival and performed at the Amsterdam Opera House in 1950, the symphonic poem Pour un poète captif (performance by the Prague Philarmonic Orchestra, conducted by Karel Ancerl at the Prague May Festival, 1951).

Since he had no taste for purely abstract and formal research, from 1950 he began to move away from the twelve-tone technique which tended to dry up and sterilise inspiration in the young musicians of the time.

Certains works may be seen as a strong reaction against rules that were too tight :

- the First Concerto for piano and orchestra (1954) performed at the Théâtre des Champs -Élysées by the National Orchestra (conducted by A. Cluytens with P. Barbizet as the soloist) was reprised, notably in Strasbourg, Marseille, at the Vichy Festival, in Prague, at the Lamoureux Concerts, etc. (Grand Prix of the Disc from the Charles Cros Academy 1957).

- the Concerto for violin and orchestra performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées by its dedicatee Christian Ferras and the National Orchestra in 1960. Many performances would be given by C. Ferras, especially at the Besançon Festival, in Rome, Paris, Strasbourg, Minneapolis, New-York (at Carnegie Hall), Geneva, Lausanne, etc... (Grand Prix of the Record 1957).

- the Concerto pour flute et orchestre à cordes (performed by his dedicatee J.P. Rampal at the Vichy Festival in 1960).

Around the sixties : a new period began, characterized by a rediscovered dodecaphonic technique, but from which any dryness and systematism seem to be excluded. It was this period of balance, in which problems of “musical language”, vocabulary and syntax seemed to be resolved, that gave birth to “ mature” works :

- the Jérôme Bosch-Symphonie, inspired by the Dutch painter’s triptych : “ The Garden of Earthly Delights”. Commissioned by the Strasbourg Festival, the work was performed there in 1960. It would be reprised, notably in Baden Baden, Paris, Brussells and Strasbourg. The Grand Prix of the Disc would crown the recording of it (Académie du Disque Français).

- in 1961, the famous group “Les Percussions de Strasbourg” was founded in the capital of Alsace by six outstanding instrumentalists. On this occasion and for his first public concert, the Radio commissioned a work from Serge Nigg that was intended to demonstrate the Ensemble’s virtuosity. Thus, Histoire d’oeuf came into being, a musicale tale taken from Blaise Cendrar’s Negro Anthology, written for six percussionnists, two narrators, piano and celesta. The works was to be diffused in many countries, and translated into several languages (English, Finnish, Serbo-Croat for performances at the Zagreb Festival, into German for the Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne and Saarbrucken Radios).

- Le chant du dépossédé, for baritone, narrator and orchestra, was commissioned by the Strasbourg Festival and was conceived from “poetical notes” by Stéphane Mallarmé (published under the title For a Tomb of Anatole in 1961). The poet was inspired by the loss of his child who died of ill-heath in 1879. The work was performed in June 1964 in Strasbourg. The recording was crowned by the Academy of the French Record.

- Visage d’Axël, a symphonic work in two parts, was composed between 1965 and 1967. It was commissioned by the Besançon Festival and was performed in that town on September 4th 1967 by Antal Dorati. It would have many performances in Paris, Luxembourg, Palermo, Hanover, Oslo, Quebec, Katowice, at the Mexico City Festival, at the Graz Festival, in Strasbourg, Reims, Toulouse, by the Leningrad Philarmonic, Lyon, Nantes, Angers, etc... The recording was twice to received the Grand Prix of the Disc : from the Charles Cros Academy and the Académie du Disque Français.

- Fulgur, commissioned by the State, was performed in Paris by Charles Bruck conducting the Radio Philarmonic Orchestra. The work was inspired by Antonin Artaud’s book, Heliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné. After Paris, it was repeated in Sydney and Melbourne ; Jean Martinon gave a televised version in France, with the National Orchestra, then took it on tour to Poland with the same orchestra. J.C. Casadesus conducted the Moscow Philarmonic Orchestra, and then the Riga Philarmonic in November 1970. After the Pays de Loire Philarmonic Orchestra (Nantes and Angers) conducted by the latter, Michel Plasson performed the work in Toulouse.

Among the works that were to follow, it is worthwhile :

- the Second Concerto for piano and orchestra, commissioned by the Strasbourg Festival, performed in that city, with the pianist Bernard Flavigny in 1971. The Paris performance took place in 1973, with the National Orchestra, conducted by Kurt Masur, and the pianist Monique Haas.

- Les fastes de l’imaginaire, a symphonic work, commissioned by Serge Baudo, on the occasion of the presentation of the Lyon Philarmonic Orchestra at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1974.

- Mirrors for William Blake, symphony for piano, the first performance of which was given by Radio France New Philarmonic Orchestra conducted by Gilbert Amy, with the author as soloist, at the Maison de Radio France in 1979.

For a grand tour of the U.S.A. undertaken by Michel Plasson in 1981, the conductor commissioned a symphonic work from Serge Nigg : this would be Millions d’oiseaux d’or (a title borrowed from Arthur Rimbaud), the world premiere of which took place in the Boston Symphony Hall. The work would have ten performances in the cities of the United States, including Washington (at the Kennedy Center) and New-York (at Carnegie Hall). Michel Plasson would conduct it again at the end of the same year for the Paris Orchestra.

Let us quote from the works composed since :

- the String Quartet (recorded by the Enesco Quartet which obtained the Grand Prix of the Record from the Académie du Disque Français in 1989 : Grand Lauréat for Chamber Music).

- the Third Piano Sonata, Du clair au sombre, a vocal cycle for soprano and chamber orchestra on poems by Paul Eluard ; Arioso for violin and piano, commissioned by the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud International Contest 1987; the Concerto for alto and orchestra for the Reims International Interpretation Contest 1988.

Serge Nigg’s latest work is the Poème pour orchestre, commissioned by the Community of French Language Public Radios. The work was performed on February 12th 1990 at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City, conducted by Simon Streatfield, and re-performed in Toronto the following month.

In 1956, Serge Nigg was appointed to the Music Committe of French Radiodiffusion.

In 1967, he enters the Direction de la Msuique where Marcel Landowski made him responsible to the Inspection of French Lyrical Theatres. He would remain there until 1982. On this date, he was given the newly founded instrumentation and orchestration class at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique.

In 1982, he was appointed President of the “Société Nationale de Musique”, founded by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1871. It was within this society which has played an historic role, that most of the masterpieces of the French School were created for many years.

Serge Nigg hold many prizes : the Italia Prize (Venice 1958) ; the Grand Prix of the Radiophonic Community of French Language Programmes (Montréal, 1963) ; the Musical Grand Prix of the City of Paris (1974) ; the Grand Prix of the S.A.C.E.M. for the whole of his work (1978) ; the Florence Gould Prize, twice (Académie des Beaux-Arts, in 1976 and 1983), the René Dumesnil Prize in 1987, another prize of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, “the Prix de la Meilleure Création Contemporaine S.A.C.E.M. 1991”.

In 1989, he was elected a member of the Institut de France (Académie des Beaux-Arts).

See all works composed by Serge NIGG

Works composed by Serge NIGG

See all works composed by Serge NIGG



Premier Concerto, pour piano et orchestre
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française
Dir : A. Cluytens
Sol : P. Barbizet
Columbia FCX 500
Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles Cros
Réédition "La voix de son Maitre", EMI OVB 500


Concerto, pour violon et orchestre
Orchestre Philarmonique de l'ORTF
Dir : C. Bruck
Sol : Christian Ferras
D.G.G. 139 171
Grand Prix National du Disque (Académie du Disque Français)
Réédition aux USA sous étiquette Héliodor HS 25058


Visages d'Axël, pour orchestre
Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF
Dir : D. Chabrun
Inédits ORTF - distribution Barclay 995 030
Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles Cros
Grand Prix de l'Académie du Disque Français


Jérôme Bosch - Symphonie, pour orchestre
Orchestre National de l'ORTF
Dir : D. Chorafas
Chant du Monde - Musique Française d'Aujourd'hui CM 480
Grand Prix de l'Académie du Disque Français

Le chant du dépossédé, pour baryton, récitant et orchestre
Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France
Dir : M. Soustrot
Bar : A. Opie
Rec : P. Rousseau
Chant du Monde - Musique Française d'Aujourd'hui
CM 480
Grand Prix de l'Académie du Disque Français


Arioso, pour violon et piano
Sol : Qian Zhou
Premier Grand Prix du Concours Marguerite Long - Jacques Thibaud, 1987
REM 11055


Quatuor à cordes
Quatuor Enesco
REM - Musique Française d'Ajourd'hui - Société Nationale CD 311060
Grand Prix de l'Académie du disque Français
Grand Lauréat pour la Musique de Chambre


Concerto, pour alto
Orchestre Philharmonique de Lorraine
Dir : J.S. Bereau
Sol : S. Toutain
B.N.L. 112752


Poème, pour orchestre
Orchestre Symphonique de Québec
Dir : S. Streatfield
REM 311197


Million d'oiseaux d'or
Orchestre de Paris
Dir : Michel Plasson
ERATO 0630 10828-2


Première et deuxième sonates, pour piano
Piano : G. Ibanez
Sonate, pour violon seul
Violon : Christian Ferras
Sonate, pour violon et piano
Solistes : Stéphane Tran Ngoc et Brigitte Vandôme
REM 371288 XCD
Grand Prix du disque - Nouvelle Académie du disque 1996


Concerto n° 1, pour piano et orchestre
Orchestre National de France
Dir : André Cluytens
Soliste : Pierre Barbizet
EMI 724357 31772
Réédition dans le coffret André Cluytens accompagnateur