Monday, March 26, 8925
Pierre Boulez (b. 1925) - Serialism
Pierre Boulez (b. 1925)
Trois Psalmodies (1945)
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1946)
Sonatine for Flute and Piano (1946)
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1948)
Le Soleil des Eaux (1948)
Livre pour Quatuor (1949)
Structures, Book 1 (1952)
Le Marteau sans Maitre (1954)
Le marteau sans maître (The hammer without master) is setting of the surrealist poetry of
René Char for alto and six instrumentalists. It was first performed in 1955.
The work has nine movements, four of which set the text of three poems of René Char. The remaining movements are instrumental extrapolations of the other four:
I. avant "l'artisanat furieux" (before "the furious craftsmanship")
II. commentaire I de "bourreaux de solitude" (first commentary on "hangmen of solitude")
III. "l'artisanat furieux" ("the furious craftsmanship")
IV. commentaire II de "bourreaux de solitude" (second commentary on "hangmen of solitude")
V. "bel édifice et les pressentiments," version première ("stately building and presentiments," first version)
VI. "bourreaux de solitude" ("hangmen of solitude")
VII. après "l'artisanat furieux" (after "the furious craftsmanship")
(segue from above)
VIII. commentaire III de "bourreaux de solitude" (third commentary on "hangmen of solitude")
(segue from above)
IX. "bel édifice et les pressentiments," double ("stately building and presentiments," second verson)
Before Le Marteau, Boulez had established a reputation as the composer of modernist, and serialist works such as Structures I and Polyphonie X, as well as his infamously "unplayable" Piano Sonata No. 2. Le Marteau was first written as a six-movement composition between 1953 and 1954, and was published in that form in the latter year, "imprimée pour le festival de musique, 1954, Donaueschingen" (though in the end it was not performed there) in a photographic reproduction of the composer's manuscript by Universal Edition, given the catalog number UE 12362. In 1955, Boulez revised the order of these movements, and interpolated three newly composed ones. The original, six-movement form lacked the two "Bel édifice" settings and the third commentaire on "Bourreaux de solitude." In addition, the movements were grouped in two closed cycles: first the three "Artisanat furieux" movements, then the three "Bourreaux de solitude" ones, otherwise in the order of the final score. The first movement, though fundamentally the same composition, was originally scored as a duet for vibraphone and guitar -- the flute and viola were added only in the revision -- and numerous less significant alterations were made to playing techniques and notation in the other movements.
It received its première in 1955 at the 29th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Baden-Baden (Jameux 1989b, 21). Boulez's work was chosen to represent France at this festival. The French members of the committee were against this, but Heinrich Strobel, then director of the Baden-Baden Sudwestfunk Orchestra, scheduled to give all of the concerts at the festival, threatened to withdraw if it was not (Jameux 1989b, 21). The first performance was given on June 18, 1955 conducted by Hans Rosbaud, with Sybilla Plate as the solo singer.
Boulez, notorious for considering his works to be always "in progress," made further, smaller revisions to Le Marteau in 1957, in which year Universal Edition issued an engraved score, UE 12450. In the years that have followed, it has become Pierre Boulez's most famous and influential work.
The instrumentation was quite novel for Western music at the time, lacking any kind of bass instrument, and drew some influence from the sound of "non-European" instruments, the Xylorimba recalls the African Balafon, the Vibraphone Balinese Gamelan, and the Guitar the Japanese Koto, though "neither the style nor the actual use of these instruments has any connection with these different musical civilizations" ("Speaking, Playing, Singing" (1963) in Boulez 1986, 341). Boulez chose the collection with a continuum of sonorities in mind: "a number of features shared by these instruments (forms) a continuous passage from voice to vibraphone" (Boulez 1986, 340). The purpose is to allow a graduated deconstruction of the voice into percussive noises, a compositional technique which has been common throughout Boulez's work (e.g. the recent Sur Incises of 1998 similarly breaks down the sounds of the piano by combining it with harp and percussion).
The vocal writing is challenging for the singer, containing wide leaps, glissandi, and even Sprechstimme, a device found in the work of the Second Viennese School before Boulez. There are also deliberate similarities to Arnold Schoenberg's song cycle, Pierrot Lunaire , one of which is that each movement chooses a different subset of the available instruments:
Alto Flute, Vibraphone, Guitar, Viola
Alto fFute, Xylorimba, Tambourine, 2 Bongos, Viola
Voice, Alto Flute
Xylorimba, Vibraphone, Finger cymbals, Agogô, Triangle, Guitar, Viola
Voice, Alto flute, Guitar, Viola
Voice, Alto flute, Xylorimba, Vibraphone, Maracas, Guitar, Viola
Alto Flute, Vibraphone, Guitar
Alto Flute, Xylorimba, Vibraphone, Claves, Agogô, 2 Bongos, Maracas
Voice, Alto Flute, Xylorimba, Vibraphone, Maracas, Small Tam-Tam, Low gong, Very deep Tam-Tam, Large Suspended Cymbal, Guitar, Viola
The writing is often hermetic: the three cycles each use different serial techniques. The "L'Artisanat furieux" movements, for example, use a technique Boulez called "pitch multiplication" in Boulez on Music Today.
The text for this work was taken from René Char's collection of poems, Le Marteau sans maître, written in the 1930's while Char "still shared the surrealist views of poets like André Breton and Henri Michaux.". Boulez had earlier written two cantatas, Visage nuptial and Le Soleil des eaux in 1946 and 1948, which also set poems of René Char.
La roulotte rouge au bord du clou
Et cadavre dans le panier
Et chevaux de labours dans le fer à cheval
Je rêve la tête sur la pointe de mon couteau le Pérou.
The furious handicraft
The red caravan on the edge of the nail
And corpse in the basket
And plowhorses in the horseshoe
I dream my head on the point of my knife is Peru.
Bourreaux de solitude
Le pas s'est éloigné le marcheur s'est tu
Sur le cadran de l'Imitation
Le Balancier lance sa charge de granit réflexe.
Executioners of solitude
The step has gone away the walker fell silent
On the face of Imitation
The Pendulum throws its load of granite reflex.
Bel édifice et les pressentiments
J'écoute marcher dans mes jambes
La mer morte vagues par-dessus tête
Enfant la jetée-promenade sauvage
Homme l'illusion imitée
Des yeux purs dans les bois
Cherchent en pleurant la tête habitable.
Stately building and the presentiments
I hear marching in my legs
The dead sea waves overhead
Child the pier-savage sail
Man the imitated illusion
Pure eyes in the woods
Search in tears the habitable head.
Improvisation pour Mallarme (1957)
Structures, Book 2 (1961)
Pli Selon Pli (1962)
e.e. cummings ist der Dichter (1970)
Pierre Boulez (b. March 26, 1925, Montbrison, France) initially studied mathematics at Lyons before pursuing music at the Paris Conservatoire under Olivier Messiaen and the wife of Arthur Honegger, Andrée Vaurabourg. He studied 12-tone technique with René Leibowitz and went on to write atonal music in a post-Webernian serial style. Boulez was initially part of a cadre of early supporters of Leibowitz, but due to an altercation with Leibowitz, their relations turned divisive, as Boulez spent much of his career promoting the music of Messiaen instead.
The first fruits of this were his cantatas Le Visage nuptial and Le Soleil des eaux for female voices and orchestra, both composed in the late 1940's and revised several times since, as well as the Piano Sonata No. 2 of 1948, a well-received 32-minute work that Boulez composed at the age of 23. Thereafter, Boulez was influenced by Messiaen's research to extend 12-tone technique beyond the realm of pitch organization, serialising durations, dynamics, mode of attack, and so on. This technique became known as integral serialism. Boulez quickly became one of the philosophical leaders of the post-war movement in the arts towards greater abstraction and experimentation. Many composers of Boulez's generation taught at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt, Germany. The so-called Darmstadt School composers were instrumental in creating a style that, for a time, existed as an antidote to music of nationalist fervor; an international, even cosmopolitan style, a style that could not be 'co-opted' as propaganda in the way that the Nazis used, for example, the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.
Boulez was in contact with many young composers who would become influential, including John Cage.
"[A]ny musician who has not experienced — I do not say understood, but truly experienced — the necessity of dodecaphonic music is USELESS. For his whole work is irrelevant to the needs of his epoch."
Pierre Boulez ("Eventuellement...", 1952, translated as "Possibly..." or "Eventually")
Boulez's totally serialized, punctual works consist of Polyphonie X (1950–51; withdrawn) for 18 instruments, the two musique-concrète Études (1951–52), and Structures, Book I for two pianos.
The latter work was quite successful, and seems to sum up the feelings of zero hour in Europe during the early 1950's.
Structures was also a turning point for Boulez. As one of the most visible totally serialized works, it became a lightning rod for various kinds of criticism. György Ligeti, for example, published an article that examined its patterns of durations, dynamics, pitch, and attack types in great detail, concluding that its "ascetic attitude" is "akin to compulsion neurosis," and that Boulez "had to break away from it. . . . And so he created the sensual feline world of the 'Marteau.'"
These criticisms, combined with what Boulez felt was a lack of expressive flexibility in the language, as he outlined in his essay "At the Limit of Fertile Land..." had already led Boulez to refine his compositional language. He loosened the strictness of his total serialism into a more supple and strongly gestural music, and did not publicly reveal much about these techniques, which limited further discussion. His first venture into this new kind of serialism was a work for 12 solo voices titled Oubli signal lapidé (1952), but it was withdrawn after a single performance. Its material was reused in the 1970 composition Cummings ist der Dichter.
Boulez's strongest achievement in this method is his masterpiece Le marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master or The Masterless Hammer) for ensemble and voice, from 1953 to 1957, one of the few works of advanced music from the 1950's to remain in the repertoire. Le marteau was a surprising and revolutionary synthesis of many different streams in modern music, as well as seeming to encompass the sound worlds of modern jazz, the Balinese Gamelan, traditional African musics, and traditional Japanese musics. Fluent and expressive, even sensuous, in a way that Boulez's earlier serial works had not been, it was hailed by diverse musicians, including Igor Stravinsky. Boulez described one of the work's innovations, called "pitch multiplication," in several articles, most importantly in the chapter "Musical Technique" in Boulez 1971. It was Lev Koblyakov, however, who first described its presence in the three "L'Artisanat furieux" movements of Le Marteau, and in his 1981 doctoral thesis.
However, an explanation of the processes themselves was not made until 1993.
Other techniques used in the "Bourreaux de solitude" cycle were first described by Ulrich Mosch, and later elaborated.
After Le marteau sans maître, Boulez began to strengthen the position of the music post-WWI modern composers through conducting and advocacy. He also began to consider new avenues in his own work. With Pli selon pli for orchestra with solo soprano, he began to work with an idea of improvisation and open-endedness. He considered how the conductor might be able to 'improvise' on vague notations, such as the fermata, and how the players might 'improvise' on irrational durations, such as grace notes. In addition, he worked with the idea of leaving the specific ordering of movements or sections of music open to be chosen for a particular night of a performance, an idea related to the polyvalent form of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Interestingly, though the two works sound similar today, and certainly represent the same impeccable craft, Pli selon pli was not received as well as Le marteau. This is perhaps more of a cultural barometer than a reflection on the work itself. During the time that Boulez was testing these new ideas, those colleagues who had never been entirely comfortable with the prominence of a rigorous musical language, such as György Ligeti, had brought a convincing musical counter argument to Boulez's musical ideals. In a poetic twist, Boulez had moved from peerless respect for Le marteau sans maître to seeming defeat with Pli selon pli (Fold upon fold), which sets a Stéphane Mallarmé poem about the tripping impotence of a swan, unable to take flight from a frozen lake.
"Why compose works that have to be re-created every time they are performed? Because definitive, once-and-for-all developments seem no longer appropriate to musical thought as it is today, or to the actual state that we have reached in the evolution of musical technique, which is increasingly concerned with the investigation of a relative world, a permanent 'discovering' rather like the state of 'permanent revolution'."
Pierre Boulez ("Sonate, que me veux-tu?", 1960)
From the 1950s, beginning with the Piano Sonata No. 3 (1955–57/63), Boulez experimented with what he called "controlled chance" and he developed his views on aleatoric music in the articles "Aléa" and "Sonate, que me veux-tu?" His use of chance, which he would later employ in compositions like Eclat (1965), Domaines (1961–68) and Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna (1974–75), is very different from that in the works of, for example, John Cage. While in Cage's music the performers are often given the freedom to improvise and create completely unforeseen sounds, with the object of removing the composer's intention from the music, in works by Boulez they only get to choose between possibilities that have been written out in detail by the composer—a method that, when applied to the successional order of sections, is often described as "mobile form."
Boulez's output since the late 1970s has been of a different kind since the early works that brought him to initial prominence. After a rapid succession of explosive works, such as the three cantatas on poetry by René Char, the first two piano sonatas, and other chamber music, compositions have tended to be contemplated and expanded over a long period of time, during which they were performed in various stages of development. ...explosante-fixe..., now resembling a flute concerto with electronics, was first published in 1971 as a sketch in the journal Tempo as a memorial tribute to Stravinsky, then worked out in various versions, including one for mixed octet with electronics performed in 1973. Eclat/Multiples has remained a large fragment, and Dérive II (1988/2002/2006) and Répons (1980/82/84) have been performed in various stages of development. The desire to expand unrealized possibilities has also lead Boulez to create related works in series. His early twelve miniatures for piano, Notations (1945), has, since the 1970s, been in the process of being expanded as an orchestral cycle. To date, at least seven movements have been completed. The material contained in Anthèmes for solo violin, itself once expanded, was later worked out as an extended composition for violin and electronics Anthèmes 2. Boulez now plans to further realize the material's implications as a violin concerto. Incises, a short work for solo piano, has since exploded into Sur Incises for three percussive groups (pianos, harps, percussion) in two very extended movements.
After the 1960's, in which he had produced little, Boulez began to turn back to the electronic medium and to large extended works. Although unsatisfied with the products of his work with tape in the 1950's (Two Studies, Poésie pour pouvoir) he began to explore the possibilities of live electronic sound manipulation. His first attempt was the 1973 version of ...explosant/fixe... However, at around this time president Georges Pompidou began to discuss with Boulez the possibility of creating an institute for the exploration and development of modern music where there would be a chance to explore the medium seriously. This was to become IRCAM. At IRCAM, Boulez created an environment where composers would have at hand the best performers available, and where the most advanced technology and computer scientists would be at their service. Boulez now began to explore the use of electronic sound transformation in real time. Previously electronic music had to be recorded to tape, which thus 'fixed' it. The temporal aspect of any live music making in which it played a part had to be coordinated with the tape exactly. Boulez found this impossibly restrictive. Now at IRCAM, he composed Répons, for six instrumental groups, chamber orchestra, and electronics. With the assistance of Andrew Gerzso, Boulez fashioned a work in which the computer captured the resonance and spatialization of sounds created by the ensemble and processed them in real time.
Today, Boulez continues to be one of the leaders of the post-World War II musical modernism.
His compositions have enriched musical culture, and his advocacy of modern and postmodern music has been decisive for many. Boulez continues to conduct and compose. From 1976 to 1995, Boulez held the Chair in "Invention, technique et langage en musique" at the Collège de France. In 2002 he was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize for his contributions. In 2007, Boulez finished recording the Mahler cycle for Deutsche Grammophon with his recording of Mahler's 8th Symphony with the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Berlin State Opera and Radio choruses.
Boulez as a conductor
Boulez is also a conductor, known the world over having directed most of the world's leading symphony orchestras and ensembles since the late 50's. He served concurrently as musical advisor of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1970 to 1972, chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1971 to 1975, and music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1971 to 1977. He is currently the Conductor Emeritus of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, after having been its Principal Guest Conductor. The orchestras which he has conducted in recent years include the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, the London Symphony Orchestra (2004 tour), the Orchestre de Paris, the Ensemble InterContemporain, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In 2005 he began a collaboration with the Staatskapelle Berlin.
Boulez is particularly famed for his polished interpretations of 20th-century classics -- Alban Berg, Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Anton Webern, and Edgard Varèse -- as well as for numerous performances of contemporary music.
Clarity, precision, rhythmic agility, and a respect for the composers' intentions as notated in the musical score are the hallmarks of his conducting style.
In 1984, he collaborated with Frank Zappa and conducted the Ensemble Intercontemporain, who performed three of Zappa's pieces. He never uses a baton, conducting with his hands alone.
His 19th-century repertoire focuses upon Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, and especially Richard Wagner. His recording of Anton Bruckner's Eighth Symphony has met with considerable critical acclaim.
In 1974 he also recorded Maurice Ravel's then little-known orchestral version of "Une Barque sur l'océan" from Miroirs, when there was still no printed score.
The score was published only in 1983, and even then only in the first of two slightly different versions Ravel had made.
During his tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic he was criticized, even by members of the orchestra, for his concentration on modern repertoire at the expense of works by earlier composers.
Nonetheless, Boulez' controversial "Rug" concerts of contemporary music with members of the New York Philharmonic played a significant role in "bridging" the widening gap between the New York downtown music scene with concerts of "uptown" music, directed primarily at Columbia University by a former classmate at the Paris Conservatoire and a pupil of Leibowitz, Jacques-Louis Monod. In his 1981 volume of compilation of reviews from the New York Times, Facing the Music, critic Harold C. Schonberg includes a column in which he details how unhappy some members of the New York Philharmonic orchestra were with Boulez during his tenure.
Boulez has also conducted opera productions and made several recordings of opera. He joined the Bayreuth Festival's roster for 1966's Parsifal, after Hans Knappertsbusch died.
Subsequently, he was the conductor for the 1976 centenary production of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, directed by Patrice Chéreau, recordings of which were commercially released in audio and video formats. Boulez reunited with Chéreau for a late seventies production of Alban Berg's Lulu at the Paris Opera (the first-ever production of the completed opera) and later a 2007 production in Amsterdam of Leoš Janáček's From the House of the Dead, in what Boulez said was the last opera production that he would ever conduct.
In 2004, Boulez had returned to Bayreuth to conduct Parsifal. Other operas Boulez has conducted include Berg's Wozzeck (Opéra National de Paris), Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (Bayreuth, Japan tour), Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle (Aix-en-Provence Festival, choreographed by Pina Bausch, and concert performances), Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (Covent Garden and WNO) and Arnold Schoenberg's Moses und Aron (Amsterdam and Salzburg).
Boulez is also an articulate, perceptive and sweeping writer on music.
Some articles -- notably the notorious "Schoenberg is Dead" -- were deliberately provocative and veered towards polemic.
Others dealt with questions of technique and aesthetics in a deeply reflective if sometimes elliptical manner. These writings have mostly been republished under the titles Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship, Orientations: Collected Writings, and Boulez on Music Today, as well as in the journal of the Darmstadt composers of the time, Die Reihe. A third edition of the French texts, with previously uncollected material, has appeared under the title Points de repère I, II, and III.
[8925 Haley / 8925 Boulez / 8924 Desmond]