of affiliated composers

COPPENS, Claude-A.

Claude COPPENS (born 1936) studied with Marcel Maas at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, where his diplomas included the higher diploma in piano. Later he went on to Paris for further study with Marguerite Long and Jacques Février. In 1960 he was awarded a doctoral degree in law from the Free University in Brussels. He was a laureate in the International Piano competition in Paris (1955), the Queen Elisabeth competition (1956) and the International Piano competition in Rio de Janeiro (1957). He premiered the first of Villa Lobos piano concertos, with the composer conducting. As a performing musician, he has specialised in the contemporary piano repertoire. During the 14-day-long festival of contemporary music at the Heizel in Brussels during Expo ’58 he made his acquaintance with the protagonists of the musical avant-garde, and this completely changed his musical career. He is self-taught as a composer. Coppens teaches at the Royal Conservatory in Ghent, and is well known as an idiosyncratic musician and pedagogue.

Coppens’ first works are fairly traditional, in a broader tonal and dodecaphonic idiom (for example the Passacaille op. 7). However, he quickly evolved to a strictly punctual serialism (Série et Variations op. 14). Through group serialism (Séquences) he ended up in a post-serial, trans-serial style in the 1970s.

Claude Coppens is fascinated by order and chaos. This fascination expresses itself in a number of works in which the issue of the relationship between composer and performer is raised, and balances itself between two extremes: total freedom and complete determinism. Examples are Wheels within Wheels (1972-73, for the Flanders Festival) and Klavierbüchlein I-IV (1972).
In Wheels within Wheels the three sections are built up in a pyramid-like form: Wheels II is based on Wheels I, and Wheels III is derived from Wheels II. In Wheels II the parameters of melody and ornamentation are elaborated. The piece consists of a six-part Theme, two Developments, three Movements and five Intermezzi (‘Tussenvoegsels’), the order of which can be determined by the performer, following certain rules (open form). Melody and ornamentation evolve throughout these components in inverse proportion to each other. In the Theme we find pure melody with very rudimentary embellishments. The Intermezzi are for percussion, and consequently do not follow any melodic course. “Local” and “global” arrangements are also often inversely proportional to each other: the narrower the various parameters are set, the more freedom the performer has in organising the open form.
In the Klavierbüchlein I-IV the opposition between freedom and determinism is more on the philosophical level: order versus chaos. Coppens worked for a time with complex numbers (for example, with prime numbers) due to their ambiguity in embodying order or chaos. Later, after 1988, the science of fractals influenced his work, since fractals provided evidence that there is a connection between order and chaos. However, the imposed rationality of the piece is simultaneously put into perspective (in Satie-esque fashion) by means of verbal, musical and visual inside jokes in titles, or musical and literary quotes, etc. (for example, Zwervende hobo (zwervende=drifting, hobo=oboe), Le Bel Hautbois Dormant, Bac(c)hanale, Szene am Bach).

A significant portion of Coppens’ works are meant as pedagogical pieces, such as the Just so-studies, which one by one deal with a number of rhythmic and metric difficulties, and also illustrate various innovative playing techniques.
Since the early 1980s, Coppens has studied Hindu, Chinese and Japanese music. The aleatory element has also been more present since this period. In recent works, the mathematical aesthetic can be heard as well. In Roei 2 (Row 2) from 1993 (dedicated to Geert Logghe and Tomma Wessel) every aspect of every note has been determined, down to fine details of articulation, dynamics, sound colour and so forth. The metric structure is determined by mathematical formulas, in which the micro and macro structures are automatically related to each other. There are numerous expressive and technical indications throughout the piece (dreamy, quasi Pan-fl., breathing noise only, slam lid (NOT on your fingers, please)). Coppens also uses his own system of signs for particular performance techniques. The general sound picture has thus been carefully determined but there are places (albeit limited in number) where the performer is given greater freedom (for example, Improv.: fastest possible, furious, highest register). The tonal material is dealt with in a similar way in Sweet Murderers of men (1994), for three groups (violin, viola, cello; flute, bass clarinet; piano, percussion). Again, every note is described in detail regarding pitch, exact length, articulation, dynamics, playing technique and sound colour. Yet there are a number of measures with the indication “liberamente: non presto, molto lirico, fuori di tempo” (freely: not fast, very lyrical, out of tempo).

Diffusion Limited Aggregate Fractal, from 1994, is a remarkable composition. The work consists of a simultaneous, horizontal juxtaposition of tone groups which are not assigned rhythmic values. In the accompanying performance notes Coppens makes it clear that this does not imply rubato: “the physical speed remains constant throughout” (with the quaver at about 240 – 276). The musician finds one number per note group on the score, which expresses the number of notes in the group, and immediately also the pulse, metrical structure and “agogics”. The first note is always supposed to be played marcato, so that the vertical and horizontal polymetrical structure becomes clear to the listener as well. The performer is also helped by a number of indications which help synchronisation. In the initial section [??] the piece goes through a development from A to Z. A second evolution goes from AA to XX. Each letter contains the separate entrances of the four voices, so that four voices never enter at the same time. Thus, there is always a kind of miniscule building up and winding down between two letters. In the first phase (from A through D) the four voices are given an equal number, thus the same number of notes, and the same metrical structure. This changes, however, as the composition progresses, with a growing complexity as a result. From G onwards we find up to four different metrical indications at the same time.

Claude Coppens looks at the world around him through a very complex lens and comments on what he sees. His commentary is never purely intuitive but is supported inherently (given his scientific mentality) by the use of concepts from auxiliary bodies of knowledge: philosophy, psychology, sociology and mathematics (for example, Klavierbüchlein III, Pieces for Two, …).

- Orchestra: Quatre ballades jaunes - version A (Extraites des 'Premières chansons') (1961)
- Ensemble: Symetries (1961); Quatre ballades jaunes - version B (Extraites des 'Premières chanson') (1967); Portrait of the artist as a young-old man (1982); ... un coup de des jamais n'abolira le hasard...(1984); ... Sweet murderers of men...(1994), Das Schweigen der Sirenen (1998), Songs from Alice (2004)
- Chorus: Gedichtje van Sint Niklaas (Cantate) (1972)
- Chamber music: Le Tombeau d'Anton Webern (1966); Saxophone quartet (1980); Sonata fo flute solo or with cello (1981-'82); Skiai (1982); ...und alle Fragen offen (1983); The taming of the Shrewd (1985); Harp-agony, or the harp's sick chords (1991); Roei (Lyrical songs) (1991); ...l'ombre que tu devins... (Impromptu in E) (1992); Roei 2 (1993); D.L.A. (Diffusion Limited Aggregate fractal) (1994), 888 or the 4 Seasons (1996)
- Piano: Serie et variations (1958); Quatres pieces faciles (Vier lichte stukken) (1964); Etude Concertante: rythme et contrepoint VI-VII (1971); Klavierbüchlein (Livre pour Piano) (1972); Impromptu in D (1982); Eine kleine Nachtmaer-musik (1991); Fin-de-siècle (Etude pour 'Sirènes') (1993)
- Instrument(s) plus tape: The horn of plenty (1978)

- De Totale Mens, een gesprek met Claude Coppens, in Meesters in het Rijk der Tonen. Het Koninklijk Muziekconservatorium Gent en het Nieuwe Klankschap, o.l.v. M. Anseeuw, Gent, 1989, p. 66-73
- M. DELAERE, Y. KNOCKAERT en H. SABBE, art. Claude Coppens, in Nieuwe Muziek in Vlaanderen, Brugge, 1998, p. 74-75
- G. DHONDT, Fundamentele dualiteit als overkoepelend kenmerk van het muzikale denken van Claude Coppens, diss. (promotor: H. SABBE), Rijksuniversiteit Gent, 2002

- Klavierbüchlein I, II en III, Pieces for two, Wheels within wheels II, Alpha DBM-N-223
- The Horn of Plenty, NIEUWE MUZIEK IN VLAANDEREN, R3 98007
- Sliding for trombone, IN FLANDER'S FIELDS (vol. 23), Phaedra 920232
- ... l'ombre que tu devins..., CHAMP DE BATAILLE, PKP Produkties 003
- ... sweet murderers of men... (Spectra Ensemble), BELGIAN CONTEMPORARY CHAMBER MUSIC, Vox Temporis 92026

[© 2002 Lieveke Norga, for Matrix]


  • 'Just so' studies, 1980
    piano 00:00:00
  • (H, x, h) or The space where fractals live, 1999
    recorder quartet and percussion 00:12:00
  • ... Sweet murderers of men..., 1994
    violin, viola, cello, flute, bass cl., piano, percussion 00:12:15
  • ... un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard..., 1984
    marimba and clarinet orchestra 00:08:32
  • ... und alle Fragen offen, 1983
    tcheng and percussion 00:00:00
  • ..., sweet murderers of men,..., 1993
    string quartet and chimes 00:00:00
  • ...l'ombre que tu devins..., 1992
    violin and piano 00:06:00
  • 3 1/2 - Page sonata, 1985
    violin 00:06:00
  • Bassoon or late, 1985
    bassoon 00:06:00
  • Between flourish and folia, in a grove, 1985
    flute in C 00:06:00
  • Cadenza : decadenza, 1985
    trumpet 00:05:30
  • Cellophan (-) Asia, 1985
    cello 00:06:00
  • Concerto nr.2, 1972
    violin and orchestra 00:09:00
  • D.L.A., 1994
    4 recorders 00:00:00
  • Eine kleine Nachtmaer-Musik, 1991
    four-handed piano 00:05:30
  • Etude concertante : Rythme et contrepoint VI - VII, 1971
    piano 00:08:30
  • Fin-de-siècle, 1993
    piano 00:05:00
  • Gedichtje van Sint Niklaas, 1972
    children's choir, wind quintet and double quartet or double octet 00:09:00
  • Harp-agony, or the harp's sick chords, 1991
    harp 00:06:00
  • Hornitography, 1985
    horn 00:06:00
  • Impromptu in D, 1982
    piano 00:06:00
  • Kagura, 1990
    12 brass instruments and percussion 00:07:00
  • Klavierbüchlein, 1972
    piano 00:17:00
  • Le tombeau d'Anton Webern, 1966
    flute, cello and piano 00:20:00
  • Mélopée II, 1988
    flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, piano, violin, viola, cello 00:00:00
  • Poïêtikon (A+B), 1986
    violin and piano 00:06:15
  • Portrait of the artist as a young-old man, 1982
    13 clarinets 00:00:00
  • Pour fêter (sic) la mort de Mozart, 1991
    four-handed piano 00:16:00
  • Proportional representation, 1985
    clarinet in B flat 00:06:00
  • Quatre ballades jaunes - version A op. 15, 1961
    Soprano, Tenor and string orchestra 00:10:00
  • Quatre ballades jaunes - version B op. 15/bis, 1967
    S. or Mz., Tenor or Trial, flute, clarinet, vibraphone, harp, violin, cello 00:10:00
  • Roei, 1991
    amplified flute 00:26:00
  • Roei 2, 1993
    recorder and prepared piano 00:08:11
  • Saxofoonkwartet, 1980
    4 saxophones 00:13:30
  • Série et variations op. 14, 1958
    piano 00:06:00
  • Sinfonia grottesca
    orchestra 00:22:00
  • Sinfonia piccola, 1988
    chamber orchestra 00:00:00
  • Skiai, 1982
    trombone and percussion 00:13:00
  • Sliding, 1985
    trombone 00:06:00
  • Sonata, 1981
    flute in C solo or with cello 00:00:00
  • Sonata, 1981
    flute in C solo 00:00:00
  • Sonata, 1981
    flute in C and cello 00:00:00
  • Sonate : structure 1, 1964
    piano 00:11:30
  • Symétries op. 18, 1961
    flute, oboe, clarinet in A, bassoon, 2violins, viola, cello and double bass 00:11:00
  • The five wind quarters, 1985
    percussion 00:30:00
  • The horn of plenty, 1978
    amplified horn, percussion and tape 00:25:00
  • The poly-famous tuba, 1985
    tuba 00:06:00
  • The pro and the contrabass, 1985
    double bass, amplified or not 00:06:00
  • The taming of the shrewd (oeuvre complète), 1985
    quintet 00:45:00
  • The taming of the shrewd 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1985
    flute, oboe and clarinet 00:18:00
  • The taming of the shrewd 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1985
    flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon 00:24:00
  • The taming of the shrewd 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 1985
    wind quintet and piano ad lib 00:30:00
  • The taming of the shrewd 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 1985
    wind quintet 00:29:30
  • The taming of the shrewd 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 1985
    horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba 00:23:30
  • The taming of the shrewd 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 1985
    trumpet, trombone and tuba 00:17:30
  • The taming of the shrewd 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 1985
    violins, viola, cello and dubblebas 00:24:00
  • Une semaine de bonté, 1985
    viola 00:06:00
  • Vier Lichte Stukken - Quatre pièces faciles, 1964
    piano 00:14:30
  • Wandering hobo : Bac(c)hanalia, 1985
    oboe 00:06:00
  • Wheels within wheels I, 1972
    alto saxophone 00:22:00
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