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Happy 90th Birthday To The Great French Composer And Conductor Pierre Boulez !

  Today is the 90 th birthday of one of the most important and influential  classical musicians of  our time  , Pierre Boulez . It would be difficult to

overstate his  enormous impact on  classical music in the 20 th and early 21st centuries  , both as a composer and conductor , as well as a teacher ,

writer and theorist .  He is now  retired from conducting   and  composing  due to  failing eyesight and  physical frailty , but  the  entire vast 

world of classical music is celebrating his  birthday today . 

   Born in  Montbrison , France in 1925 , Boulez  studied  composition in  Paris with the  great  French  composer  Olivier Messiaen  at the

Paris conservatoire ,  and   became  known as  a composer of  rigorous  , highly complex  serial music  which    never pandered  to   

audiences  and    even   alienated many listeners  , as well as a champion  of   the  12 tone music of   the so-called "Second Viennese school " of 

Arnold Schoenberg , Anton Webern   and other  modern composers .  

   Boulez  became known as an Enfant Terrible of contemporary music ,   contemptuously dismissing  20 th century composers who did not meet

his    rigorous standards of  modernity , Shostakovich , for example and  once arrogantly declared that any living composer who did

not conform to   rigorous  atonal serialism  was  "irrelelvant" and "useless " , showing total disregard for  what concertgoers  expected  ,

as well as alienating many other prominent composers  . but he  continued to  produce   works which  gained  performances and  

earned the admiration of   such  musical giants as Igor Stravinsky .  Most have been works for  smallish ensembles of  diverse instruments ,

including  electronic instruments  ,  marimbas  and other  exotic  devices  , some with solo voices .  Three extremely difficult  piano sonatas ,

and  works with  such  strange titles as " The hammer without a master ",  "Pli Selon Pli " (fold on fold )  etc .

   He used the   texts of once  avant-garde French poets  for his vocal works and   these were reocrded  a mumber of times , sometimes under 

his direction .   Boulez did not originally intend to become a conductor , but felt the need to in order to   have  his intentions   best realized  .

    Boulez began to appear with  such great orchestras as  the  Cleveland orchestra ,  the London symphony and others , and in the 1970s

became principal conductor of Lndon's BBC symphony orchestra , which was sponsored by  the BBC  and  allowed him ample rehearsal  

time to achieve  performances of  the  greatest polish and precision .  He also began to conduct opera ,    appeared regularly at the
world famous Wagner festival  at Bayreuth  , leading the   controversial 1976 centennial production of Wagner's Ring  , which    brike with

traditional sets and costumes ,  and acclaimned  productions of   Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu at the Paris opera ,  and Debussy's Pelleas &

Melisande at London's Royal opera  .

   When Leonard Bernstein  stepped down as music director of the  New York  Philharmonic in 1969 ,  Boulez  took the orchestra over in  

1971 .  He was   exact opposite of the  the flamboyant , exuberant and  highly emotional  podium figure which Berbnstein was  ;

he  was   sober , restrained and   undemonstrative on the pppodium , and many  critics and listeners accused him of   being  a  coldly

analytic musician who  favored a totally cerebral  approach to  music making  .  But all acknowledged his enormous   technical  expertise  

and  fastidious attention to detail  .   

    The musicians of the New York Philharmonic  were  sometimes  exasperated by his  rigirous attention to detail in rehearsals and  insistence 

on  achieving  perfectly  in tune playing   , clarity of  texture , that is making sure that everything in a score can be clearly heard ,  which is far 

easy .  Particularly with  contemprary  works with their  enormous complexity .  

   Boulez   avoided  the   audience -pleasing  works of  Tchaikovsky , Rachmaninov and other Romantic era composers ,  with which he had no 

affinity and even  disdain for , concentrating on  music by Debussy , Ravel,  Schoenberg, Berg, Webern , Bartok, Stravinsky , Messiaen and 

20th century composers.  However , he did not  bar guest conductors  from  doing  the audience favorites .

   When he stepped down from the Philharmonic in  1977 , he moved to Paris , where  with the generous  funding of the  French government , 

he became director of a center for  avant garde music called  IRCAM  , the International center for experimentation in modern music ,  leading

musicians  who  specialized in new music as well   as experimenting with combining  electronic and acoustical instruments .  .

   Boulez maintained his relationships as guest conductor with   the Cleveland orchestra , the Chicago symphony ,  the Vienna Philharmonic

the  Berlin Philharmonic and    other great orchestras ,  but  his  activities as a conductor  limited his time to   compose .

     AS a composer ,  Boulez  began  using  Schoenberg's 12 tone techniques , but was determined to go beyond them  and achieve

even greater complexity  and  compositional rigor .  Shortly after Schoenberg's death in 1951 , he wrote  a notorious  article

called "Schoenberg is dead ", dismissing  the   great Austrian's music as no longer  sufficiently avant garde .   Music which  was once

considered outrageous in the early 20 th century was now old hat to him !

    If you are looking for  tunefulness in music , you will   never  be able to grasp  the music of Boulez .  But  it  rewards repeated listenings .

    He has also made numerous  recordings  as a conductor  for  Sony Classical  (formerly CBS  and Columbia records ) Deutsche Grammophon 

and other labels  of music by  Debussy, Ravel, Wagner,  Mahler , Schienberg ,  Webern , Bartok , Stravinsky ,Messiaen  and other  composers ,

including   operas by Wagner , Debuusy , Schienberg  ,  Berg  and  Bartok , many of which have  won awards , such as the Grammies .

   Boulez has served as a mentor to many  younger composers and conductors  who went on to achieve  world fame ; Daniel Barenboim ,  

for   example .  He is a giant of  modern music , as  uncompromising and forbidding as he may seem .  



Posted: Mar 26 2015, 03:28 PM by the horn | with no comments
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