Pierre Boulez: ‘Courage, innovation, creativity’

The incomparable maestro, whose compositions, texts, and interpretations sparked an entire era of musical boundary-breaking, passed away yesterday at the age of 90.  France’s prime minister Manuel Valls paid tribute to Boulez’s “audace, innovation, créativité” — traits which defined not only the man and his works, but also the weird, wild, spellbinding world that we know as New Music, in which Boulez was a trailblazing pioneer.

Boulez’s passing comes a little over three years after that of Elliott Carter, another New Music legend.  These two men were characters in my music history textbook, filling the final chapters — the late 20th and early 21st centuries — with their music, vibrant and vicious.  The fact that their lives and deaths overlapped with my own lifetime makes me wonder: if their era has ended, what era has begun?  In fifty years’ time, who will occupy the final chapters of my granddaughter’s music history textbook?

But then, in music, is there ever truly a final chapter?

R.I.P. Pierre Boulez, 1925-2016

Learn more:

Classical Music Round-Up: Star Wars Edition

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads… in a galaxy far, far away…

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An ‘awestruck’ J.J. Abrams sits in on a ‘momentous’ scoring session led by John Williams, linked below. (image via)

Harrison Ford shares what it was like to hear John Williams’ music for the first time, while the composer himself discusses the “renewed energy” behind his score to The Force Awakens.

60 Minutes takes us behind the scenes at a Force Awakens scoring session, and the incomparable Gustavo Dudamel played a surprise role in bringing the score to life.

May the cute be with you: From the Top shows us what happens when a Jedi, a princess, and Darth Vader sit down at a piano, and the Boston Pops #throwback to that one time C-3PO conducted the Star Wars theme.

Suggested Listening: “Tenebræ factæ sunt” by Carlo Gesualdo

Here’s some SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTICTenebræ factæ sunt by Carlo Gesualdo, performed below by Nordic Voices (NO).

About the Composer:

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Carlo Gesualdo (image via)

Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) is classical music’s darkest villain, a man whose eerie music is matched by a chilling biography comprising adultery and gruesome homicide.  From an early age, Gesualdo was enthralled by music, studying lute and forging relationships with local musical luminaries as a member of an elite accademia, or intellectual club.  Sent as a child to train for the priesthood, Gesualdo watched as his older brother Luigi was designated heir to the Principality of Venosa in southern Italy.  Luigi’s death in 1584, however, paved the way for Carlo’s ascension to power.  In 1586, Don Carlo Gesualdo married his cousin, the mythically beautiful Donna Maria d’Avalos, with whom he had a son and who, not four years after their marriage, could be found with her throat slashed, drenched in blood, in the bed of her lover.  The lover in question, the Duke of Andria, was murdered as well: the official who found the Duke’s body noted that his corpse was wearing “a woman’s nightdress with fringes at the bottom” and was “covered with blood and pierced with many wounds,” while “a bit of the brain had oozed out” of a gunshot wound to the head.  As a prince, a man of great influence and — apparently — violent inclination, Gesualdo was never tried for his crimes; in fact, he fled town following the murders, leaving behind a bizarre legacy: a trail of lurid rumors that to this day inhabit Italian folklore;  and dozens of musical compositions, sacred and secular, renowned for their twisted emotional intensity.

About the Piece:

The question that haunts Gesualdo’s musical legacy is this: was he a tormented genius whose inner turmoil came to life in the unusual, grating harmonies of his compositions — or, were his unusual, grating harmonies the result of mediocre musical talent, nonetheless thrust into the spotlight by the macabre glamour of his criminal record?  Regardless of the answer, Gesualdo’s music is widely viewed as ahead of its time, pushing the notion of tonality across thresholds of conventionality that most Western composers wouldn’t dare toe until the turn of the 20th century.  In Tenebræ factæ sunt, a selection from his set of liturgical works for Good Friday, six voices croon and cluster in stirring harmonies that progress through tightly adjacent chromatic lines.  Though the pacing is calm — almost eerily so — the piece is marked by surprising shifts of mood, from despair to ecstasy, as the Latin text recounts the crucifixion.

Further Reading:

If you enjoyed Tenebræ factæ sunt, you might also like…

Between Thanksgivings

I’ll start with a quote, because all great blog posts begin with a quote.

This particular quote comes to us from Karl Paulnack, Director of the Boston Conservatory‘s Music Division, in his 2004 welcome address to the school’s incoming freshmen:

If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life.  Well, my friends, someday at eight PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary.  Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

End quote.  Keep it in mind.  I’ll get back to it in a bit.


Forty-six days separate Canadian and American Thanksgivings, which sounds like a long time, but in reality, those forty-six days seemed to pass as though each were chasing the next at gunpoint.

Canadian Thanksgiving falls on a Monday — in the motherland, this coincides with an observance known as Columbus Day, which serves little purpose other than shutting down the post office — making for a three-day weekend that pales in comparison to American Thanksgiving’s five.  I celebrated in a triptych of dinners: vegan tacos, duets, and oboe reeds with a lovely friend on Saturday; a potluck and Cards Against Humanity (Canadian expansion, naturally) with quintet members on Sunday; and cashew-cauliflower soup, pumpkin pie, and Friends (“The One with Joey’s Interview”) with my fantastic roommate on Monday.

During Sunday’s festivities, I learned about the following, slightly traumatizing PSA that aired throughout western Canada in the early Nineties, which I am sharing here because viewing it is — truly — a life experience that everyone ought to have:

Thanksgiving is a time for many things: food, friends, gratitude — and, apparently, Clinton-era, public health-related puppetry — which is why Day 33 of my inter-Thanksgiving countdown was such a horrifying antithesis to the spirit of the season.

Day 33 was November 13.   Continue reading

Classical Music Round-Up: 12/5/15

Classical Conditioning presents recent worthwhile reads.

Orchestra Updates

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TSwift’s monumental gift to Seattle can’t be shaken off – link at right. (image via)

Peace & Politics

A New Approach

Learning & Growing

Just for Fun

Classical Music Round-Up: 11/13/15

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads.

Money Matters

Nigerian soprano Abiodun Koya brings her unique crossover act to Atlanta, linked below. (photo via)

Diverse Voices

Interesting Reads

Just for Fun