30 Dec 2018

BOULEZ – Initiale

by Michael Clive

Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez


Initiale, scored for a brass ensemble, begins with the energy and the gleam of a fanfare. But as its helixes of notes eddy and swirl, a sense of timelessness and depth engulfs us. Like many of Boulez’ most successful compositions Initiale combines traditional instrumentation and modern sound. Some critics find irony here, since Boulez was probably the most important single figure in fostering electronic and digital media in classical music, yet was more successful in composing for orchestral instruments. But we can chalk this up to his insistence on being true to one’s own compositional voice. In listening to any Boulez composition, it is useful to focus on textures and contours. In Initiale, the textures have a radiant aura and the contours seem to churn. The result is almost hypnotic. As the phrases spiral outward, the repetition of certain pitches gives them a sort of gravitational pull that orients us in musical space. Eventually a shimmering pattern of motivic statement takes shape. Is Boulez inviting us to hear Initiale as a fanfare? Its all-brass scoring and its title may provide a clue.