An article (Olivier Greif, compositeur transcendé par la mort, May 13) by Pierre Gervasoni for Le Monde introduced me to a composer who is mostly unknown just about everywhere (my translation):
Who was Olivier Greif? A composer with a relatively short life, from 1950 to 2000. A creator whose music seemed to be crafted with the intention of making the listener lose himself in the detail of works with the attractiveness of deliberately heterogeneous mosaics. This maze of production nears some one hundred works. No matter in what score one happened to encounter Olivier Greif's world, the effect produced by his music is always the same. You want to know more about the man and about his work. The fifth anniversary of his sudden death—he was found seated at his piano, after several days [cause of death officially unknown]—on a Friday, May 13, provided the occasion for a panoramic approach. [...]Greif's father was a doctor and a survivor of the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and the family lived in the fifth arrondissement of Paris. Olivier was a child prodigy, completing and performing his first compositions as early as age 9. You can hear a few MP3 excerpts of his music here. To learn more, you can take a look at the Association Olivier Greif, which is directed by the composer's brother. The group maintains a list of concerts of Greif's music, and there are several over the next few months, all in France. There are no recordings available in the United States, as far as I can tell, although a few have apparently been made in Europe. Olivier Greif is buried in the Cimetière de Montparnasse.
Dominated by the theme of death, the varied output (from piano solo to chamber opera) of this former student of Tony Aubin and Marius Constant (at the Conservatoire de Paris), then of Luciano Berio (at Juilliard), seems to have favored the voice. Songs (the sublime Chants de l'âme) and cantatas (an unexpected choral piece in Bengali, Hiroshima-Nagasaki) show off best the path of a tortured soul who believed that artistic creation was the ultimate act of someone in despair. More than the Requiem (1999), for unaccompanied double chorus, it is in L'Office des naufragés [Office for the shipwrecked] (1998), for female voice, clarinet, piano, and string quartet, that we fully understand the singularity and universality of Olivier Greif's style. Influenced by both Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, the piece goes beyond mournful reflection to attain transcendence in an extraordinary vitality.