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Tempo 59 (233) 3–15 © 2005 Cambridge University Press 3

DOI: 10.1017/S0040298205000197 Printed in the United Kingdom

  :  

   
Arnold Whittall
photo courtesy Sony/BMG

In The Path to the New Music, Anton Webern’s main purpose was to
convince his audience that the twelve-note method was the natural
outcome of an evolutionary process; that since ‘we compose as before’,
the new was a reinterpretation of the old, not its rejection. Nothing
could have been more soberly practical than the aspiration expressed in
Webern’s claim that ‘we want to say “in a quite new way” what has been
said before’.1 By contrast, it has long been argued that the agenda of the
post-1945 avant-garde, with Pierre Boulez a leading member, might be
summarized thus: ‘we want to say, in as new a way as possible, what has
not been said before’. Adorno based his 1955 critique of the new music
around that ‘levelling and neutralization’ which, he believed, were the
direct result of the technical obsessions of ‘total’ serialism: ‘the effort to
rationalize music completely has something useless and frantic about
it; it applies to a chaos that is no longer chaotic’. Adorno claimed that
‘what is needed is for expression to win back the density of experience,
as was already tried during the expressionist period’.2 Composers
should abandon this false form of the new music and begin to
remember its earlier, more authentic manifestation.
As Richard Leppert has usefully glossed Adorno’s text, the philoso-
pher’s desire was ‘for music to refer to its own past, to evoke that past in
order to transcend it’. Yet, while Adorno ‘hears this engagement in
Schoenberg, Berg and Webern […] in the new music of the 1950s
radical serialists Adorno “hears” history’s absence, the past disap-
peared’.3 Leppert may well be right. But such an absolute distinction
between two radical extremes naturally invites dissent, along the lines
that, if history is less ‘present’ in some compositions from around the
years 1909–13 than it suited Adorno to acknowledge, then it is also less
‘absent’ from post-war serial works than he believed to be the case in
1955. And even if, with Boulez at least, what we might term the reap-
pearance of the past is a good deal less prominent in his compositions of
the 1950s and 1960s than is the case later on, as a writer, performer and
entrepreneur, he found it no easier before 1960 to live a life from which
memory and the past were totally excluded than he has done since.

Anton Webern, The Path to the New Music (Bryn Mawr, PA and London: Presser/Universal,
1963), p.55. This is Leo Black’s translation of the German original, published 1960, which
was based on Rudolf Ploderer’s shorthand notes of lectures which Webern gave in 1932–3.
Theodor W. Adorno, ‘The Aging of the New Music’, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor &
Frederic Will, in Essays on Music, ed. Richard Leppert (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London:
University of California Press, 2002), p.191.
Richard Leppert, ‘Commentary’ in Adorno, Essays on Music, p.108.
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   
In 1996, Boulez ended a short contribution to a discussion about
possible types of relationship between classicism and modernism with
the epigrammatic flourish that if modernity was forgetfulness (‘l’am-
nésie’), classicism was – perhaps – remembering (‘la mémoire peut-
être’).4 From the context, it’s clear that he regards the prospect of
forcing some kind of synthesis between these two dialectically-
opposed concepts with considerable scepticism: and the much wider
context of his later writings, especially the complete Collège de France
lectures, Leçons de musique,5 reinforces the image of a thinker who
delights in a whole range of binary oppositions and stand-offs precisely
because they resist synthesis, rather than (classically) seeking it out.
Whether the conjunction in question is between ‘law’ and ‘accident’,
‘signal’ and ‘envelope’, or even ‘safety’ and ‘doubt’, it is the formal,
thematic play between similarity and difference which attracts, not the
potential for burying difference in similarity, contrast in unity.
Whatever the value of such aids to perception as the conspicious repe-
tition of ostinato-like patterns in Boulez’s later music, the effect is less
a matter of sinking grateful listeners into an unambiguously organic,
classical experience than of that ‘intense and far from comfortable
dialogue with the past’ that Martha Hyde has claimed for Schoenberg’s
recourse to ‘dialectical imitation’ in his Third String Quartet.6
Throughout his multifarious writings, Boulez has continued to
resist the blandishments of the more explicitly history-conscious kinds
of neoclassicism, whether in Stravinsky or Schoenberg, and his horror
of Messiaen-like collage helps to determine his scepticism about Berg’s
willingness to allow the subtle textural and formal ambiguities of his
violin concerto to be infiltrated by such found objects as a Bach
chorale and a Carinthian folksong. The overwhelming musical attrac-
tions of opposition and interplay between the convergent and the
divergent, as a manifestation of dialogue between relatively fixed and
relatively free compositional features, was something which even the
newest New Music had difficulty in ruling out altogether. But in
Structures Ia (1951–2), Boulez was able to suppress aural evidence of
fixity (the row forms), and what comes across as a kind of spontaneous
athematicism remains an important aspect of the works which
followed Structures over the next two decades, including Pli selon pli.
Structures Ia is, arguably, Boulez’s most determined attempt to prac-
tice a modernism devoted unambiguously to forgetting rather than to
any dialogue between forgetting and remembering; and even if we
endorse current thinking about the political dimension of avant-garde
music in Paris around 1950,7 it is difficult to claim that the Utopian
agenda which Structures Ia can be felt to set before its listeners required
them to respond to anything other than the autonomous play of
abstract textures. The possible paradoxes inherent in the
composer/listener relationship in such a work have been well sketched
by M.J. Grant: and her eminently plausible conclusion that ‘the opera-
tion with and integration of extremes emphasises that the aim of serial

Pierre Boulez, ‘Classique – Moderne’, in Die Klassizistische Moderne in der Musik des
20.Jahrhunderts, ed. Hermann Danuser (Winterthur: Amadeus, 1997), p.308.
Published by Christian Bourgois Éditeur, Paris, in February 2005. This is a revised and
extended version of Jalons (pour une décennie), (Paris: Christian Bourgois Éditeur, 1989).
Martha M. Hyde, ‘Neoclassic and Anachronistic Impulses in Twentieth-Century Music’,
Music Theory Spectrum 18/2 (Fall 1996), pp.220–35.
See Mark Carroll, Music and Ideology in Cold War Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2003). Also, Ben Parsons, ‘Arresting Boulez: Post-War Modernism in Context’, Journal
of the Royal Musical Association 129/1 (2004), pp. 161–76.
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music is the creation of equilibrium’8 brings back the possibility of

comparison for listeners and critics who apply this aesthetic principle
more widely across the spectrum of music composed since 1900, and
even, perhaps, a significant amount of the music composed since the
As early as 1958, Boulez wrote:
it is my belief that our generation will be concerned quite as much with synthe-
sis as with discovery properly so called – and perhaps even more so. It will be
devoted to the expanding of techniques, the generalizing of methods and the
rationalizing of procedures of composing or, in other words, to synthesizing the
great creative currents that have made their appearance since the end of the last
Those investing heavily in the ‘Boulez as modern classicist’ doctrine
will eagerly highlight the word ‘rationalizing’ in those comments, and
note the oft-quoted statement about making ‘an attempt to organize
delirium’ that appears at the end of the same essay ‘Sound, Word,
Synthesis’, almost two decades before the launching of IRCAM.
Boulez’s own words are these: ‘I am increasingly inclined to think that
in order to make it really effective we must not only take such “frenzy”
into account but even organize it’ (Orientations, 182).
We might guess that Boulez was instinctively drawn to ways of
creating an equilibrium that complemented the stylistic and formal
procedures of those ‘great creative currents’ from the past which were
nevertheless culpable of succumbing in varying degrees to neoclassi-
cism, and to admitting the kind of dialogues that have often been
discussed since the mid-1980s in terms of the critical principle known
as the ‘anxiety of influence’.10 The guilt-free, anxiety-free response to
precedent is more Boulez’s style: and I wonder whether the crucial
motivating factor here was his decision to compose a portrait of
Mallarmé – a poet whose radical ideas about the sound- and sense-
aspects of language were not inevitably transmitted through the kind
of formal modernism shown in the fractured page layouts of Un Coup
de dès, but which could equally well be accommodated by the history-
sanctified constraints of the sonnet.11
Nevertheless, even if Mallarmé played a vital part in setting Boulez
on the ideological path from Utopian avant-gardism to more prag-
matic modern-classicism, it was only when it became possible, at
IRCAM, to conceive of a viable conjunction between new technology
and old aesthetics that the composer could begin his move back to
perceptible thematicism. Whereas Boulez’s response to the death of
Schoenberg in 1951 had been a polemical essay, ‘Schoenberg is Dead’,12
the death of Stravinsky in 1971 inspired …explosante/fixe… , a musical
memorial in which the potential for the legitimate use of musical
memory lay primarily in elements of hierarchic organization, around
an ‘original’ E flat. Two years later, when Bruno Maderna died, and
three years on from that, in 1976, with the 70th birthday of Paul
Sacher, Boulez pursued the possibility of composing more extended
ceremonials centering around E flat, while managing to eliminate any

M.J.Grant, Serial Music, Serial Aesthetics. Compositional Theory in Post-War Europe (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.160.
Pierre Boulez, Orientations: Collected Writings, ed. Jean-Jacques Nattiez, trans. Martin Cooper
(London: Faber & Faber, 1986), p.177. Further page references in text.
See in particular Joseph N. Straus, Remaking the Past: Musical Modernism and the Influence of
the Tonal Tradition (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1990).
See Whittall, ‘ “Unbounded Visions”: Boulez, Mallarmé and Modern Classicism’, Twentieth-
Century Music 1/1 (March 2004), pp.65–80.
First published in English in The Score 6 (February 1952). See also Stocktakings from an
Apprenticeship, trans. Stephen Walsh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp.209–14.
6 

association with Beethovenian heroics (as well as any echoes of that

much-disliked Beethoven-quoting work by Schoenberg, the Ode to
Napoleon). It was working with the convergence/divergence polarity,
and its perspectives on centricity, that seems to have promoted the
embrace of generative thematicism. In analyses of the
…explosante/fixe … offshoot Anthèmes (1991) – whose privileged pitch
is D – both Jonathan Goldman and Edward Campbell talk of a return
to ‘recognizable objects’ which are ‘clearly related to one another’: and
by 1991 this ‘return’ had been going on for some time.13
When Goldman writes of Anthèmes that it is ‘constructed of a rela-
tively restrained number of identifiable motivic cells, and these cells
vary with each of their appearances, by being shortened or length-
ened, by the alteration of the number of attacks or the durations of
the notes, through changes in dynamic markings and so forth’ (51), he
seems to be identifying the kind of traditional thematic processes that
could be labelled ‘classical’, and therefore represent Boulez’s wholesale
retreat from the ideals of both modernism and the new music – espe-
cially if it proved possible to trace the source of such variational
procedures to a single thematic entity or Grundgestalt. Yet just as the
thematic process in Anthèmes seems to circle around a collection of
comparable elements, without treating one particular motive as all-
generative, so Boulez’s harmony, in works from the mid-1970s
onwards, moves flexibly along a continuum between the centripetal
and the centrifugal, avoiding – or ‘forgetting’ – ‘classical’ resolution
and aiming to preserve a degree of balance between the polarized
elements.14 From this perspective, Boulez has evolved from a relatively
brief phase of ‘pure’ modernism to a more dialectical involvement
with modernism and classicism, forgetfulness and memory,
Utopianism and realism. It might even be possible to view this later
phase in terms of response to what is arguably the most profound of
all the diverse polarities affecting his musical experience and enter-
prise: not only acoustic/electroacoustic, but also Webern/Wagner.

   
His genius was both hot-headed – even irrational – and extremely analytical. His
correspondence and his writings show a quite exceptional awareness of his own
evolution, his importance and his impact on others and also of the workings of
his own creative faculty. This self-awareness furnishes us with extraordinarily
shrewd insights into the chief characteristics of his artistic invention and the
main objectives of his artistic quest. (Orientations, 226–7)
These sentences come from an extended introductory essay on
Wagner which Boulez wrote for publication in 1975, just before his
conducting of the ‘centenary’ Ring at Bayreuth. It is natural enough to
regard comments about ‘self-awareness’ and the ‘extremely analytical’
nature of Wagner’s genius as evidence of Boulez’s identification of
qualities which he himself embodies: for example, the ‘hot-headed –
even irrational’ aspect might be linked to that Artaud-inspired ‘delirium’
which bursts out from time to time. In these terms, even that ‘anxiety of
an artist creating a new world that proliferates beyond his rational
control, a dizzy sense of uniting agreement and contradiction in equal
parts, a dissatisfaction with the dimensions recognized by musical expe-
rience and the search for an order less obviously established and less

Edward Campbell, Boulez and Expression. A Deleuzoguattarian Approach, PhD Dissertation,
University of Edinburgh, 2000. Jonathan Goldman, Understanding Pierre Boulez’s Anthèmes
[1991]: ‘Creating a Labyrinth out of Another Labyrinth’, MA Dissertation, Université de
Montréal, 2001. Page references to Goldman in text.
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easily accepted’ (Orientations, 300), attributed by Boulez to Mahler,

would not be entirely foreign to his own experience and character.
Today’s critical musicology welcomes attempts to connect a
composer’s life with his works, especially if that ‘connexion’ is shown
to be complex, problematic, the very reverse of a simplistic assertion
that the work is ‘like this’ because the life was ‘like that’. With Boulez,
perhaps the simplest point to be made about his life in music concerns
his versatility. Many composers conduct, many conductors compose,
musicians of all kinds try their hand at ruling over research establish-
ments, conservatoires or even university music departments. But no
other musician active since 1945 has achieved quite the same spectac-
ular success as Boulez in all three spheres of activity.
Boulez’s supreme versatility renders questions about possible
connexions between life and work especially attractive in a scholarly
climate where the claim that culture is politics by other means seems
to have opened up to admit the parallel claim that musicology is
anthropology by other means. One way in which Boulez is like today’s
leading politicians is that he has had greater opportunities to reveal
strengths and weaknesses of personality than most other serious musi-
cians active on the contemporary scene. This encourages books as
different as Joan Peyser’s Boulez. Composer, Conductor, Enigma, and
Georgina Born’s Rationalizing Culture. IRCAM, Boulez and the
Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde.15 Fastidious musicolo-
gists tend to deride these documentary efforts, whose feet are all-too-
firmly planted in the mud and mayhem of the real world – or, at least,
of the world as the author in question constructs it. Nevertheless,
those who don’t want to rule out exploring what it means to consider
possible alignments between Boulez’s life and work shouldn’t ignore
the materials which authors like Peyser and Born provide.
Over the years Boulez has given so many interviews that his
strategy for concealing himself from the public by seeming to embrace
that public has become transparent. The outstanding example of an
encounter striving for familiarity and ending in alienation remains
Peyser’s riveting narrative, in which her love-hate relationship with her
subject gives immediacy, if not authority, to her would-be Freudian
observations: in Baden-Baden, we’re told, ‘Boulez sleeps in an excep-
tionally narrow Bauhaus bed’ (178). Such Napoleonic austerity can
easily be taken as a strategy to facilitate the exercise of power. In later
conversations with Jean Vermeil, Boulez denies this: ‘I don’t think
there is any pleasure in power. … I’m not interested in power. …
Power leaves me cold. … Power no, authority, yes’.16 Yet it’s difficult to
accept such denials at face value, coming from a musician who would
surely identify with the Schoenbergian claim that ‘I feel the necessity
to act as a fighter, as a battering ram for the interest of the develop-
ment of the art’.17 The younger Boulez certainly had the necessary
aggressiveness, and with the Second Piano Sonata (1948), Peyser is in
no doubt that ‘Boulez knows exactly what he wants – the impression
of more violence and more delirium. He also knows how to get what

The best overview of the changing technical factors involved in Boulez’s music up to the
mid-1980s is still Susan Bradshaw, ‘The instrumental and vocal music’, in Pierre Boulez. A
Symposium, ed. William Glock (London: Eulenberg, 1986), pp.127–229.
Peyser’s book was published by Cassell (London) in 1976, Born’s by the University of
California Press in 1995. All page references in text.
Jean Vermeil, Conversations with Boulez. Thoughts on Conducting, trans. Camille Naish
(Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1996), pp.87, 88. Further page references in text.
Schoenberg, notes for a speech on education, c. 1936. See Joseph Auner, A Schoenberg Reader.
Documents from a Life (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2003), p.276.
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he wants’, in keeping with his comment about his sister and himself in
relation to their parents: ‘they were strong, but we were stronger’(47).
Peyser’s tale hinges on what she portrays as a tragic situation. As
someone dedicated to protecting his personal privacy, Boulez
embodied ‘the ultimate condition of modern man’ (262), and although
‘a person so alienated, so divided, must attempt to restore wholeness
with what he has to hand’, we have to confront the fact that, in Peyser’s
stark phrase, ‘his revolution did not work’ (249). The revolution in
question was getting subscribers to the New York Philharmonic to like
contemporary music of the kind Boulez admired. In his role of post-
Bernstein Pied Piper, Boulez had failed: and, we infer, it remained to be
seen whether that ‘other kind of music’ (265) to which the then-
nascent IRCAM was dedicated would succeed, and whether IRCAM
itself would succeed, as the model of an institution allegedly very
different from anything that had existed before.
Georgina Born’s Boulez could hardly be more different. Unlike
Peyser, Born decided at the outset of her study ‘not to speak directly to
Boulez’, since it seemed to her ‘far more to the point to report the
representation of Boulez, and the sense of his impact, through inform-
ants’ testimony and my own observations rather than to invite being
overwhelmed by his own authoritative, and better-known, account of
things’ (9). By the time Born’s study of IRCAM in 1984 was published,
eleven years later, it had acquired an interpretative slant clear from the
very first sentence of the epigraph, from Nietzsche’s The Will to Power
– ‘Modern art is an art of tyrannizing’: and there’s an ironic counter-
point between Born’s initial quote from Boulez, declaring the need for
harmonious collaboration between technician and creator, and the
record of argument, dissent and frustration to which she devotes so
much space. From an early stage the uninterviewed Boulez is charac-
terized as a charismatic but dictatorial force ‘who has controlled every
aspect of musical discourse: its production, but also the conditions of
its production – its reproduction (performance, theorization, diffusion
through education) and so its legitimation’ (80). In producing her vivid
scenario of Boulez’s acquisition and exploitation of power, Born
makes much of what she calls the ‘profound parallels’ with Wagner
(94): and she details how Boulez’s ability to dispense patronage
connects with the appearance of ‘hagiographic texts of different kinds
that promote his authority’ (93) – texts whose ‘mythic’ exaggerations
encouraged subordinates to refer to him, however sardonically, as ‘the
king’ or even as ‘God’ (146–7).
Born is deeply sceptical about the assumptions concerning social
legitimacy and aesthetic value that go with the kind of composition
Boulez favours. Even so, she acknowledges Boulez’s own ambivalence
about the nature of IRCAM, as an institution committed to research
yet expected to produce artistically valuable results: and she appreci-
ates that this ambivalence can be related to a fundamental aesthetic
stance in which Boulez sees music not purely as ‘architecture’, but as
the ‘architecture of emotion’ (147). Ambivalence also plays an essential
part in Born’s highly pertinent judgements about the extent to which
IRCAM, at least in the mid-1980s, perpetuated working practices
which were ‘largely a leftover from earlier forms of music making’,
fuelling ‘a reification of individual authorship replete with the
romantic conception of the heroic and individualist artist – a striking
romantic survival within a present modernism, and evidence of the
continuity between romanticism and modernism’. Yet, since at the
same time IRCAM promoted practices ‘in which authorship becomes
multiple and in which it may be difficult to reconstruct the lines of
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individuality’, the institute was ‘a site of absolute if repressed

confrontation between the continuing power of the romantic ideology
of authorship and its practical and material transcendence’ (268). The
extent to which Boulez’s own sense of himself as composer might
have been affected by these issues will be considered a little later. First,
some discussion of texts in which his own authorial voice is more
directly audible.
In various volumes of conversations, Boulez adopts the polished
manner of the supremely accomplished chef d’orchestre who tells us
exactly what he thinks we need to know. Boulez has often been given
to comments like this, from 1968, about other composers’ music:
‘what really interests me … is a work that contains a strong element of
ambiguity and therefore permits a number of different meanings and
solutions’ (Orientations, 462). Later, in the Collège de France lectures,
the supremely classicistic observation that only the ‘profound unity’ of
a viable language makes meaningful diversities within an overall
coherence possible, is complemented by the following hymn to
liberty: ‘I believe that the fundamental freedom of composing can only
be found in the rupture, in the accident constantly absorbed by the law,
at the same time as the constantly repeated destruction of the law by
the accident’.18
In his conversations with Jean Vermeil, Boulez talks of wanting to
hear, and to realize, a ‘hierarchy of values’ in the works he conducts
(80): ‘even in music where the sound is not continuous I still try to
obtain a certain continuity through discontinuity. By that I mean that
there may be interruptions, or ruptures, but there is still an under-
ground rumbling one does not hear, and it links up with something
one then hears anew’. These comments come just after Boulez has
told Vermeil that ‘if I hear something that has remarkable moments
but no general design, it leaves me unsatisfied. I hear those moments
and appreciate them, but if I can’t really link them with something
continuous that joins one moment to the next, then I’m unsatisfied. In
rather disconnected music, such as that of Webern, those moments
have to be joined in an extremely evident manner’ (83). Later, he says
that ‘even in disconnected works, such as Berg’s Three Pieces for
Orchestra, Opus 6, where the segments are separated, I look for conti-
nuity’: and he ends by declaring: ‘I believe the sense of continuity is the
most important element in performance’ (91).
In his later conversations with Cécile Gilly, Boulez claims that the
‘shifting connections within a group, between the collective and the
individual, enormously enrich the various dimensions of the music’.19
Just as the dialogue between order and disorder remains a powerful
motivation, so the ‘dialectic of safety and doubt is, in my opinion, one
of the most interesting elements in our perception of music’ (112). If,
as Boulez says at the end of his comments to Gilly on …explosante-
fixe…, ‘the barrier dissolves between categories which initially, seemed
totally incompatible’ (114), he is suggesting that – at least for the
performers – nothing should inhibit a final sense of resolution, of
synthesis. Yet it is always difficult to use Boulez’s words to close off the
open-ended and the ambiguous. Take the topic of organicism, linked
to the images of spirals and mosaics which he associates with the
IRCAM works. As he tells Rocco di Pietro,
I want to get rid of the idea of compartments in a work … similar to Proust,
where you find that the narration is continuous. You have, of course, chapters in
Boulez, Jalons, p.290 [see note 5].
Boulez on Conducting. Conversations with Cécile Gilly, trans. Richard Stokes (London: Faber &
Faber, 2003), pp.106–7. Further page references in text.
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Proust, but the work has to be read in one go. That for me is one of my main
goals in music (for large works). I don’t want any breaks in the music, but you can
introduce new ideas and abandon some other ideas, like the characters in a
Is it possible that Boulez in the late 1990s is simply teasing di Pietro,
just as he had teased Joan Peyser 20 or more years before? Apart from
the blithe suggestion that Proust must be read ‘in one go’, the apparent
refusal to countenance difference, assemblage, doesn’t quite fit with
the comment to di Pietro that ‘I need, or work, with a lot of accidents,
but within a structure that has an overall trajectory – and that, for me,
is the definition of what is organic’ (25). But it’s right and proper than
an element of ambiguity should persist in connexion with Boulezian
notions of organicism, and, for that matter, classicism. Like his compo-
sitions, Boulez’s writings and interviews bear consistent witness to the
modernist stratum in his thinking about music.

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Boulez’s tendency to associate classicism with remembering might
explain his preference for restraint, his fastidious refusal to confuse
memorial recollection with ‘delirious’ lament. The brief prose poem
which prefaces Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna (1974–5) stresses
formal aspects – ‘perpetual alternation … recurrent patterns changing
in profile and perspective’ which dialectically promote a ‘ritual of the
ephemeral and the eternal’, and create a sense of ‘the images engraved
on the musical memory – present/absent, in uncertainty’. This seems
to embody the composer’s sense of the work’s form as expressing the
fundamental ‘uncertainty’ which its materials reflect, and which
listeners inevitably confront. For the musical memory, the presence of
one image requires the absence of others which, in the dialogue
between the ephemeral and the eternal, are no less essential to the
ceremony: and it is a short step from ceremony conceived in these
terms (something present memorializing someone absent) to the kind
of formal presence/absence dialogue which ‘live’ electronics makes
In a recent article (see Note 11) I discussed the third Mallarmé
Improvisation from Pli selon pli in terms of its magical, siren-like associ-
ations, and the kind of aesthetic enslavement depending on sounds
whose sources are unseen which has been much discussed of late.
There seems to be a natural progression from Pierre Schaeffer’s notion
of hidden sounds ‘whose invisibility forced the listener to concentrate
on the morphology of sounds rather than their origin’21 to the aura of
Boulez’s IRCAM works, in which the listener at a live performance
registers the disparity between what is visible and audible and what is
audible yet invisible: and the ‘various spatialization techniques’ which
Andrew Gerzo uses in the 1996 DG recording of Dialogue de l’ombre
double are designed to construct ‘an imaginary hall in which the sound
sources seem to the listener to move horizontally or vertically, closer
or further away’.22 The effect is evidently the result of something
mechanical: and yet the aesthetic impression can transcend mere
mechanics, as that trace of magic refuses to be erased.

Rocco di Pietro, Dialogues with Boulez (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001), p.70. Further
page reference in text.
Carolyn Abbate, In Search of Opera (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001),
Andrew Gerzo, booklet notes with DG recording 457 605-2 (1998).
  :       11

Doubling, shadowing, are multiply deployed in Dialogue, most

notably in the spatial relations between the principal clarinet and its
recorded or echoing Other: and doubling and shadowing are also
evident in the dialogues within Boulez’s material, and between that
material and allusions to Berio’s Sequenza 9a, Stockhausen’s In
Freundschaft, and Boulez’s own Domaines. (The title alludes to a scene
from Paul Claudel’s weightily symbolic 11-hour drama Le soulier de
satin (1922–4) which contains a monologue for a character called
‘l’ombre double’ – although, according to Béatrice Ramaut,23 Boulez
decided on his title only after the music was completed.)
In elaborating on the ritual, theatrical qualities of the piece, with its
use of movement and lighting, Ramaut suggests an association between
the construction of the first section, or ‘Sigle’, and those psalmodic
models lodged in Boulez’s memory since childhood, which (as Jonathan
Goldman has shown) also have a role in Anthèmes (Dissertation, 40).
These memories of ritual and ceremony might even help to explain a
touch of almost Germanic pathos in the character of Dialogue – and not
just ‘pathos’, but an heroic vulnerability, restoring the link to Wagner,
and to Kundry, the siren who finds peace in death. Consideration of the
character of Dialogue’s materials, and certain comparisons which arise
with generic prototypes in Boulez’s earlier music, strengthen the case
for using ‘modern classicism’ as an appropriate category for music
which is not so much an antithesis to an earlier, avant-garde modernism
as something deduced from it in the light of experience, and of the
conviction that listeners should be encouraged to perceive the nature of
musical materials, rather than remaining mystified by them. Among
these generic prototypes, none is more seminal, nor more persistent,
than the juxtaposition of reticence and incisiveness, corresponding to
slower and faster, rhythmically freer and more regular elements – the
prototype of the kind of ‘explosant/fixe’ polarity that can perhaps be
thought of as Boulez’s version of the Nietzschean confrontation
between Dionysus and Apollo.
Such balancing oppositions are evident as early as the contrast
between the staccato moto perpetuo (‘Rapide’) and slower, smoother,
more lyrical material in the second movement of the first piano sonata
(1946), shown in Ex. 1. They are no less fundamental to the formal and
textural dialogues of many later works, for example the ‘Libre’ and
‘Prestissimo’ materials at the beginning of Incises for piano 1994,
extended version 2001 (Ex.2). As gestures, these basic thematic
elements are as complementary as the genres of fantasy and toccata
which they recall. The early works tend to shun the proto-thematic
recognizability of pitch-centred ostinatos, but the later pieces are more
relaxed about such unifying aids to accessibility, and about their
possible connexions with the signifying ‘topics’ of baroque and
classical tradition.
As works without an electro-acoustic component, Incises, sur Incises
and Anthèmes forgo that additional, mysterious element of spatially
enhanced dialogue by means of which Boulez seems to come closest
to his own very personal version of a more romantic aesthetic and its
admission of pathos into the expressive vocabulary. In the ‘Sigle final’
of Dialogue de l’ombre double, the brilliant, rapid flow of the writing
suggests a typical Boulezian moto perpetuo or toccata. The first part (to
bar 65) is written for the recorded or ‘double’ clarinet only, in dialogue
with itself, the principal material divided between the repressed and

Béatrice Ramaut: ‘Dialogue de l’ombre double de Pierre Boulez: analyse d’un processus cita-
tionnel’, Analyse Musicale 28 ( June 1992), pp.69–75.
12 

the assertive. That marked ‘agité, mais murmuré’ circles within a rela-
Example 1: tively narrow, low register: that marked ‘comme une brusque interjec-
Piano Sonata No.1, second
movement © Copyright Amphion tion’ uses quintuplet semiquavers to launch its increasingly extended,
Editions Musicales, Paris ascending flourishes (Ex.3).
  :       13

Example 2:
Incises © Copyright 2001 by
Universal Edition A.G., Wien
14 

Example 3: Initially distinct, these two types of material evolve into a more
Dialogue de l’ombre double, beginning interactive phase (from bar 27), preserving a distinction of tempo
of ‘sigle final’ (‘double’ only).
© Copyright 1985 by Universal (‘agité’ as against ‘plus modéré’) but tending increasingly towards the
Edition A.G., Wien single ascending or descending trajectory. Then, in the second part, a
degree of synthesis is reinforced by the persistence of the dialogue
between the ‘live’ clarinet’s single, reiterated high Cs and the varied,
florid approaches to the same pitch in the ‘double’, approaches which
integrate elements from the first part’s distinct ‘agité’ and ‘brusque’
materials. In this way, Dialogue ends with a reiterated cadence that is
surely intended to resolve rather than to dissolve, and which wears its
classical associations very firmly on its sleeve. Yet that final sustained
and repeated cadential pitch is not quite the all-pervading, all-control-
ling tonic of tonal tradition: most of the work is far too febrile, if not
actually frenzied, to support such a judgement, and in the ‘Sigle final’
it is as if the pre-recorded, invisible ‘double’ is vainly attempting to
escape the triumphantly single-minded presence of the implacable and
immobile principal clarinet.

     

In a rare admission of emotion, Boulez has said that ‘the amazing
scene between Alberich and Hagen’ which begins Act 2 of
Götterdämmerung ‘moves me for reasons that are probably not directed
related to the drama. The composer seems here to be conducting a
kind of dialogue with his own double and the subject to be something
much more general than the Ring: it is a questioning of the future, an
uneasiness about generations to come’. For Boulez ‘the whole scene
reveals a deep uncertainty about communication’, an ‘anguished ques-
tioning’ which refers ‘to the whole work and its future validity’
  :       15

(Orientations, 291). Perhaps, in Boulez’s mind, this links back to the

overriding element of ‘doubt’ about absences and presences revealed
by the Rituel poem, and explored so memorably in the electro-acoustic
works, from Répons onwards. The labyrinthine world in which the
delirious forgetfulness of modernism seeks accommodation with the
ritualized remembrances of classicism begins at the point where the
path from the new music explodes into a daunting multiplicity of
routes and counter-routes. Hardly surprising, then, that even the fero-
ciously self-assured Boulez should remember the sacred ceremonies of
his youth in working on compositions which reach out to their
listeners in ways of which both Wagner and Webern might have
approved. At 80, he is still remembering, still resisting the siren calls of
unadulterated nostalgia.