Boulez Analysis

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  • 7/21/2019 Boulez Analysis


    Boulez, Pierre(bMontbrison, Loire, 26 March 1925). French composer andconductor. Resolute imagination, force of will and ruthlesscombativeness secured him, as a young man, a position at thehead of the Parisian musical avant garde. His predecessors, inhis view, had not been radical enough; music awaited acombination of serialism with the rhythmic irregularity opened upby Stravinsky and Messiaen. This call for a renewed modernismwas widely heard and widely followed during the 1950s, but itsappeal gradually weakened thereafter, and in the same measurehis creativity waned. He began to be more active as a conductor,at first specializing in 20th-century music, but then, in the 1970s,covering a large and general repertory. Towards the end of that

    decade he turned his attention to an electro-acoustic musicstudio built for him in Paris, where he hoped to resume the effortto create a new musical language on a rational basis. After abrief hiatus, though, conducting became again his principalmeans of expressing his independence and clarity of vision.1. Compositional career.2. Conducting.3. Compositional style.WORKSWRITINGSBIBLIOGRAPHY

  • 7/21/2019 Boulez Analysis


    1. Compositional career.

    As a boy Boulez divided his attention between music andmathematics. He sang in the choir of his Catholic school at St

    Etienne, he enjoyed playing the piano; but his early aptitude formathematics marked him out at least in the eyes of his father, asteel industrialist for a career in engineering. On leaving schoolin 1941, he spent a year attending a course in highermathematics at Lyons with a view to gaining admission to theEcole Polytechnique in Paris. During that year he made whatprogress he could with music, cultivating his proficiency as apianist and acquiring a grounding in theory.It was the latter which stood him in good stead when he movedto Paris in 1942 and, against his father's wishes, opted for theParis Conservatoire rather than the Ecole Polytechnique; he had

    failed the pianists' entrance examination. After three years hetook apremier prixin harmony, having attended Messiaen'sfamous harmony class. Along with some of his contemporaries inMessiaen's class, he took exception to the hidebound curriculumof the Conservatoire and looked beyond its walls for instruction incounterpoint. This he studied privately with Andre Vaurabourg,the wife of Arthur Honegger.It was in Messiaen's class that Boulez, respected as well asencouraged by his teacher, first gave proof of exceptionalabilities as a music analyst. Quick to detect genuine originality of

    craftsmanship, he equally quickly lost patience with music whoserenown rested on anything less substantial. He viewedcomposition as a form of aesthetic research and demanded thatit be conducted on stringently scientific (that is, logical) lines; inthis light, the cult of personal stylistic development a hangoverfrom Romanticism counted for nothing. Infected by a commonzeal, Boulez and a number of his fellow pupils demonstrated theirprotest vocally at performances of works whose modernity theyconsidered a facile and arbitrary disguise; not even the personalreputation of Stravinsky was sacrosanct, and many a lesser onewas mercilessly deflated.

    His own aesthetic researches at the time had led him to a veryclear awareness of the necessity for atonality. WhenSchoenberg's pupil Leibowitz began to introduce dodecaphonicmusic to the French public, Boulez readily applied to him forinstruction in serial techniques. Within a year his earliestpublished compositions (Notations, the Flute Sonatina, the FirstPiano Sonata, Le visage nuptial) had taken shape; his inventiveenergies had taken the route suggested by Schoenberg's WindQuintet op.26 (which he had heard in 1945) and by the laterworks of Webern. Again, Boulez was subsequently to write: Anymusician who has not felt the necessity of the dodecaphoniclanguage is OF NO USE (Eventuellement , 1952, in Boulez,1966)

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    On the recommendation of Honegger, Boulez was appointedmusical director of the new Compagnie Renaud-Barrault in 1946.He thus laid the solid foundations of his career as a conductorwith performances of theatre music, including speciallycomposed scores by Auric, Poulenc and Honegger himself.

    (Roger Desormire, from whom he received guidance, could beconsidered his one teacher of conducting.) Boulez was incharge of Milhaud's music for Claudel'sChristophe Colombwhenthe company's production of the play was recorded on disc, andin 1955, the penultimate year of his association with thecompany, Boulez himself wrote the incidental music for theirproduction of theOresteiaat the Bordeaux Festival.The first works that made Boulez's reputation as a composerwere those that came after his dbut pieces: the Second PianoSonata and Le soleil des eaux. The latter, first given as a cantatain Paris in July 1950, grew out of some incidental music Boulezwrote for a radio production of Char's work of the same name,broadcast in April 1948. The music of the original version,reworked, became Complainte du lzard amoureux, and Boulezadded to this a second movement, La sorgue. The scoring ofthe cantata, both impressionistically delicate and violent, has ahallucinatory clarity which accords well with Boulez's surrealistintentions.In contrast with the one-movement Sonatina and the two-movement First Sonata, Boulez's Second Sonata is amonumental work in four movements. Avowedly modelled on

    Beethoven, its movements follow a sufficiently Classical patternfor the many facets of Boulez's style to be systematicallydeployed. The work's reputation grew less from relativelyobscure early performances by Yvette Grimaud and YvonneLoriod than from circulation of the score, which was published in1950. This composition, more than any other, first spreadBoulez's fame abroad: its first performance in Darmstadt (byLoriod in 1952) was one of the most eagerly awaited musicalevents of the postwar years, and through the advocacy of Tudorit reached the ears of the American avant garde.Immediately afterwards came the Livre pour quatuor, whichforeshadows much of the later development of Boulez's musicalthinking. The work is in the form of a collection of movements,and it is left to the the performers to select which will be given atany one performance. Thus the Livreanticipates those works ofthe late 1950s in which the performer is allowed to choose hisown path through the music. Its immediate significance, however,was as a pointer towards the technique of total serialization.Stimulated by the last works of Webern and by Messiaen'sQuatre tudes de rythme(194950), Boulez sought to develop atechnique whereby the principles of serialism could be made to

    govern the timbre, duration and intensity of each sound, as well

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    as its pitch. Some of the movements of the Livre pour quatuormay be considered as first sketches towards such a technique.By 1951 Boulez had arrived at a stage where he could commithis first essays in the new technique to paper and to magnetictape. The resources of the studio for musique concrterun by

    Schaeffer under the auspices of French radio enabled Boulez tocompose two Etudesin which the precise organization oftimbres, durations and intensities could remain immune from thehazards of human performance. These hazards proved to be areal stumbling-block in Polyphonie Xfor 18 soloists (195051),which was composed for and performed at the 1951Donaueschingen Festival. The last, and most successful, ofBoulez's essays in total serialization was Structures Ifor twopianos (19512). Organization of timbres was here replaced bythat of modes of attack, and the treatment of durations inparticular became more flexible in the last two of the work's threesections. The first section was performed at a Paris concert in1952 by Messiaen and the composer.At the same time Boulez completed a first revision of his earlycantata,Le visage nuptial. Originally written for two vocal soloistsand a chamber ensemble, the work was reorchestrated for verymuch larger forces including a women's chorus. Denselyorchestrated and richly polyphonic, the work reaches towardslyrical paroxysm and its style shares certain features with bothMessiaen and the Expressionism of Berg. In two of its fivemovements (each a setting of a poem by Char) Boulez freely

    used quarter-tones (though he expunged these from his revisionof 19869). It was not until December 1957 that the five-movement version was given its first performance, under thecomposer's direction, in Cologne.The next five years saw a marked slowing down in Boulez'sproduction as a composer. It was a period in which much of hismusical thinking found expression in articles on technique andaesthetics, many of which are to be found in the collectionRelevs d'apprenti. Perhaps the most notorious of all thesewritings was his obituary in Score(1952) Schnberg est mort, inwhich he continued his protest against what he considered the

    inadequate working-out of musical discoveries. But this was alsoa period during which Boulez won wide and even popularacclaim for a work which very soon came to be thought of as akeystone of 20th-century music, a worthy companion to The Riteof Springand Pierrot Lunaire:Le marteau sans matre(19535).Unlike Boulez's earlier settings of Ch