Bert Van Herck was born in Wilrijk on 11 November 1971. He studied at the Lemmens Institute in Leuven, earning laureate’s diplomas in piano and music history, as well as masters’ diplomas in chamber music and composition (with Luc Van Hove). He pursued more advanced studies in composition through private lessons with Luc Brewaeys and encountered a number of different composers during masterclasses and summer classes (including J. Harvey, W. Rihm, G. Grisey, H. Lachenmann, M. André and M. Stroppa). His works have been played in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Austria and Hungary, by such ensembles as the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Spectra and Champ d’Action. Pursuing his interest in contemporary music theory, he took part in the “Orpheus Academy 2003” and gave lectures at the “Hull University Music Analysis Conference” and the “International Spectral Music Conference” in Istanbul. In September 2005 he temporarily gave up his position as a teacher of piano, harmony, practical harmony, chamber music and music history at the Mechelen conservatory to study with Chaya Chernowin and Magnus Lindberg at Harvard University in Cambridge (Massachusetts).
Bert Van Herck is a composer who keeps close tabs on the developments in the area of contemporary music theory. His works are thus well founded from an intellectual point of view, without however losing any of their expressive or aesthetic force. His interest in the spectral characteristics of sound is evident in the lecture he gave at the International Spectral Music Conference in Istanbul (Spectralism: from historical embedment to new perspectives). In his compositions, as well, he applies this research into such musical phenomena as natural overtones and pure intonation. In Oxymoron we encounter an intensive use of quartertone constellations. This work is also representative of Van Herck’s complex temporal organisation, with refined tempo relations and combined metres that interrupt the strict metrical patterns of their own internal rhythmic organisation. Although within this rhythmically dense style most passages are polyrhythmic (in bar 6 of Oxymoron, for example, there is a layering of triplet eighth notes, 4 sixteenth notes, a quintuplet and a sextuplet of sixteenth notes), there are also homorhythmic structures. The work’s title gives a clue to the overarching formal structure (an oxymoron is a rhetorical figure embracing 2 opposite concepts). It is, however, especially the inspirational indication at the end (“guirlandes contemplatives”) that offers suggestions for interpretation, in a way comparable to Débussy in his Préludes for Piano. The light, frivolous figures at the beginning of the composition are brusquely interrupted by a deep cluster, after which the atmosphere is changed to a quasi-lamento in which the same melodies in their new context create a contemplative mood. Every detail has been defined minutely, both in terms of dynamics and playing technique. For instance, for the fingering of the multiphonics in the clarinet and flute parts of Oxymoron, the composer cites specialised reference works. The string-playing techniques are also strongly differentiated. In Ricercare for organ the directions are likewise very specific, with careful instructions regarding the registration, although in a footnote he does allow for alterations depending on the instrument being played. Ricercare is based on a cantus firmus in the bass part, in which the development of the series sometimes overlap. Van Herck refers to this as cantus firmus, however, rather than a series, since some notes are inserted as ornaments. The texture also plays an important role in this work. Having composed early works employing tape (Reflets, 1998) and live electronics (Schaduwcanon, 1999), Van Herck again turned to electronic applications in 2005 in his Cantilena for flute and electronics.
List of works
Instrumental solo works: Ebes (1998); Fragment (1998); Ricercare for organ (2003); Curves Incantatoires for flute (2004); Curves Incantatoires II for bassoon (2005); Cantilena for flute and electronics (2005)
Instrumental chamber music: Basalt (2000); Amber (2001); Oxymoron (2003); Mica (2004)
Vocal(-instrumental) chamber music: Trois chants for mezzo soprano and ensemble (2000); Proverbi for four-part women’s choir (2002); Barricade for mezzo-soprano, oboe and piano (2004)
Orchestral music: Vort for symphonic orchestra (2005)
Editions Chantraines (Doornik, Belgium)
Digital Music Print (Antwerp, Belgium)
Lantro (Grimbergen, Belgium)
Texts by Tom De Haes
Last update: 2006