(26/3/1925 – 5/1/2016)
I hold a box set of records of a Bayreuther Festspiele production of Die Walküre conducted by Pierre Boulez, who died on Tuesday last. Other conductors work hard to give audiences what they want to hear: the famous baton-less Pierre worked the crowd towards liking what he wanted: atonal purity and the trampling of populism. As Michael Tanner, in his Wagner, recounts, the Boulez/Chéreau production of The Ring in Bayreuth “moved from provoking physical violence in 1976 to unqualified triumph in 1981” (at page 57).He recognised the need to dare and to irritate – that failures paved the road to success (it may be no accident that he admired that worthy but terrible artist, Paul Klee). But whilst his partiality for the barrenness of folks like Schoenberg reflected his own modern ventures into dodecaphony, which personally, one finds a serial bore (pardon the pun), and what Roger Scruton described as “dessicated perfectionism,” yet the man had conviction, courage, and the integrity to set aside these preferences and pay due fidelity towards the performance of other works (such as his clean and crisp Wagner performances). Vale Maestro.
Dr. Christine Rothauser kindly gave The Varnished Culture permission to quote from her tribute to Pierre Boulez, which can and should be read in full in the January/February 2016 edition of the Richard Wagner Society of SA’s newsletter (# 269):
In 1955 Le marteau sans maître (The hammer without master) made Boulez famous…In his later composition the influence of Mallarmé, Debussy and Webern were even more evident…Boulez made a statement many years ago that all opera houses ought to be burned down but then he went on to conduct the Ring and Parsifal in Bayreuth: he had mellowed…Apart from the musical influence of the second school of Vienna, he often referred to his liking of African drumming, Balinese and Japanese music…He was Chief Conductor of both the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In the 1980’s he became the co-founder and director of the computer music studio in Paris [where Dr Rothauser studied and met Boulez. Dr Rothauser concludes that Boulez:] dared to go further than the obvious comfort zone [and that his] influence will continue to thrive in the world of music making.”