Previous scholarship on Pierre Boulez's Le marteau sans maître celebrates the analytical basis of the piece, with particular emphasis on Boulez's concept of the bloc sonore and its role in Le marteau's design. This article synthesizes aspects of this scholarship with Boulez's personal reflections from the years 1953–55, many of which remain unpublished to this day. Utilizing Boulez's correspondence with Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, as well as his own published writings and the sketches for Le marteau, I present the story of an artist on the path to self-discovery. I also shift the discussion of blocs sonores away from viewing them as musical objects necessary for the analysis of Le marteau to recognizing their significance as a cultural and aesthetic concept at the heart of Boulez's artistic development at this time. Finally, I use the literary trope of “anxiety of influence” to relate Boulez's own maturation to his struggle to escape the shadow and influence of Schoenberg. By humanizing a work that is often cited for its analytical virtuosity and poetic audacity rather than the network of biographical circumstances behind its creation, I attempt to reorient our ears from the rigidness of integral serialism to the broader significance of Boulez's score.
Several decades after Lev Koblyakov published his groundbreaking investigation of Le marteau sans maître in 1977, music theorists such as Catherine Losada and Ciro Scotto have in recent years provided crucial additional insights into Boulez's compositional process and the significance of blocs sonores, or proprietary pitch-class collections, for his development as a composer.1 Yet conventional wisdom still treats the premiere of another work, Structures 1a (1952), as perhaps the most noteworthy historical event in Boulez's compositional development, even though the experimental relevance of that work appears quite limited when considered alongside the sprawling role played by blocs sonores in his subsequent compositions and aesthetics.2 Such assessments suggest a tacit marginalization of Boulez's blocs sonores to the realm of specialized musical knowledge, despite their central importance for his legacy, their relation to his broader goals in postwar aesthetics, and their myriad appearances in his later music.
In this article I sketch a Künstlerroman that connects Boulez's concept of the bloc sonore with his struggle to redefine serialism during the long gestation of Le marteau sans maître (1952–55, rev. 1957). After explaining blocs sonores as musical objects in Le marteau, I provide a biographical backdrop for these developments using letters written by Boulez during his trip to South America as music director of the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault. I also consider how the concept of the bloc sonore served Boulez's broader aesthetic goals in his published writings on music from this same period. My hope is that, as a result, the bloc sonore will be appreciated as Boulez's single most original and substantial contribution to harmony in music.
My narrative begins with an implicit acknowledgment of Boulez's relationship to some of his dodecaphonic predecessors. While I avoid reviewing the influence of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, or explicating the literary theories of Harold Bloom, I do invite reflections on “anxiety of influence” as a colloquial concept that can elucidate themes interwoven throughout Boulez's writings as he sought to modernize the style of his successes of the late 1940s (his Sonatine for flute, his first two piano sonatas, his early cantatas) by means of the new techniques of integral serialism in the early 1950s.3 My engagement with Bloom is based on Boulez's actual compositional practices and private letters rather than reductive quotations from polemics such as “Schoenberg Is Dead,” which tend to hypostatize possible patriarchal connections rather than sustaining dynamic or thought-provoking tensions. Nonetheless, I do entertain the suggestion that Boulez's musical and theoretical acts resonate with the first four of Bloom's six revisionary ratios, mostly because Bloom's theory has narrative implications that dramatize my Joycean allusion to the portrait of a maturing artist in provocative, if nonliteral, ways.4 Above all, my desire is to guide the reader toward a more intimate understanding of Boulez's stylistic development as a struggle toward self-identification, rather than offering a psychological gloss on his motives or polemics.5
A secondary goal is to highlight the way in which the dialogic relationship between Boulez's writings and the development of his blocs sonores fed his ongoing struggle as a composer throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s. His monograph Penser la musique aujourd'hui (1963) is widely considered to be a retrospective summary of his work from the previous decade, including his endeavors to appropriate Schoenberg's and Webern's various forms of dodecaphonicism for his own brand of serialism.6 The cynical tone of this work is quite different from that of some of his earlier essays, however, especially those written during his angst-filled race to complete Le marteau. Thus, while I refrain from discussing Penser, I briefly review three essays that Boulez wrote in 1953–54, in order to highlight the relationship between his development of a new serial method and his shifting agendas as a writer. Perhaps more than Le marteau itself, these writings shape the cast of my Boulezian Künstlerroman, revealing a fallible artist who struggled to maintain his moral principles while sublimating his anxieties and influences into creative energy.
The Forge, the Hammer, and the Emerging Master
Ever since its lauded premiere in 1955 Le marteau has maintained its status as one of Boulez's most coherent and convincing works, yet the context for its composition provides an unlikely background for success. In fact, the first scheduled premiere of Le marteau, for October 16, 1954, at Donaueschingen, was canceled for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was Boulez's inability to meet the deadline.7 This was followed by a premiere of a first version of the work eight months later, on June 18, 1955, in Baden-Baden, under the direction of Hans Rosbaud.8 Supposedly inspired by the first performance, Boulez then added 149 measures to the final movement before conducting the Paris premiere of the work on March 21, 1956, as part of his own Domaine Musical series. (If Boulez's own letters are to be believed, he actually composed this last portion in less than ten days immediately following the Baden-Baden premiere, which would pose a remarkable contrast to the otherwise very slow gestation of the work over the previous four years.)9
In fact, the preceding years of 1952–55 were some of Boulez's least productive as a composer: despite his lively correspondences with John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Henri Pousseur,10 his development of a new harmonic method, and his completion of several new works in 1951–52, Boulez appeared to lack energy—and perhaps inspiration—during this period.11 And yet he also supposedly said that he intended to complete his first masterpiece by the age of thirty (1955)—a self-imposed deadline that frames this advanced composition as the mature culmination of a lengthy apprenticeship.12 Letters to colleagues attest to his developing ideas as a composer (not least through his criticism and critique of their works), but Boulez's travels as music director of the Compagnie Renaud-Barrault left little time for composition.13 Beyond the normal demands of the theater, Boulez accompanied the troupe on two tours to South America during these years, the second of which was long, busy with rehearsals for and performances of Milhaud's Christopher Columbus, and on the heels of his first Domaine Musical concerts.14 In effect, Le marteau is less the result of a focused dedication to a single work than a souvenir from a period of distraction, travel, and intense personal growth.15
This context places Le marteau in stark contrast to Boulez's later works of the 1950s, especially when compared to the burst of creative opportunism sparked by L'Orestie (1955) and its progeny.16 Unlike these later compositions, in which Boulez experimented with all forms of borrowing, transcription, and new, freer serial derivations in order to meet the growing demand for his compositions, Le marteau is an extremely focused work, dense in its dodecaphonic derivations, and almost meditative in its affect. And while it borrows organizational material from an earlier piece (Oubli signal lapidé, discussed below), the creative impetus for the work is overtly reflective of Boulez's travels with Barrault, including his experience of foreign cultures and instruments, his deepening appreciation of contemporary musicians, and his desire to introduce new sources of creative freedom into his rigorous serial methods. Le marteau thus acts as a transition between Boulez's earliest works, which reflect the eagerness of a young apprentice, and his later ones, which multiply and mature as funding and support for the Domaine Musical stabilizes and his theater duties slowly fade.17
The Impetus for a New Harmonic Language
The importance of Le marteau for Boulez's musical development cannot be overstated. As Pascal Decroupet writes,
[Le marteau] occupies a pivotal place in the career of the early Boulez: the first work—in the true sense of the word—after the adoption of “total serialism,” it is also the last—for a number of years—not to be haunted by the mobility of structures and scores. … [Le marteau] remains as a last example of a kind of composition in which Boulez would still want a conclusion, “forcing” an ending that is not simply a cessation of the discourse but rather a finale, unravelling the intrigues [that], up to that point, might seem to be just so many parallel plots.18
The musical worth of Le marteau as a synthesis of Boulez's ongoing musical and aesthetic development is supported by its long and rich reception history. Analysts have also routinely acknowledged the work's musical density, from the angularity of its vocal setting to the experiences that lay behind Boulez's choice of instrumental ensemble, both of which represent a level of refinement beyond that of his first settings of René Char's texts in Le visage nuptial and Le soleil des eaux (in 1946 and 1947 respectively).19 Yet even when stripped of all its grandeur and complexity, Le marteau still functions as an introduction to Boulez's major compositional innovation of this period—his use of blocs sonores to lay the foundation for new harmonic and melodic serial processes.
Boulez himself emphasized Le marteau as a whole—and “L'artisanat furieux” in particular—as an opportunity to reinsert more agency into his serial processes, a moment when he loosened Schoenberg's “rigid” dodecaphonic system to allow for a localized indeterminacy in an otherwise predetermined framework, such that “at the overall level there is discipline and control, at the local level there is an element of indiscipline—a freedom to choose, to decide and to reject.”20 It is for this reason that Boulez's harmonic clusters are not mere vertical simultaneities, but pitch collections that provide for harmonic, melodic, and/or contrapuntal writing. In the words of the composer,
The first piece in Le marteau sans maître was written in September 1952, just before I left for Canada with the company of Jean-Louis Barrault. It was simultaneously a preoccupation with harmony and a way of constructing melodic lines that were not constrained by the obligation to continually follow the twelve-tone series, because what aggravated me in the twelve-tone series was having to unfurl the different chromatic tones in a rigid manner. I thus had harmonic objects that I could portray horizontally in no specific order. The piece in Le marteau sans maître for flute and voice [“L'artisanat furieux”]—which is moreover a homage to Schoenberg—is founded on something fundamentally opposed to the twelve-tone method. It was a way of rediscovering the freedom that Schoenberg had at the time of Pierrot lunaire, but that he had then lost because of the rigidity of the system.21
It is fitting that one of Boulez's most confident (and complex) compositional forays into the world of serial harmony should borrow a poetic title that doubles as a reference to a liberated acoustics, a hammer without a Pythagoras to derive the natural origins of consonance from a cacophony of ringing anvils. One might also think of this as an undermining of Schoenberg as “master,” at once acknowledging Boulez's debt to the dodecaphonic universe while misreading his predecessor in order to reconstruct his own project as a historical one, separate from Schoenberg's guiding influence. And as if to challenge tonality, Boulez describes his method as sequences of “multiplication,” subverting, as it were, the cyclic generation of the natural and harmonic series, or even the mathematic ratios of Rameau's corps sonore.22
Of course, Boulez's harmonies have little to do with anything natural.23 Rather, his method of harmonic derivation is typical of the advanced serial processes he was developing at this time. A combination of row parsing, rotation, and transcription, the generation of his harmonic matrixes is itself a multistep process. Furthermore, the use of these materials in the drafting of a score requires further manipulation and spontaneous invention. Throughout, the twelve-note row is respected as the source and generator of serial processes, but, differently from the way it is used in Structures 1a, its fundamental characteristic as an equally weighted, chromatic representation of the octave is soon compromised for the sake of expressive and thematic variety.24
It is worth noting that Boulez conceived his method as entirely new and different from Schoenberg's, but only according to Boulez's own misreading of his predecessor. This provides an obvious contact point with Bloom. The themes discussed by Boulez here and elsewhere bring to mind Bloom's clinamen, or “misreading/misprision,” while the related music leans toward a kind of tessera, or revised completion, of Schoenberg's Pierrot project.25 In these instances Boulez offers strong interpretations of Schoenberg's method by putting undue stress on the most rigid aspects of Schoenberg's ordered rows while simultaneously exaggerating his reliance on classical forms or outdated formal techniques; these assessments are always made with the goal of making room for Boulez's own adaptation and expansion of the method, effectively “completing” Schoenberg's project while also altering it far beyond his precursor's intentions.
The fact that these processes were a natural extension of a method first used in another, less conspicuous opus is not without relevance. An a cappella choral work originally set to a text by Armand Gatti, Oubli signal lapidé was withdrawn by Boulez after a single performance on October 3, 1952.26 Although only seventy-five to one hundred sketches exist for this work (depending on whether or not drafts and duplications are included in the count), these contain a number of important templates that are reused in several later pieces, including Le marteau, “Tombeau,” and the second version of cummings ist der Dichter.27 Like earlier attempts at broadening his serial language, Oubli represents a serious but “false” start: Boulez successfully integrated the new bloc sonore serial process into Oubli, only to realize by the time of the work's premiere that the potential of his new method far exceeded the confines of its sui generis context (a pattern seen in several pairs or families of Boulez's later works).28 It was at precisely such a moment that Le marteau was first conceived as a better promotion of his new harmonic language.
Segmenting the Series,
blocs sonores, and “Multiplication”
Indeed, the starting point for Boulez's harmonic appropriation of Oubli is the preliminary version of “L'artisanat furieux,”29 a piece for alto flute and voice that was first composed in 1952 (in all likelihood alongside Oubli and Structures 1b).30 Even in its earliest stages “L'artisanat” utilized Boulez's most basic form of harmonic multiplication to create blocs sonores of serial content. While it is difficult to provide a self-contained definition, independent of their particular generative process and uses, blocs sonores can be described as collections of pitch and interval content that are often organized as vertical clusters in Boulez's matrixes; these objects are then used in his music as reservoirs of pitch and interval content for harmonies, linear counterpoint, ornamental flourishes, smaller subgroups (dyads, triads), or larger conglomerate textures that include multiple blocs sonores across several instruments.31 Although Boulez may follow a pregenerated program for these types of manipulation, the examples from Le marteau help to demonstrate that his early use of the term “bloc sonore” is connected not so much to a specific serial process as to a reconception of what might constitute “a series” more generally (vis-à-vis Schoenberg's ordered, dodecaphonic rows). In fact, the multiple means of generating these objects highlight the possible (and diverse) kinds of inspiration for their conception: Cage's work on the prepared piano, Stockhausen's work in the studio, and Varèse's renewed interest in electronic music.32 In what follows I limit myself to a single way in which multiplication leads to the creation of blocs sonores sequences and matrixes.33
First, it is valuable to visually compare a bloc sonore with a Schoenbergian row. In most cases the first step in creating a sequence of blocs sonores is to divide a linear row of ordered pitch material into five or six segments, following a pattern such as 3–2–4–2–1 (= 12 pitches in total). One then stacks the pitches of each subgroup, such that the first three notes of the row are stacked, then the following two notes, and so on, as illustrated in Example 1. Significantly, such objects are already something nebulous, described by Boulez as “sound complexes,” “complex sounds,” “sonorities,” and “sound-blocks” in the span of just five sentences; one thing they are not (at least at their inception) is “chords,” because, in Boulez's words, “quite apart from the historical cargo which goes with the word chord, I attach no harmonic function in the strict sense to my vertical aggregates.”34
Yet, as simple as the process shown in Example 1 appears, Boulez's technical definitions are rather obtuse, not least because his explanations are wrought with jargon that borders on the tautological. In the essay “Possibly … ,” for example, he writes, “[t]ake the example of a twelve-note series divided as follows: three notes, one note, two notes, four notes, two notes—hence five sonorities,”35 but he omits the original row, leaving the reader to stumble over what makes these mere “sonorities” unique blocs sonores, and how precisely they have been derived as vertical clusters from a linear row. In Penser la musique aujourd'hui another description conflates segmentation and the process of pitch multiplication, using the (French) word “complexe” to describe objects at every stage of the (transformational) process:
Take another example: the case of a homogeneous complex of pitches. Suppose that groupings of absolute values are made (still in the domain of the semitone, with the octave as model) and that the result is a succession of complexes of variable density—still fulfilling the essential condition of non-repetition—: 3/2/4/2/1, that is, all the twelve semitones of the octave.
If the ensemble of all the complexes is multiplied by a given complex, this will result in a series of complexes of mobile density, of which, in addition, certain constituents will be irregularly reducible; although multiple and variable, these complexes are deduced from one another in the most functional way possible, in that they obey a logical, coherent structure.36
What Boulez implies is that, once the row is rearranged from a linear series into five discrete pitch stacks, these blocs sonores can then be “multiplied” by one another, where “multiplied” means that each bloc sonore is transposed relative to the pitch and interval content of another bloc sonore. This results in a number of blocs sonores that vary in pitch content and density, “density” referring to the number of pitches in each bloc sonore.37
Examples 2a–c provide a visualization of this process, as the multiplication of a bloc sonore first relative to a single pitch and then relative to another bloc sonore, and finally as the complex multiplication of an entire sequence of blocs sonores relative to one of its terms. Thus, in Example 2a every note of the first term shown in Example 1 is transposed by the same interval above B♭. In Example 2b the same operation is executed twice, first according to B♭ and then according to C♯; the resulting pitches are then combined into the product (which has only five pitches since the D♭/C♯ is duplicated). This example also shows how, when the first term is multiplied by the second, its root, or “anchor,” is shifted down by a major third, from D♮ to B♭, which constitutes the difference between the bottom note of each sonority. In Example 2c the entire bloc sonore sequence of Example 1 is multiplied by its second term. In this final example it is best to conceive of the multiplier (term 2) in the first position, such that every subsequent transposition leaves the multiplicand on its original anchor. Then, each of these products is also transposed down by a major third. This additional step is the “complex” part of the operation, and it constitutes applying the difference between the anchor of the first bloc sonore and that of the multiplier to the entire sequence as a standardized, secondary transposition. (The row shown in Example 2c corresponds to row 2 in Example 4 below.)
The versatility of the term “bloc sonore” also captures the multifarious uses of these objects in Boulez's compositional process. His blocs sonores sometimes appear as single harmonic entities without function (differentiating them from tonal chords), sometimes as reservoirs of pitches for linear, thematic content (differentiating them from clusters), and sometimes as individual or contrapuntal elements in textures that combine multiple blocs sonores simultaneously (differentiating them from Klangfarbenmelodien). Boulez also trumpeted the malleability of these objects:
In reality there is considerable ambiguity in the use of such chords [sic], which are “sound-blocks” tending to become distinct objects in their own right, with timbre and dynamics as an integral part of the whole complex; hence the demand for a kind of super-instrument, whose sounds would be an actual function of the work. This ties in with the current preoccupations of electronic music, which seeks the same end with pure sinusoidal sounds. … Since the density of these blocks can vary constantly from one note to ten or eleven, an actual concept of variability has been introduced into the series, which acts on the elements that make it up, so that they cannot themselves be reduced to a unity. It is on this basis, with the addition of rhythm, that we can develop such sound-blocks horizontally, while, since their transposition is crucially independent of the linear sequence, the process of development is absolutely free.38
Again, the term “bloc sonore” captures this functional modularity: since Boulez treats these complexes with greater flexibility (of register, length, and selection) over time, they serve more as reservoirs of pitch material that can be further manipulated than as discrete musical objects with entrainable sonic signatures.
A short extract from “L'artisanat furieux” illustrates the most transparent use of blocs sonores as, simultaneously, a deep structural schema and the immediate, audible source for lyrical writing in Le marteau. Example 3 shows measures 20–30 of the score together with a bloc sonore underlay.39 The source of these objects (“domain Eπ”) is discussed below, but the reader may already see how the vertical pitch conglomerates are rearranged as linear, melodic material. This passage, which is unusually clear in this regard, is but one example of the way in which blocs sonores provided Boulez with a much freer basis for melodic and harmonic manipulation than would an ordered, twelve-tone row. It also highlights a local formal symmetry in the piece as a whole: as the flute enters on a high E♮ (m. 27), Boulez switches from one stack sequence to another (as indicated by the Greek letter name below each stack). He thus unites the deep structural patterns of the movement with a climactic peak on the musical surface—a feature of which the listener would be unaware, but one of vital significance for the rigorous serial processes underlying the movement's form.
Of course, Schoenberg's music often uses rows as fodder for simultaneities and pitch duplications. That is why this passage (and Boulez's overt mention of Schoenberg above) highlights the act of tessera, or a Bloomian sort of completion through misreading and appropriation.40 Whatever one's interpretation of Schoenberg, the second stage of Boulez's serial process, whereby segmentation is subject to multiplication, increases the “density” of each stack beyond the limits of dodecaphony by combining them through transposition. Hence, Boulez goes not only beyond Schoenberg's original concept of the ordered twelve-tone row but beyond the limiting concept of twelve tones itself, using multiplication to literally multiply the number of pitches in his sequences while disregarding the chromatic gamut. It can be difficult to describe these transpositional processes concisely, as there are several different ways of executing a transposition, and each introduces different ramifications for the resulting pitch structure of the bloc sonore sequences. In what follows, I provide a quick gloss on some of these ramifications by completing the journey from Boulez's segmented twelve-tone row to his (much larger) bloc sonore matrix.
In his discussion of the pitch-class sets at work in the multiplication processes of Boulez's music, Steven Heinemann provides a clear description of basic multiplication.41 In short, he suggests three categories of multiplication—simple, compound, and complex. For our purposes it is easier to reduce these categories to two, simple and complex. These are defined not by the basic rule of thumb that a given bloc sonore is transposed according to every interval of another bloc sonore, but rather by whether or not the fundamental bass note of the transposition operation (the anchor) is transposed according to a secondary operation.42 In simple multiplication there is a single process for multiplying the blocs sonores; here, “simple” means “one-step.” In both compound and complex multiplication there are two operations—a simple one, and then a secondary transposition to alter the bass note (and the rest of the corresponding bloc sonore) by another interval. The derivation of this interval is the fundamental difference between compound and complex multiplication and is not relevant to my discussion here. (It is also one aspect of Heinemann's method that has been critically updated by later scholars.) When a complex multiplication is repeated across an entire bloc sonore sequence, a basic, twelve-note segmentation such as that shown in Example 1 becomes a multiplied bloc sonore sequence, exemplified in Example 2c. What can be a little confusing is that even the untransposed segmentations of Example 1 would still be defined as blocs sonores by Boulez: the precise form of transposition is less a factor in their “objectivity” than their varied treatment as “sound complexes” in his works.
Example 4 illustrates a “domain,” or a kind of single matrix generated by multiplying every term of a bloc sonore sequence by every other term. Here, the top sequence is the one shown in Example 1, and the second the one shown in Example 2c. Each of the subsequent rows follows suit, the third row featuring all the terms of row 1 multiplied by the third term, the fourth row those terms multiplied by the fourth term, and the fifth row those terms multiplied by the fifth term. It may be seen that in each row Boulez generates the second transpositional operation according to the difference between the bass note of the first bloc sonore and that of the multiplier as stated in the top, unadulterated bloc sonore sequence. In the case of row 2 of the matrix (Nυ, or Example 2c), this is the difference between D♮ and B♭, or a major third; in row 3 the difference between the bass note of the multiplier (term 3 in row 1) and the multiplicand (term 1 in row 1) is a tritone (A♭ and D♮), so the secondary transposition of that row shifts every bloc sonore by a tritone, and so on.43
Ultimately, complex multiplication turns out to be an elegant solution to some inherent limitations of simple multiplication. First, complex multiplication allows a controlled manipulation of the anchor, or bass note, of each bloc sonore, which turns out to have been an important structural consideration in Boulez's compositional process.44 Second, because complex multiplication transposes entire sequences by a fixed interval, it also allowed Boulez to shift a whole sequence in such a way as to alter its register or color palette, usually in relation to a specific, potentially isographic pitch or interval relationship between sequences. Third, and perhaps most significantly, the multiplications differ in their commutativity. Just as regular multiplication is commutative, so complex multiplication ensures that different products contain similar pitch content. In short, complex multiplication allowed Boulez to create matrixes involving certain patterns and duplications, such as those highlighted in Example 4. These patterns and duplications became very relevant to Boulez's work, as can be seen in the harmonic overlaps and “pivots” between the two different bloc sonore sequences shown in Example 5, where B♭ acts as a point of symmetry between two readings of the same bloc sonore sequence. (For the source of the sequence, see Example 6.)45
Despite the density of my explanations, Le marteau (and Oubli signal lapidé) use Boulez's clearest, cleanest, and most transparent bloc sonore matrix. I have transcribed it fully as Example 6.46 It presents a total of one hundred and twenty-five blocs sonores derived from a single twelve-tone row. I reproduce the matrix here in order to make a very simple point: creating it required a great deal of work. (Boulez's subsequent matrixes were even more demanding, as they contain more convoluted isographic relationships.) It seems likely that one reason why Boulez made only a few such matrixes (all of them in the 1950s, as far as I can tell) and then reused them in various ways for the next several decades is that, while resulting in a massive amount of musical potential, they were actually very tedious to produce.47 This is not to say that he does not create other adaptations of these core products, or that he does not have side-sketches of other matrix alternatives—he does.48 Nonetheless, these alternatives are usually mere adaptations, such as parts of the original matrixes transposed, or featured in retrograde, or recycled in some way, rather than being entirely new multiplications of bloc sonore sequences.
Last but not least, others have noted the “modal” (à la Messiaen) intervallic characteristics of Boulez's blocs sonores. As an important component of a work for multiple voices that uses a broad spectrum of registers, the blocs sonores of Oubli can be compared to the layered densities of Structures 1a; similarly, the blocs sonores of Le marteau preserve a number of key tritone relationships within the work's multivoice polyphony.49 As Peter O'Hagan has observed,
the appropriation of one of Messiaen's modes as the series for Structures 1a is hardly an isolated gesture of homage to the composer of Modes de valeurs et d'intensités (1949). When the chordal structures of Oubli signal lapidé and related works are examined, the extent to which the morphology (to use a Boulezian term) relates to that of Messiaen becomes clear. Thus many of the chords can be categorized in terms of Messiaen's modes 2 and 3, with their division of the octave into cells of minor and major thirds respectively. This is not to imply a diminution in the strikingly original features of Boulez's style, but an acknowledgement of the extent to which his innovations sit within the framework of a musical tradition.50
It is in fact Boulez's ability to imbue so many layers of serial manipulation with precise intervallic control that links the otherwise disparate soundworlds of Structures, Oubli, and Le marteau, revealing their disguised Messiaenic halos. Beyond the harmonic signature of these blocs sonores, the additional diversity of the master matrix provides Boulez with a gamut of possible pitch reservoirs that far exceeds any dodecaphonic row or magic square. In effect, it was only through the tremendous “discipline” required to create these mass multiplication tables that Boulez liberated himself to apply these blocs sonores as harmonic, melodic, or polyphonic music. Regardless of the degree of serial planning and the potential for deep, isomorphic organizational structures, Boulez contrasts his objects with the “ordered” rows of Schoenberg and flaunts the possibilities of “local indiscipline” in his blocs sonores to open up the realm of compositional gesture through the use of such amorphous, adaptive pitch sets.
The Flights and Frustrations of a Traveling Composer
The serial intricacies described above in relation to the bloc sonore matrix of Le marteau (not to mention its underlying structural role in several of the work's movements) already reveal the time and effort spent on deep structural (or organizational) aspects of the composition. But it is the effects of Boulez's schedule on the design and completion of the work that become increasingly clear when one considers that he actually finished the first harmonic tables in time for use in the earlier Oubli, and that most of the movements of Le marteau are actually rather limited in length and scope.51 Everything about this work, from its often languid presentation of short, surreal texts to its extended instrumental commentaries and massive coda, suggests a composer whose thoughts were left to roam while his ability to compose was suspended for considerable amounts of time. The trajectory of the work confirms this impression: the brevity and focus of the first composed movement, “L'artisanat furieux” (1952), which extends to no more than three pages, stands in stark contrast to the elaborately scored final movement, composed three years later and extending to nineteen pages, or about eight minutes in performance.52 It is as if the long gestation of the work built up slowly over time, ultimately spilling over into the realm of self-borrowing and replication as Boulez raced to prepare the work for its intended premiere.53
Early in 1954 Boulez wrote to Stockhausen about his frustration with the demands of his theater responsibilities in Paris and of the Domaine Musical in particular:
I can but praise your promptitude [in writing], and you can but blame my tardiness. My only excuse is the crazy work I have here. The concerts went very well. But what work! I won't get into that again. It destroyed my work period. Between the organization of the concerts and the journal issues,54 I could do practically nothing for myself; which makes me, in this moment, more than nervous.55
Later in the same letter he reiterated, “As for the concerts, they continue to go well. But what work! And at what cost! It's monstrous. It can't be done again—and I for one won't do it again—under these conditions.”56 Hence, even before his departure for South America the tone of Boulez's letters was affected by the stress of the final Domaine concerts of the 1953–54 season. While he and Stockhausen remained intimate friends, Boulez became increasingly angst-ridden as he realized that time was running out. In particular, negotiations over finding a quartet for the final concert of the year forced a rapid back-and-forth of perfunctory letters that ironically reveal the depth of the composers’ friendship, each proving a reliable friend in a pinch despite a number of problems and terse replies. In spite of these tensions, the warm, playful tone of their correspondence returned as soon as time allowed.
A letter from Boulez to Cage of July 1954, written at the height of the tour, reveals similar frustrations with the Domaine Musical and his increasingly demanding schedule:
My poor John, I haven't had time to write to you much this year and you must think I am the last word in ingratitude. To think that you welcomed me so well when I was in New York and that I haven't written to you since.57 But if you knew the work [for the Domaine Musical] I have had this year! … For I did absolutely everything from arranging the programs to hiring the instruments (not to mention such things as contacting artists or taking care of lodgings). … We still don't know whether we can carry on next season. P[ierre] Souvtchinsky and Madame Tézenas are organizing themselves to try and form a committee.58 We need about 1½ million francs (if not 2 million) before we can hope to begin. It is not an easy sum to find. Moreover, we have to find a secretary.59 For I don't mind telling you that I am not keen to lose all my time as I have done this year. Practically speaking, I have been able to do absolutely nothing from December to April. … You can easily imagine this season's disastrous history as far as my work goes.60
Boulez's tone is perhaps less intimate than in his earlier correspondence with Cage, but the psychological toll of his frustrations is still obvious.61 Furthermore, despite his efforts to maintain “as much of my time as possible for writing,” Boulez admitted in his next letter to Cage, of July–August that same year, that “I have alas very little—by which I mean none at all—time to work for myself.”62
According to his correspondence with Stockhausen, Boulez was indeed left with little time to notate Le marteau, and may have been suffering from a bout of depression as new responsibilities and travel obligations drained his creative energies.63 In a moment of passionate confession Boulez shared his reflections on the previous year during a stop in Salvador, Brazil:
It's frightening to see how age creeps up on one, and how few discoveries and few works one has produced. Right now, I'm absolutely sick of the times. Having been bled white since last November has rendered me nervously hypersensitive to everything, to every day spent without having been able to do anything. This journal, these concerts, what a burden! I'm not prepared to view them with the same attitude of complete devotion next year; in any case, I'm going to safeguard my composition time.64
This confession comes at the end of a letter in which Boulez also complained about his Darmstadt obligations, finally deciding to skip the festival because they were no longer going to perform his Le visage nuptial as promised.65 He also conveyed genuine anxiety over completing Le marteau in time for its originally scheduled premiere. (The premiere was ultimately delayed on account of problems in securing a guitarist, not to mention Boulez's inability to finish the work.)66 His disgruntled preoccupation with European concerns is obvious, even after being in South America for a number of weeks.
Boulez's mood can also be inferred from specific references to Le marteau in his correspondence with Stockhausen in this period. Although most of the work had been written by the time he left on tour, several movements remained unfinished.67 Before departing he alluded in February to the need to take the work abroad with him:
My curiosity about these countries having been satisfied,68 I would now prefer to go somewhere tranquil and work, work—I hope to steal as much time as possible from the performances in order to finish the piece for Donaueschingen, which has not advanced at all since February. … During the tour, I'm going to work very seriously on Le marteau sans maître, which Rosbaud is to give on October 16 at Donaueschingen.69
His tone changed when in July he gave an account of his progress during the tour:
I hope you had a nice holiday. Here, the work has sometimes been mind-numbing. Teaching the choir parts of Christopher Columbus to amateurs who haven't the slightest notion of solfège, one soon becomes nauseated by the ineptitude. As for the loss of time, I can no longer even think about it without turning pale. I'm terribly behind with my piece for Donaueschingen. And I really can't do any better. We have finally come to the end of the tour; I can't say I'm sorry about it.70
At the end of the trip he finally reported in August that he was returning to composition: “Last letter of the journey home. The tourism is over—Another bullfight in Barcelona. And the journey will be at an end … thankfully! I'm already back at work on Le marteau sans maître.”71
It thus seems safe to say that Boulez composed little between February and late August of 1954. The ramifications were significant: even though the premiere of Le marteau was delayed, Boulez still failed to finish the work in time for its rescheduled performance the following summer. Meanwhile, he canceled his trip to Darmstadt and (finally) spoke of the need to take a break.72 Given the competing pressures and the sheer volume of private complaints, it is just as telling that Boulez said so little about the composition of Le marteau and its musical features, limiting himself to concerns about time and energy and to issues related to its performance, signaling a lack of engagement with the work's compositional processes. This was not generally his practice in his correspondence with Stockhausen and Cage, in which discussions of musical works were often accompanied by detailed descriptions of innovative features.
Despite Boulez's resentful comments regarding distractions and obligations, these letters also reveal the sincere pleasure he took in traveling, not least on account of his interest in other cultures and in foreign music and instruments. Hence, his letters to Stockhausen often resemble entries in a journal, with long asides and occasional digressions that show him at his most perceptive. Even the more mundane aspects of travel are shared as fodder for further conversation:
I have seen the Pacific and Valparaiso. Went down to the port at night, rather amusing. Now five of us have left the others in Buenos Aires to take the boat, and have come as guests to Bahia and Recife (air trip) for a well-deserved rest (Ah! Christopher Columbus in rehearsal, nothing more formidable). We are thus “in the tropics.” It's very nice. I'll tell you about it on my return.73
He also commented on people, both in recording meetings with old friends (“Imagine, in Rio I saw Gabrielle Dumaine, who has been in Brazil for six months, as professor at the Escola Livre de São Paulo directed by Koellreutter”),74 and in reflecting on the level of culture and the artistic tastes of major cities: “In S. Paulo people are very interested in all the current trends. I've met painters, poets, and even musicians! Interesting, very interesting—especially the painters and the poets. Well versed in E[zra] Pound, Joyce, and Cummings, Mallarmé. It's certainly in São Paulo that one finds the most fascinating milieu in Brazil.”75 He even describes the beauty of plane rides through the Andes: “The trip to Bahia and Recife was terrific. A great deal of flying. We flew over a virgin forest!! We have filled our eyes with exotic landscapes.”76 Finally, Boulez bragged about collecting rare instruments, this being one of several indications that his eyes and ears remained open while abroad. He writes to André Schaeffner, “I have brought back a whole collection of ‘exotic’ instruments: wooden bells, double bells in iron, an Indian flute, a small Indian guitar, a frame drum, bells, and a birimbao,” confirming both the ethnomusicological influence of his mentor and the source of new percussive combinations in both Le marteau and L'Orestie.77 Given Boulez's other struggles in this period, these playful asides are testament to his genuine desire to explore foreign cultures.
My discussion of Boulez's letters began not with his trip but with his frustrations “since last November,” or the fall of 1953. Nearly a year later, he was already preparing the next run of Domaine Musical concerts while initiating his most involved Compagnie commitment, L'Orestie. His attitude, however, had changed. Arranging and organizing the concerts had become easier, the delays to Le marteau were taken in stride, and Boulez appeared to be reveling in taking charge of the promotion and performance of his friends’ most recent compositions. In many ways he had crossed an invisible but tangible boundary between old and new responsibilities and, more significantly, old and new agendas as a composer. As described below, this turning point is reflected in Boulez's public writings, too, although these require a little more deciphering than his private correspondence.
Untangling the Aesthetics of
If Le marteau is in part a musical reflection of Boulez's attitude and activities as a touring professional, then his writings from the same period attest to the additional influence of various European figures on his aesthetic and historical outlook. Essays from 1954, including “The Composer as Critic” (“Probabilités critiques du compositeur”), “‘… Near and Far’” (“‘… auprès et au loin’”), and “Current Investigations” (“Recherches maintenant”), map a trajectory from Boulez's meditations on his changing role at Darmstadt to his renewed confidence as the lead polemicist of the serial avant-garde. These writings document Boulez's reaction to his own expanding repertory of serial techniques, his growing reliance on literary influences, and even his transition from an emerging enfant terrible to the precocious mentor of Stockhausen, Pousseur, Cage, and others. These essays also reflect the broadening professional experiences that prompted him to reevaluate the tone of his leadership.78 Together with his correspondence, they elucidate Boulez's inward reflections as a composer, a critic, and a figurehead for serial innovation during the early 1950s.
The essays in question also introduce three key binaries in Boulez's aesthetics that show how his ideas slowly evolved from polemic “statements of fact” to more nuanced arguments that tie the directives of serialists to the speculative concerns of composers. Oppositional pairs are used to describe the way in which composers of the past and present balance “strict” and “free” composition, “theory” and “practice,” and the acts of “organization” and “composition”—all concepts presented as binary oppositions, but ultimately treated by Boulez as continuums of mixed behaviors. Furthermore, these terms obliquely relate to Boulez's long-standing mantra that freedom arises from discipline, especially when he tacitly suggests that composers throughout history have developed their expressive abilities by shifting their position on each continuum according to the musical system of their time. One senses the presence of blocs sonores as a key ingredient in Boulez's own proprietary mixture of serial methods and creative drive.
These essays were written at a time when Boulez's hubris was tempered by the trials and tribulations experienced during the long gestation of Le marteau, and before the growing, even threatening influence of Stockhausen and Cage at Darmstadt in the later 1950s had reignited his polemics. For example, they feature less aggressive assessments of other composers than Penser la musique aujourd'hui, particularly in relation to Boulez's invitation to those composers to discover their individual musical identities. This is why it is so important to contextualize polarizations such as “strict” versus “free”: in the early 1950s Boulez provides these metrics as a means by which composers might self-critique their own projects across a myriad of continuums, not as “either/or” binaries but as varied mixtures of “both.”79 It is only later, through conflations of Boulez's use of binaries with those used by parallel movements in mid-century French structuralism, that his categories appear cold, limiting, and polarizing—a conflation that is encouraged by his increased use of mathematical logic and linguistic terms and by the caustic criticism of Penser.80
Finally, when compared with Boulez's earlier and later writings, those contemporary with Le marteau are admittedly seen to be less obsessed with diagramming the syntax and “morphology” of music and more concerned with overwriting (or writing over) dead influences. In these years, oppositional pairs such as “strict” versus “free” provide a means for articulating the flexibility of Boulez's approach to serialism, in which blocs sonores constitute a theoretical alternative to Schoenberg's supposedly “rigid” rows. In addition, his continuums serve to historicize his brand of serialism by demonstrating how these same fundamental dichotomies were relevant to composers and styles of previous centuries. The combination of such binaries with Boulez's deep belief in an evolutionary development of compositional practice leads to some of his most revealing and reasoned prose, while offering more insightful points de repère along his path to a mature, individual style.
“‘… Near and Far’” provides an excellent starting point for discussing these themes and their relation to the blocs sonores of Le marteau with greater specificity. The essay begins with a simple, straightforward statement:
It seems that the present generation can take leave of its predecessors: it has succeeded in defining itself precisely and explicitly enough not to have to accept patronage or be haunted by the past any more. The main driving forces behind the recent evolution of music are well known; there is no need to remind ourselves again of the specific differences of attitude they represented. It was up to us to unmask these apparent contradictions, and resolve them into a possible synthesis.81
This is a mature assessment, even for the precocious Boulez, who only a year or two earlier was calling others “useless” on the grounds of their compositional affiliations.82 Having broken with the past he confidently writes of synthesis, likely in the Hegelian sense of resolving opposing camps of dodecaphonic practice by sublating them into a communal, contemporary style while shedding their outdated baggage.83 “Us” is still an exclusive camp—Boulez refers only to composers who share his ultraprogressive orientation—but the tone is reflective rather than combative, and implies the need for coordinated action.
This is a good point at which to caution against any kind of direct correspondence between isolated statements by Boulez and Bloom's revisionary ratios. Passages such as these, in which Boulez explicitly acknowledges the past, are actually the least wrought with “anxiety of influence”; if anything, this represents Bloom's kenosis, or a humbling in relation to one's influences by distancing oneself from them rather than seeking a comparative (or combative) opposition.84 Here, Boulez has a clear vision of the way in which his project is actually separate and different from that of his predecessors, even if his confidence in his persuasive powers remains tempered.
The multifarious connotations of the title phrase “near and far” also provide a richer exegesis of Boulez's self-reflections.85 A reference to an article by Pierre Souvtchinsky, the phrase refers to “a creator—who, through his arrival, his presence, the affirmation of his gifts, his judgement, makes everything near and far suddenly visible with renewed clarity.”86 Souvtchinsky—whose influence on Boulez's musicological development cannot be overstated—clarified the necessity for a self-conscious, critical, and historical artistic psychology.87 The artist is called on not just to create a new style but to evaluate it against “the near and the far”: its contemporary reception and its historical relevance.
Boulez clearly accepted Souvtchinsky's challenge. Taking an omniscient position over modern music despite his relative youth, he describes three new horizons. First, he argues for a poetics of modern music based on structural possibilities over and above any natural principles or “moribund tradition.”88 Next, he muses on the role of the composer in the evolution of musical styles, shifting between a commentary on the way musical systems develop and propagate and a long discussion of the merits and dangers of analysis for the modern composer, wherein the role of analysis becomes “to define [ourselves] ever more precisely in relation to [our] antecedents.”89 Finally, the last portion of the essay looks ahead, listing a number of analytical discoveries that could guide the future of modern music. Significantly for our purposes, these discoveries include an elaborate description of blocs sonores with many hidden references to Le marteau.90 Together these perspectives reveal a musician fresh from retreat, converting his own journal of self-reflection and discovery into a map for other aspiring composers.91
The most striking lines in “‘… Near and Far’” occur not at the end of Boulez's analytical descriptions but at the beginning of them. Citing a number of composers, who include Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Ravel, Boulez attempts to describe the dynamic, varied balance between “strict” and “free” composition that may be observed throughout music history. The language here reflects the necessary exchange between formal models and individuated works: in an earlier passage Boulez writes, “there can no longer be any traffic with pre-existing schemas,” whereas here he acknowledges that “it is no accident that with the Viennese School we find strict canonic forms reappearing, together with the passacaglia and variation: they provide the sort of common ground where ambiguity can flourish and allow the divergence between strict and free invention to reappear.”92 Next, he practically reinvents the role of the series, in a passage in which the compositional advances of Le marteau may be seen to lie buried:
A pitch series can be imagined in a number of different ways. And it is crucial to recognize that it is not the succession of the elements it combines that constitutes the serial phenomenon. The series is not an order of events, but a hierarchy—which can be independent of that order. It is in this sense that harmonic regions—using the same interval relationships—can, for example, within a certain set of transpositions, group series into families. Equally it is in this sense that the horizontal and vertical dimensions become combined under a single principle of distribution. … One thus sees emerging a notion of “free” and “strict” style, specifically defined in relation to those forms acknowledged as most representative of these two styles in the history of music.93
In relating this veiled description of unordered, vertically stacked blocs sonores back to his description of “strict” and “free” composition (“the series is not an order of events, but a hierarchy—which can be independent of that order”), Boulez integrates his recent experiments in Le marteau with the “near and far” of postwar music. With the benefit of hindsight one can also connect these statements to his later use of “indiscipline” in Le marteau as a negotiation of strict and free applications in his own organizational procedures. Boulez's blocs sonores thus appear at the center of a complex nexus, an elegant synthesis combining a maturing historical perspective, changing aesthetic positions, and, above all, his own appropriation of dodecaphonic and serial methods during the early 1950s.
What is perhaps less obvious is the way these ideas resonate with Boulez's private conversations with contemporary composers. In particular, his correspondence with Stockhausen reveals the extent to which their preoccupations were shared. It is easy to attribute a desire to incorporate new freedoms into serial music to Stockhausen: he is the one who writes about improvising at the piano, whose Studien I and II spark Boulez's imagination, and who muses with inarticulate language on statistics, improvisation, spaces, fields, and rotations.94 At the same time, we know that Boulez's first bloc sonore matrix predated at least some of these discussions, and that his own interest in new formal possibilities and improvisatory techniques was fueled by his reading of Mallarmé, Joyce, and others, not to mention his early fascination with Cage's prepared pianos and his ongoing enthusiasm for world music. Seen in this light, Boulez's essay becomes a risky, even vulnerable expression of new ideas that he had discussed privately with others, but that were as yet untested in public.
“The Composer as Critic” represents a second phase of aesthetic development, providing a penetrating commentary on the way the modern composer uses analysis as a catalyst for self-criticism. Drafted for the inaugural (and only) issue of Domaine musical: International Bulletin of Contemporary Music just prior to Boulez's theatrical tour, this essay is surprising in its lack of references to composers. Instead, Baudelaire is cited continuously, as Boulez describes the symbiotic relationship between the “critical” and “creative” drives of the modern artist—terms that map onto his own binary of “theoretical” versus “practical” concerns for modern composers.95 For this reason, the essays of any artist “may turn out to be a critical commentary, or a kind of incantation murmured over a new work as it comes to birth”—a phrase that immediately pairs this essay with Le marteau.96 There is little reason to attribute any consistent causal relationship to this music-text dialogue, although it is clear that the success or failure of individual musical works often led Boulez to either drop or further develop certain aesthetic positions in his writings.97
Other themes of “The Composer as Critic” correspond even more directly to the historical ambitions of “‘… Near and Far.’” Boulez again discusses analysis and its role in showing a “lack of respect” for his own work and that of others. These critiques are not “sallies” or “squibs,” Boulez reminds us. Instead, they reflect a Cartesian doubt, a radical questioning of the methods, intentions, and resulting musical rhetoric of a given composer or work, including Boulez's own.98 That these comments appear as Boulez intensely reviews the compositions of his friends is no coincidence. In corresponding with Cage, Pousseur, and Stockhausen about such works as Music of Changes and Sonatas and Interludes, Prospection for three pianos, and Kontra-Punkte, Studie I, and Studie II, Boulez developed as a critic and analyst. The experience also shifted his tone more generally: whereas his critiques of Schoenberg were often too caustic for others to swallow, his criticisms here are as reflective of his own failures (such as the troubled premiere of Polyphonie X in 1951) as they are of the shortcomings of others.99
Boulez also continued to pair constructive criticism with his broader historical agenda. He calls for “a valid, positive contribution to the development of a language and a system of poetics [that] would remain, having once accomplished its aim, as a simple historical document—and one absolutely essential in order to obtain a definitive picture of the present age.”100 This reference to criticism as “a simple historical document” indicates a subtle change in Boulez's own aesthetic project, from a theory of composition that is self-evident, evolutionary, and even obligatory for all composers to an evaluation of postwar aesthetics as a contrived, historical phenomenon defined by its musical works and reflective of its context rather than its authors.101 There is little doubt that he saw his own blocs sonores as precisely this kind of contribution.
Another striking passage evokes further biographical resonances: “The most irrefutable proof of [the vitality of the twelve-note system] lies in the frequency of [attacks against it]: cut off one of its heads and ten grow in its place, while critics thunder and composers fulminate and composer-critics go on explaining with intellectual ardour or exhausted nervous systems.”102 Here, Boulez's description reveals his own nervous state, a preoccupation seen in a letter to Stockhausen quoted above.103 As the years pass, it seems as if the source of Boulez's exhaustion is no longer just his schedule but the need to continually defend his aesthetic principles, to the point where meditations on Le marteau and dodecaphonic technique may reveal the concrete effects of postwar politics on his creative drive.
Finally, a third essay from 1954, “Current Investigations,” completes the progression from personal meditations to the reenergized polemics of a resolute leader. The essay begins with coy witticisms regarding “enlightened manifestos” and “articles of faith” before settling on a clear objective: to define the word “dodecaphony” and its relation to the word “series” and to settle, once and for all, the bickering of confused critics.104 But Boulez quickly switches from passive to aggressive when he condemns composers for treating the organizational power of serialism as a musical language in itself. Indeed, the essay is not so much about resolving what serialism is, as a call for serialists to distance themselves from the “monstrous all-purpose mill” that results from conflating “organization” with “composition.”105 While condoning the abandonment of thematic material, he admits that this has led to a new monotony, a bland schematization of music, because “perpetual variation—on the surface—produced a total absence of variation on a more general level.”106 Serialism remains a viable style, but it must be guided by musical instincts, not autonomous processes.107
In turning from reflection to critique, Boulez performs an about-face with regard to integral serialism. He now specifically attacks the kind of “perpetual variation” found in his own experimental Structures 1a, in which, for “each new pitch, a new duration received a new dynamic.”108 The list of negatives continues: do not use themes or thematic rows, do not confuse organization and composition, and avoid absolutely “formal concepts and ‘architecture’ of the past.”109 New directives take the place of these outdated techniques: “The real task in this field is to develop a dialectic operating at each moment of the composition between a strict global organization and a temporary structure controlled by free will”; “These reflections on musical composition lead one to hope for a new poetics, a new way of listening”; and finally, “Let us claim for music the right to parentheses and italics … a concept of discontinuous time made up of structures which interlock instead of remaining in airtight compartments.”110 These and other statements are united in one respect: they direct composers toward compositional creativity and away from too literal a use of rule-based dodecaphonism. They also provide another illustration of the dynamic relationship between word and deed. One need only compare Boulez's desire for interlocking movements with Figure 1 to see how the design of Le marteau—itself the product of years of development—is a prime example of his new approach to musical form.111
Indeed, the structure of Le marteau is clear from the titles of its movements despite their convoluted order: three different vocal cycles, each with separate instrumental and vocal components, are interlaced as a series of nine movements. What is less obvious is that Boulez used a unique form of serial derivation to produce the blocs sonores for each cycle. For example, whereas “L'artisanat furieux” focuses on blocs sonores generated from the matrix described above (Example 6), “Bourreaux de solitude” uses a different method of bloc sonore generation. The two “rotations” of the row for “Bourreaux de solitude” shown in Figure 2 demonstrate one such alternative method.112 Within each matrix Boulez “clumps” the pitches into blocs sonores, using a process that can be described in two different ways: by grouping the pitches according to the intervals between them, or by rotating the row outside each axis according to a single pitch (here “4” and “5”) and then inserting that pitch at every intersection point. Each results in a “dodecaphonic” matrix. The clumps are then stacked and used similarly to those in Example 6 to form the basis for polyphonic music. Examples 7a–b show how two rows from rotation 4 provide the pitch and rhythm content for the beginning of “Bourreaux.”
Here again we are reminded of Bloom. If earlier examples highlight Boulez's ability to somewhat “complete” Schoenberg by embracing but also reorienting his goals (an emphasis on Bloom's tessera), then Figure 2 and Examples 7a–b might emphasize Bloom's daemonization, or a movement toward an alternative model based less on a total reinvention by the young musician than on an open meditation upon the power of the original model, which exists separately from Schoenberg's influence.113 In Boulez's reimagining of the twelve-tone matrix, for example, he morphs the matrix into something resembling his harmonic blocks, even while the design of the matrix itself—and its application in the music—actually follows Schoenberg's ordered, sequential presentation of twelve-tone rows in various transpositions. Schoenberg is less completed or denied than “removed,” the matrix appearing as an unavoidable result of historical progress and Boulez's own unique inspirations. Incidentally, Schoenberg is never mentioned in “Current Investigations,” in which Webern is rather the “chief predecessor elect.”114
Boulez privately announced the publication of “Current Investigations” to Stockhausen:
I'm sending you moreover—despite the definite promise I made myself about it—an article I've written for La nouvelle revue française, November issue, to appear in a fortnight. It will certainly remind you of some of the conversations we had in Cologne—including what you taught me, a little piece of recent erudition. It's a self-critique! It's why I've adopted offhandedness as its principal tone …115
Boulez's reference to tone (and his rather rare use of an ellipsis) may signal the type of decompression that accompanied the end of his struggles. Having returned from his tour abroad, announced his next major compositional project, and spent a focused, productive sojourn in Cologne with one of his trusted allies,116 Boulez was reveling in his recovery from a year of work, stress, and perhaps even self-doubt. Within a month he would have mostly planned and paid for the next year of Domaine Musical concerts, though further delays to the Renaud-Barrault production of L'Orestie would present new obstacles. While he still had to wait nine months for the successful premiere of Le marteau, he remained poised for new challenges. However facile their former relation to Bloom, Boulez's anxieties were now focused as much on his present colleagues as on his own maturation, shifting his horizons from a myopic past and a hypothetical future to the pluralities of postwar experimentalism.
“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”
It remains tempting to coalesce the overlapping themes of Boulez's letters, music, and writings into a late-stage Künstlerroman. In each of these areas one sees the artist coming of age a second time, replacing not only his teachers and their methods, but even the domineering busts of the Second Viennese School—and all with the furor of an adolescent. Corresponding developments in Boulez's compositional method and aesthetics make the years between the premiere of Structures 1a and Le marteau as much a representation of the maturing artist as they are a personal confrontation with the challenges of evolving a compelling, marketable musical voice, as well as an acceptable, if still dogmatic, aesthetics.
Of course, the almost literal parallels between Joyce's coming-of-age story and Boulez's life should not be taken too seriously.117 There may be some benefit, however, in using these parallels to explore the possible links between the aesthetics of Boulez's earlier years and his rapid musical development in Le marteau. From his Catholic upbringing to his mutable faith in dodecaphonicism, Boulez never struggled with the idea that freedom is an extension of discipline, even as his adherence to the dogmas of various influences and institutions wavered continually in his twenties and early thirties.118 His focus on self-discipline as a way of avoiding an absolute faith in the series, numerological approaches, and past musical forms is telling, not least because it shows his inherent tendency to become skeptical about any rigidly defined system over time. Thus, it is not that Boulez suddenly breaks free from his earlier aesthetic positions or influences in these years; rather, he expands them, making space for personal expression, liberating himself by using blocs sonores to locate freedom within discipline instead of in opposition to it (like Cage) or as a reprieve from it (like Stockhausen). In finding his own solution to the dialogue between strict and free composition, theory and practice, and so on, Boulez resolves a primary sociological tension of the postwar years on his own terms, protecting the role of the series with his blocs sonores, but leaving behind his earlier experiments with dodecaphonic technique as souvenirs from an apprenticeship.
As Le marteau demonstrates, Boulez's first instinct is to dig ever deeper into obscure serial operations in an attempt to bypass Schoenberg's natural order of the row. While this trend continues in 1955 with Boulez's very next dodecaphonic works, such as his Troisième sonate and Book 2 of Structures, the following year also introduces a number of more basic serial processes that have a lasting effect on his compositional methods, here expressed by the rapid, mostly through-composed textures of L'Orestie and the transcription and borrowing that are essential to the “Improvisations” in Pli selon pli. In later years his method makes room for a greater variety of simplified processes over and above more convoluted derivational techniques.119 Given this narrative, it might be argued that Boulez's true break from the influence of Schoenberg, Webern, and Messiaen was not in the audacious premiere of Structures 1a, but in the trials and tribulations that brought forth Le marteau and a return to lyric writing using a voice all his own, resonating outward from his newly derived blocs sonores.