The World of Pierre Boulez (MHI2320.01)

Allen Shawn

The idea of this class is to use the breadth of Pierre Boulez’s activities and interests to learn more about music and many other subjects, and to have a good time doing so. Composer and conductor and musical thinker Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) was  certainly at times “infuriating” (Alex Ross in the New Yorker), and most certainly an “enigma” (biographer Joan Peyser), but he was also one of the most exciting musical figures of the late 20th and early 21rst century. He created a magical and poetic body of complex, original music, and as a conductor left a gigantic recorded legacy of everything from Mozart, Wagner, and Debussy to Frank Zappa. He left an immeasurable stamp on fellow composers and on the way modern audiences conceive of music.

We will explore Boulez’s life and original music chronologically, but will also approach him as the hub of a range of interdisciplinary investigations. We will pair the study of his pieces with works they relate to (Piano Sonata No. 2, with Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata; Le Marteau sans MaĂ®tre with Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire; RĂ©pons with Mahler and Bruckner.), compare some of his recordings with those of other prominent conductors of the same era, and look into his important influence on electronic music. We will discuss selections from his book on visual artist Paul Klee, explore his connections to the poetry of StĂ©phane MallarmĂ© and RenĂ© Char, and to the theater of Antonin Artaud, and learn about his interactions with the philosophy of Theodor Adorno and Giles Deleuze (both of whom were his friends), among others. This will be a group exploration. Assignments will be manageable but frequent, and will include readings, listenings, short response papers, one longer paper (6-8 pages), and several short oral presentations. Daunting as all this may sound, the course is not intended only for fans of challenging modern music but is open to anyone, with no prerequisites.


Learning Outcomes:

Delivery Method: Hybrid in-person and remote, with faculty in-person
Course Level: 2000-level
Credits: 4
T/F 10:30AM - 12:20PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 10
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: All courses , History , Hybrid In-Person and Remote