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BOULEZ: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-3


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Pierre Boulez (b. 1925)



Piano Sonatas



 



Pierre Boulez occupies a unique position in French music,distinguished internationally as a composer, a conductor and a theorist. Apupil of Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, he turned to the serialism of Schoenberg.

His reputation was first established in 1948 by the second of his three pianosonatas, first performed by Yvonne Loriod at Oarmstadt and followed by the



Livre pour quatuor, which, like certain laterworks, allows the players some freedom of choice and suggested the total serialismof compositions that immediately followed. His importance in twentieth centurymusic was further emphasised by the remarkable Le marteau sans maitre inthe 1950s and by Pli selon pli, with its flexibility of structure. Boulezremainsone of the most important and influential composers and teachers incontemporary terms, an achievement parallelled by his work as a conductor,atone time with both the BBCsymphony and the New York Philharmonic Orchestras,where he is known for his clarity of interpretation and his imaginativeunderstanding of the music he directs.



 



Keith Anderson



 



The three piano sonatas of Pierre Boulez occupy animportant position in piano literature of the twentieth century .Theinstrument, in fact, has not been central to the work of the majority ofcomposers of the century as it was to those of the nineteenth. The thirty-twosonatas of Beethoven were for long a constraining factor. Composers of thefirst half of the twentieth century tried to escape from this. Generallyspeaking, major composers of the second half of the century have not composedany more for the piano, but some of them have more easily opted for theinstrumental genre of the sonata. Since 1945 the model of Beethoven has been a solidpoint of reference for composers who have turned to the form in the perspectiveof a reconstruction of musical language.



 



Composed in 1946, the First Sonata of PierreBoulez is in two movements, a slow followed bya fast. In the first four bars ofthe work the composer presents five characteristic and very different figures,easily distinguishable by the listener. These will serve as the basic materialof the first movement: a simple and calm interval, a low note with anappoggiatura, a single note in the highest register, a rapid and impetuousfigure leading to a deep stressed note, a broadly spreading polyphonic chord,low and high in register. The work of the composer has consisted in takingthese elements and varying the parameters that define them. The rapid figure thusreappears at bar 14, always descending, but its character is different, sinceit decreases in dynamic to a note played pianissimo.



 



In the whole movement a great variety of length and ofmeaning of silences can be noticed, with the use of the entire range of thekeyboard and sudden changes of dynamics, together with the multiplicity offigures dealt with. These characteristics are found in the second movement ofthe sonata. This is a vast "toccata", constructed from rapid figures,alternating between the two hands -figures that may have rounded outline withan intimate fusion of voices. In this



early composition there are already evident some of theelements that will define the compositional style of Pierre Boulez: clarity andrigour of expression, and a tendency to brilliant outbursts.



 



The Second Sonata was written two years later. Itis a more extended and ambitious work, organized in four movements, three fastand one slow .From the first bars all the differences that distinguish thissonata from the first are apparent. Silences take up a suitable part of thetaut discourse, full of musical statements, often connected, a new feature, bytrills and demanding



the sustained attention of the listener. Here theBeethoven sonata ideal is realised. Taken in isolation, a movement no longeronly has value in its relationship with other movements; the riches thismovement contains mark it also as a complete work in itself, a model of thewhole. This said, the second movement is more economic in measurable musicalstatements - it is the traditional sonata slow movement. Its completeness is noless definite. Here anew element is apparent in comparison with the firstsonata: the building up of a certain dramatic character, a progress ofdiscourse towards a tension to be resolved, something that two years before thecomposer had avoided. The third movement -a true scherzo -is not withoutreference to the malleability found in the second: some scattered elements,stated fragmentarily, are brought gradually together in a fusion of greatcomplexity. Although there are connections with the feverish first movement,the fourth is still more complex in that it is the definite ending of the workand brings together and concentrates in itself the different paths marked outin the preceding movements. Frequent directions, associated with the sudden andcontinual changes of mood, indicate the richness of this integratedmovement." Very fine shades in a grey painting" and pulverise thesound are two, among others, nearly in the manner of Debussy, that speak ofthe poetic ambition that is here at work.



 



Written between 1957 and 1958, the Third Sonata isa work that has given rise to a number of commentaries. Its plan has beendescribed by the composer himself in a famous theoretical article. As theambition ofPierre Boulezwas to take into consideration the researches ofcertain writers in form -principally the idea of the Livre formulated byMallarme in 1885 -a great many commentators have gone one better than theliterary tenor of the plan, interesting in itself but bearing little ofrelevance to the listener.



 



The Third Sonata of Pierre Boulez was conceived ata time when composers were questioning the idea of the freedom of theinterpreter, after a historical phase, called post-serial, which had laid down,even in its smallest details, the different parameters of musicalinterpretation. The Third Sonata reacts against the tyranny of thecomposer and opens certain doors, but, happily it can be said, closes others.



 



The freedom that is given to the interpreter in this workconcerns the order of movements and the internal arrangement of dialogue withineach of the movements. That is all. This freedom is not audible to thelistener, to whom, in general, two different and successive interpretations arenot offered. The opening of the work -reacting against the tradition of a fixedorder that affects the idea itself of the score - is found again strangely inthe fact that the Third



Sonata, which is always described as in fivemovements (or formative elements) by the composer and his commentators, has infact only two published movements - Trope and Constellation (or Constellation-miroir).

The others exist, but are to be revised. The work is therefore always open, inthe sense that it is always still in process of composition.



 



The opening is reduced, if one follows what has beenpublished. Theoretically there are eight possibilities of reading the order
Facts
Item number 8553353
Barcode 730099435321
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Sonatas
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Performers
Artists Biret, Idil
Biret, Idil
Composers Boulez, Pierre
Boulez, Pierre
Producers Nicolai, Helene
Nicolai, Helene
Disc: 1
Troisieme Sonate, Formant 2: Trope
1 Lent - Beaucoup plus allant
2 Assez large - Rapide
3 Extremement rapide - Encore plus vif
4 Lent
5 Modere, presque vif
6 Vif - Tres modere... Tres librement...
7 Glose
8 Texte
9 Parenthese
10 Commentaire
11 Constellation - Miroir
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