Boulez PIERRE BOULEZ - STRUCTURES BOOK 1A CRITIQUE

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World War II marks a dividing line in the history of the world, of the human race, and of the arts. This is particularly true of European classical or art music, where it is quite easy to speak of pre- and post-war music. The feeling that a new era had begun and a new aesthetic was needed to accurately reflect the world which was now inhabited can certainly be traced to the years immediately following the conclusion of the Second World War. When humankind entered the nuclear age many basic assumptions were obliterated, the constant impending threat of total annihilation, or as close to it as could be perceived, became a daily reality. The seeds of destruction had apparently been sown, and what fruit was to be reaped remained to be seen. The notion of destruction became a frequent metaphor in the arts. It seemed after all inevitable, one shaky finger on the wrong button and the world could be blown to oblivion. It seemed that the only hope was to allow destruction, perhaps even to embrace the notion of destruction, then to continue afresh. Only through destruction, it seemed, could anything truly new be created. When we are rid of all that is old and decayed, then we may begin to embrace a future, certainly not a continuation of what came before, but a new beginning from scratch, a new Genesis. It was quite within this spirit that the notion of total serialism in music took hold. In Structures for Two Pianos, Book Ia, Pierre Boulez set himself the task of "eradicating every trace of derivation from his musical vocabulary" and then to "recapture - step by step ... the various phases of composition"1. He wanted to "make a clean sweep of one's heritage and start all over again from scratch" 2. He was not, however, claiming this to be a sign that we had reached the ultimate end of music (or the world). Quite to the contrary he said "All those predictions of an aborted Apocalypse are a burlesque spectacle", claiming "that few epochs in musical life have been so exalting to live in" 3. Music had not reached its end, it had simply arrived "at the ends of fruitful land"4, the title of a painting by Paul Klee originally intended to be used by Boulez for this piece. It was as a pupil of Olivier Messian that he had his first exposure to the music of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, and hearing the Schoenberg Wind Quintet in performance proved to be a "revelation"5. He would eventually react against this work, finding it's adherence to classical structural models to be an aberration of the serial method Schoenberg had pioneered in the domain of pitch. Through further studies with Rene Liebowitz, Boulez would master the elements of "classical" twelve-tone composition. His dissatisfaction with Schoenbergs conservative formal methods finally led him to look to the music of Webern as being the most prophetic composer of the Second Vienesse School, following the implications of Schoenbergs serial methods farthest along the lines to their logical conclusions, the application of the serial method to the aspects of composition other than pitch. Boulez' earliest works showed a distinctive approach to and expansion of the serial methods of his predecessors. After what was an impressive early career (his first two piano sonatas, two important cantatas, and the Sonatina for Flute and Piano were all written by the age of twentythree) he took it upon himself to push the new system to it's furthest possible extremes. The task he set himself was to reduce the form, not to zero, but to a minimum, and to produce a work "without (or almost without) the composers intervention" 6. Then and only then would it be possible to renew musical composition in a meaningful way. There were prior examples in the literature of attempts at total serialization of all musical parameters. The most important to site, and presumably the most important to Boulez, would be the piano piece Mode de valeurs et d'intensites by Olivier Messian (written in Darmstadt in 1949). In this piece Messian made an initial attempt at controlling those other parameters of a musical composition with the same degree of control that serialism had given the composer over pitch. Rhythm and dynamics in particular were brought into the serial web, while pitch was treated not in the manner of the Viennese serialist, but rather like a twelve-tone "mode" (or more precisely three different twelve-

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7Reginald 158. 1968). Pierre Boulez. Griffiths. ed. in the articles "Recherches maintenant" and ". 9Glock. Le Marteau sans maitre. Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky. This level of compositional predetermination proved to be an isolated instance in Boulez' output. there were other composers who. 15. Liner notes. New York: Oxford University Press. Boulez (London. made itself apparent in the increased malleability of his material in Books 1b and 1c of Structures8. contemporary with Boulez.crookedmusic. Structures Book 1a stands as a unique achievement. for his own works as well as the works of composers who blindly followed his lead without understanding the deeper implications of his work.com/words/boulez. 10.. 56. His dissatisfaction with the lack of invention afforded him in this piece. Messians Modes de valeurs. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. It was not until Boulez had reached the "ends of fruitful lands" that the demolition could be considered complete. In addition to its immediate predecessor. New York. as well as in Polyphonie X of the same time. The historical notoriety accorded to Structures 1a is well deserved. Karlheinz Stockhausens' Kreuzspiel is also from the same time. Boulez. It is widely perceived as the first thorough going discourse carried out in the language of integral serialism. were after the same goal. Conversations with Celestin Deliege (London: Eulenburg Books. Wergo WER 60011.. 1986).. Boulez. 1976). had the impact of the Boulez piece. All of this research was. 146.Apres et au loin". Glock. 1989).. but it did not receive international attention until much later. Milton Babbits' Three Compositions for Piano even pre-dates Boulez' Structures. the plans drawn up. 14. however. 2Pierre 3Pierre 4Paul Boulez. and these experiments yeilded great rewards in his next piece.Boulez Page 2 of 3 tone modes in this particular piece). however.htm 11/1/2004 . "a milestone in post-war music" 10. http://www. 8Glock. Structures for Two Pianos. Smith Brindle. Notes of an Apprenticeship (New York: Alfred A. Messian would not follow the implications of this piece to their ultimate conclusions though.. and took on the same issues though not in as rigorous or thorough-going a fashion. that would remain for his pupil. 24. This composition. a step which was in full accord with the spirit of its time. ridiculing "timetables of trains that never leave"9." proved to inspire a whole generation of composers to follow the path of total serialization in their compositions7. essential if he was to be able to continue on his course. Knopf. A Symposium (London: Eulenburg Books. both a beginning and an end for Boulez and for music. 10Glock. Neither of these compositions. and the rebuilding begin 11. 1978). 94. 11Glock. and Boulez' article "Eventuellement. 159. 5William 6Glock. He expressed some of this dissatisfaction. the Avant-Garde since 1945 (Oxford. The New Music. 23. l ¡ Pierre Boulez. It was a necessary step to take.

htm 11/1/2004 . but largely because of historical significance. It is largely as an historical document that the piece is considered. BACK TO PAPERS http://www. all add to the historic relevance of this work. The works it was influenced by. makes for a much livelier tale. The type of analysis it inspired. and in turn the works it influenced help to form a mystique around the work which has become more important than the work itself. Its position in history. on the contrary. Its position in the history of 20th century music wasn't secured by aesthetic value alone. the non-serialists.crookedmusic.com/words/boulez.Boulez META-CRITIQUE Page 3 of 3 An historical analysis is quite apropos for this work of Boulez. the way it drew up battle lines for the serialist vs. while fascinating. the way it pointed to a depersonalized musical grammar divorced both from the past and from John Cages' aleatoric music. reads like so much number crunching. A detailed musical analysis.

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