Hersant: Usher

Program Note

Philippe Hersant (b.1948)
Usher (2016)—North American premiere

Born in 1948 in Rome, Philippe Hersant studied music at the Paris Conservatory in the composition class of André Jolivet, before completing artist residencies at the Casa Velasquez in Spain from 1970 to 1972, and then at the Villa Medici in Rome from 1978 to 1980. After finishing his music studies in 1970, Hersant set aside for himself a decade in which to find his own language. His patient maturation had more to do with books and words than the exclusive study of his art—with the exception of many kinds of extra-European types of music. An avid reader and lover of cinema, Hersant has drawn on the most varied literary sources (James Joyce, the German Romantics, and many poets from the Orient and the Far-East) and also cinematographic sources (he declares a particular predilection for Fellini and for the eminent position he assigns to memory).

Usher is inspired by Claude Debussy’s unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher (commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in 1908), which was in turn inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name. Debussy had wanted to write two small operas: The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Devil in the Belfry, also inspired by a Poe story. A few sketches of the former remain, including a monologue of the main character, Roderick Usher. I include several quotations from Debussy’s opera in my piece. In addition, the piece quotes Weber’s Last Waltz, a salon piece very well known in the 19th century. In Poe’s story, it is mentioned that Roderick Usher used to play this waltz on his guitar. You can hear it twice played by the harp, in the middle and at the end of the piece. Usher is not a narrative piece but a kind of musical portrait of Roderick Usher.”

—Philippe Hersant