Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)

HANDEL: Music for the Royal Fireworks: Réjouissance

New York Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Dec. 22, 1973

by Ken

As I mentioned in my earlier tease, mostly what we're going to do today is revisit some Boulez performances that have found their way into Sunday Classics posts over the years.


I don't know that Boulez ever pursued the affinity he demonstrated here, but in his New York years he made wonderful recordings of the Royal Fireworks Music and Water Music. Here are some more samples.

HANDEL: Water Music:
No. 3, Allegro; Andante

No. 5, Air

No. 6, Minuet

No. 7, Bourrée

No. 8, Hornpipe

No. 10, Alla hornpipe

New York Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded 1974


Of course Boulez had good French blood flowing through his musical veins, and he was a noteworthy conductor of the great French composers of yore.

BERLIOZ: Roméo et Juliette (dramatic symphony): Part II, Love Scene (complete)

Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, cond. DG, recorded May 2000

DEBUSSY: La Mer: iii. Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the wind and the sea)

Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, cond. DG, recorded March 1993

DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisanade: Act III opening
We know that Golaud and Pelléas are half-brothers, grandsons of Arkel, the blind old king of Allemonde. We know too that they are both sons of Geneviève, who -- given the circumstances set out in the libretto -- can only be the daughter-in-law of Arkel, having been married sequentially to both of his sons, and having a son with each (making the boys cousins as well as brothers!). Golaud, following a long estrangement from his family, has returned to the gloomy castle bringing along a mysterious, much younger bride, Mélisande (we saw their exceedingly unusual meeting in the opera's opening scene). Mélisande and Pelléas are almost immediately gripped by a mutual attraction but pretend, most unconvincingly, that nothing is happening -- for a while.

Act III is set outside one of the castle towers. A circular path passes under a window of the tower.

MÉLISANDE [at the window, while she combs her unbound hair]: My long hair descends all the way to the foot of the tower.
My hair waits for you all the length of the tower.
And all the length of the day,
And all the length of the day.
Saint Daniel and Saint Michel,
Saint Michel and Saint Raphaël,
I was born on a Sunday,
a Sunday at noon . . .
PELLÉAS [enters by the circular path]: Holà! Holà! Ho!
MÉLISANDE: Who's there?
PELLÉAS: Me, me, and me!
What are you doing there, at the window,
singing like a bird who isn't from here?
MÉLISANDE: I'm arranging my hair for the night.
PELLÉAS: It's that that I see on the wall?
I thought you had some light there.
MÉLISANDE: I opened the window;
it's too warm in the tower.
It's lovely tonight!
PELLÉAS: There are countless stars;
I never saw as many as this evening;
but the moon is still over the sea.
Don't stay in the shadow, Mélisande;
bend over a little,
so I can see your hair unbound.
MÉLISANDE: I'm hideous that way.
PELLÉAS: Oh! oh! Mélisande!
Oh,you're beautiful! you're beautiful that way!
Lean over! Lean over! Let me come closer to you.
MÉLISANDE: I can't come closer to you.
I'm leaning over as much as I can.
PELLÉAS: I can't climb any higher.
Give me your hand at least this evening
before I go away.
I'm leaving tomorrow.
MÉLISANDE: No, no, no!
PELLÉAS: Yes, yes, I'm leaving, I'll leave tomorrow.
Give me your hand, your hand, your little hand on my lips.
MÉLISANDE: I'm not giving you my hand if you're leaving.
PELLÉAS: Give it, give it, give it!
MÉLISANDE: You won't leave?
PELLÉAS: I'll wait, I'll wait.
MÉLISANDE: I see a rose in the darkness.
PELLÉAS: Where then?
MÉLISANDE: Lower down, lower down, in the garden;
down there, in the somber green.
PELLÉAS: It's not a rose.
I'll go see in a moment,
but give me your hand first, first your hand.
MÉLISANDE: There! There!
I can't lean over any more.
PELLÉAS: My lips can't reach your hand!
MÉLISANDE: I can't lean over any more.
I'm on the verge of falling.
[Her hair suddenly turns over while she's leaning thus, and envelops PELLÉAS.] Oh! Oh! My hair is falling from the tower.
PELLÉAS: Oh! oh! what is it?
Your hair, you hair falls toward me.
All your hair, Mélisande, all your hair has fallen from the tower!

Elisabeth Söderström (s), Mélisande; George Shirley (t), Pelléas; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Pierre Boulez, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Dec. 1969-Jan. 1970

It was perhaps the intersection of Boulez's Paris connection and his connection to modern music that made Stravinsky a natural connection for him, and we should hear some of his work here, but my Boulez Stravinsky CDs are all mysteriously at large (gathered at some point for a post that never happened, then never refiled?), so we'll have to leave that to a future date.


Maybe it was holding musical leadership positions in London (at the helm of the BBC Symphony) and then in New York (as music director of the Philharmonic), both heating-up Mahler towns, that led Boulez to Mahler, but there was definitely an affinity. By way of example, beyond the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, here's an example that wouldn't have been obvious to me.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G: iii. Adagio (Ruhevoll)

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, cond. Live performance, presumably early 1970s

Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, cond. DG, recorded April 1998


I've already made a dub of Act I, Scene 2 of Berg's Wozzeck, and we should dip into his Lulu as well, there's a bunch of other stuff I want to poke at. For another Sunday.

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