Dérive I

Pierre Boulez (b. 1925) Dérive I (1984)

Pierre Boulez studied primarily with Olivier Messiaen in Paris, who encouraged his technical acumen, his intensity, and his curiosity about Asian, African, and European music. At the same time, lessons with René Leibowitz, a Schoenberg and Webern scholar, introduced him to twelve-tone composition, which he immediately adopted. Not fully convinced of Schoenberg’s approach to twelve-tone music, he began composing a series of works that utilized serial techniques for not only tones, but also rhythmic values, dynamics, and nuances. In the 1970s Boulez founded IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music), an institution that promotes electroacoustical music, at the request of President Georges Pompidou. This institute, which still exists today, promotes the use and integration of electronic equipment in contemporary music. Boulez is often known for his fiery personality, particularly for his article “Schoenberg is Dead”, in which he discounts Schoenberg’s significance and influence on the composers of his time, as well as for his famous quote “We must destroy the Mona Lisa.” However Boulez later reflected on the latter, explaining “I never meant ‘destroy’ in the literal sense of going into the Louvre and actually physically destroying the painting...I meant ‘destroy’ in the metaphorical sense of destroying it within one’s self: to keep us from being so obsessed with the past that we cannot see the importance of the now.”

Boulez’s original inspiration for Dérive I stems from a set of six chords that are the foundation of his work Répons. These six chords drew musical notes from the surname of the Swiss patron and conductor Paul Sacher: E flat (‘Es’ in German), A, C, B (again to be read in German, as H), E, D (to be understood in French this time, as ré). This material also provided for a short tribute he composed to mark the 80th birthday of his friend and supporter William Glock, former head of music at the BBC. The instrumentation matches that which is required for Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, to which Boulez added percussion to complete the sextet. The title suggests a meandering flow of drifting derivatives, as if certain ideas morph into one another in a stream of consciousness.