Though the passage of time irrevocably obscures novelty of any kind, one of the most striking features of the avant-garde music of the 1950s remains its isolation, in so many respects of aim and technique, from any immediate precedent. Separation from the past became an item of belief: every feature cherished in the great western tradition was now to be abandoned, whether by destruction, in Boulez, by blithe disregard, in Cage, or by intensive searching elsewhere, in Stockhausen. Of course, the extreme apartness of 1951-2 -- the period of Cage's 4' 33", Stockhausen Kreuzspiel, and Boulez first book of Structures -- was soon compromised in all kinds of ways, and rapprochements were made: Cage returned to writing music, and Boulez and Stockhausen found themselves caught up in more continuous ways of moving through time. But making things new was still the ideal.
Boulez has consistently been the most vociferous spokesman for this position, for all his vigorous conducting activity, especially during the 1970s, within the museum of musical tradition. Writing in the middle of that decade, fanfaring the foundation of his Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris, he insisted that: 'Our age is one of persistent, relentless, almost unbearable inquiry. In its exaltation it cuts off all retreats and bans all sanctuaries; its passion is contagious, its thirst for the unknown projects us forcefully, violently into the future . . . Despite the skilful ruses we have cultivated in our desperate effort to make the world of the past serve our present-day needs, we can no longer elude the essential trial: that of becoming an absolute part of the present, of forsaking all memory to forge a perception without precedent, of renouncing the legacies of the past, to discover yet undreamed-of territories.'1
But this is perhaps too lyrical to be true, even allowing for the fact that Boulez was hoping to justify the considerable state expenditure involved in establishing and maintaining his institution. The position is -- given the replacement of a thirty-yearold's abruptness by a fifty-year-old's more mannered discourse -- little changed since the days of Le marteau sans maitre, except that where Boulez in the mid-1950s could plausibly feel himself to be spearheading a great musical movement, by the mid-1970s this was no longer the case, and the adherence to an old revolutionary rhetoric was to stymie both IRCAM and Boulez's own creative endeavours. For by 1974 it had become very clear that 'renouncing the legacies of the past' was no simple matter. What about the revolutionary asceticism that was itself a legacy of the past? Amnesia is the privilege of the young, and even by the later 1960s the new____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Modern Music and After. Contributors: Paul Griffiths - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 151.
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