The orchestral work ‘Eyes’ (1980) is one of my early compositions, commissioned by Belgian Radio and Television (BRT), it was intended as a ballet for a TV broadcast and recorded by the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by André Vandernoot in the Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp by studio Steurbaut.
This was my first significant commission as a composer, and was only a few years after I became laureate at the Queen Elisabeth Competition. I was having a lot of commitments as a pianist at that time and had very little time for writing. In the case of ‘Eyes’, I was forced to finish the piece on the beach and in the summerhouse in Nice, where I was teaching a piano masterclass.
‘Eyes’ is largely serial. Various composers listened to the recording: among them Jacqueline Fontyn, Henri Pousseur, Charles Goeyvaerts, Jean Segers, who were all very excited about the piece. The common thread throughout their comments was something like: “This music is very personal and does not create echoes of other composers!”, a great compliment for me at the time.
In Eyes I have experimented something which, as far as I knew at that moment, was not tried before, namely introducing new material in each new phase of the composition. Eyes is a piece of 23 minutes and contains twelve sections. In section 1, there is one component, in section 2, there are two – a variation of the first and a new component. In section 3, there are three: a variation on each of the previous two, as well as a new element… and so on until 12. Twelve is obviously the symbolic number ‘par excellence’ in music.
All twelve sections have a new ‘species’, as I call it, analogous to the nomenclature used in classical counterpoint. By this I mean that every section has a rhythmic and emotional profile. It is a composition technique that I still apply. Whenever I start a new sentence or a new movement, then it always has a certain rhythmic contour which I name ‘species’.
It is probably indicative of my later evolution, that the last element added in section 12 is a super tonal passage, a solo for bass flute. Also the commentary passages, which are not structurally related with the main body and are more floating above it, are in fact very tonal. Eyes features also my first symmetrical experiments,both vertically and horizontally, which is a technique I still often apply.
Eventually I found this compositional experiment not satisfactory, despite the good comments. Although the piece is incredibly structured, not only in the large structure but also in the smallest elements, the piece is not giving satisfaction to me, though it has been a great inspiration for my further work. The words of Henri Pousseur in his lettre were quite precise: he greeted me as a new colleague, but also added: “Il me semble que vous procédéz par palliers, mais je crois que vous pouvez atteindre plus.” That is what I later discovered and recognized.
I’m not really satisfied with the recording, but my lack of orchestration technique at that time is certainly one of the reasons. At that time, I had no experience with conducting, while now I really can say that thanks to conducting and learning all of the orchestral repertoire I have learned all the intricacies of orchestration technique.
I have considered a few times to rework ‘Eyes’, but until today I have not done it. Eyes has been a significant part of my development as a composer. It was a major statement, not for the outside world, but for myself. And maybe I should just recognize that and leave it as it is. We’ll see.