Revival of Avant-garde in Messiaen and Boulez An Inspection into Serialism Influences in Messiaen and Boulez¶s Piano Works Adeline Ong Siau Shiun Universiti Sains Malaysia

Author Note This paper is prepared for VZM386, Performance and Instrumental Literature Study, taught by Dr. Yoshioka Yumi.



Abstract Following World War II, a strong impact was seen on European musicians as new experimental style started to sprung up especially the twelve tone method and serialism, a metaphor for rebuilding a shattered world. In 1950s, Neoclassicism of Stravinsky and Prokofiev was pushed from center of attention and an establishment of total organization of music is provoked among young composers such as Stockhausen, Boulez and Nono, partly due to Darmstadt influence in Germany where serial music is performed and analyzed. French composer, Olivier Messiaen stimulated great influences where his works drew inspirations from Hindu modes, bird sounds and Greek poetry, resulting in an exotic and eclectic sound with polymodal and polyrhythmic writing. His most famous student, Pierre Boulez drew on his method of rhythmic manipulation and pitch mode in Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites (first European work to be written in total organization) and composed the Structures I in total control of musical elements, too. The paper discusses about the application of serialism method in Messiaen¶s Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites and Boulez¶s Structures Ia through usage of pitches, duration of notes and articulation whereby the comparison between them portrays similarities and differences between one another as influence of Messiaen on his student¶s early works is strong.



An artistic renewal for new aesthetical ideas was seen among the young avant-garde composers, looking towards a more conventional pathway to compose music including rational thinking procedures and mathematical applications. What were followed often have sparse and disconnected textures, angular melodic lines and short phrases. Those who adhere to Schoenberg¶s serial music feel that other aspect of musical elements should be controlled instead of dealing with pitches only. Thus, the first European piano work to be written in total organization (also called total serialism or integral serialism) is Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites for solo piano, composed by Olivier Messiaen in 1949, being part of Quatre etudes de rythmes. He spoke out against the affinity of second Viennese school composers to experiment exclusively with pitch structures while adhering to traditional conceptions of rhythm and form. At the same time he cited the possibility of using a series of timbres, a series of intensities, and especially a series of durations. To describe the piece as µserial¶ is not strictly accurate, although it has many things in common with serial music (Johnson, R. S., 1975, p.105). Messiaen¶s Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites was rather modal and not based on twelve-note tone row series, but all basic musical elements are predetermined before actual notation of the piece take place. In this piece, three divisions of twelve-note pitches (consisting of all notes of a chromatic scale) have been created with different note duration, dynamics, intensities (modes of attack) associated to each note, thus resulting in 36 different pitch of sounds, 24 rhythmic values, 7 dynamics and 12 mode of attacks. The first division has basic duration of demisemiquaver, the second division with a basic duration of semiquaver and the third division with quaver as basic duration unit. Each note of the divisions has a multiply of 1 to 12 of the basic duration unit. As this piece is in three-part



texture, some notes may sound at the same time as another part. Hence, notes of each series are permutated at times in symmetrical order, which is different from classical serial composition where following a specific tone row of a series is a must. For example, series of note that follow the order of 1, 7, 2, 8, 3, 9, 4, 10, 5, 11, 6, 12. There is also no sectional form as each pitch is played within the particular series. However, a similar pattern of descending note occurred in each series. Its sparse sounding due to almost single-note texture and widely scattered notes with jagged melodic outlines correlates this piece under pointillism style. In addition, dynamics and modes of attack are freely assigned to each pitch. The 7 types of dynamics are ppp, pp, p, mf, f, ff and fff. Each pitch keeps the same duration, dynamic and mode of attack throughout the piece but notes with same letter names have different durations, dynamics and modes of attack in each division. As compared with a true serial piece where order of notes are fixed according to the tone row while the parameters (note durations, dynamics, modes of attack etc.) are free, the order of notes in Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites are freely ordered within the division whereas its parameters are set. Boulez, struck by the possibilities for serialization of all parameters used in Messiaen¶s Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites, evolved his own serial techniques in a different direction with help of mathematical approach to eradicate traditional pulse and meter in music. Perhaps the most prominent traditional musical element that was followed by Boulez was the rhythmic feature as Messiaen acknowledged that rhythm is the most important part of music. Thus, he composed Structures I in 1952, which consists of three movements. He proclaimed that serialism is the only pathway for future music development and those who has not experienced the necessity for the dodecaphonic language is useless. For his whole work is irrelevant to the needs of his epoch (Simms, B. R., 1996, pg.320).


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Thereupon, this total serialization technique results in a highly complex and organized composition, Structures 1a (1952) for two pianos, constructed by using two 12X12 matrices of numbers. A collective organization of pitch, duration, dynamics and modes of attack were predetermined in integral serialism technique. In this piece, pitches of notes were derived from first division of Messiaen¶s pitch mode:

Eb 1

D 2

A 3

Ab 4

G 5

F# 6

E 7

C# 8

C 9

Bb 10

F 11

B 12

Construction of Structures 1a is based upon the twelve transpositions of the series where numbers are assigned to each pitch and written up in two number matrices, the prime form (µO¶ matrix) and inversion form (µI¶ matrix). As it was written for two pianos, piano I plays the twelve P forms and twelve RI forms while piano II plays the twelve I forms and twelve R forms, resulting in forty eight versions of tone series. Boulez then relates those tone rows to serialization of all other parameters such as all note durations, dynamics, modes of attack and tempi.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 2 8 4 5 6 11 1 9 12 3 7 10 3 4 1 2 8 9 10 5 6 7 12 11 4 5 2 8 9 12 3 6 11 1 10 7 5 6 8 9 12 10 4 11 7 2 3 1 6 11 9 12 10 3 5 7 1 8 4 2 7 1 10 3 4 5 11 2 8 12 6 9 8 9 5 6 11 7 2 12 10 4 1 3 9 12 6 11 7 1 8 10 3 5 2 4 10 3 7 1 2 8 12 4 5 11 9 6 11 7 12 10 3 4 6 1 2 9 5 8 12 10 11 7 1 2 9 3 4 6 8 5

Piano I P forms

µO¶ matrix Piano II RI forms All the twelve transpositions of the series and derived forms (inversions, retrogrades, inverted retrogrades) were used once.


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concept of basic duration in Messiaen¶s first di ision, where

he established an arithmetical scales of durations from demisemi uaver to dotted crotchet The series corresponds to the twelve-note tone row and any row of duration values can be chosen in the matrices to provide rhythmic organi ation of the piece. Hence, the duration series also have forty-eight possibilities just li e the pitch series.











Duration series used by Boulez is the same as Messiaen Besides, Boulez also created a wider dynamic range as compared with Messiaen¶s seven types of dynamics, which are pppp, ppp, pp, p, quasi p, mp, mf, quasi f, ff, fff and ffff. The dynamics are then formulated with number succe ssions following diagonal shape (as shown in blue rectangle) of both µO¶ and µI¶ matrices instead of tone-row system. As number 4, 8, and 10 do not appear in the diagonals of µO¶ matri , p, quasi f, and ff do not occur throughout piano I where else numbers 4 and 10 do not appear in diagonals of µI¶ matri .

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The twelve different modes of attack are just the same in Messiaen¶s Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites, except that it is also formulated following the diagonal shape (opposites of the shape used for dynamics, red rectangle) of both matrices. Again, in Structures 1a, three different tempos are used, which are Très modéré (A), Modéré, Presque vif (B) and Lent (C) to mark different sections. The speed in this piece also portrayed symmetrical form as shown:


Contrariwise, Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites maintains Modéré throughout and is a continuation of pitches following the three divisions with no sectional form, which is so typical of Messiaen¶s composition style. It also did not state a specific time signature, unlike Boulez in Structures 1a where there is frequent change of time signature of almost every measure to assist (or to control) in playing, which is so diverse with Messiaen. Compared with Boulez¶s vast usage of tone row series in the matrices, Messiaen only composed Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites with three divisions of notes and yet he managed to create wide tone colours through varied rhythmic elements. The absence of time signature in Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites also convey a sense of timelessness. In contrast with Boulez¶s integral serialism technique on Structures, Messiaen preserved some freedom on his usage of pitches from each division series instead of following the pitches totally like the Viennese serialists. His pitch usage was more towards a twelve-tone mode. Mathematical approach was used in composition just like Boulez. The difference is that Messiaen used pitches derived from permutations of numbers as each note from the divisions is also assigned with a number. For example: Bar 24-28: 1-12-2-11-3-10-4-9-5-8-6-7 (1st division)

REVIVAL OF AVANT-GARDE IN MESSIAEN AND BOULEZ Bar 29-39: 1-2-3-12-11-10-5-4-6-9-8-7 (2nd division) Bar 39-49: 1-11-3-9-5-7-8-4-10-2-12-6 (2nd division) Bar 53-57: 6-7-12-1-5-8-11-2-4-9-10-3 (1st division) Bar 61-80: 1-7-2-8-3-9-4-10-5-11-6-12 (3rd division) Bar 81-86: 8-1-12-7-2-11-6-3-10-5-4-9 (1st division) Bar 86-96: 9-4-5-10-3-6-11-2-7-12-1-8 (2nd division) Bar 103-107: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-12-11 (1st division) As discussed, Messiaen¶s music suggests pointillism texture and evokes percussive sonorities. His aim in rhythmic usage is to split regular pulse from its conventional division into smaller rhythmic values. According to Johnson, R. S. (1975), his interest in rhythm dates back to his student days where his tutors, Marcel Dupre and Maurice Emmanuel stimulated his interest in ancient Greek rhythms. A particular feature of these rhythms is


their µametrical¶ character, which later also becomes a basic character of Messiaen¶s rhythm. The notion of a beat becomes replaced by a shortest note-value from which a rhythmic pattern can be built up (pg32). His elimination of metrical unity and the common alternation of strong beats and weak beats are replaced by an unmeasured meter which based largely on intuitive feeling. In brief, both Messiaen¶s Mode de valeurs et d¶intensites and Boulez¶s Structures 1a indeed portrays close resemblance in using serial technique in composition. Although Boulez¶s integral serialism is much more intense where not only all successions of notes were predetermined but also the duration and other parameters such as dynamics, modes of attacks or even the overall form, serialism which appears between pitches and duration are not dependent on each other (not completely integrated) as the notes do not directly determine its durations. The duration values are determined through the matrices. On the other hand,


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Messian¶s approach was more from a external perspective where the duration value is already assigned together with the pitch in each divisions. Generally speaking, numerical data has joined itself with musical reality, forming a basis for modern composition as mathematical descriptions were used to explain musical elements in Western music nowadays. Fixed rules had been obeyed and followed in search of a more rational approach of composition style.

REVIVAL OF AVANT-GARDE IN MESSIAEN AND BOULEZ 10 Bibliography: Black, J. B. (1966). Music in the 20th century, from Debussy through Stravinsky. NY: W. W. Norton & Company. Boulez, P. (1975). Boulez On Music Today (S. Bradshaw & R. R. Bennett, Trans.). London: Faber and Faber London. Born, G. (1995). Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. Breatnach, M. (1996). Boulez and Mallarme: A Study in Poetic Influence. UK: Ashgate. Deri, O. (1968). Exploring Twentieth-Century Music. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Dingle, C., & Simeone, N. (2007). Olivier Messiaen: Music, Art and Literature. UK: Ashgate. Griffiths, P. (1978). A concise history of modern music from Debussy to Boulez. UK: Thames and Hudson. Griffiths, P. (1981). Modern Music: The avant garde since 1945. New York: George Braziller, Inc. Hill, P., & Simeone, N. (2007). Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques. UK: Ashgate. Hodeir, A. (1961). Since Debussy, A View of Contemporary Music. New York: Da Capo Press. Jameux, D. (1991). Pierre Boulez (S. Bradshaw, Trans.). London: Faber and Faber. Johnson, R. S. (1975). Messiaen. London: JM Dent & Sons Ltd London. Koblyakov, L. (1992). Pierre Boulez: A World of Harmony. Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers. Mazzola, G., & Thalmann, F. (2009). Creative Analysis of Boulez's Structures, Computational Music Science. pp. 201-225. Retrieved from

REVIVAL OF AVANT-GARDE IN MESSIAEN AND BOULEZ Simms, B. R. (1996). Music of the Twentieth Century: Style and Structure (2nd ed.). NY: Schirmer Books. Stacey, P. F. (1987). Boulez and the Modern Concept. UK: Scolar Press. Taruskin, R. (2005). The Oxford History of Western Music (Vol. 3). NY: Oxford University Press. Taruskin, R. (2005). The Oxford History of Western Music (Vol. 4). NY: Oxford University Press. Whittall, A. (1987). Romantic music a concise history from Schubert to Sibelius. London: Thames and Hudson.

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