There’s a lot more reflection on Pierre Boulez to come this year — including an entire day that Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival is devoting to his work on 23 August — but today marks the official 90th birthday of the French master.
Here’s a roundup of some recent commentary on Boulez and his inarguable impact on musical life in our time:
Ultimately I think Boulez is a great optimist, despite the shadows that coloured his early years. In the end what he believes is simple: today’s music has to be different from the music of the past.
That’s a natural thing. Western music continues to evolve and transform and change. And those that don’t agree, well … they’re wrong!
America can’t be discovered out of nothing. In Boulez’s music you immediately hear everything that he has come into contact with – and that is an enormous amount. Even Bach.
The tie between heart and brain characterizes Boulez’s music. “I claim the right for music to have many levels of perception,” he told DW in 2003. “Works […] that take time to solve are the works that remain in your memory for a long time.”
For those who carp about Boulez’s conducting activities allegedly having taken his attention away from composition – they generally seem not to like his music very much, so it is not immediately clear why they should care – the Notations should stand as a rebuke. Boulez himself has owned that he would have been unable to compose the pieces without the experience of conducting Wagner and Mahler. With every listening, that claim becomes more and more unarguable. The virtuosity in orchestral writing is staggering, in its way as much so as that of Ravel, or indeed Mahler.
Boulez’s style is explosive. He detonates a germ of an idea and, like a seed, it grows a sonic forest. The common fallacy is that pieces as highly and intricately structured as these require technical understanding. But you don’t need to be a botanist to be stirred by a field of wild flowers.
My development really went backwards through time. I got to know Berg, I got to know Webern, I got to know Schönberg … and then I got to know Mahler. It was totally reversed – because there was no tradition whatsoever.
See Amanda Angel’s list of Boulez’s Top Five Transformations at WQXR.
france musique has a podcast and other material on Boulez currently available.
Also make sure to check out the content-rich Boulez-90 site at Universal Edition.