Barenboim: Pierre Boulez ‘truly changed the musical world’

Speaking at Salzburg, Daniel Barenboim has paid tribute to his sadly bedridden friend.

‘He truly changed the musical world,’ said Barenboim, having just conducted  sur Incises in Argentina. ‘The audience raved and applauded for at least 15 minutes… Many don’t see the emotional side of the music, of course, since his music is new… Boulez has managed to feel with his head and think with his heart.

‘I really love these works very much…To me, Boulez is a great composer, but also a great human being.’

At the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin, opening next year, Barenboim will name the concert hall after Pierre Boulez.

"Hommage à Pierre Boulez zum 85. Geburtstag" Pierre Boulez, in der Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, franzoesischer, Komponist, Dirigent, Musiktheoretiker, Avantgarde, Musik,  [Das Foto ist ein Lichtbildwerk i.S.v. §2 Absatz 1 Ziff.5 UrHG,  Nur redaktionelle Nutzung, Nutzung Honorar-& MwSt. pflichtig! Weitergabe an Dritte nicht erlaubt. Wir uebernemen keine Haftung bei einer evtl. Verletzung Rechte Dritter! Es gelten unsere AGB. t.bartilla@googlemail.com,  Koepenicker Landstr. 150, 12437 B e r l i n, Bankverbindung: Thomas Bartilla, Ing-Diba, Kto. 5526039061, BLZ 50010517, Tel. + 49 178 55 60576 ]Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, Nutzung für interne Zwecke der Staatsoper unter den Linden Berlin, kostenfrei und ohne Einschränkungen, [Das Foto ist ein Lichtbildwerk i.S.v. §2 Absatz 1 Ziff.5 UrHG,  Nur redaktionelle Nutzung, Nutzung Honorar-& MwSt. pflichtig! Weitergabe an Dritte nicht erlaubt. Wir uebernemen keine Haftung bei einer evtl. Verletzung Rechte Dritter! Es gelten unsere AGB. t.bartilla@googlemail.com,  Koepenicker Landstr. 150, 12437 B e r l i n, Bankverbindung: Thomas Bartilla, Ing-Diba, Kto. 5526039061, BLZ 50010517, Tel. + 49 178 55 60576 ]

photo: medici.tv

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  • ==sadly bedridden friend

    Is there any news of how Boulez is ? Perhaps he is composing or writing from his bed.
    It would be wonderful to hear.

  • Fortunately, even Boulez has not been able to completely destroy the existing repertoire, its performance culture and / or its opera houses. The central performance culture absorbed him to disarm him, and that went quite well: by asking him to conduct the music that is far superior to his sonic works, he could not but mellow in the course of time, and worn-down. Boulez’ work is not new at all, and even in his later works the aesthetics are old, very old. ‘Sur Incises’ is virtuosic and very interesting in terms of timbre. Under that surface, there yawns the empty space of the author’s personality. It is an apt demonstration of what happened spiritually to the postwar West. Only in that sense, it is a ‘tragic’ document.

    When in doubt about the value of music and musical aesthetics, I always play a recording of Boulez, and am fully restored afterwards.

    For people, fond of empty effects without causes, this is gefundenes Fressen. But such people have always been able to captivate audiences. One thinks of the many baroque composers with their perfect but empty concerti grossi (Joachim Alzheimer springs readily to mind), and the many symphonies and concerti of Carl Czerny, and – of course – Meyerbeer, who handled the aesthetics of his time brilliantly and created a synthesis of all that was wrong with the bourgeois taste of his time.

  • Boulez’s music will be as quickly forgotten (if it hasn’t been already) as the second-rate books of Gore Vidal. Both were briefly and highly fashionable men of their time, but will be quickly, and rightly, forgotten in the grand scheme of cultural history. If Boulez is to be remembered at all, it will be as a conductor of works by composers far superior to him (particularly Mahler and Bruckner).

      • Your obsession with Boulez borders on the pathological, John Borstlap…
        If you don’t like him or his music, guess what… just don’t listen to him!!!

        I can’t stand Puccini or Tchaikovsky and I don’t write about them everytime I see their names… so why are you fixated on Boulez?

        • Well, you ask for it! …..but maybe some explanation would be appropriate. My critique on Boulez is not an obsession, I merely state what should be obvious to any cultivated person. Boulez has done an immense damage to new music (read his ‘Orientations’, collection of most of his writings) by aggressively putting forward all kinds of absurd claims that gave teeth to the philistines, who cannot hear music but like the sound of it. Postwar modernism, of which Boulez was one of the strongest representatives, has greatly contributed to the separation between ‘traditional music life’ and ‘new music’. If you read about music life of before WW II, you see that new works were anticipated with eagerness and curiosity and formed a normal part of the programmes, there was not a separate genre called ‘new music’ with specialist performers, specialist festivals, and a coterie of specialist theorists who tried to explain and promote this ‘new music’ to audiences who could only hear negative things in it and turned away. Nowadays there is in concert life, in spite of an occasional feeling of obligation towards new music, a wide-spread covert contempt for new music because programmers fear that a new piece will chase audiences away (formerly a new work would be a strong draw).

          Postwar modernism created the myth of ‘progressiveness’ in music, a banner for the dummies, so that it had an immense following. And concert life took on the character of a ‘museum culture’ – unrelated to contemporary life. Boulez has created his profile as a progressive composer who wanted to change the musical tradition, but in reality he – and most of his buddies – created an entirely new art form, which is OK. If he and Stockhausen and Xenakis et al had presented their stuff as an art form, separate from music, that would have been a totally different matter. But B created IRCAM, an institute which produces armies of ‘sound artists’ claiming performance space, funding, attention etc. etc. AS MUSIC and that has had, and still has, a very damaging effect, especially now that the central performance culture is under threat from so many sides.

          That this has been possible and presented as music:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3kpvIXG1Qc

          is to a great extent the result of what Boulez advocated during his long career.

          It is merely amaszing that this man is taken seriously by someone like Barenboim… but the reason is not difficult to see: Barenboim thinks in the same authoritarian, totalitarian way as modernist ideologies want to have it. Music history as one line of progressive development…. of which the transgressing works – which change the parameters of the art form – are the decisive artistic moments. But reality is different, this ideological reasoning has nothing to do with musical value and meaning.

          • This is an excellent and articulate distillation of the chronology of the artificially inseminated phenomenon known as “new music.” Thank you!

          • Very eloquent summary of what is obvious to many people but talked about by few professionals. Thank you.

          • Mr. Borstlap, I personally do not like Boulez and agree with many things which you have said. I also somewhat agree with your remark about Barenboim. However, another great musician for whom I have enormous respect – Maurizio Pollini, is a great champion of Boulez. Since there are many great musicians advocating his music (Barenboim, Pollini, Levine), I am very reluctant to publicly criticize him. They just can’t all be wrong. Could you please provide your opinion on this? Thank you!

          • Mr. Borstlap: I am curious as to whether you feel the same way about high modernist literature—Joyce, Woolf, Mann, Musil, Broch, Conrad, Faulkner and let’s not forget Nabokov—as you feel about “modernism” in music. “Story” meant something quite different to each of them (each in his or her own way) than it did to their predecessors.

    • On peut trouver le bonheur d’écouter les oeuvres de PB par la séparation de l’idée de musique de l’expérience purement acoustique. Et biensure, ça marche. De temps à temps j’écoute à Pli selon Pli (dont le commencement est presque de la musique, pendant quelques minutes), ou bien Eclat Multiples.

    • Did you bother to read the article you linked to? To describe it as a lawsuit against the “standing of modern music” is a gross misrepresentation.

      • The lawsuit was against the corruption in the funding system under the cover of nonsense criteria created by nonsense ideologies of half a century old. Modernism has created easy money for nitwits who entered the field of art where they had nothing to seek.

    • …. yes, and his writings are collected in ‘Orientations’, Harvard University Press, 1986. Interesting that Beckmesser has meanwhile learned a stronger jargon with which he could exclude alternative routes towards the notion of new music, like claiming that any composer who did not ‘feel’ the absolute necessity of serialism, was ‘useless’. Unfortunately, there has not appeared a Wagner to teach him a lesson.

  • I suppose one thing which Borstlap and Boulez may share is their apparent wish to make others write music in the way of which they most approve. This is something I’ve always rebelled against, from whomever it has come. I prefer to remain an independent free spirit rather than to become anybody’s groupie

    • This is entirely not true. I don’t want anybody write this or that music. If you had read carefully, and with intelligence, you would have understood that my critique has been directed towards the unjustified claims of people like PB. I am for a REAL pluralism, a free territory, where any music form is allowed to compete for the attention of performers and audiences. Sonic art has its own right of existence, but its claims to be a musical art form is damaging for both music and sonic art: listening to Boulez with ears that expect music, leads to disappointment; listening to it as sonic art, much of it is really quite nice and often the instrumental virtuosity is compelling (Sur Incises). Although many people listen to music as if it were sonic art – i.e. as purely acoustical events and nothing more – we expect from music something more: a dimension of expression, varied and ‘speaking’ to our inner being, not merely to our acoustical ears. It is people like PB who cannot accept pluralism and project a linear version of music history based upon ‘progressiveness’ which is nonsensical. If you read his writings, it makes you sick…. it is a kind of totalitarian vision of which ‘progressivness’ is the decisive factor. Newer music is not improving upon older music, simply so, and Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart etc. etc. are still alive and kicking. And ‘progressive’ takes-on different forms in different circumstances… what was ‘progressive’ in 1960 cannot longer be so in 2015. Italian Renaissance architecture was progressive at the time by taking forms of Antiquity as its models – how about THAT? A fully conservative movement? Michelangelo as a fascistoid reactionary? We suffer from a blinding bias that was developed in the postwar spiritual hangover…

      • If you ‘don’t want anybody to write this or that music’ why do you feel the need not only to denigrate Boulez but also to criticize those who admire him (I am one)? I don’t agree with most of his polemical statements, but …

        FWIW, the music which makes me feel oppressed and bullied, and to want to run screaming from the concert hall or opera house, is extreme repetitivism (aka US minimalism), but I accept that very many people like it hugely, including several of my closest and most supportive (ie they also play music I write!) professional colleagues.

        • … But ‘minimal music’, or ‘repetetive music’, does not make absurd claims. It just offers a form of music. I don’t like it either, with the exception of Arvo Pärt – but that is not quite ‘minimal music’. There is a difference between denigrating and criticizing, so don’t feel offended…. and such pretence as PB’s deserves a strong dose of irony. And by the way, I do like certain pieces by Boulez, occasionally, when I am a bit tired of Wagner or Mahler. But I will never confuse them with musical works. ‘Notations’ is quite nice. But much of PB is, I find, instead of ‘progressively groundbreaking transdendent works’, more like chique hotel lobby art: abstract but not so offensive as to irritate the guests. In comparison to music, Pli selon Pli is – even as sonic art – a great bore, apart from the first bars which are almost Ravel.

          You cannot reject an entire sophisticated musical culture and then want your own materialist alternative be accepted as music. You cannot have your cake and eat it.

          Boulez likes complex, virtuoso textures as if he has examined flees on the run for a vacuum cleaner. More humane sonic art is by Morton Geldman, like his ‘Coptic Light’ with its beautiful timbres:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgS37X4P2hM

          Under the surface, Feldmann is very, very sad – postwar hangover.

  • To Neven P.:

    I also greatly admire the musicianship of Barenboim, Pollini and Levine…. when they play music. But if they greatly admire Boulez and love to play his works as music, my impression is that two factors explain this odd misunderstanding.

    One: they are all reasonably old, and developed in the postwar period, so something of the ideological brainwashing – especially the entirely false interpretation of 20C music history, atonality developing from Wagner’s Tristan via Mahler, Schönberg and Webern to Stockhausen, Boulez and Xenakis et al – may have poisoned their minds. Building fanatically a career does not leave much mind space for philosophical reflections, and the fanatism of modernism may have touched a common string. Exception here is Barenboim who wrote perceptively about music and mucial life; that is why his advocacy of PB is so odd: PB represents everything completely opposite of what Barenboim expects of music as he formulated it in his books. It is like helping the hangman to lay the rope around your neck. I think he simply does not understand and he is taken-in by the authoritarian, centralized, dominating, napoleonic way of reasoning of PB because that is how he apparently is himself…. he can then feel not merely a brilliant conductor but also a napoleonic, dominating voice like Pierre.

    Two: There is in the scores of PB a very refined and sophisticated craft and often great instrumental virtuosity which reminds such conductors and players of the ultra sophisticated and complex scores of early Stravinsky, Debussy’s ‘Jeux’, and Ravel, with similar colourful effects at surface level, and a veritable challenge to bring it off with an orchestra. Performing PB well, is a triumph of sheer conducting dexterity and virtuosity, so they can shine as a performer. And in the process they forget what is the real core of music as an art form. But performers have that problems also with other, traditional music and that is why we still hear a lot of mediocre and bad Liszt, and lots of Mahler (the popular but vulgar and superficial 2nd and 8th symphonies which are kind of pumped-up Mendelssohn ohne Mendelssohn’s Geschmack).

    Pollini is a great man but also only human. That is why he made such a fool of himself with his arm clusters in Jerome Ducros’ hilarious lecture at the Collège de France:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yot1zZAUOZ4 (at 1:34)

    • Mr. Borstlap, thank you very much for your thorough and thoughtful response. What you say makes perfect sense – especially the ideological argument. Coming from a former socialist country, where everything not Marxist was considered “non-progressive” and “reactionary”, your argument resonates with me. Thank you!

      • Well…. that’s kind…! You’re welcome.

        Marxist countries and Western countries during the cold war formed a surrealist mirror image: in the East, what was taboo in the West: traditional art and music, was instructed from above; in the West, anything that was not compatible with ideologies of freedom, was suppressed as well, not by governments but by the artists themselves and their advocates. Modernism became a symbol of freedom, but it created a culture of totalitarian thought: ‘Thou shalt be free in the way thou art TOLD’. And figurative art and tonal music in the West became associated with Stalin, HItler, and murderous reactionary mindsets. For that reason, I smoke Havanna’s and eat three steaks a day, and kick every dog that comes my way, to show that I am not a fascist, because Hitler did not smoke, was a vegetarian and loved dogs.

  • A Louy:

    Il y avait Benjamin Britten qui a écrit ‘War Requiem’ qui dit plus des choses sur le misère de la guerre comme de la vraie musique…. et naturellement Shostakovich qui a exprimé l’expérience catastrophique de la guerre et de vivre sous un régime criminel, comme musique. Et Richard Strauss, après il avait souffert gravement au fin de sa vie, a écrit ‘Vier Letzte Lieder’, vision sublime de transcendance après la vie sur notre planète confuse et violente. Le modernisme après-guerre a rejeté toute la dimension emotionelle et expressive, et a offert du son ‘pure’. Ce sont deux formes de réaction, une comme de la musique, et une autre comme une nouvelle forme de l’art: du son objectif, l’art sonique.

    “Après le choc de la guerre, nous voulions faire table rase.”
    Pierre Boulez

    “Il y a deux sortes d’intellectuels et d’artistes depuis 1945. Ceux qui pensent que le sujet (le mot « sujet » est ici pris dans son acception philosophique) est mort, et toute forme d’humanisme avec lui ; ce sont des anti-humanistes assumés. Et ceux qui pensent que le sujet est blessé mais qu’il vit toujours et que toute forme d’humanisme n’est pas impossible ; ce sont des post-humanistes.”
    Nicolas Bacri

    Modernisme – c’est une réaction de traumatisme négatif; voir Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz:

    http://www.wolfgangandreasschultz.de/schultz_avantgarde_en.pdf

    Une musique sèrieuse et authentique est toujours de son temps. Dans l’histoire des arts on voit de temps en temps des movements qui sont un retour à l’ordre après une période de destruction.

  • Qui écoute Bacri et Ducros????
    Ne pas confondre compositeur et arrangeur svp.
    Ne pas confondre non plus une réaction à la guerre(en fait 14-18 pour Britten)et une remise en question de ce qui est en jeu dans l’acte même de composer…
    Composer après Auschwitz,ce serait Bacri !!!
    Vous plaisantez j’espère.

  • To Daniel F:

    ‘Modernism’ in literature never had the complete deletion of the communicative dimension, because language without communication, without a sense of meaning – even in Becket there is meaning – is pointless. There have been experiments like the sound poetry of, who was it? In the twenties? but they remain a curiosum without a following. Maybe only James Joyce comes close to the inaccessible and dehumanized language of musical modernism, but there is still meaning in the words, albeit hidden in labyrinths and very forced, as an intellectual game with words and their meanings. We know that Joyce was a completely flipped character (especially the memoirs of Claire Goll give some hilarious and revealing examples: “La Poursuite du vent”, Broché 1976).

    Also Mallarmé tried, in his last period, to create poetry with only the sounds of the words and no meanings, but he went so far that this abstraction stopped to invoke mental/emotional imagery. Of course PB took that stuff and used it as a justification of his own experiments, as if Mallarmé was some kind of forerunner. “Pli selon Pli” is based upon poetry by Mallarmé but only in a structuralist sense. There is no Mallarmé in it as such.

    Thomas Mann was, it seems to me, not a modernist in the sense PB is a modernist because Mann tells stories, goes deep into analyses of the human condition (‘Doctor Faustus’!). I think the best description of modernism in the arts is the avoidance of mimetic and psychological/expressive elements, i.e. there is no expressive dimension, no communication which emanates from the work towards the listener/viewer/reader, or what the listener/viewer/reader can hear/see/read into the work. A modernist work stands on its own, is its own meaning (Ligeti: ‘My work is not for the audience, it is not for me, it is a thing in itself’). It is an ‘object’ in the world without being part of the world. This being disconnected from the world, from a surrounding culture, was a demonstration of a certain state of mind: of alienation, isolation, nihilism, materialism, which formed its own culture: people being connected through disconnectedness… and then, it became a dominating establishment fashion for the talentless: you don’t need artistic talents to make a modernist object.

      • Hilarious….. It seems that PB’s oeuvre is one big allergic reaction to the Warsaw Concerto. In a way, it explains everything.

        • A most interesting anecdote about Boulez, which brings to mind the example of Messiaen. He once wrote that he was not ashamed to be a Romantic, that the Romantics were magnificent craftsmen, and that some of his contemporaries (this was probably also a subtle reference to some of his students, chief among them Boulez…) would do well to romanticize themselves. Needless to say, Boulez did not heed the advice of his great teacher. Boulez called the vast Turangalîla-Symphonie with all its lush dominant sevenths “brothel music”.

    • What an insult to french music to describe Karol Beffa’s neo-everything plagiarism as a “hope for the future”… Any minute spent listening to this tedious and bland copy of Debussy-Ravel-Dutilleux-&co could be best used re-discovering some Koechlin, Milhaud, Schmitt, Jolivet, and ten more names could come to mind. All people who, at least, invented something and had something to say. Like, eh, Boulez, whether you like him or not.

      • I beg to differ. ALL music of worth consists of a personal mix of existing material (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, especially Wagner, especially Brahms, especially Mahler, even Debussy, especially Ravel, overwhelmingly so with Stravinsky, etc. etc.) In Beffa’s ‘La Vie Antérieure’ you can hear influences, but they are amalgamated and synthesized in a personal and entirely convincing way, especially in a MUSICALLY convincing way. Maybe you should listen again… First, the waves of increasing tension building-up to a climax where the nervous and tight textures suddenly dissolve and land into a very calm and beautifully-scored choral, all this creates a perfect and dramatically satisfying form. If you find this piece ‘tedious’ and a ‘bland copy’, you may be listening to it on a purely material, sonic level. Or else you may have listened to it like Bernard Shaw listened to Brahms and wrote devastating reviews of it, saying he merely heard fragments of Schumann, Schubert, Beethoven and Bach passing-by without any personality, i.e. bland copies of ‘far superior composers’. We know he was wrong.

        ‘La Vie Antérieure’ is, I do not hesitate to say, a master piece of great personality and hence, originality: all different influences processed into a personal, and hence new, whole. That is composing in the context of a tradition, in which works refer to each other and create new forms and new expressions. Beffa’s expression in this piece is entirely new and original. There is no other piece or style in existence which does the same, says the same, and of which it is a copy.

        A musical idea can obtain a new, different expression in another context (that is what happens all the time with the classical repertoire). One example: in the Beffa chorale, we hear a minor triad in the bass and a major one in the discant. This typical timbre was first used by Stravinksy in his ‘Le Roi des Etoiles’, after Stravinsky had discussed this mix of triads with Ravel who had said that in such cases, the minor triad should always be on top. In Stravinsky the timbre has another effect than in the Beffa, because the musical and psychological context is so different. In this way, a tradition develops… like the quarter-interval motive from Mahler I which was taken from Brahms II finale, who took it from a Mozart piece, who took it from some other contemporary composer who…. etc. etc. These are fragments of a hughe vocabulary which can be varied infinitely, used in different contexts, according to the composer’s taste and personality.

    • Fascinating indeed – I was especially struck by the Diabelli Variations reference, since that piece has long been a very great favourite of mine.

      • Fascinating interview. However , I don’t agree with the Diabelli Variation comparison.
        The piano miniatures (notations) are to my ears more bursting with life and complexity than the well intentioned but perfumed orchestratral showpieces which came later of the same title. Needless, to say the reverse is the case with Beethoven’s treatment of the charming Waltz by Diabelli.

  • Agreement or disagreement aside, it is hard to believe that John Borstlap has had time in the past two days to eat, sleep, or pay the electric bill.

    • At least the man should get some credit for passion and willingness to stand for what he believes in. His lack of cynicism prevalent among many of today’s classical musicians is a rarity. I do not deny Boulez’ importance in the musical life of the post-war period, however, this is the first time that somebody gave voice to the reservations about his music that I have long held in private. And Borstlap articulates all of this very well.

      • “Reservations that you have long held in private” suggests that you have been afraid of voicing them in public for fear of ostracism, losing gainful employment, or worse. It is not my impression, at least from here in the United States, that Boulez is so universally venerated as a composer that he has gone wholly without criticism or qualification and that there is no “black list” in store for those who have “reservations” or even antipathy. While I respect the aesthetic Boulez’s works represent and take it seriously, I cannot say that I admire or love it. To me Carter is much more original, exciting composer, but I’m guessing that Mr. Borstlap would not make much, if any, distinction between them as “sonic artists”.

        • Well…. Carter is much more lively, expressing the excitement and bustle of modern life (rush hour at Time Square). He is on one extreme of the sonic scale where Morton Feldman is on the other extreme end.

          In Europe, the ‘new music establishment’ (heavily state-funded) tries to defend its privileges with totalitarian actions. When the pianist Jerome Ducros held his ironic lecture about ‘sonic art as music’ at the Collège de France in 2012, the ‘new music establishment composer’ Pascal Dusapin wrote a letter of protest to the direction of the institution, with copies to all its professors, saying it was a shame that mr Ducros had been given the opportunity to criticize atonal music. On the advice of our progressive hero, Pierre Boulez, Dusapin sent the letter to the media, all meant to corner Ducros and to paint him as a dangerous reactionary who was against progress, and probably hoping he would be locked-up in a Webern gulag. But all this backfired and a fiery debate exploded in the media which lasted a year: the ‘affaire Ducros’. It showed a pathetic attempt to copy the measures of Soviet music policy: people who dare to criticize, even if they had good arguments, the modernist establishment, provoke all the totalitarian pavlov reactions which are at the core of its aestetics. It is quite abnormal.. and far from ‘progressive’. So, of course many people in music life foster a profound contempt for modernism, PB, Xenakis et al. and the [redacted] that goes for ‘music’ at the European ‘new music festivals’….. but they don’t speak-out, because that may reduce career chances. The result is, in the free West, a self-made Soviet climate, invisible but strongly present, with a secret ‘underground consensus’ – a truth that dare not speak its name but that most professional musicians in the central performance culture share.

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