Trois cités de Lovecraft by Guillaume Connesson (2017)

New Orchestral Works Commissions

Born in 1970, Guillaume Connesson is too young to have had to submit to the ideological and aesthetical diktats imposed on the previous generation of composers. His music, always well-sounding and often spectacular, has absorbed all sorts of multiple influences. His very personal world is a work in progress, growing out of the mix of pragmatism and naïveté which is the trademark of all great creators. In October 2017 his work Trois cites de Lovecraft premiered in Amsterdam

Guillaume Connesson’s inspiration follows, in the composer’s own words: “the complex mosaic of the modern world.”

In 2016 we contacted Guillaume Connesson to write two new pieces for our orchestra. His unique kaleidoscopic style has been described as highly individual in its generally accessible language. Exactly for this reason the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Connesson were the perfect match. Connesson is inspired by classics such Couperin, R. Strauss, Wagner and Debussy.

In his orchestral works Guillaume Connesson seeks to create strong images fit to create a lasting impression on the listener. Yet he also likes shifting atmospheres and sinuous melodies; they find their solution in a form of composition that is rich and dense, sometimes tufted, and yet always legible. (Bertrand Dermoncourt, French classical music critic)

But Connesson is a man of his time and is also fascinated by jazz, retro, funk, pop and the music of John Williams. This combination has led to surprising and uplifting music. He has emerged as one of the more promising voice of the younger generation of French composers. He has won a number of prizes for his compositions, including the Nadia and Lili Boulanger Prize in 1999. Since the 1990’s he has composed for symphonic orchestras. We are proud to have had him as composer in residence for season 17/18.

Trois cites de Lovecraft

Connesson composed two works for us in season 17/18. The first composition was for symphonic orchestra and was titled Trois cites de Lovecraft. Since his teenage years Connesson has been fascinated with the American fantasy writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), who was the founder of the literary horror genre. Lovecraft used to transcribe his dreams immediately after waking up. The images provoked by this dreamworld are what inspire Connesson the most.

Trois cites de Lovecraft is a three-movement symphonic journey into the dreamlike world of H.P. Lovecraft. In particular, they are inspired by the long, fantastic novel In Search of Kadath (1927), which explores the world of dreams. The protagonist in Lovecraft’s story attempts to visit marvelous and terrifying cities, however he always wakes up before entering one of the city gates. Thereby never visiting the city but only observing them from afar. The visions of the cities are what inspired Connesson to write this work.

The score begins with the enchanting light of Celéphaïs (the first city), which answers the darkness and anguish of Kadath (the second city), to end in the delirium of joy of the city of the setting sun (the third city). Connesson used very different writing techniques according to the movements so that this “baroque” madness, so typical of Lovecraft, finds an echo in the multiplicity of the colors of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. As Connesson explains: “The Lovecraftian geography is so precise and overflowing with imagination that I wanted to paint it with an abundant orchestral world.”

What interested me was to create a great fresco with lots of colour, somewhat Baroque. Very explosive and all this was present in Lovecraft. Guillaume Connesson -

In Search of Kadath (1927)
The Plot
Three times the protagonist Randolph Carter dreams of a majestic sunset city, but each time he is abruptly snatched away before he can see it up close. When he prays to the gods of dream to reveal the whereabouts of the phantasmal city, they do not answer, and his dreams of the city stop altogether. Undaunted, Carter resolves to go to Kadath, where the gods live, to beseech them in person.

However, no one has ever been to Kadath and no one even knows how to get there. In dream, Randolph Carter descends “seventy steps” and speaks of his plan to the priests Nasht and Kaman-Thah, whose temple – the Cavern of Flame – borders the Dreamlands. The priests warn Carter of the great danger of his quest and suggest that the gods withdrew his vision of the city on purpose.


Céléphaïs is an impressive and stately port city with bronze gates, streets paved with onyx, a flamboyant turquoise temple and a tranquil rose-crystals temple of seventy delights, where priests decorated with wreaths of orchids go around in procession. The contrast is enormous with the city of Kadath. It is the gloomy residence of the ancient gods, situated on a huge ice plain, where every joy seems absent. Connesson visualises this in virtually atonal sounds in which he even uses twelve-tone techniques. The music changes colour to a tonal coral in the painting of the great castle of the gods, until the threatening and devilish figure of Nyarlathotep appears, accompanied by mystically rarefied sounds. The end of the city trip is a true apotheosis when we reach the City of the setting sun. There is no resemblance with the cerebral nature of Céléphaïs and the gloom of Kadath. This city is one of eternal joy where the inhabitants dance around in a permanent orgy. Trois cites de Lovecraft goes from themes and mirrored counter-themes to complex rhythmic canons and asymmetrical measures

Orchestra performing Trois cites de Lovecraft

The interview

In the NedPhO-Koepel Guillaume Connesson was interviewed about his new composition. He talked about his fascination for Lovecraft, how he became a composer at a very early age and what the collaboration with the Nederlands Philharmonic Orchestra means to him.


Pre-concert talk with Connesson

On October 16th before the concert in het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, our musicologist Kees Wisse asked Connesson questions during the pre-concert talk.

The audience was also allowed to ask questions. A small ensemble from the orchestra played exerpts from Trois cites de Lovecraft.

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