Yo soy la desintegración (1997)

soprano and fixed medium

Commission: Chants libres, with support from the CCA


  • Introduction
  • L’enfance
  • L’accident
  • Aujourd’hui dure toujours
  • Mon sang
  • L’amour
  • Dans l’ombre
  • L’enfant et la mort
  • Les ailes brisées

Programme notes

Pauline Vaillancourt, artistic director of Chants libres:

I discovered the world of Frida Kahlo not through her impressive paintings (paintings marked by a suffering that could not stop her from living an extraordinary life, as the works she left us attest) but rather through the intimate Journal she kept towards the end of her life. In her texts we discover her heart, her perception and her soul.

This woman’s strange destiny led me to think about the influence that misfortune can have on course of a life, of what happens to children scarred by war, stupidity, deformity or cruelty. The world of Frida Kahlo guided me to this adaptation.

The music of Jean Piché, and the libretto by Yan Muckle will, I hope, transport you into the very special world of a child turned adult in which a very harsh destiny must be suffered and who, like Frida, makes a unique journey through life, one marked by tenacity and courage.

Jean Piché, composer:

When Pauline Vaillancourt asked me to write this music I was initially hesitant for a number of reasons. Lack of experience was one of them. In almost 25 years of work I had never written for voice. Until that day, opera had been inexplicably foreign to me. I approached the project cautiously. Kahlo primarily strikes me as a public and political figure with an outrageously artistic imagination. The explicit images she left us are like so many doors into her feverish mind, where the tightening vise of physical and emotional suffering defines both form and emotion. I found in her poetic and anecdotal writings an abiding will, the irrepressible courage to exist and an extraordinary devotion to an artistic vision in spite of the enormous physical demands it made on her. Pauline Vaillancourt’s dramatic rendering of her diaries brought this into sharp focus. On new ground for the first time, I wanted to write straightforward music that held nothing back: music that above all would sing, not scream, of sufferings assumed but pointless. I am ignorant of this kind of suffering. I have no experience of it and I have not attempted to represent it.

My music is electroacoustic. In contrast, or perhaps as a complement, to a pure approach, my compositions often contain referents to harmonic pitches and coded melodic material. This is an approach that in its technological exploration searches for means of transparent dramatic expression. I have always found the “truth” of acoustic relationships seductive. But musically this is a difficult proposition; it is a pernicious but determined peddler of raw emotion, a direct passage to the musical “thing.” In dissidence, I carry on the quest for this ever elusive musical truth.

(Note: Excerpts from Récitations by Georges Aperghis, performed by Pauline Vaillancourt, as well as traditional indigenous songs from Reunion Island, totalling fifteen seconds in length, have been used in the development of Scene 8 «Broken Wings. The vocal material on the tape has been derived from spectral manipulations of Pauline Vaillancourt’s voice as well as from pure vocal synthesis.)

About Frida Kahlo (1907-1954):

“A bomb wrapped up with a ribbon” was how André Breton described the Mexican painter upon meeting her. When, at eighteen, she was the victim of a bus accident that would affect the rest of her life, Frida Kahlo had no other choice than to draw her energy from the very source of her debility. Just as the relentlessly frank lucidity of her self-portraits still has the power to shock, the vicissitudes of her life still fascinate. Her imposed marriage to pain, her love for the painter Diego Rivera and a life of torment with him, her membership in the Communist Party and her involvement in the artistic life of her age — all of these are fairly well known. In the last ten years of her life she kept a diary in which she recorded pictorial notes, her thoughts and memories. Recently published in facsimile, the Journal provides the underlying core of Yo soy la desintegración. Even though many of the events that gave her life its form can be recognized in this work, this is not the life story of Frida Kahlo. Biographical material has been distilled in the hope that from this life only the ‘secret heart,’ open and exposed, will remain.

Yo soy…