Conductor and composer Pierre Boulez (1925) has always sought to push boundaries and look into the future musically. He is opposed to traditional music and was considered a rebel at first as he used modern methods such as 12-tone composition to help him develop new approaches to sound.
Boulez studied mathematics early on but soon switched to music at the Paris Conservatory where Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz were among his instructors. Over the course of his life he has inspired many young musicians and even won twenty-six Grammys for recordings! Continuing his mission to pursue modern music, Boulez founded a modern music series in 1954 known as Domaine musical. The group represented music from composers including John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Olivier Messiaen, and Luciano Berio.
Above I mentioned the 12-tone method. This type of compositional approach is known as serialism and is based on a pre-determined series of pitches from the chromatic scale repeatedly used throughout a work. Boulez expanded this method into total serialism—the application of serialism to items other than pitch including durations and timbres. He was also known to provide options in some of his pieces, giving the performer the opportunity to decide the order in which to play things.
Below you can listen to Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître (1953-55). It uses a singer and chamber ensemble with various percussion, alto flute, xylorimba, vibraphone, guitar, and viola. It contains nine movements and uses settings on poetry by René Char. Notice the Sprechstimme style of singing (type of singing that sounds similar to speaking).
Next time, join me as we talk about the use of Elvis in Michael Daughtery’s work!