Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Monday, January 5

Exploding Boulez

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1973, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center premiered a new work by Pierre Boulez, a piece for solo flute and seven instruments, plus interaction with an electronic computer program, which generated sounds that reacted to (and interacted with) the solo flute. The piece was titled “explosante-fixe,” which translates as “exploding-fixed.” At the time, however, Boulez was frustrated by the still primitive computer technology. “You still had connections with wires and so on,” he recalled. “It was clumsy and unreliable.”

Twenty years later, Boulez presented this new version of “explosante-fixe,” employing updated computer technology and midi-flute. This version was recorded, in effect “fixing the explosion.”

And “a fixed explosion” is perhaps the best description of the paradoxical nature of Boulez’s music. Boulez quotes with approval the French writer Artaud, who described music as “collective hysteria and spells.” Yet Boulez carefully plots out his compositions in obsessively meticulous detail, like, in fact, a “fixed explosion.”

As a composer, Boulez has been associated with the extreme avant-garde of music. And, speaking of explosions, he once suggested that as a radical break with the past, all opera houses should be blown up. Yet, as a conductor, Boulez is a devoted interpreter of some past composers, such as Debussy and Stravinsky—and, if you listen closely, some echoes of their music can perhaps be heard in his own.

Music Played in Today's Program

Pierre Boulez (b. 1925) explosante-fixe Sophie Cherrier, solo midi flute; Ensemble Intercontemporain; Pierre Boulez, cond. DG 445 833

Additional Information

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