Boulez, Music and Philosophy

By Payette, Jessica | Notes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Boulez, Music and Philosophy


Payette, Jessica, Notes


Boulez, Music and Philosophy. By Edward Campbell. (Music in the Twentieth Century, no. 27.) Cam - bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. [xvi, 281 p. ISBN 9780521862424. $95.] Music examples, figures, tables, bibliography, index.

Considering how large Pierre Boulez looms over post-war music, it is remarkable that neither his music nor aesthetic worldview has been the subject of an Englishlanguage monograph for many years. While certainly encompassing both the total serial and aleatoric extremes that characterize the Darmstadt School's music in general, Boulez's output presents perhaps greater challenges to scholars and musicians seeking to analyze it-and to identify stylistic and procedural consistencies in it- than that of some of his peers, due to a high volume of extensively revised and unfinished works. Edward Campbell's wellresearched investigation suggests that Boulez's resistance to closure can be partially attributed to the composer's fluctuating engagement with twentieth-century intellectuals such as Theodor Adorno, Umberto Eco, and Gilles Deleuze. Camp - bell proposes that although Boulez's correspondence, writings, and lectures indicate that his knowledge of expansive philosophical systems is not always consummate, much of his music strives to generate "philosophy in action" through its imaginative aural realization of key philosophical concepts or terms present within these systems.

Campbell, a lecturer in the Music Department of the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen, maintains the interest of his reader by fusing together several methodological approaches: he explains the significance of little-known source materials, provides fluid textual exegeses of monumental philosophical works, and offers cogent comparative musical analyses of works that Boulez links to specific philosophical ideas. Chapter 1 serves as an introduction to and justification for the study: Campbell makes it clear that although Boulez believes that historians and aestheticians tend to draw "arbitrary connections" between music and philosophy, the composer's usage of the philosophical lexicon is persistent and should be thoroughly interrogated (p. 4). He notes that scholarship that interprets Boulez's work in relation to literature and visual art has neglected his artistic responses to philosophical stimuli. Chapters 2 and 3 unearth important figures in Boulez's musical circle during his early years in Paris and outline his exposure to discourse on dialectical oppositions prior to meeting Adorno in 1955. Chapters 4 through 7 trace Boulez's personal engagement with esteemed twentiethcentury thinkers and his allusions to some of the leading philosophical perspectives from the 1940s to 1970s. Campbell surveys Boulez's lectures and writings to determine the philosophical movements that seem to have the greatest bearing on his ideas and music, and devotes a chapter to each: dialectics; positivism; structuralism; poststructuralism. The final three chapters contain comparative musical analyses in which Campbell considers how the concept of the virtual, a philosophical trajectory spanning from Henri Bergson to Deleuze, is an underlying preoccupation that motivates Boulez's allegiance to athematicism and how music designed in accordance with "the dialectic of the continuous and the discontinuous" results in works in which the contrast of smooth and striated space and time is foregrounded.

Campbell contributes greatly to Boulez scholarship by examining the composer's early influences and acquaintances, including his friendship with Pierre Souvtchinsky, an authority on Russian music and passionate student of philosophy whom Jacques Derrida described as "a philosophical amateur, in the best sense of the term" (cited by Campbell, p. 16), and Boris de Schloezer, a musicologist who published one of the first books on Stravinsky (Igor Stravinsky [Paris: C. Aveline, 1929]) and presented a musical phenomenology in his Introduction à J. …

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