Text for the 90th birthday of Pierre Boulez
Pierre Boulez is one of, if not the most important musical figure of the last 70 years. All his activities have completely changed the way music, particularly from the 20th century, is played, heard, and generally accepted.
As a composer he created a new language that shaped the future of music. A piece like Le Marteau Sans Maître is revolutionary because it allows for elements of flexibility inside the complex structure, which is therefore perhaps strict, but never rigid. His work combining accoustic music with electronics (pieces like Répons, …exposante-fixe… or Anthèmes 2) is always at the height of technical progress while remaining distinctly and recognisably his own. A single piece of his is not only coherent in itself, but generally stems from an idea to be found in an earlier work; therefore the totality of his musical writing is coherent in itself.
As a conductor he brought clarity and order to even the most complex scores, without losing the freedom and flexibility necessary to the music he performed. That can be said about all music he conducted, whether contemporary or not. By doing that he not only familiarised the public with newer music, he also clarified pieces everyone thought they knew. Furthermore, his programming allowed for music that had hitherto been exclusively played in centres of contemporary music to assume its deserved place in the regular repertoire of the symphony orchestra; that is particularly true of the second viennese school.
Not only through his compositions and his performances did he determine the direction in which contemporary music would go; The Ensemble Intercontemporain is one of the most celebrated ensembles in the world, which had its hand in premiering a great amount of new pieces. The IRCAM as a research institute for all musical and accoustical matters was not only at the centre of a lot of his own works (some of which are named above); it has become an indispensable institution on all levels.
To conclude, a musical world without his input is now entirely unthinkable. One must hope that his whole attitude towards music, always putting himself at the service of it, is something that will shape the work of all current and future generations. It is our duty to learn from that.