Translated by Kenneth Chalmers
Pierre Boulez’s Masterpiece Le Marteau sans maître
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Of all leading 20th-century musicians, Pierre Boulez (born 1925) is also one of the most versatile, a composer, conductor, essayist and music administrator in one. Many music-lovers know him better as a conductor than a composer. In the latter guise, he found his inspiration not just in Schoenberg, Webern and his teacher Messiaen, but literary figures such as Joyce and Mallarmé as well. In the 1950s he and Karlheinz Stockhausen were the most committed representatives of serial music, and the phrase “Music is as much a science as an art” that appears at the end of the volume Boulez on Music Today became a watchword for serialists.1
It is well known that at the outset of his artistic career, Boulez reacted against Schoenberg and particular his Pierrot lunaire. Le Marteau sans maître, the painstakingly-constructed work that he composed between 1952 and 1954 and which Stravinsky made famous, can, in a sense, be seen as the product of this creative conflict. Boulez himself at times pointed to the similarities, but also the differences, between the two works. In his view, both are “of the same duration, almost to the minute; they call for an ensemble of around the same size; both involve a soloist”.2 There is a further point in common: Pierrot lunaire is divided into three parts, and consists of three times seven poems. The nine pieces that go to make up Le Marteau are similarly constructed from three cycles that draw on poetry by Ren...
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