Boulez in Conversation
November 2, 2002
Renowned French composer Pierre Boulez is the
winner of the sixth International Glenn Gould Prize, which comes with a $50,000
award for the recipient. This year's jury was made up of Tim Page, Washington
journalist, Andrew Porter, London author and critic, Schuyler Chapin, former
Commissioner of Cultural Affairs in New York; Sarah Caldwell, Boston impresario,
conductor, and opera director, and Canadian pianist Robert Silverman. The winner
also has the opportunity to name an exceptional young artist from anywhere in
the world to receive the City of Toronto Glenn Gould International Protégé Prize
in Music, valued at $10,000 CDN.
The Prize is awarded to an
individual who has earned international recognition as the result of making an
exceptional contribution to music and its communication through the use of any
of the communications technologies. Individuals from any country are eligible.
Nominees may come from a broad range of fields, including musical creation or
performance, film, video, television, radio and recordings, music-theatre and
Boulez will receive the prize at
a concert to be given November 24, 2002, in the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto
(The concert will be broadcast live on CBC at 2 P.M.). Previous winners include
Yo-Yo Ma (1999), Toru Takemitsu (1996), Oscar Peterson (1993), Yehudi Menuhin
(1990), and R. Murray Schafer (1987).
To give readers a better idea of Boulez and his ideas, we dug into the
Radio-Canada archives and came up with excerpts from the following interviews,
which provide insight into the works of the creator of Marteau sans maître
(Hammer without a Master).
Pierre Boulez was interviewed before an audience at the University of
Montreal by Jean-Jacques Nattiez. The interview was broadcast September 17,
1991, on the French-language CBC program, Radio-Concert. He had this to
There was a time in the early 1950s when I was really trying to define my own
[musical] language–and a language more generally applicable than my own. This
was a tendency of the period–the period of structuralism, as you know, when this
approach influenced not only music, but many other things. It was a time when
musical content musical hedonism had been put on the back burner. The musical
vocabulary dwindled, and there was a kind of constraint, a lack of freedom, and,
in particular, a tendency to obey a sort of general system that prevented one
from doing what one wanted when one wanted. At the time I was composing
Marteau sans maître and I was already beginning to free
myself from this kind of constraint. I think that if your technique is very
sure, enabling you to go from freedom to constraint–that is, you have all the
means of expression at your disposal–then your language is much richer and
capable of expressing much more. Between total freedom in writing and absolute
inflexibility, there's actually a wide spectrum of possibilities, and this is
what has always preoccupied me.
Pierre Boulez was interviewed by Serge Provost. The interview was
broadcast on October 4, 1994, during the program Musique Actuelle produced by
SP: Pierre Boulez, do you
think of your work as a cohesive whole? Or is it made up of related segments,
where various works give rise to others?
PB: Of course I think of it
as a cohesive whole, considering that it comes from myself, from the same way of
thinking, conceiving, perceiving, and feeling. But there are obviously elements
in my work that are linked and others that belong to a different order. . . .
Sometimes I start with the briefest of suggestions or previously undeveloped
ideas. . . . I always need some kind of seed, a kernel from something earlier. .
. . That's what creates unity.
SP: In your overall work,
have there been compositions that mark a turning point? That represent either
the end of one creative period, or that have brought about fundamental insights?
Have you reached various plateaux in your work?
PB: Yes, there have been plateaux, and there are works that are more
representative than others. . . . I'm thinking, for example, of my Sonata No.
2, which marked the end of my first youthful period. I'm also thinking of
Marteau sans maître a few years later, which marked the end of a
particular period of exploration. Pli selon pli was also a kind of
turning point, and after that Éclat-Multiples marked an important step.
Then of course there was Répons and Rituel. Then recently, after
Répons, came the
interaction with electronic media and with instruments that I feel are very
important to my work because they provide a wider range of tools and
possibilities for music and sound. This stimulates the imagination in areas
where there was nothing more to be achieved with traditional instruments–or at
least with the traditional use of these instruments. This, I think, has steered
me in a new direction, and I'm still in the process of discovering all sorts of
SP: Do current developments
in new technologies provide a way of genuinely renewing musical
PB: I think so–especially in
the sense of widening the field. There isn't a fire-wall between using
electronics and using actual instruments. The two influence each other. I
believe that from this standpoint the possible interchange between acoustic and
structural composition is a benefit. In the first place, it helps me avoid many
of the taboos that affected people in the 1950s, but which the generation of
30-to-35-year-olds doesn't have. . . .
Acoustic music is a starting
point for exploration, and what you derive from it should be something far
beyond mere acoustic material–otherwise you end up with composition that is
purely harmonic and very static. . . . I try to keep in mind structural and
motif-based considerations, but at the same time I'm careful to avoid the faults
of the Vienna School, that is, to refuse to recognize the connection to acoustic
What one realizes is that the
dual presence of motif-based and harmonic writing is what has made music
progress throughout history. This is what builds a musical language, and we
shouldn't lose sight of the fact. When I'm asked, for example, . . . if we
should go back to a more tonal approach, I say no! The interesting thing is to
look at why it didn't work. . . .
There's no need to move
backward! What we should do is simply (but it's much more complicated) take into
account the very general phenomena over time, in which there have been various
approaches but also very deep-seated and constant factors. . . .
[Translated by Jane