Nine decades old today, Pierre Boulez is a towering figure in 20th century music: a revolutionary composer who has influenced at least five generations, and a conductor who championed the new and the challenging. If you want to be convinced that the highest achievements of contemporary music are the opposite of desiccated, meandering experimentalism, listen to Boulez’s music. Give it some time, even if perhaps you dislike it at first hearing, for this composer’s presence is a mighty one in our music making.
Since this is the time for presents, I want to share with you the most accurate review on the French composer, at the same time witty and creative. It is the Beyond the Score production in Chicago Symphony. They call it “A Pierre Dream: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez”:
It’s impossible to imagine contemporary music, and in fact the entire musical world, without Pierre Boulez. As a composer he defined the image of the iconoclastic avant-garde in his music of the 1940s and 1950s; as a polemicist he gave post-war music some of its best aphorisms – “anyone who has not felt… the necessity of the dodecaphonic [12-tone] language is OF NO USE”, that the best solution to the problem of opera would be to blow up the opera houses, that some contemporary composition amounted to frenetic arithmetical masturbation”, and dozens of others. He showed his brilliance as a political and cultural operator wgeb in the 1970s in Paris he established the underground laboratoire of IRCAM, that labyrinth of computer-music possibility that you tread on top of if you’ve ever been to the Pompidou Centre; and as a conductor and teacher he has done more than anyone alive to create a performance practice for 20th century music, from Mahler to Mantovani, from Stravinsky to Schoenberg, from Berg to Birtwistle – and his own music.
With those words The Guardian starts their guide to Boulez. Here is another excerpt:
All is not as it seems with Boulez’s compositions. For him, each work is a potentially ceaseless torrent of musical energy that demands continual exploration, interrogation, and a near-permanent state of revision. But when you hear the latest state of being of his relatively recent music, like Sur Incises orDérive 2, there’s nothing provisional about their power and impact, and they teem with a kaleidoscopic sensuousness of sound and colour. If you want one piece to convince you that the highest achievements of contemporary music are the opposite of desiccated, solipsistic experimentalism, listen to Boulez’s orchestral versions of his Notations. It’s music that shimmers with bejewelled brilliance, that takes Debussy and Ravel’s orchestral techniques as a starting point and builds on them with voluptuous excess.
Give yourself a try on his music:
As Jonathan Cross says: “The importance of Boulez’s contributions to the second half of the 20th century cannot be underestimated. As composer and conductor, as writer, polemicist and animateur, he has transformed the musical landscape for good. In his own works – from the vast Beethovenian Second Piano Sonatawritten in his early twenties, to the quixotic Une page d’éphéméride for piano written in his 80th year, via his brilliant response to Mallarmé in Pli selon pli (1957–62) and the inventive choral settings of cummings ist der dichter (1970), he has remained a beacon for the new.”
Just as no composer in the 19th century could ignore Beethoven, so no young composer in the early 21st can afford to ignore Boulez. Barenboim understood this well in bringing together the two titans of their respective ages; great men whose music simultaneously stimulates the intellect and moves the passions.
Happy Birthday to you!!!