Boulez and Mozart: Closer than we thought

Pierre Boulez once told me that Mozart was ‘trivial’ and he would never waste his time conducting such music. At the New York Philharmonic, he added, he persuaded them to substitute Haydn for Mozart. This was in 1985.

Now, a diligent Slipped Disc reader has come up with the facts, which are not quite as Pierre remembered them.

boulez-conducting-05forwn550w

Boulez conducted these works by Mozart with the NY Phil (source: NY Phil digital archives), in all, 33 performances of Mozart:
ADAGIO AND FUGUE, STRING QUARTET, C MIN, K.546 (QUART./STR. ORCH.) (5)
CONCERTO, CLARINET, A MAJOR, K.622 (1)
CONCERTO, FLUTE AND HARP IN C, K.297C (OLD K.299) (1)
CONCERTO, FLUTE NO. 1, G MAJOR, K.285C (OLD K.313) (1)
CONCERTO, HORN NO. 2, E-FLAT MAJOR, K.417 (2)
CONCERTO, PIANO NO. 09, E-FLAT MAJOR, K.271 (JEUNEHOMME) (2)
CONCERTO, PIANO NO. 10, E-FLAT MAJOR, K.316A (OLD K.365) (2 PIANOS) (1)
CONCERTO, PIANO NO. 15, B-FLAT MAJOR, K.450 (1)
CONCERTO, PIANO NO. 19, F MAJOR, K.459 (1)
CONCERTO, PIANO NO. 20, D MINOR, K.466 (1)
CONCERTO, PIANO NO. 24, C MINOR, K.491 (1)
CONCERTO, PIANO NO. 27, B-FLAT MAJOR, K.595 (2)
CONCERTO, VIOLIN NO. 3, G MAJOR, K.216 (2)
CONCERTO, VIOLIN NO. 5, A MAJOR, K.219 (1)
COSÌ FAN TUTTE (OVERTURE), K.588 (1)
MAGIC FLUTE, THE (OVERTURE), K.620 (1)
QUARTET, STRINGS, NO. 23, F MAJOR, K.590 (1)
RONDO, PIANO, D MAJOR, K.382 (1)
SERENADE NO. 9, D MAJOR, K.320, “POSTHORN” (2)
SERENADE NO. 12, C MINOR, K.384A (OLD K.388) (1)
SINFONIA CONCERTANTE, VLN/VLA, E-FLAT MAJOR, K.320D (K.364) (1)
SYMPHONY NO. 36, C MAJOR, K.425, “LINZ” (2)
SYMPHONY NO. 39, E-FLAT MAJOR, K.543 (1)
SYMPHONY NO. 40, G MINOR, K.550 (1)
VORREI SPIEGARVI OH DIO, K.418 (1)

Also, According to the Proms archive, he conducted several Mozart concertos. There is a live recording of the coronation concerto with Clifford Curzon:

He recorded some early Mozart concertos with The Domaine Musicale and Yvonne Loriod who was making a complete cycle.

Finally, who could forget this remarkable performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 with Maria Joao Pires and the Berlin Phil?

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  • Conductors / music directors are not completely free in their programme choices, on paper they can do what they want but in reality there may be various different pressures they have to count with. Surely PB stood by his opinion and merely compromised. His tenure with the NY Phil was problematic anyway.

    • Nevertheless he did a recording of Mozart’s Gran Partita with the Ensemble InterContemporain which I have. Hard to imagine that he would or could have been pressured by anyone to do this. It is not my favorite recording of this piece and it is the only one I have from the last four decades to use contrabassoon instead of bass, but it is enjoyable and there is nothing specifically awkward about it. I was expecting otherwise having bought the recording only for the Berg Chamber Concerto which it contains as well. Perhaps one should not take his statements more seriously than he apparently meant them himself. After all, he also never tried to blow up an opera house.

  • The difference between provocateur and genius: Boulez managed to épater la bourgeoisie, Mozart managed to bring me to tears.

    I cried the first time I heard “Boulez”, I said “Bou- who?” ha ha ha

  • Nice, misleadingly tabloidesque headline there Norman. There I was thinking that someone had discovered a common thread in the two composer’s work, you got me all fired up for nothing. Still, I had been wondering when we were going to get another Boulez story, it’s all been a bit tame of late. Beecham, a great Mozart lover, had similar views on Beethoven. I know who’s conducting of Mozart I’ll be listening to…

  • Notable addition to the above-mentioned works: in his last years of activity in France, he beautifully conducted (with an augmented Ensemble Itercontemporain ) a double bill of Gran Partita KV 361 + Berg’s Kammerkonzert

    • I was at that concert in Salle Pleyel. Brilliant choice of programming, except that his Gran Partita was boring as hell. Surprisingly, I hasten to add, since his no. 20 with MJ Pires is indeed excellent. But his Berg, with Uchida and Tetzlaff, was hair-rising. I still have goosebumps just thinking about it.

  • 33? 33 out of what?

    To make sense of that list we need more data.

    How much more or less than other conductors over a similar time period are those 33 performances?

    • Conductors are free to have their own taste, soimething quite distinct from their achievements. Boulez was good in Boulez, for some reason.

    • 33 means that in 33 of Boulez’s concerts with the New York philharmonic, Mozart was programmed. He conducted the NY Phil from 1972-1977

    • During his six years in New York Boulez conducted performances of more pieces by Mozart than by anybody else.

  • The Japanese CD label Altus have recently issued three more, late Mozart Piano Concertos – no’s 21, 25 and 26 – with Yvonne Loriod and the Lamoureux Orchestra recorded on 1.1.1964 at the Paris Conservatoire. Disc number ALT345.

  • He never conducted the Requiem? Maybe that was too trivial.
    But I am grateful for so much that Boulez did conduct, especially from the C20 repertoire, that I don’t take offence at his eccentricities.

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