Pierre Boulez. By Dominique Jameux. Translated by Susan Bradshaw. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. [xiii, 422 p. ISBN 0-674-66740-9. $25.00].
Pierre Boulez: A World of Harmony. By Lev Koblyakov. (Contemporary Music Studies, 2.) Chur, Switzerland; New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1990. [viii, 232 p. ISBN 3-7186-0422-1. $46.00].
Book review by Jason Gibbs
Notes (December 1992) vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 583-585.
These two books about Pierre Boulez take different aim at their subject. Dominique Jameux's book surveys the composer's entire career and life's work, while Lev Koblyakov studies the serial structure of a single work, Le Marteau sans maitre, in intricate detail.
Jameux is a musicologist and journalist who has achieve some renown as the editor of the journal Musique en jeu. An updated translation of his 1984 book, Pierre Boulez consists of three sections, the first biographical, the second analytical, and the final one bibliographic. Although he builds upon piror studies of Boulez's life, including Antoine Golea's Rencontres avec Pierre Boulez (Paris: Juillard, 1958), Joan Peyser's Boulez: Composer, Conductor, Enigma (New York: Schirmer Books, 1976), and Conversations with Celestin Deliege (London: Eulenberg, 1976), Jameux brings new material to light through several recent interviews with the composer. Furthermore, he unearths information about little known and unfinished compositions, as well as about the evolution of Boulez's many ongoing works in progress.
He organizes the biographical section according to principal events and achievements of Boulez's life. We learn of a composer who has never forsaken other dimensions of musical life: he is a writer and visionary, a conductor, and an impressario (or "entrepreneur," p. 126). Like previous biographers, Jameux presents the composer's life and work as a succession of succes de scandale. Boulez the provacateur shocks the narrow tastes of the concert-going public: the premier of Le marteau sans maitre is a "magnificent scandal" (p. 73); the composer "declared himself a 300% Marxist-Leninist" (p. 142); later he "called for a bomb to fall upon the Opera, its ceremonial and all its works" (p. 156). At age 25 he dismissed all musicians who did not "experience the necessity" of serialism as "useless" (p. 44), yet in his 40s and 50s as his career advanced he began to work within the musical establishment for institutions like the New York Philharmonic and Bayreuth. Here Jameux describes Boulez as a "tactician" - man adept at political maneuvering (p. 170). Despite the toll it took upon his creative output, the composer increasingly devoted his energies to the world of the symphony orchestra: "to be in charge of them is to have the means of influencing musical life in general" (p. 158). By the end of the book Boulez is the triumphant visionary, especially with his return from "exile" to France - his residence had been in West Germany and most of his high profile conducting was in the United States and Great Britain. He has taken charge of IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique), hold a chair at the College de France, achieves greater conducting honors, and is an important fixture in Parisian intellectual life. The recent composition in progress, Reponse, acclaimed as a "masterpiece," integrates the composer's musical language with advanced electro-acoustic technology. A towering figure of our time, Boulez stands for Jameux as "a global, even archetypal man of music . . . a remarkable conjunction of musical thought and action" (p. 127).
The second half of the book is an introduction to the musical structure of a dozen of Boulez's key compositions. Along with Jameux's observations, primarily overviews of form, pitch, and rhythmic material, he includes brief score excerpts and refernces to scores and relevant commercial recordings. Although his commentary is meant to serve as "encouragement to future investigations" (p. 226), it would have benefited from considering or at least directing the reader toward the existing analytical literature (for instance Gyorgy Ligeti's article on Structures Book 1 ["Pierre Boulez," Die Reihe 4 (1960): 36-62] and Lev Koblyakov on Le Marteau san maitre, [cf. below]).
The book closes with a works list, discography, filmography, bibliography, and an appendix. The catalogue of works reveals that the majority of Boulez's compositions are either withdrawn, unpublished, in the process of revision, or have been subjected to a series of revisions. Throughout the book Jameux performs the invaluable service of keeping track of all of the various versions and stages that Boulez's compositions have undergone.
Susan Bradshaw's translation omits several brief passages of the original French, a small number of musical examples, and a few leaves of black-and-white plates. These unnoted editorial decisions do not alter content so much as they give the book a slight more serious tone - the omitted passages are more informal.
While Jameux presents a survey of Boulez's life and work, Koblyakov focuses in Pierre Boulez: A World of Harmony on a single composition, Le Marteau sans maitre. He presents his sudy from the point of view of an "outsider" attempting to penetrate the composer's code. Koblyakov's monograph is actually his 1977 doctoral thesis written for The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His article "P. Boulez' 'Le Marteau sans Maitre'" Analysis of Pitch Structure" (in Zeitschrift fur Musiktheorie 8 : 24-39) is the only previously published excerpt of this work. It would appear that during the thirteen intervening years he was unable to find a text editor for this book, for his prose remains as awkward, obscure, and ungratifying to read as does the 1977 article. Unlike Jameux's book, which may be understood by a general audience, the reader of Koblyakov's opus should be familiar with serial theory, as well as with Boulez's own theories and terminology (as contained, for instance, in the compilation Boulez on Music Today [Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1971]).
Koblyakov traces the influence of the musical structure of Le marteau to the internal logic of "cycles" that Boulez uses. Thus the music of the first cycle, consisting of the first, third and seventh movements, is derived from the same design, structured at the pitch and formal level according to the composer's serial principles. Since Boulez's procedure is to work out exhaustively all of the possibilities of a construct, the resulting music is actually an extension of his constructs in time. The study would be easier to understand if it lingered longer on even a single musical passage, showing gradually and carefully the ways that the structure has a palpable effect upon a listener's perception of the composition. The anaylsis tries to account for every note, at times even adding up all of the notes and durations of a passage in order to catalogue numerological and proportional relationships. Unfortunately, the book becomes a laundry list of tables and diagrams. Only half of the book is text, and this text is interspersed with musical examples and tables. The remainder of the volume consists of comments and appendixes that contain diagrams, schemes and additional tables, thus requiring the reader to look sometimes at three different sections of the book as well as the score in order to follow Koblyakov's presentation.
Pierre Boulez: A World of Harmony is riddled with ambiguous and undefined terms, such as "diphanous multiplied series" (p. 43), and audial (p. 71). The author also discovers anew concepts long familiar to Anglo-American students of serial pitch relations such as trichordal theory (p. 101) and index numbers (pp. 53-54). In addition, since this book was essentially completed in 1977, and the author apparently deemed a survey of subsequently published literature unnecessary, there is no obvious awareness of more recent analyses of the composition, such as Robert Piencikowski's "Rene Char et Pierre Boulez: Esquisse analytique du 'Marteau sans maitre,'" Schweizer Beitrage zur Musikwissenschaft 4 (198): 193-264.
Koblyakov does have a thorough and extensive knowledge of Boulez's music. Although the bulk of the text is spent laying out arcane detail, when the author does pause to summarize and draw conclusions, his insights are significant. He furthermore provides a goldmine of information - in almost an offhand manner - about the harmonic structure of other compositions by Boulez. Despite its myriad difficulties, this is probably the single most important examination of a Boulez composition. Koblyakov appears to have succeeded in discovering Boulez's musical structures, and students of this music who have the patience to work through his analysis will profit from the experience.