Boulez is Dead

January 9, 2016 at 10:00 am

In the news this week was the death of French composer/conductor Pierre Boulez.

I come to bury Boulez, not to praise him. The good that men do lives after them; the bad is oft interred with their bones; oft interred, often buried – so let it be with Boulez. The noble Musicologists hath told you Boulez was a compositional genius: if it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Boulez answer’d it. Here, under leave of the Musicologists and the rest — for they are honorable; so are they all, all honorable — come I to speak in Boulez’s funeral. (with apologies to Shakespeare)

Like any good music student, I listened to serialism while I was in college. If you want to know about serialism, go ahead and read about it. It’s very interesting.

That was the 1960s and 1970s. Now, in 2016, orchestras are closing left and right, and audiences continue to become more and more disconnected with Art Music. There are, no doubt, many factors that have contributed to this, but today I’m calling out the elitists of the postwar era who created a musical hierarchy akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes. If you don’t like or understand serialism, then you are clearly sub-human. If you do, welcome to the special club of perfect people.

In case you’re wondering if I’m exaggerating – first look up “Schoenberg is Dead” – an essay Boulez wrote immediately the death of Arnold Schoenberg. He trash-talks the revolutionary composer as a has-been pseudo-progressive because he wasn’t a pure serialist. Then there’s the incident where he and two serialist buddies staged a dramatic walk-out of their friend’s symphony, because he dared to write in a non-serial style. (they sat in center of the front row, to make sure everyone saw them walk out after the first few measures. Nice.)

This attitude continues to this day, under different banners – the names change, but the game remains the same. So when I write “Boulez is Dead”, what I really hope is that the snobbery he promoted dies with him. Art Music can no longer afford not to move beyond musical elitism.

Whether or not you like this piece has no reflection on your value as a human being. If you dislike it, fine; if you enjoy it, great. You can read about its supremely organized construction here.