Organicism in Nicolas Bacri's Symphony No. 6



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With over 170 compositions, the music of French composer Nicolas Bacri (b. 1961) has received performances by leading international ensembles and soloists throughout Europe and East Asia. Bacri’s compositional aesthetic represents a conscious dichotomy between tradition and modernism. Symphony No. 6, Op. 60 (1998) represents one of Bacri’s most noteworthy works. This piece was commissioned by Radio France for l’Orchestre Nationale de France and premiered in 1999 with Leonard Slatkin conducting. It is at this intersection of the formal inheritance of the symphonic genre and Bacri’s own reference to the organic unfolding of the symphony that my analysis begins. I argue that it is through an organic cultivation of his melodic content that the palpable unity of Bacri's Symphony No. 6, so characteristic of its symphonic legacy, emerges.
Rooted in the ancient Greek writings of Aristotle and Plato, a working understanding of organicism has unfolded diachronically. Fundamentally, organicism is a metaphor that likens the life of an organism to that of a musical composition (or other work of art). Writings by three nineteenth-century theorists––Jean Baptiste Robinet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and August Wilhelm Schlegel––will be discussed to distill three basic characteristics of organicism: 1) small unit conception of a initiating cell or prototype, 2) dynamism, and 3) goal-oriented teleology. The majority of the discussion will explain how the three elements of organicism manifest themselves in the melodic content of Bacri’s Sixth Symphony. Musical examples will showcase a hierarchy of recurring set classes (trichords and tetrachords), categories of recurring set classes that represent organic structures, an initiating prototypical set class, and the organic cultivation of a principal motive that unifies all areas of the symphonic form.



Bacri, Nicolas, Organicism, Symphony No. 6