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Absolute Modernity

Paul Driver, 26 September 1991

Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life 
by Jean-Michel Nectoux, translated by Roger Nichols.
Cambridge, 646 pp., £45, April 1991, 0 521 23524 3
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Pierre Boulez 
by Dominique Jameux, translated by Susan Bradshaw.
Faber, 422 pp., £25, March 1991, 9780571137442
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Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship 
by Pierre Boulez, translated by Stephen Walsh.
Oxford, 316 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 19 311210 8
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... the last century and into the next. One’s first thought, though, is bound to be: do Fauré and Boulez have anything in common at all? Could two composers linked by nationality ever have seemed at first sight so antipodean? Fauré the Proustian saloniste (an important model for Vinteuil) and Boulez the blazing ...

Boulez in progress

Paul Driver, 25 June 1987

Orientation 
by Pierre Boulez, edited by Jean-Jacques Nattiez, translated by Martin Cooper.
Faber, 541 pp., £25, July 1986, 9780571138111
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... Boulez has been the omnipresent conscience of post-war music. He has applied to his own music rigid criteria of method and historical validity, and revised many works again and again, often withdrawing them altogether. He has become a martyr figure somewhat after the fashion of Schoenberg, also self-appointed to a role of revolutionary innovator; the special prize Boulez has paid is not increasing isolation but creative sterility – compositions have flowed ever more slowly from his pen ...

Speech Melodies

Paul Mitchinson: Leoš Janáček, 4 December 2008

Janáček: Years of a Life, Volume I 
by John Tyrrell.
Faber, 971 pp., £60, November 2006, 0 571 17538 4
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Janáček: Years of a Life, Volume II 
by John Tyrrell.
Faber, 1074 pp., £60, November 2007, 978 0 571 23667 1
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... Pierre Boulez took his final bow in the opera pit last summer at the Aix-en-Provence festival. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the production was the music chosen: Leoš Janáček’s opera From the House of the Dead, written in 1928, the final year of his life. Boulez seemed a little ambivalent about the choice ...

I have nothing to say and I am saying it

Philip Clark: John Cage’s Diary, 15 December 2016

The Selected Letters of John Cage 
edited by Laura Kuhn.
Wesleyan, 618 pp., £30, January 2016, 978 0 8195 7591 3
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Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) 
by John Cage, edited by Richard Kraft and Joe Biel.
Siglio, 176 pp., £26, October 2015, 978 1 938221 10 1
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... much of 1949 in Paris, where he met Alice B. Toklas, Olivier Messiaen, Alberto Giacometti and Pierre Boulez, whose recently completed Piano Sonata No. 2 and ensemble work Polyphonie X were considered de rigueur Modernism. When he returned to New York the pair began a correspondence – anthologised in unabridged form as The ...

Górecki’s Millions

David Drew, 6 October 1994

... Altogether more problematic for him are the medals for valour in the face of the Modernist Enemy (Boulez, Birtwistle, William Glock, and so forth) that are now readily available and all-too-lightly awarded. False recognition and media success on those crypto-political terms could be far more ignominious and damaging to a real artist than the neglect which our ...

Most people think birds just go pi-pi-pi

James Fletcher, 4 April 1996

The Messiaen Companion 
edited by Peter Hill.
Faber, 581 pp., £40, March 1995, 0 571 17033 1
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Olivier Messiaen: Music and Colour. Conversations with Claude Samuel 
translated by Thomas Glasow.
Amadeus, 296 pp., $29.95, May 1994, 0 931340 67 5
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... reputation as a forum for advanced musical debate, and it was here that Messiaen first got to know Pierre Boulez and Yvonne Loriod. Boulez has remained a committed partisan to this day, despite his disapproval of certain aspects of Messiaen’s music. Loriod’s technical ability was such that Messiaen found it quite ...

At the Crime Scene

Adam Shatz: Robbe-Grillet’s Bad Thoughts, 31 July 2014

A Sentimental Novel 
by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated by D.E. Brooke.
Dalkey Archive, 142 pp., £9.50, April 2014, 978 1 62897 006 7
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... and meaning itself – was no longer new. Like the total serialism championed by his contemporary Pierre Boulez, it seemed all the more dated for heralding a future that had failed to arrive. In the US, where he’d once enjoyed a cultish notoriety alongside Beckett and Genet, Robbe-Grillet was now to be found in second-hand bookshops. Passionately ...

Yellow Sky, Red Sea, Violet Sands

Richard Wollheim: Nicolas De Staël, 24 July 2003

Nicolas de Staël 
by Jean-Paul Ameline et al.
Centre Pompidou, 252 pp., €39.90, March 2003, 2 84426 158 2
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... living painter in the world’. A conversation of January 1950, reported by Staël’s friend Pierre Lecuire, does something to attenuate, or at least to account for, the seemingly paradoxical character of Staël’s commitment to abstraction. ‘Look,’ he said, pointing to a glue-pot and an ashtray, ‘here are objects, and this is just what I don’t ...

Last Night Fever

David Cannadine: The Proms, 6 September 2007

... Accordingly, Glock brought in more orchestras and foreign conductors (he particularly admired Pierre Boulez), and extended the repertoire backwards to the Renaissance and forwards into the second half of the 20th century. This meant serious confrontation with Sargent, as Glock reduced the number of concerts that he was allowed to conduct, and also ...

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said: The CIA, 30 September 1999

Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... and awards were distributed, only occasionally earning the well-deserved anger of mavericks like Pierre Boulez, who denounced Nabokov and his fellow conspirators with healthy insults about their dishonesty and mediocrity. Saunders estimates that $200 million were spent in the effort, wherever possible, to buy intellectual support for the US, to get ...

The Faster the Better

Paul Driver: Anatomising Mendelssohn, 3 February 2005

Mendelssohn: A Life in Music 
by Larry Todd.
Oxford, 683 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 19 511043 9
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... with which, when conducting, he could hear each member of the orchestra anticipated the prodigious Pierre Boulez, a composer-conductor who has similarly failed (so far) to find a suitable opera libretto, and of whom it could probably be said, as the composer-conductor Julius Benedict said of Mendelssohn, that he communicates his conception of a ...

Haley’s Comet

Paul Driver, 6 February 1997

The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Weidenfeld, 431 pp., £25, September 1996, 0 297 81720 5
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... the Seventies, the report that had led to the loss of several orchestras and the start of Radio 3, Pierre Boulez was appointed as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and embarked on a series of revelatory discussion concerts at the Round House – although they failed to impress Newby’s successor, Stephen Hearst. Hearst wished, on the ...

Happy Man

Paul Driver: Stravinsky, 8 February 2007

Stravinsky: The Second Exile – France and America 1934-71 
by Stephen Walsh.
Cape, 709 pp., £30, July 2006, 0 224 06078 3
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Down a Path of Wonder: Memoirs of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Other Cultural Figures 
by Robert Craft.
Naxos, 560 pp., £19.99, October 2006, 1 84379 217 6
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... had its disastrous French premiere – a scandal of choral under-rehearsal for which blame fell on Pierre Boulez. Craft is convinced that Walsh has cribbed his own Stravinsky writings: more than 25,000 words by his calculation, though that must include the deleted quotations from the conversation books. He berates Walsh for putting too much matter ...

Desire Was Everywhere

Adam Shatz, 16 December 2010

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Intersecting Lives 
by François Dosse, translated by Deborah Glassman.
Columbia, 651 pp., £26, August 2010, 978 0 231 14560 2
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... into the night. Guattari was manic. ‘He needed something like Ritalin,’ his colleague Jean-Pierre Muyard recalled. ‘We had to find a way to calm him down.’ It was Muyard, who had studied philosophy with Deleuze at the University of Lyon, who arranged the first meeting between the two men. Guattari had drawn on Deleuze’s critique of structuralism ...

Peas in a Matchbox

Jonathan Rée: ‘Being and Nothingness’, 18 April 2019

Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenology and Ontology 
by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Sarah Richmond.
Routledge, 848 pp., £45, June 2019, 978 0 415 52911 2
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... too, provided it wasn’t Jewish. They ‘tried to seduce rather than impose their will’, as Pierre Boulez recalled, and on the whole they succeeded. They presided over a boom in sales of contemporary art and went out of their way to protect leading artists: Georges Braque showed 35 works in the Salon d’Automne in 1943, and was offered free coal ...

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