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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 3

Boulez in Conversation

November 2, 2002

Version française...

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 writing.

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 say:

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 Hélène Prévost.

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 things.

SP: Do current developments in new technologies provide a way of genuinely renewing musical language?

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 music.

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 Brierley]

Version française...

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