Boulez and Godard

As I said in my last post, Pierre Boulez is a poster child for a problem classical music has — some of its most respected living composers don’t have much connection to the culture of our time.

Here’s what I mean. The mainstream classical world — while not programming Boulez’s music very much — still treats him as if his music is greatly important. I remember talking to a faculty member at major state university music school, who eagerly wanted to meet me because he likes my ideas. He didn’t think Boulez took, in his composing, any musical steps that current composers should take. But still, when he taught music history, he gave great attention to Boulez as a great, path-breaking radical.

Which, in purely musical terms, he was. I myself own a score of Le marteau sans maître (a key Boulez piece from the 1950s), and also one of the first Improvisation sur Mallarmé, another key piece. I’ve listened a lot to both works, studied how they’re written, and even put part of Le marteau into my notation software, so I could get close to every detail of it, both the notes and their sound.

But outside classical music? Did Boulez — when he was making musical waves in the ’50s and ’60s — have any reach into French culture outside his little niche?

Not at all. Philip Glass was in Paris during the early ’60s, and says in his autobiography that he didn’t listen to Boulez at all, but instead went to films by Truffaut and Godard. He also said — in an interview I remember reading, but now can’t find — that he was hardly alone in this, that artistic younger people in Paris were all going to those “new wave” films (to use the term of the time), and not listening to Boulez.

Likewise me. I was in college. Even in high school, late in the ’50s, I was going to art films, though I loved Antonioni (still one of my keystone artists) more than the French directors. But in college I went to the Brattle Theater in Cambridge (I was at Harvard), and watched Truffaut and Godard. These films helped shape me. Antonioni struck me deep in my heart. Boulez? I had no idea who he was. Likewise Carter, Babbitt, even Cage. Though I was deeply into classical music — I was a singer, and gave recitals and sang opera roles (Guglielmo in Così was my first) — contemporary classical works meant nothing to me. My living art was film.

Nor was I alone in the US. In a previous post, I listed Mark Harris’s book Pictures at a Revolution as something to read, if you want a picture of the great cultural changes that hit in the ’60s. As Harris shows, people like me — but with professional interest in movies — also saw these European art films, and then went to Hollywood and started a revolution so powerful that it created a new kind of film for a new generation. And left the old guard reeling. (The New York Times fired its film critic. And Time magazine prominently retracted a bad review of Bonnie and Clyde — one of the first American new wave films — and substituted a long, ecstatic one.)

So OK — Godard had far more cultural reach than Boulez ever had. But it’s important to see why. Boulez sees (or at least saw) himself as at least to some degree the apostle of a new culture. You can see this in something he often said about why tonal music was obsolete. He said it to me, when I interviewed him, when I was a critic: Tonal music is obsolete, because we need a new musical language to express the new emotions of the present day.

I wish I’d asked him what those new emotions were. Because if you look at his work, you can’t tell. Both the pieces I named earlier are vocal works. They have texts. The Impovisation has a text by Mallarmé, a poet famous for never directly naming an object:

Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujoud’hui
Va-t-il nous déchirer avec un coup d’aile ivre
Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre
Le transparent glacier des vols qui n’ont pas fui!

The virgin, vivid and beautiful today
Will it tear for us with a blow of its drunken wing
This hard, forgotten lake that, beneath the frost, haunts
The transparent glacier of flights that have not fled!

Very beautiful, and of course also difficult. With deep meaning for some people, certainly Boulez, but also clearly not poetry that speaks — at least not directly — to what was exploding even early in the ’60s.

Or Le marteau (the poem is by René Char):

La roulotte rouge au bord du clou
Et cadavre dans le panier
Et chevaux de labours dans le fer à cheval
Je rêve la tête sur la pointe de mon couteau le Pérou.

The red caravan on the edge of the nail
And corpse in the basket
And plowhorses in the horseshoe
I dream the head on the point of my knife Peru.

(You’ll understand that I’m not against poetry like this, or composers who set it to music. I’m a great fan of difficult art, and if Mallarmé — to quote again a very rough comment on his writing — never names an object, many people would say that Antonioni, one of my artistic gods, made films with no plot, no events.)

So now Godard. His films were radical in their time, and can still seem so today. Characters (in Masculin, Féminin) turn to the camera, and are interviewed about themselves. In one famous sequence from Bande a part, the main characters decide not to speak for a minute, and the entire soundtrack goes silent. (Though only for 36 seconds.) In another famous moment, three people start dancing to a tune on a café jukebox. Godard’s voice appears on the soundtrack, decreeing a parenthesis. (A concept Boulez would like, you might think, because he talked about musical passages that might function like parentheses.) While Godard speaks, the music goes silent, but the characters still dance.

(When I rewatched the film a couple of years ago, that speared me to the screen, as if someone had run clear off a cliff, and then — unlike cartoon characters, who run on for a moment, then look down and fall — just kept on running. Though when I found this moment online just now, it seemed less arresting. Maybe it needs the full momentum of the film.)

Other moments:

  • In Contempt, a moment in a shaky affair, with the characters filmed from rooms next to the rooms they’re in, the angles of doorways putting their troubles inside a detached but not unsympathetic frame.

  • In Two or Three Things I Know About Her, a moment in a conversation deepened by a closeup of a cup of coffee, just stirred, with the spiral of foam in the middle of the cup slowly turning.
  • In La Chinoise, a conversation on a train, with the voices heard, but the film looking out the window of the train, so you feel the rhythm of the train stopping at stations, and starting again.

So yes, Godard was radical. (And Masculin Féminin, Bande a Part, and Contempt are some of his easier films.)

But here’s what’s most important. What does Godard show in these movies? The new emotions of his — and Boulez’s time — and the new thoughts that went with them. All in the process of formation, the process of being understood (or misunderstood). New ideas about love, about work, about morals, about law and crime, about politics. That’s what the characters in Masculin Féminin are interviewed about, that’s what the characters in all the other films are living. And talking about. And trying to figure out.

Which is why Godard was so powerful. He did exactly what Boulez said one should do — invent a new language (in this case a new film language) for new emotions.

(Antonioni, parenthetically, won a special award at Cannes in 1960 precisely for his new film language, in which constant fluid movements of his camera catch changes in the emotional air, even more subtly than Debussy’s music does in Pelléas.)

Which is why Godard spoke for his time and Boulez didn’t. Boulez may have felt the new emotions of his time (remember the poem Schoenberg set in his second string quartet: “I feel the air from other planets”), but he embodied them in works whose meaning is sealed off from everyday life.

While Godard found new ways to ask onscreen the same questions young people of his time were asking, and to give them resonance completely lost when I state some of them directly: what role should sex play in their lives, what happened to marriage, was normal morality so finished that crime was an option, would the working class overthrow capitalism? (That last is of course not a question we might relate to right ow in the US, but in 1960 France, with its strong Communist party and long history of Maxist politics, it was something young people did ask, and then answered in their own new way with the student rebellion of 1968. An event whose reasons were so embedded in Godard’s films that he could have invented it.)




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  1. says

    Part of the reason the disconnect exists is because modern music had been pushed into the realm of academia, and many of its interests had come to represent government or political agendas, such as the space race and the Cold War. The whole idea was to promote the idea that in Western nations, artists were given the “freedom” to experiment, express, and do the things that they saw fit, right or wrong. This was in stark contrast to the “social realist” style of that the Soviet Union was trying to promote at the time.

    I think there’s something to be said about music that doesn’t cater to market interests — especially if there’s some aspect of doing something for the longer-term or greater good. But after the fall of the union, even that part of the equation has been under turmoil…there’s really no reason for music to be done in that style anymore, at least none that I can think of. Yet it’s what gets talked about in schools, because “it’s important”.

    Maybe that’s what it’s really about, though. Music trends lag behind because it’s become part of the academic process.

    • says

      Ryan, I’d love to see deep studies of why music lags behind. I think that music lagged behind even in past centuries. We didn’t see 18th century oratorios with texts (skeptical of established religion)ny Voltaire. And we didn’t see 19th century operas that showed the life of poor people as Dickens did in his novels, or went into deep detail about bourgeois life, as Flaubert so famously did in Madame Bovary.

      That’s probably because those large musical forms were paid for by established interests that wouldn’t have taken kindly to, let’s say, an opera about the horrors of British factories.

      As for market forces, I think all music is subject to them, ultimately. Even (to use the obvious example) modernist composers with virtually no audience apart from their colleagues, supported by grants and faculty salaries — there have to be donors giving the grants, and universities wanting to hire such people. If foundations decide (switching gears here) that orchestras aren’t worth supporting, as many have in the past decade or so, that’s partly because of a market-like calculation, in which the foundations decide that the benefits conferred with the money aren’t worth the sums needed.

      And, conversely, in pop music there are always artistic decisions melding and sometimes battling with market forces. People can and do decide always to be an artist who sells 50,000 copies of an album, instead 0f shooting for 500,000 or more. And, at least in past decades, you’d see record companies strike deals with their stars: If you, the star, put one hit-friendly track on your album, we won’t object if your artistic impulse leads you to make all the other tracks completely unlikely to be hits.

      • says

        I believe that history has a tendency to move in cycles, so “lagging” behind could also mean that music has always been “ahead of its time” in some ways as well. Either way, I think that in a lot of cases the medium tends to be “out of sync” with current trends — maybe that’s what gives it its power and intrigue in some ways, who knows.

        I agree with your opinion about market forces — we’re all just appealing to different people, after all — but I think there’s something to be said about having a massive infrastructure (like the U.S. government) that lets its innovators think in time-frames of 10, 20, 30-year lengths. Hollywood, and most other businesses don’t have that luxury because they’re always trying to survive by attempting to meeting the demands of people’s current tastes. It’s a long-term vs. short-term thing — we’re both trying to strive for the same thing, but just in different scales.

        Even Silicon Valley guru Steve Blank has admitted that the current movements in technology wouldn’t exist without help from the federal government — I mean, the reason why engineers are there in the Valley to begin with is because of a massive influx of defense spending during the mid-20th centuries. The culture was created artificially, not because of a mythological tale of innovations somehow “sprouting” out of nowhere.

        I think that if you look at the history of music in an honest light, similar patterns will start to emerge. Government and market forces work hand in hand, under a broader narrative of national (and now global) interests that ties them all together. The problem is that as music students we’re often given a very small picture of what’s actually going on, taught to believe in myths, heroes, and all of those goodies that make us feel good about ourselves, but ends up being distortions or misrepresentations of the truth.

        The problem is, I think, we’ve become consumers of our own culture and have lost our ability to articulate what exactly is it that we’re really doing with our work. Flagrant displays of self-indulgence against the ethos of Soviet realism? Sure. Nowadays that approach is more likely to provoke a terrorist attack more than anything, which is something nobody really wants.

        • says

          Very interesting, discussing this with you, Ryan. I wonder if we really can invest in the longterm future of art, as we can in the longterm future of technology. I wonder how we can know where art is going. Wouldn’t the decisions about what to put money into end up being conventional? Wouldn’t we get IRCAM (at best)?

          Or at least I think that’s a danger. It’s always artists who come up with the new directions in art, and often enough — as much as this is a cliché — the ones in the lead are often damned for it. I remember a wonderful crack by George Bernard Shaw, in his review of Cavalleria Rusticana when it was new. He thought the piece had been widely overpraised, and labelled it, correctly as we’d now agree, as essentially the old kind of Italian opera, just updated for a new era. And then he said something to this effect: “If it really was the new departure everyone says it is, I’d now be defending it from those who’d attack it.”

          In pop music, there’s a marvelous balance, or at least I think so. The record companies, true enough, are meeting the demands of current tastes. But at the same time, they always have an ear out for what’s new, because they aren’t fools. They know their history. They’ve seen pop music swept by new styles over and over again, with the record companies scrambling to keep up. So they’re out to find new things as well as the old. (When I went to clubs several times a week in the late ’80s, I’d see record execs gushing over weird new bands, saying, “This is going to be huge!” That was the time when alternative music was beginning to sweep through the industry, and when the record companies weren’t hiring kids right out of college to deal with the new styles, they were sending their established people to clubs to gush over anything that seemed unusual, without having a ghost of an ability to gauge its future success.)

          • says

            Hmm, I know there’s some people who probably don’t want to believe this is true, but the invention of the synthesizer (now the norm in popular music) probably wouldn’t have happened without the help of the government, who spent millions and millions of dollars on research in the area of electronics during the Cold War and beyond. Innovations often have come from things with military and political agendas, or for the sake of national security.

            This is what gives “serious music” it’s “seriousness” — you’ve probably heard of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and how it was secretly being funded by the CIA right? There’s another side to all of the modernist heroes that we never hear about, particularly if you’re in school.

            Did some of these projects fail? Yes, in fact, probably most of them did. But 98% of album releases fail too, even in the commercial sector. Art is an inherently risky business. But without it, we wouldn’t be able to advance as a race as a whole…so that’s where its importance lies.

            As said earlier, I don’t think method is better than the other…they just serve different purposes toward different ends. But I think the main problem is that people go into art/music for the wrong reasons or don’t know “why” they’re doing what they do. If they’re doing it for reasons of vanity or thinking that it’ll let them avoid working hard or “getting a real job”, they’re going to be in a world of hurt because that’s not how the world works. Either serve the market or serve a purpose; anything else is just self-indulgence.

    • says

      Thanks for the link, Matthew. I think all kinds of classical musicians might want to make this move. But it’s important not just to go into these venues. Somehow the move needs to be made financially sustainable. Or, in simpler terms, people have to learn how to make at least some reasonable part of their living from that.

      Going to small clubs won’t make money. It doesn’t for bands, and won’t for classical musicians. What you need to do is start in small clubs, build your fan base, move to bigger clubs, and finally into small theaters. Who knows — you might eventually get into large theaters (4000 seats) or arenas (10,000 seats and up). But you need a strategy for moving beyond small clubs, or else the larger paradigm doesn’t really change. Yes, you’ve changed the ambience, and maybe attracted some new listeners. But you’re still to some extent a hothouse flower. You haven’t yet built a following that can sustain you.

  2. says

    Godard also was much more overtly engaged with popular culture, particularly American crime movies. If I had to pick a French New Wave filmmaker to compare Boulez to, it would probably be Alain Resnais. “Last Year at Marienbad,” in particular, is “sealed off from everyday life” in much the same way as Boulez’s music. I won’t try to guess whether it has a bigger or smaller cult following than “Le marteau sans maître”…

    • says

      It had a much bigger following, Alex. I saw it when it came out, as did more or less everyone with an interest in art films. It was discussed in the mainstream press. Using myself as an example once more (understanding that this can be misleading, though in this case I think it isn’t), when I saw the film, I felt that I was part of a community of people who were trying to figure it out. I didn’t know who Boulez was, although, as I said in my post, I was an avid classical musician. I didn’t encounter, in the course of my normal musical and cultural life, any reference at all to Boulez. He even visited Harvard when I was a student there, and even then (though I met him briefly), there was no buzz stirred up about his work.

      Likewise Hiroshima mon amour, another French art film of the time, very cryptic and difficult, and also much seen and discussed. There was a touching essay on it nn the first issue of Evergreen Review, an important American journal of advanced art, published in the 1950s. (The publisher was Grove Press, which also published many of the books people with advanced literary taste were talking about — Beckett, for instance). The essay was by André Hodeir, one of the few French intellectuals from outside music who were vitally interested in what Boulez was doing. Hodeir, so touchingly, loves the movie, but wistfully wishes that it had used 12-tone music on its soundtrack. Which none of the new wave filmmakers did.

  3. Matt says

    I agree with you. But couldn’t we take similar composer/director pairings and come to the same conclusion? How about the late 70s with Woody Allen v. Philip Glass? Or 1939’s Gone With the WInd v. Billy the Kid? Making great movies is going to affect the zeitgeist, making great “new music” will not, just as writing a great poem won’t, or even a novel before it’s made into movie.Unfortunately, only pop music, movies and TV shows define whole generations. If your discipline isn’t one of these, your audience will seem tiny in comparison.

    • says

      But that wasn’t at all true for classical music in the past. Wagner, for instance, altered the zeitgeist as much as any artist who ever lived. Debussy was part of a major cultural change in France, along with painters and writers. Proust, who rarely left his bedroom (and was part of that change himself), had a special telephone installed, so he could hear Pelléas performed in the opera house.

      And it also wasn’t true for bebop, which made a terrific cultural impression, even when (in the late ’40s) it was hard for most people to listen to. I’ve heard a Perry Como song from the era — as mainstream pop as music gets == full of jazz hipster talk, which was clearly penetrating the culture, before the hip jazz music did.

      Eventually people like Coltrane and Monk became cultural icons. And Kind of Blue, as we all know, became one of the most popular albums ever released.

      Likewise the beats. Surged into the culture from deep underground, and became cultural icons, without any help from TV. Rock & roll, too. The first rock records were largely released on small indie labels, not widely played on the radio. Radio had to catch up, when the taste of a new teenage generation began to spread widely. A few rock & roll movies were released in the ’50s, and what was the theme of (I believe) every one of them? (And if not every one of them, then most.) How parents and schools hated the music. Obviously a pivotal moment, as the establishment was coming to accept the music. But it accepted rock & roll by showing it as something that established people hated. That was the only way to make a teen audience trust the films.

      There was also Blackboard Jungle, a film about “juvenile delinquents,” that helped propel rock & roll to attention, by including Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” on the soundtrack. I heard from the director, when I met him late in his life in Hollywood, that theaters were advised to turn the volume of the sound down when the song played, for fear of riots.

      • says

        Again, we’re in agreement here. I guess the telling thing is that by the 60’s, mass media (movies, TV and Top 40 Radio) shoved out the traditional artists who used to define generations. I’ll add my own example of things past: T.S. Eliot representing the Lost Generation via The Waste Land, even for those who never got past the first line.

        In the 60’s, Andy Warhol became an obvious exception of pop culture setting the zeitgeist by a jiu-jitsu move that turned the strength of his “opponent” to his advantage.

        One more movie/composer pairing: in Robert Craft’s diaries he writes that Stravinsky was fascinated with the movie “The Graduate,” and saw it several times, each time asking Craft or Vera what someone on the screen just said, to the chagrin of those around them. I think he must have sensed the importance of an original and iconoclastic work speaking for a new generation: American suburbia’s RIte of Spring, if you will. The musical language to carry the message consisted of major and minor chords strummed on a guitar, a far cry from the serialism Stravinsky was writing at the time.

        By the 70’s, that dichotomy was an apriorism upon joining the musical priesthood and embarking on a “serious composer” career. You accepted that with your first exercise of first-species counterpoint.

        But, to advocate your point, it wasn’t always so, and it doesn’t always have to be so. Especially if your music has as much kinship with “The Sounds of Silence” (not just the Cage version) as with Requiem Canticles.

        • says

          Other high arts have rejoined the human race — to put this more strongly than I usually do! Classical music (except in its alt-clasical wing) still lags behind.

          And I’d love a piece that was indebted both to Sounds of Silence and to the Requiem Canticles. That would decisively inhabit my cultural space.

  4. says

    Hmm. You mention Proust and “Pelléas,” which reminds me that both today and in the past composers have worked with textual material that was contemporary or nearly so. Consider “Pelléas”: Maurice Maeterlinck first staged his symbolic opera “Pelléas et Mélisande” in 1893. The work was popular for decades, and Fauré composed music to accompany it in 1898; Débussy to composed his opera based on it in 1902; Schoenberg his tone poem in the late Romantic style based on it in 1902-3; and Sibelius composed his incidental music based on in 1905! That is just one fairly radical–for Maeterlinck was artistically radical for his day–work influencing a host of works by both conventional (Fauré, Sibelius) and avant-garde (Debussy, Schoenberg) artists in real time.

    (BTW, I would venture that few people are reading or performing Maeterlinck’s plays today anywhere, though Debussy’s, and to a lesser degree Schoenberg’s musical versions still are heard.)

    With Boulez and his uses of Char (not so distant in time, as Char was a major Surrealist figure), and Mallarmé (this would perhaps be more akin to a 20th century American composer using the poetry of Emily Dickinson, perhaps, not so unheard of), the lag is more obvious. But in France, in the early 1950s, Surrealism was still quite a force. Had Boulez decided to set a play by Sartre or Beckett to music (not inconceivable, really), or in 1968, to use the slogans of the French workers and students who were protesting, and there were still no public attention to the work, then deconstructing the texts might not be so relevant.

    As it was, others, like Henze, Rzewski, etc., did use such texts (think of Henze’s symphony incorporating post-Revolutionary Cuban material), and the public attention or lack thereof. As it was, Antonioni’s career unfortunately never recovered after he attempted to capture the cultural and political rebellion of the late 1960s in *Zabriskie Point.*

    Whatever you might say about Boulez, his music, his arrogance, and so forth, there is the record of his conducting, which is significant for many reasons, among them that when he led the New York Philharmonic from 1971-1977, did he not program a wide array of new music and create programs that drew in young(er) listeners, while also causing affront to some of the older afficionados of classical music? And did he also not engage with the very music he had condemned as passé, from 19th century figures like Beethoven, Bruckner, and Berlioz, to 19th century composers such as Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Bartok, and well as a good number of 20th century French composers, such as Debussy, Ravel, Varèse, and his former professor, Messiaen? So he may have been haughty in his youth, and quite rigid in terms of his belief and aesthetics in some ways, but his actual practice as a conductor, and later as a composer, has showed a good deal more expansiveness.

    His music of the 1970s and later too also is much more interesting, at least to me, in they way he incorporates electronic elements, rhythmic nuance, and so forth. I wish this music were played more often, rather than the forbidding Boulez of the 1950s and early 1960s. Do you not think that with the right film, say, “Messagésquise” or “Dialogue de l’Ombre Double” or “…explosant fixe…” or “Sur Incises” might not have the impact that Ligeti(let along Strauss) had with *2001: A Space Odyssey*?

    • says

      As I think I said in one comment or another, I like Boulez’s music quite a lot. The later pieces are almost unfailingly pretty (an adjective Stravinsky applied, not entirely as praise, to earlier ones). And of course he changed as he got older, something he’s not alone in doing. (I speak for myself, just for instance.) His most famous remarks — about burning down the opera houses, or about composers who didn’t feel the necessity of serialism being useless — were made when he was young. Something often forgotten! We don’t think of Boulez as an excitable young man, but he really was that.

      As for conducting, I find it sweet that he’s conducted Schoenberg and Stravinsky pieces he once denounced. I once heard him conduct the Symphony in Three Movements, which — as Stravinsky himself pointed out, in program notes to his LP recording of the piece — ends with a notably garish chord. (A movie-music chord.) I’ll never forget Boulez getting to that chord, and with a gesture almost of disdain, indicating a precise attack, with no emphasis at all, and a precise, very quick cutoff. He was NOT going to give the chord anything but structural credibility.

      I was also once a fly on the wall, by telephone, when he discussed a Bartok and Haydn festival an orchestra in the US was doing. He was associated with this as a conductor of some of the Bartok pieces. The orchestra was marketing Haydn and Bartok as somehow similar, and Boulez was asked what he thought of that. On camera, I might add. He was helping them make a promotional video.

      He answered with great polite bafflement that he saw no similarity at all. Didn’t argue with them. No polemics. Just quiet bafflement.

      He was conducting all three Bartok piano concertos, and said, again politely, that he didn’t care much for the third. He preferred the earlier two, when Bartok pushed the boundaries of sound. He wasn’t, I gather, a fan of Bartok’s mellowing in his own later years.

      The really bad Boulez moment I’ve seen, though, is on a film, made late in Stravinsky’s life. Boulez and Stravinsky — who seems not just elderly, but frail — are talking about Les Noces. Boulez insists that there’s one bar too many on the final page. He says (with what might register as tact, if he weren’t haranguing poor Stravinsky so ferociously) that the extra bar must surely be a publisher’s mistake. But of course he meant that Stravinsky composed the ending badly. (How could a mistake have persisted for so many years without being corrected, or without Stravinsky letting — at the very least — Robert Craft know about it? Not to mention other musicians.)

      Stravinsky — who, again, seems very frail — objects. But Boulez won’t let him rest. He insists and insists and insists. Finally Stravinsky, with a wavering hand, crosses out the disputed bar. Robert Craft later excoriated Boulez for this. And whatever we think of Craft as a spokesman for Stravinsky (it’s beyond dispute, by now, that not everything he reports as Stravinsky’s words or opinion was actually spoken or written by S), I have to agree with Craft. Leave aside any musical question, about whether Boulez was right or wrong. (Which would be a subjective opinion in any case.) This is a ghastly way to treat anyone Stravinsky’s age, let alone someone who’s a great artist. It’s living proof that Boulez had a nasty side. To browbeat a frail, elderly man — I think it’s ugly. And to insist that you know more than one of the greatest artists who ever lived is arrogance. Even if you happen (for the sake of argument) to be right! If an artist wants to engage you in a discussion of her work, fine, say what you like. But if you’re browbeating someone to accept your view, you dishonor their work, not by your opinion, but by your insistence that you — rather than them — HAVE to be right.

      • richard says

        Boulez’s trashing of Stravinsky is one of the reasons I loathe the man. Yes, some of his music is “pretty” on a surface level, and is fun to analyse, but, in the end, boring to listen to. I guess some of my dislike can be attributed to the fact that I did write strict serial for a while, but I was never happy with the serialization of all musical parameters, I felt like I was constructing puzzles rather than making music. I also can’t forgive Adorno for his hatred of jazz, but that’s another story.

        • says

          Charles Rosen reviewed a collection of Adorno’s work some years ago in the New York Review. He made a savvy point: That Adorno was, in his heart, bourgeois. Which was touchingly showed toward the end of Adorno’s life, in the ’60s. Adorno was speaking, and a student radical bared her breasts, I guess in protest of what, in that era, seemed his conservatism. He was painfully embarrassed. So I tend to feel sympathy for him, even when he says silly things about jazz. And value him for his insights.

          Stockhausen, I think, is a far more appealing (and also deeper) composer than Boulez. I could listen to Mantra, for instance, for weeks, and not get anywhere near to the bottom of it, while enjoying every moment. But for a long time he fell out of view, for (I think) two reasons. First, he got more than a little crazy. Writing pieces dictated, allegedly, by aliens (I hope I’ve got that right about Sirius.) Or to be led by a telepathic conductor. And then, more concretely, by taking his many recordings (everything he’d written, basically) from DG, and selling them himself (at high prices, through a difficult website), thereby with one stroke removing them from circulation.

          • says

            Dear Greg Sandow:

            I’m sure you’re aware of this, but if not, please do not forget that Stockhausen claimed that that the 9/11 massacre was “the greatest work of art ever,” and went on to say “It is a crime because the people were not agreed. They didn’t go to the ‘concert.’ That is clear. And no one gave them notice that they might pass away [draufgehen]. What happened there spiritually, this jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life, that happens sometimes poco a poco in art. Otherwise it is nothing.”

            “Otherwise it is nothing.” Say what?

            Is that not beyond appalling?

            I am not defending Boulez’s mistreatment of Stravinsky, his dismissal of Schoenberg, or anything else he’s done, but by the same token, Stockhausen’s comments should not be ignored either.

          • says

            Stockhausen, simply put, went more than a little crazy. His remark was offensive. He didn’t mean it that way, but was no far removed from the normal life of humanity that he couldn’t imagine how what he said would be received. This isn’t a defense of him.