Field Concert Hall, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia
The music of Pierre Boulez is striking, virtuosic, and at times challenging to a listener’s ear. It draws heavily from serialist methods first introduced by composers of the Second Viennese School, including Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone serialism, in which the cell or motive includes all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale. Boulez uses these techniques to great effect in his early Sonatine from 1946, creating the bulk of the music from smaller fragments which repeat and transform over the course of the work.
As his career went on, Boulez developed a style in which he treated all aspects of music in a serial way, including dynamics, articulation, and lengths of notes, in addition to the pitches of the music. Each of these aspects of a piece would first establish a cell or pattern, and then Boulez would vary the pattern in specific ways as the piece went on, allowing him to develop diversity in every area of his music.
Boulez and many of his contemporaries were interested in moving away from music that could be politicized or propagandized, as had happened with many German composers during World War II. These experiments in serialization were Boulez’s attempt at a movement towards total abstraction in music.