Boulez on Music 22 Years Ago

February 28, 2010

By Kyle Gann

Today I ran across a box of audio cassettes that has been misplaced for years. Among many treasures are my interviews with Boulez, Yoko Ono, Trimpin, Ashley, Branca, Mikel Rouse, and a few others, plus about ten cassettes' worth of Nancarrow. I thought the Boulez interview might be of particular interest. It took place in a hotel room in Chicago on October 27, 1987, when Boulez had come to perform Repons and conduct the Chicago Symphony in his Notations and other works. This was back when I'd only been at the Voice a few months, and I was interviewing him for the Chicago Reader, where I'd been free-lancing for five years. The whole interview is 67 minutes, and some of it is a little dated, talking about the impending possibility of classical music's dying, which of course 22 years later we know is apparently not going to happen. But I'll put up the most interesting snippets, totaling almost half, from the interview here:

On Notations (2:31)
On Repons and serialism in general (10:08)
On accessibility and the parallels between American and Soviet music in the 1930s (4:12)
On the ontology of the theme after serialism (3:12)
On minimalism and Nancarrow (7:31) (Why haven't French and German music shown any minimalist influence? "If I wanted to be nasty, I would say it's because we have culture.")
On the Third Sonata, electronics, and then-young French composers (4:03)

What Boulez says here he's doubtless said elsewhere; nevertheless, here's an interview that's never been made public before. Perhaps some of you will find it sufficiently amazing that he and I were ever in the same room. The third voice that sometimes chimes in is my old composer friend Frank Abbinanti, whom I brought with me. Boulez was on his best behavior, the minimalism comment notwithstanding, and so was I. He was absolutely charming, happy to autograph my copy of On Music Today. The best quote I remember, however, seems to have occurred off-mike. Thinking of Boulez's scandalous article "Schoenberg est Mort," I asked him if someone would someday have to write an article titled "Boulez est Mort." He laughed generously, and replied, "Maybe I should write it myself." 


Bob Gilmore says: Tremendous stuff - good old Pierre, a man who actually stands for something and believes in what he stands for!
Gosh, just the thought of that box of tapes makes me drool.

Peter says: Good stuff; I didn't know that Carter was influenced by Nancarrow, but thinking about it now, it makes sense.
I remember seeing Charles Amirkhanian interview Boulez in the Speaking of Music series at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Boulez was in town to lead the EIC in his Repons, so it probably was around the same time as Kyle Gann's interview excerpted above.
Amirkhanian interviewed so many people over his career at KPFA (I can recall his interviews with so many composers, some of which I recorded) and in public venues; hopefully he will make these available some day, assuming they haven't yet been made available.

David says: Thanks for posting this! When I was studying composition in the late 1980s, I remember being very engaged by reading interviews with living composers -- the actual words (I trusted) right out of his/her mouth, typed up and reproduced in print.
The "directness" of this audio interview with Boulez (and all those other interviews you have that I'm anxious to hear!) is priceless!
Looking forward to hearing more.

Copyright 2010 by Kyle Gann

Return to the PostClassic Blog Archive

Return to the Kyle Gann Home Page

return to the home page