Most of Boulez' music was garnished with austere, remote titles like "Structures" or "Pli selon pli" ("Fold by fold"), but there is one early piece, and one that I had in my LP collection from the mid 70s, that not only has an evocative, if enigmatic, title, but also seems to relate to an earlier composition by Schoenberg. I am referring to "Pierrot Lunaire", a song-cycle by Schoenberg written in 1912 on German translations of 21 poems by Albert Giraud. Then, in 1955, Boulez completed a setting, in nine movements, of three poems by René Char titled "Le Marteau sans maître". Both compositions are for voice and chamber ensemble, both are settings of French poetry and both are innovative classics of modernism. Both also have a duration of about 35 to 40 minutes. The Schoenberg is for voice and five instruments, the Boulez for voice and six instruments. Both pieces even use the same vocal technique of Sprechstimme. The parallels are striking, but while it is likely that they exist, I have not run across any discussion of relations between the two pieces. So let's do it!
First problem, unless I order a copy of the study score from Universal Edition and wait a couple of months, I can't provide musical examples for the Boulez. The Schoenberg is available at IMSLP. There is a brief excerpt from Le marteau sans maître at Wikipedia. Here is the flute part from the beginning of the third movement:
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I don't want to accuse Boulez of writing music that he cannot hear accurately--I'm sure he can. But I question whether anyone else can, apart from the poor musicians who have to learn this. And what is the point? As a number of other composers have shown, you can get pretty much the same results with indeterminate notation and fewer musician suicides. But the real problem I have with this is that it is aesthetically incoherent. If you want to depict chaos and despair, then I suppose this is just the thing, but that and nothing but, is an aesthetically disagreeable cocktail.
Here is the first page of the Schoenberg:
Yes, also very difficult, but not insanely so. The difficulties are surmountable, not just for the performers, but for the listener as well. There is enough rhythmic consistency to make the music, while certainly eerie, at least listenable. What Schoenberg was doing was a kind of extension or stretching of musical forms and techniques. He uses canon, fugue, passacaglia and other forms but with more than usually complex rhythms and with atonality. This piece lies in the transition from when he wrote in the usual extended tonality of the late 19th century to his use of twelve-tone serialism. You might think of this as tonality stretched to the point of no return.
Here is an English translation of that first song from Pierrot Lunaire:
Here is an English translation of the text of the first sung movement of the Boulez, "L'artisanat furieux:The wine we drink through the eyesThe moon pours down at night in waves,And a flood tide overflowsThe silent horizon.Longings beyond number, gruesome sweet frissons,Swim through the flood.The wine we drink through the eyesThe moon pours down at night in waves.The poet, slave to devotion,Drunk on the sacred liquor,Enraptured, turns his face to HeavenAnd staggering sucks and slurpsThe wine we drink through the eyes.
This is even more surrealist than the Giraud.The furious craftsmanshipThe red caravan on the edge of the nailAnd corpse in the basketAnd plowhorses in the horseshoeI dream the head on the point of my knife Peru.
Now let's listen to the two pieces. First the Schoenberg, conducted by Pierre Boulez with Christine Schäfer and the Ensemble InterContemporain:
And now the Boulez, again with Boulez conducting with Hillary Summers and the Ensemble InterContemporain:
I am not going to do an analysis: for one thing it would take a very long time and there already exist analyses of the Schoenberg and even of the Boulez. For brief analyses of both pieces have a look at the Wikipedia articles I linked above. The Boulez article is particularly useful.
But what I think would be very useful to do is listen to both pieces and notice what you hear and say what you think about what you hear. The comment section awaits!