The Greek composer, Georges Aperghis, was born in Athens. His father Achilles, a sculptor, and his mother Irene, a painter, gave him a rich artistic background in post-war Greece and allowed him great freedom, providing the basis for what has become a highly original, independent career as a composer. Mainly self-taught, Aperghis divided his interest between painting and music, which he discovered through radio and the occasional piano lesson from a family friend. In Athens, he knew little about the European avant-garde but he read scores from the repertoire and heard some Arnold Schoenberg, Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky. The first experiments in musique concrete by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry came as a revelation. By 1963, he had decided to give up painting and settled in Paris to continue studying music. There, he discovered the world of new music through the Domaine Musical and concerts at the Maison de la Radio.
Georges Aperghis’ earliest works; Antistixis, for three string quartets, Anakroussis for seven instruments (1967) and Bis for two orchestras (1968) show the influence both of serialism and of Xenakis's research. He himself described these pieces as studies; pursuing a need to develop a freer, more personal language, he gravitated towards the work of John Cage and Mauricio Kagel and towards the theatre, which he discovered through his wife, the actress Edith Scob. In 1971, Aperghis composed La tragique histoire du nécromancien Hieronimo et de son miroir, for two women's voices, speaking and singing, lute and cello. It was his first attempt at music theatre, demonstrating a fascination with the relationship between music, words and the stage, which he continues to explore today. For the Avignon Festival, he composed La tragique histoire... (1971), Vesper (1972), Pandaemonium (1973), and his opera Histoire de loups (1976).
Since 1976, Georges Aperghis has divided his time between three central passions. After founding the Atelier Théâtre et Musique (ATEM), based in Bagnolet for 15 years, now in Nanterre, he completely changed his approach to composition. He began creating performances that used both actors and musicians; he based works; created gradually in the rehearsal process; on everyday events transported to a poetic, often absurd and satirical world. He treated voice, instrument, movement, text and staging equally, eschewing standard theatrical and orchestral hierarchies. Between La bouteille à la mer, in 1976, and 1990, he worked with the ATEM on some 20 productions, the most recent being Conversations (1985), Enumerations (1988), Jojo (1990) and H, litanie musicale et égalitaire (1992).
His second passion lies in developing chamber and orchestral music, vocal and instrumental works, for a wide variety of combinations. He has made an extensive series of pieces for solo instrument, composed for particular performers and often containing theatrical aspects, sometimes simply in the form of movement. His taste for experiment and provocation; for example, in Die Wände haben Ohren for large orchestra (1972); is always apparent but, unlike his music theatre, this work is not specifically theatrical. Everything is determined by the writing. It is rhythmically complex and always full of a vigorous energy that springs from extreme registers, dynamics and virtuosity, and from combinations such as voice and instrument, strings and percussion, sound and noise.
His third love, opera, brings together all these concerns, where the words are the vital unifying element and the voice the principal means of expression. Apherghis has written six operas, based on Jules Verne (Pandaemonium, 1973) Diderot (Jacques le fataliste, 1974), Freud (Histoire de loups, 1976), Edgar Allan Poe (Je vous dis que je suis mort, 1978), a letter from Bettina Brentano to Goethe (Liebestod, 1981) and Alain Badiou (L'Echarpe rouge, 1984). He is currently writing his seventh, a version of Lévi-Strauss's Tristes tropiques.
A prolific and unfailingly inventive composer, Georges Aperghis has produced over 100 works, highly personal and unclassifiable, serious but not lacking in humour, following tradition but free of institutional constraints. For interpreters of Aperghis, the composer allows vast horizons of vitality and ease; for audiences, he skillfully reconciles musical experience for the ear and the eye.