John Adams on Pierre Boulez’s musical legacy

Posted on: November 27, 2019

“The air of perfection that surrounded [Pierre] Boulez, who died in 2016 at 90, was daunting,” writes composer John Adams in Wednesday’s (11/17) New York Times. “There seemed to be nothing at which he didn’t excel: composing his dense, detailed, exquisitely honed music; conducting Wagner at the Bayreuth Festival; leading the New York Philharmonic; making revelatory recordings; founding, in Ircam and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, both a research laboratory and a virtuosic modern orchestra. And teaching, as we find in ‘Music Lessons,’ a new English translation of 16 lectures he gave at the Collège de France between 1976 and 1995. Readers can now take stock of the daunting, demanding Boulezian worldview and, whether they warm to his own works or not, appreciate him as one of the most important writers ever about music. Although Boulez was to live over 20 years after the final lecture, ‘Music Lessons’ has the feel of a vast expository Gesamtkunstwerk that ponders and probes musical experience to its very essence. It ranges over music’s fundamental building blocks—its modes of organization and how we perceive it, both acoustically and culturally… and on to matters of notation, style, idea, technology and tradition.”

Posted November 27, 2019

In photo: Pierre Boulez (left) and John Adams. Boulez photo by Israel Shenker / New York Times; Adams photo by Deborah O’Grady