Yves-Marie Pasquet was born on 14 July 1947 in Orléans. He was taught the piano by his mother and very quickly developed a taste for improvisation. From the age of four and a half he learned the violin and music theory, then entering the local conservatory in the trumpet class, where he obtained a prize for excellence. He continued his piano studies with a pupil of Isidore Philip. Thanks to a meeting with Marcel Reggui, the founder of the Semaines de Musiques Contemporaines d’Orléans, he was at a very early age plunged into avant-garde artistic circles, both musical and visual. He discovered and analysed the works of Olivier Messiaen, Edgard Varèse, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, and also of Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, as well as the micro-tonal music of Juliàn Carillo and Ivan Wyschnegradsky.
Yves-Marie Pasquet started to compose at a very early age and, at 19, conducted in Orléans a concert of his own works, including Ballet for wind orchestra and a Sonata for violin and piano. Also an organist, he worked at the same time at the church of La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin, near Orléans, where for friends he gave recitals of works by Bach and Olivier Messiaen in addition to many improvisations, of which only one, Conversation intérieure (1966), has been preserved. This work was rewarded in 1968 by the Schnitger Prizeof Zwolle (Netherlands), the jury president then being André Jolivet. That same year, at the recommendation of Claude Ballif, he completed his studies of harmony, counterpoint and fugue at the Bobigny Conservatory with Philippe Drogoz and followed classes in serial counterpoint, analysis and composition with Max Deutsch. With a bursary from the Fondation A. Roussel he was also studying at the École Normale de Musique in Paris with Henri Dutilleux, receiving a unanimously awarded First Prix for composition with the congratulations of the jury.
A laureate of the Fondation de la Vocation in 1972, Pasquet entered the Paris Conservatory where he was a pupil of Olivier Messiaen, Claude Ballif and Michel Philippot and won a prize for composition. In 1976 he received from the hands of Igor Markevitch the Lili Boulanger Prize for his earliest works, including Tropes (1970) for piano, premiered by Susan Cheetam in the Salle Cortot, Ecarts for orchestra first performed in 1975 with the conductor Michel Tabachnik, and also Traces (1975) for instrumental ensemble with percussion, first performed at the Maison de la Radio, as was Epures-Mobiles (1972) for triple-trio, not forgetting Chant d’amour (1971) for soprano and seven instruments; in this last piece, the composer transcribes through musical means the strangeness and dazzling beauty of the images resulting from the clash of words between them originating in the surrealist world of André Breton. These first works reveal a lively, constantly renewed imagination that is so characteristic of the composer, his ever further-reaching research for meticulous writing revealing a brilliant purity of expression.
Pasquet’s whole output exemplifies his openness to all disciplines, to all intellectual and artistic currents of all periods , so long as they can develop his musical creativity and incorporate it into the ongoing research into his own brand of modern expressivity. It was in this spirit that he studied, in 1969, algorithmic music with Pierre Barbaud before following, in 1974, the acoustic classes of Emile Leipp at the University of Jussieu and taking part, in the late 1970s, in the first computer music classes for composers at Ircam. At the University of Vincennes he also studied philosophy and aesthetics with Daniel Charles, who initiated him into the world of John Cage, ethnomusicology with Claude Laloum, linguistics with Nicolas Ruwet, to whom he dedicated Sonnet. He also found an interest in psychoanalysis, attending the seminars of Jacques Lacan and taking part in Alain Didier-Weill’s work on the ‘blue note in music’.
However, he has always thought of his research paths into new materials as so many springboards to new forms of expression. Each work creates its own sound world, the result of research that updates new techniques of language, new forms, new stylistic approaches, and this while still retaining a perfectly recognisable musical identity in its purity of expression and its demand for spiritual absolutes.
After experimenting with a graphic work, Mandala, performed by the GERM (Groupe d'Étude et de Réalisation Musicales) directed by Pierre Mariétan, the composer preferred, after reading Umberto Eco’s The Open Work, a more controlled exploration of so-called open forms, In 1977 he composed Les oiseaux du regard for guitar, though also, and more to the point, his instrumental opera Don Juan mis en pièces (1979), from which were extracted Lames for flute, and Romanz (1984), first performed by the clarinetist Michel Corenflos.
Paying close attention to matters of form, he explored what he called ‘sensitive forms’, crystallising as it were moments of veritable expression, forms that construct between themselves a network of correspondences and thus guarantee the coherence and unity of the macroform. This conception is present in Flashes of Flesh (1983) for clarinet quartet, though it is subsequently more broadly developed in other works such as Narcissechos (1983) for orchestra, commissioned by Radio France and premiered by the Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique conducted by Diego Masson. The composer explores very broadly developed harmonic and rhythmic materials, as in the spirals of Féerie (1985) for piano, lasting about an hour, and in Lignes d’Erre (1985, revised in 2008) for amplified string sextet and instrumental ensemble, in which different instrumental groups co-exist and evolve by following forms of circulation similar to the ‘wandering lines’ (lignes d’erre) observed in autistic children by the pedagogue Fernand Deligny.
Initiated into micro-intervals by Claude Ballif and Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Yves-Marie Pasquet very quickly wanted to explore these non-octaviating spaces and create new ones, a field of research he developed at Ircam and put to use in Cristal d’un souffle (1981) and Deux leçons de Ténèbres (1992) for large orchestra and chorus. From 1978 to 1981 in fact he followed different lines of research at Ircam that proved to be highly productive, notably the synthesis of the singing voice with musical applications, and computer-assisted perceptual analysis (illustrated by that of Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maître), the hybridisation of sound objects, as well as the study of spectral and temporal incidences of non-octaviating spaces, after which research Pierre Boulez entrusted him with the organisation of a symposium on the generation of new musical scales. After all this research, he composed Cristal d’un souffle (Atemkristall) in 1980-1981 for soprano, orchestra and synthesised sounds to poems by Paul Celan, a particularly dramatic work contrasting the cold work of technique with the solitary song of the poet, scarred even in his language by totalitarian ideologies. His work on acoustics and his research into possible scales of tone-colour were not without consequences for his orchestral writing, as for example in Narcissechos (1983) and Le rêve du papillon (1989).
Voice, word and poetry: these run throughout the work of Yves-Marie Pasquet, be it vocal or instrumental. They are explored in all their forms, from the use of Nicolas Ruwet’s linguistic analysis of a poem by Louise Labé in Sonnet (1975) for chorus, to the theatricalised voice exploiting various vocal techniques in Clément Marot et les chiffonniers (1981), an opera with a libretto by Claude Minière; from the poetic world of James Joyce in A flower given to my daughter or that of Pierre-Jean Jouve in Suaire de sons (1977) for soprano and orchestra and Les ondes, les ondes emplissent le cœur du désert for orchestra, to those of Georg Trakl and Giacomo Leopardi in Deux leçons de ténèbres (1992), in which a great many languages from all continents are juxtaposed, and recently that of Salah Stétié in Larme (2011), via L’Etoile a pleuré rose, a quatrain of Arthur Rimbaud of which the phonological, acoustic, semantic and poetic analysis of each word provides the material for the trio Poème perdu (1988) for viola, clarinet and piano.
All his music, even that which is purely instrumental, aims in this way at giving substance to a word and, thereby, to a presence. This is the case with Conversation intérieure for organ (1966), but also with Chant de solitude (1986) for flute, which is a veritable creative translation of the spirit of a meditative shakuhachi piece for zen monks, or indeed with more recent works such as Vox clamantis in deserto for trombone based on the six words of John the Baptist (2008). His recent choral works perfectly illustrate his special care for the voice, as in his Magnificat (2007) for female chorus, harp, tubular bells and vibraphone, and also in the Messe de Saint Bruno, the Messe de la Chartreuse (2004) for mixed chorus, the Messa de la B.V. Maria to a text in Occitan and the Missa (2006) for chorus and instrumental ensemble. Furthermore, his desire (following Olivier Messiaen) to renew with a modal tradition that, beginning with Gregorian chant, he has never ceased to study and practise, has led to the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic material, in association with an aesthetic that is sober and free of all emphasis and virtuosity, conferring to his works a serenity propitious for meditation and contemplation of near Carthusian spirituality.
All his following works, such as Petit livre d’Heures for harp (2009), Alléluia (2011) and the song-cycle Du Ciel de la Terre (2012) have reflected the composer’s on-going attachment to his quest for ‘intensive’ expressive forms as records of his spiritual life.
The works of Yves-Marie Pasquet have been performed notably by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Ensemble 2e2m, the Orchestre National de France, Yves Prin, Kent Nagano, Diego Masson, Jacques Mercier, Irène Jarsky and Jane Manning, Pierre-Yves Artaud, Michel Corenflos, Benny Sluchin, Pierre Strauch, Frédérique Cambreling, the vocal ensemble Héliade, etc.
His teaching activity has taken him to the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne (1975-1981), the École Polytechnique (1979-1981), the universities of Poitiers, Limoges and Montpellier, as well as to several conservatories. Among his many pupils are Philippe Manoury and Patrick Marcland.
A founder member of the Revue d'Analyse Musicale, he is also the author of several articles on twentieth-century music (published in the latter periodical), dealing with Claude Ballif, Anton Webern and Claude Debussy.