Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Boulez on Mahler

On Universal Music's new Mahler blog (in preparation for the Mahler celebrations in 2010 and 2011), there is an interview with Pierre Boulez concerning Gustav Mahler. Click here... Much of this we have heard before in various guises, but there is some interesting new material. I especially like the diplomatic handling of Leonard Bernstein:

No, we did not have very close contact with Bernstein. I saw him, of course, from time to time, but I mean we did not discuss music, because our tastes were so far from each other that the discussion would not have gone anywhere. And I think there was a kind of agreement for not touching this type of subject.

Adorno is cited as a reason why Boulez decided to explore Mahler's music, first, at least in part, as a source for the music of the Second Viennese School. And then there came, of course, an inspiration from before Mahler, for Boulez's admiration for Wagner seems, if anything to have grown further still. Wagner's orchestration is 'perfect ... you can look at the score as close as you want, you’ll find that’s perfectly balanced and perfectly well-organised.'

Boulez bucks fashionable trends in remaining irreconcilable to Shostakovich... And how could one not sympathise when he says that Mahler needs protecting from Alma?

This follows a similar interview with Daniel Barenboim, amongst much other material on the site.


Gavin Plumley said...

Thank you for drawing my attention to this film. He breathes musical understanding and cross-references everything.

The Shostakovich fashion does bewilder me... I have liked the String Quartets for a long time, particular No. 7 (which has not a little of Bartók in it), yet the symphonies fail to convince as a whole. Sure, 4, 5, 7 and 10 (and to some extent 11) are powerful, but, apart from 5 (which is a brilliant piece of work), I find that he chooses one mood and sticks with it. Not only that, but his skills at creating a thematic and motivic 'hub' are not rich enough to merit the scale and length of the works themselves (development ultimately falls flat on its face). That's why I think the String Quartets are better works... the scale and the skill are on a par. That said, I am a huge admirer of LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK.

Mark Berry said...

I have to admit that I thought well of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk when I first heard it. When I have heard it since, I have apparently heard less in it than I did before. It seems to me that many listeners - whether they realise it or not - seem to respond to the autobiographical element in Shostakovich rather than to any musical substance, which is often distressingly thin. Of the symphonies, I rather like the first and last, but otherwise, whatever his flaws, I should generally much rather listen to Prokofiev. Nowadays, however, Shostakovich almost seems to be a saint, so it was splendid to hear Boulez questioning this status.

And yes, his musical understanding is, quite simply, breathtaking.

Henry Holland said...

Many thanks for the link, fascinating to read the Boulez and Barenboim transcripts. Barenboim had some extremely not nice things to say about Shostakovich's music in an old Gramophone interview, mocking the "page after page of quarter notes" in one of the symphonies that was supposed to represent soldiers marching.

I once did a test with a friend who insisted that Shostakovich was the greatest composer of the 20th century (HAHAHAHAHAHA). I asked him to explain why the symphonies and string quartets were so much better than those by Prokofiev, Bartok (for the quartets) and others BUT he couldn't mention Shostakovich's personal story at all. He couldn't do it, they're intertwined.

I love Mr. Boulez' polite swatting away of the interviewer's attempt to have Mahler be the beginning of modern music. It's wonderful how Boulez focuses on the actual music, not the biography.

When he mentioned my favorite opera composer, Schreker, even if it was just in passing, I was shocked. He's got a wonderful disc of Scriabin pieces on DG, so it's not like he's totally adverse to over-ripe late romanticism but damn! what a great job he could do with Schreker's music, which most conductors treat as a wash of sound.

Mark Berry said...

Yes, I was surprised and intrigued by Boulez mentioning Schreker. So far as I am aware, he has not performed any, but who knows what might be in the offing? He has been conducting a little Szymanowski recently, which is a truly mouth-watering prospect.

Anonymous said...

I heard Boulez in Vienna a few weeks ago conduct the VPO in a concert which included Szymanowski's Violin Concerto (with Christian Tetzlaff). Superb performance. I was not familiar with the piece, and it is gorgeous; it reminded me of Korngold's Violin Concerto.

The concert featured Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, and the VPO brass were incredible.

I got to hear Boulez's (and Barenboim's) Mahler cycle with the Staatskapelle Berlin at Carnegie Hall this May. Boulez conducted 2,3,4,6,8. Each performance was better than the previous one. The eighth nearly had a train wreck in the first movement, and I watched Boulez, who continued to beat time with his right hand, flicked his left hand a bit at the chorus, and all was right with the world.