I have little to say, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to use a headline I’ve been holding in reserve for three decades. When I interviewed Pierre Boulez in Chicago in 1987, we touched on his notorious 1952 article “Schoenberg est mort,” and I asked him if someone would someday need to write an article “Boulez est mort.” He laughed, and said, “Maybe I should write it myself.” And then he lived another 28 years. A lot of his music that we studied closely back in the day I find forgettable, but, oddly, I was just thinking yesterday how much I love Pli selon pli, and that I should listen to it again. Rituel was a very influential work on me. And Repons I enjoyed hearing live, and had a blast reviewing the Chicago premiere.
The greater significance for me is that an entire generation is now dead, a generation around which I formed part of my musical personality in high school. Boulez, Stockhausen, Maderna, Pousseur, Ferrari, Ligeti, Barraqué, Kagel, Zimmermann, Berio, Nono, Bussotti, Xenakis – I loved them, I explored them, I was inspired and mystified by them, I carried their vinyl Deutsche Grammophon and Wergo records to college with me; because I had already been seduced by Copland, Harris, Schuman, and Bernstein on one hand and Ives, Cage, and Feldman on the other, I could not totally succumb to them; because they spoke in dictatorial terms I developed a genial oedipal hatred for them. As happens, now that they are all gone only the affectionate feelings remain. In grad school I analyzed every note of Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata, which I had never heard – and I knew it so well that when I finally listened to the recording, I cried. Today I wouldn’t recognize the piece in a blindfold test. I was astonished when Alex Ross reported that, late in life, Boulez admitted in an interview that, back in the serialist years, “We didn’t pay enough attention to how people listen.” It reminded me of a Morton Feldman quote, which I will paraphrase from memory: “Only in Europe do you have these revolutionaries who guillotine anyone and everyone who disagrees with them, and then change their minds.” All the same, I will listen to Pli selon pli this afternoon, and tonight I will drink to all of the great European masters of my youth, and to having outlived them.
UPDATE: As promised, I’m listening to Pli selon pli (1983 BBC Symphony recording). It’s pretty frickin’ fantastic.
UPDATE: Juhani Nuorvala informs me that Sylvano Bussotti is still with us – I’m glad to hear it. His continuing presence does not exert the psychic weight on me that Boulez’s did, and so everything else above still stands, but I’m sorry to have given an incorrect impression. As a friend said recently, “A blog is a blog is a blog. There has to be a different standard for informal writing and real-deal scholarship, otherwise no one would ever say anything.”