Franklin Gyselynck (°Ghent, 26 April 1950) studied music theory at the Royal Conservatories of Ghent and Brussels (with Victor Legley and Jan Louel) and then composition at the Queen Elisabeth Muziekkapel in Waterloo. He also took summer courses in Aix-en-Provence, studying with Henri Dutilleux, among others. In 1974, his First String Quartet won the Prize of the Royal Academy for Sciences, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium. His 1976 Ballade for violin and piano, distinguished with the SABAM Prize, was the compulsory work at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in that year. In 1978, Gyselynck won the Oscar Esplà Prize for his composition Las Alturas de Macchu-Picchu. The Third String Quartet (1978-79) was awarded the Grand Prix de Composition musicale de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco and was also selected for the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in Tel Aviv. Gyselynck taught harmony and counterpoint at the Lemmens Institute in Leuven from 1971 to 1974 and at present teaches harmony, counterpoint and analysis at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels.
What is the relation between structure and the experience of beauty, between construction and emotion in music? Since the passing of tonality as the one all-powerful ordering principle, this is the question with which every composer has been confronted, including the “father” of new music. In his Harmonielehre (1911), Schönberg came to the (provisional?) conclusion that the need for structure and beauty was probably greater among listeners than among composers themselves: “Ist man einmal geheilt von dem Wahn, daß der Künstler der Schönheit halber schaffe, und hat man erkannt, daß nur das Bedürfnis zu produzieren ihm nötigt, hervorzubringen, was nachher vielleicht als Schönheit bezeichnet wird, dann begreift man auch, daß Verständlichkeit und Klarheit nicht Bedingungen sind, die der Künstler ans Kunstwerk zu stellen nötig hat, sondern solche, die der Beschauer erfüllt zu finden wünscht” (p. 30).
Comprehensibility and beauty are two central categories that offer a key to the oeuvre of Franklin Gyselynck. For this composer, expression takes a central place as the most important means of giving form to his own personality in music. The constructive aspect must not be allowed to obscure emotionality in the process. For this reason, the composer does not hesitate to take a stand against avant-garde movements that aim merely at experimentation for its own sake. In the music of Bartók, Berg, Berio or Ferneyhough, on the other hand, he sees ways of achieving strong vitality and musical expressivity by means of an often minutely worked-out constructivist aspect.
Gyselinck’s work is characterised by a personal treatment of musical tradition, often arrived at as a reflection on or a reaction to other contemporary currents. In so doing, the composer uses an atonal idiom, combined with more “traditional” means if they can further a work’s expression and development. The lyrical poem Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu for soloists, choir and large symphony orchestra (1977), based on a text by Pablo Neruda, offers many examples of canon-like and fugal passages, especially in the vocal parts (which are sometimes each doubled by an instrument). For instance, an opening chord is extended ever further by incorporating neighbouring notes, growing to a climax with a very wide range. In this composition, sung fragments are alternated with passages in parlando style in an original way: in bar 443, the two elements are combined in the solo part on the one hand and the chorus on the other.
The emphasis on expression in no way implies a failure to appreciate the structural dimension. This is already evident in the role of counterpoint as the central structural parameter. For Gyselynck, the listener should not be overwhelmed by great complexity right from the opening notes. The musical material should first be presented in a comprehensible manner, so that the listener is sufficiently acquainted with this point of departure. The complexity must then develop gradually over the course of the composition, so that the listener can follow the project. A nice illustration of this relationship between emotion and construction is offered by the Ballade for violin and piano (1976). The violin starts off by exploring the first musical element in a lyrical solo passage. After this follows a similar solo fragment for the piano. After a number of bars there is a dialogue between the two instruments, in which the violin interprets the piano’s material in its own way. Through rhythmic acceleration and development of the basic intervals (chiefly through transpositions), the work achieves an increasing complexity and heightened expression. At the same time, the many references to the opening motifs creates a clear structure.
Lacrimosa for piano (1978-82) has an exordium in which the listener is presented with the material which is subsequently developed in the work. An isolated E in the contra octave quickly takes on the function of a pedal note and foundation of the composition, in the tradition of the continually repeated note often heard in a lamentation. Above this pedal, a capricious melody is spun out, originally around the central e’’’, but thereafter spreading to fill an expanding, chromatically-filled ambitus. Both characteristics, the foundation tone (on, and sometimes around, E) and the wreathing melodies in the higher register, form the constants of the whole work, occasionally in alternation with long trills and percussive note-repetitions. This working with stable tonal centres has a parallel in the Malinconico from the Third String Quartet (1978-1979), where pedals (mainly on c and f-sharp) in bars 9-27 and 68-79 are passed between the different strings, in combination with imitative melodic fragments in the freely-composed voices.
In his instrumental music, Gyselynck has an ongoing affinity for the most diverse combinations and timbres. This is exemplified in his cycle For a Better World, written in the 1980s, which features continually changing groups of instruments. The work of the same name for cello (1981) offers an astonishingly rich compendium of different playing techniques, with imploring tremolos in the first movement and (Presto possible), pizzicatos starting from a central note of d’ (as a harmonic) in the second movement, a long melodic wave-like movement in the Lamentoso-movement and a combination of playing techniques in the two final movements. A mainly chromatic tonal-language is coloured by an economical use of quarter tones. A similar technical virtuosity can be found in For a Better World for piano, written 1982-87, which features cluster chords, harmonics, glissandos and percussive passages. Throughout the variety, this composition also exhibits a very strict logic. The work begins very statically with a tone cluster around c’’ that gradually descends through subtle harmonic shifts, a process during which chromatic lines are perceptible in the different “voices”. A b’’ then separates itself from this cluster as a fixed upper boundary of a slightly more agile arpeggio passage, again with a strong descending tendency. From a “lowpoint” (great octave), energy is then supplied by undulating movements (indicated in the manuscript by a wavy line between the notes), and an ascending movement is established, combined with a dynamic expansion from “pp possibile” to “ffff possibile”. The apotheosis follows in rapid, rising cluster-glissandos, after which the work continues to possess a great liveliness until the end. Striking, too, is the absence of metrical divisions and the regular interruption of the musical progression through the use of fermata pauses (or better: empty spaces) lasting several seconds, characteristics that are found in many of Gyselynck’s compositions for solo instruments and are no doubt part and parcel of the composer’s quest for a freer form of expression.
And yet, the underlying logic of descending and ascending movement in this work, like the presentation of the musical material in the introductions of many other works, reveals that the musical expressivity of Gyselynck’s compositions cannot be considered separately from the structural dimension, the construction. These elements are two sides of one coin, for, as the composer himself states, in order to communicate emotions, they must be structured rationally. Indeed, Schönberg himself, in his 1924 article Theory of Form, wrote: “The world of feelings is quite inseparable from the world of the intellect; the two are always felt as one and the same. So one may take it that the intellectual is just as much a criterion as the emotional, and that if a work has any measurable intellectual qualities (if one finds in it lofty qualities of intellect) one may reckon also to find in it emotional things that are equally worth-while. And vice versa – where there is dearth, it is just as much a dearth of true and worthwhile feelings as of true intellect. For there is but one source!”
List of works
Orchestra: Serenata notturno (1975-76); Muziek (1986)
Ensemble: For a better world voor strijkersensemble (1980), Prima la musica voor altviool en ensemble (in voorbereiding)
Vocal/instrumental: Drie beelden van Brankoesj te Tirgoe-Jioe voor sopraan en piano (1974); Drie liederen voor (mezzo-)sopraan en kamerorkest (1975); Los Alturas de Macchu Picchu voor soli, koor en groot symfonie-orkest op tekst van Paul Neruda (1977-78); Una Cancion Desesperada voor bariton, sopraan en kamerorkest (1980)
Chamber music: Allegretto grazioso voor fluit en piano (1973) Strijkkwartet nr. 1 (1974); Sonate voor viool en piano (1975); Ballade voor viool en piano (1976); Strijkkwartet nr. 2 (1976); Strijkkwartet nr. 3 (1978-79); Movimento voor houtblazerskwintet (1979); For a better world voor cello (1981/82)
Choir: Tre lamenti (1976); Vijf liederen (1979)
Piano: Tre ricercari (1975); Cosmos (1980); Night and Day (1980); Lacrimosa (1978/82); For a better world (1982/87)
– F. Gyselynck, in SABAM 1979, 3, p. 135
– F. Gyselynck, in Hulde aan Victor Legley, uitg. dr. G. HUYBENS, Leuven, 1980, p. 38-39
– H. HEUGHEBAERT, F. Gyselynck, in Algemene Muziekencyclopedie, ed. J. ROBIJNS en M. ZIJLSTRA, 4, 1981, p. 122
– Ballade voor viool en piano (viool: Shizuki Ishakawa, piano: Noriko Kane), EMI
Texts by Kristof Boucquet
Last update: 2002