Cecilia Arditto Delsoglio

3. The music

Musical structure
concerning L’étranger, the opera, is shown organized in several scenes which follow the structure of the novel.
The soloist, Meursault -preferably a low voice- is in counterpoint with the ensemble. We want a clear straight forward plot, easy to follow in narrative terms, so the audience can concentrate in the subtleties of music and visual design appealing to the audience own emotions and imagination.
Each section of the opera establishes a different relationship with the main character and the others in the form of solo, duos, trios, and different choral scenes. Each scene, correspond to a different “stimmung” recomposing the atmosphere by means of music, text and stage design[1].

Written polyphony
Camus’ text, creates elaborated polyphonic structures using words. The text does not attempt to organize vertically the voices the way they would be seen in a musical score, but instead tells how they are layered one upon another following a musical logic. The polyphonic structures, although expressed through words, create in Camus´ complex scenes in relation to traditional musical forms: soloist and choir, coro spezzato (Venetian choir ala Gabrielli), spread choir (ala Stockhausen in Licht), etc. “Choir” in our proposal means the confluence of instruments/objects and voices.

  • The burial (Meursault + choir in circle)
  • The beach (Meursault + spread choir)
  • The prison, scene of the visit: (Coro spezzato)
  • The love-no love duo (Meursault and Marie)
  • Solo with a mirror (Mais tout le monde sait que la vie ne vaut pas la peine d’être vécue. Aber jeder weiß, daß das Leben nicht lebenswert ist).
  • The trial (Meursault + compact choir as a whole)

– Marie´s visit to Meursault in prison is a brilliant example of “coro spezzato”, two opposing groups which have polyphonic correspondences. The resolution of that great quasi operatic scene has also a clear musical resolution in the novel: the voices extinguish one by one, reducing the vocal density, in a sort of structural “perdendosi”.
– The scene in the beach, where the Arab man dies, starts with its characters randomly scattered in the landscape, and goes in crescendo with a musical culmination: five shots (one and four!) and “cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead”[2] pursuing a classical operatic climax.


Music style

  • The main musical aspects of my musical perspective can be appreciated in “my musical moment”.
    The music is quite atmospheric in the sense that is based in the usage of textures and extended techniques, but at the same time, is built in detail using a precise music notation. Melodies and motives come back and forth from this “sound cloud” shaping the music with total precision.
  • The melodic condition goes throughout the whole opera non-stop. Sometimes it is very clear (duo Marie-Meursault “Je t’aime- Je ne t’aime pas”), sometimes more vanished, but always present.
  • The usage of dissonance in my music is related to the creation of textures, noise and beatments but not to a/tonal system. I appreciate both the pure singing voice, nerve and heart of the opera, and the textural techniques from noise to text. I aimed to illustrate these ideas in my musical moment.

 Usage of Leitmotifs:

The novel is full of recurrent sound effects like the flute of the Arabs, the bell of the judge, the typewriter machine, the electric fans, the cymbal in Meursault´s head, etc. They create structures and climaxes by the description of the sounds but also by the repetition of the same events attending the rhythm of the prose.

 One of the Arabs “. . . soufflait dans un petit roseau et répétait sans cesse . . . les trois notes qu’il obtenait de son instrument”  [was blowing through a little reed over and over again . . . repeating the only three notes he could get out of his instrument] [3]

 In my music, the usage leitmotivs have an extra meaning by bringing the objects themselves on stage, attending their sound evocation but also its eloquent presence: the fans are associated with the summer, the typewriter with the law, the flute with the mythical Algeria. I aimed to illustrate these ideas in my musical moment.

Singing and speaking

By “choir” I mean the confluence of instruments/objects and voices, both singing and speaking. Instruments sing, speak and play. Singers shine in a melodic arias to vanish into a textural spoken cloud. 

Objects as characters

I have always been interested in writing for sound objects in combination with traditional instruments and voices. It is a fundamental part of my musical language.

Sound objects, are, in this proposal, characters in themselves, representing persons, actions or abstract philosophical instances[4].

  • The typist in the trial: this character is played by one of the percussionists whose vibraphone becomes a gigantic typewriter, typing what is happening on stage in real time[5].
  • Bells: The judge bell (calling to “reality”), faraway bells (the outside world, the faraway otherness)
  • Uses of a choir of ventilators for the scene of the trial[6]. The electric fans represent the suffocating summer but thanks to its oscillating heads symbolize as well the mechanical shaking heads of the jury unapproving Meursault’s behavior.  Some of these obejcts were included in “my musical moment”.

Collective sound effects:

The whole ensemble and singers play simple objects (paper, plastic) or performing group actions (footstep, soft murmuring) as a tutti. These actions have dramatic connotations apart from their interesting sound effect: the paper sound in the trial symbolized bureaucracy and the written laws; the undefined murmuring of voices symbolized “the others”, as a threatening and undefined whole, etc.

“The low voices of people murmuring in the prison creates a basso continuo”[7]


Music notation

Unlike Cage, philosopher of sounds, where the objects were a tool to break the academic establishment of his time, I am interested in the sounds coming from everyday objects but I consider them musical instruments. In my music chance operations are reduced. I expect precise results from the sound objects. The objects are written in the score in additional lines together with the lines of the ensemble, in a detailed “ala Lachenmann” style.

[1] See the diagrams describing the different scenes at the very end of this document.

[2] “Je ne sentais plus que les cymbales du soleil sur mon front” Albert Camus, L´étranger. Paris: Gallimard, 1942, 50.

[3] Ibid,14.

[4]   See my piece “The dearest dream”, anti-concerto for simple means

[5]   I wrote a piece “Heute Abend lese ich Adorno…” using this resource (available in my DVD/score at the very beginning of the piece)

[6]   See my piece “Musica invisible for flute and ventilators #2 (from minute 3 in the video, page 4 in the score)

[7] Deborah Weagel, Words and Music : Camus, Beckett, Cage, Gould. New York: Peter Lang, 2010, 40.