Wednesday, 6 January 2016
Pierre Boulez - Le marteau sans maître (1954; rec. 1972)
Sad to learn of Boulez's passing today, but a few months short of 91 years old is a good innings by any standards, and he leaves behind a great legacy of masterful conducting and some uniquely single-minded music.
I've been listening to this 1954 work a lot recently, trying to get a handle on the initially uninviting serialism. I liked the instrumentation right from the start, which encouraged me to persevere with the work - Stravinsky famously likened it to "the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass", which was all I could think of for a while when listening to it after reading that; it's a great metaphor. You could perhaps extend that metaphor as far as becoming accustomed to this music being like ice cubes in a glass of single malt whisky - it's definitely an acquired taste, but one worth persevering with (or so I hear, as a non-drinker!).
Le marteau sans maître (The hammer without a master) takes as its text the surrealist poetry of René Char, sung against flute, guitar, vibes, viola and everyone's favourite percussion instrument, the xylorimba. There's nothing quite like it, and it's well worth acquiring the taste. This 1973 Columbia album (sourced from this box set, which I'll be returning to shortly for more posts) adds 'Livre pour Cordes', two forms of a short work for strings that makes for a nice palate cleanser.
La roulotte rouge au bord du clou
Et cadavre dans le panier
Et chevaux de labours dans le fer à cheval
Je rêve la tête sur la pointe de mon couteau le Pérou.