Guided Listening #3: Invented Language

For this Guided Listening you will need the following:

A copy of these teaching steps
Text asset: Claude Vivier, Lonely Child
Flash asset: Invented Language from Lonely Child (on overhead)
Audio assets: Excerpts I – III from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier

I. First Impressions

  • Listen to audio asset Excerpt I from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier.
  • Ask: How would you describe the mood?
  • Read the first paragraph of the text asset Claude Vivier, Lonely Child. Ask: How does the information about Vivier's life connect with what you have just heard?
  • Read the second paragraph of the text asset. Draw out the key points of the single melody at the start and the types of percussion instruments used.
  • Listen again to Excerpt I and ask students to listen for the melody, and to try and guess what percussion instruments are used. (rin - also known as temple bell or bowl, bass drum)

II. Invented Language

  • Show the flash asset: Invented Language from Lonely Child.
  • Study the composer's legend for the vocal sounds.
  • In small groups, have students try out the sounds, according to what they think the description says. Share a few with the whole class.
  • Listen to Excerpt II, following along on the vocal score line of the flash asset.
  • Discuss: Notice the various sounds that the singer used and determine if the experiments by the class were on track or not.
  • Ask: What is the effect of the invented language? Why would Vivier have chosen to use a compositional device like this?

III. Reflect

  • Listen to Excerpt III. Is it familiar? (It should be. It is the same melody heard in Excerpt I.) Which percussion instruments do you hear this time round? (Tubular bells, rin)
  • To hear the full effect of how Vivier builds upon this one single melody, listen to the entire work at www.NACmusicbox.ca TIMELINE.

“The whole piece is only one melody,” said Vivier. “In the beginning I have the melody with nothing else. Then I add the colours and work with them so that it gets very complicated. At the end the piece goes back to one chord, then one interval. Finally, at the very end, I just have the melody – the same melody as at the beginning.” (programme notes, Vancouver Symphony, 1997)

Excerpt I from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier (0:01:11)

Excerpt I from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier - Play now

Warning: Audio file is larger than 6MbDownload (1.68Mb)

This is the opening of Vivier’s Lonely Child, written for voice and orchestra. In this section you hear the melody upon which the entire composition is built. Notice the resonant sound of a rin, or temple bell. Rins are usually made of copper or bronze and create beautiful deep tones when struck on the sides.

Excerpt II from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier (0:01:39)

Excerpt II from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier - Play now

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This excerpt begins with the now familiar sound of the rin. Listen carefully to the voice – you may find it difficult to determine what language it is in. Much of the text in Lonely Child is French but in this instance, Vivier is using a language he has invented, made up of sounds that are familiar and not. The effect is mysterious and somewhat hypnotic.

Excerpt III from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier (0:01:13)

Excerpt III from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier - Play now

Warning: Audio file is larger than 6MbDownload (1.73Mb)

This excerpt brings us to the closing of Vivier’s Lonely Child. Once again the sound of the rin is heard and the composition’s opening melody returns and is heard again. Notice the eerie slides in the violins as the melody marches to its conclusion. The last sounds are the ringing tones of the rin.

Invented Language from Lonely Child

Text asset: Claude Vivier, Lonely Child
Vivier (1948-1983) was born in Montréal and died tragically in Paris, France, shortly before his thirty-fifth birthday. He was an orphan who never knew his mother. The vocal line of Lonely Child is written for soprano and covers a spectrum of emotions ranging from strangely emotionless to caressing warmth, suggesting perhaps the voice of the mother Vivier could only imagine.

Vivier builds the entire composition upon a single melody which is heard at the start. (Note that it is familiar interval of the falling third, childlike in nature.) His text alternates between French and invented language, which creates an unusual set of sounds for the singer to produce. Vivier makes exquisite use of colour both in the vocal line and the orchestration, which is scored to include the hauntingly mysterious sounds of gong, tam tam, rin, brake drums, vibraphone and tubular chimes.

Credits and Copyright

  • Flash asset: Invented Language from Lonely Child (on overhead)
    1980, Claude Vivier
  • Audio asset: Excerpt I from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier
    1980, Claude Vivier
  • Audio asset: Excerpt II from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier:
    1980, Claude Vivier
  • Audio asset: Excerpt III from Lonely Child by Claude Vivier:
    1980, Claude Vivier
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