Saturday 9 January 2016

Boulez Mahler 2, informed by Messiaen

Pierre Boulez stands, in silence, after the conclusion of his Mahler Symphony no 2  at the Philharmonie, Berlin, in 2005.  Look at Boulez's expression. The music hasn't ended simply because the notes have faded away.  the symphony ends gloriously but victory hasn't been reached without struggle.  Der Mensch liegt in größter Not! Der r Mensch liegt in größter Pein!  Not even angels can turn the soul away from God. Boulez's approach in this performance, with the Staatskapelle Berlin, is steely, craggy and utterly determined.  He understands the significance of the first movement and the stages through which the soul goes on its journey. A quiet but intense reading, absolutely true to the composer and to his work as a whole entity.

Today, listening after Boulez's own death this week,  what struck me is the relationship this performance  has to Messiaen's Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Mahler isn't writing about the death of one man but about mankind's search for meaning.  Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum refers to the End of Time, when an angel shall sound a trumpet asnd the earth will be rent asunder. Cataclysmic stuff, bringing from Messiaen music that's almost geological in its cragginess - no strings, only percussion and winds, Boulez's interpretation  is informed by his knowledge of Messiaen and perhaps, too, by his own formidable knowledge of music history. When the trombones blast, and the distant trumpets are heard, we think of the Angel of the Book of Revelation,  as Mahler almost certainly did,  and when we hear the piccolo details, we can figure better what they might mean. Obviously my appreciation of this performance is informed by my fascination with Messiaen and with Et Exspecto resurrectionum mortuorum and the Quartet for The End of Time. Read some of what I've written before HERE and HERE.and much more.

But my response is also affected by thinking so much this week about Boulez and Messiaen.  They had a bond like father and son, which ran even deeper than many real-life father and son relationships. A few years ago, someone made a snide, nasty remark about Boulez disliking Turangalîla-and falling out temporarily with Messaien.  It was the usual silly notion of Boulez as demon. Pierre-Laurent Aimard was present and hit the roof.  Aimard, who was Messiaen's "second son", said he'd heard about it direct from Messiaen himself. Since when do fathers and sons always agree? Messiaen used the term Tuer le père which simply means that you can't grow up unless you stand on your own feet.  Messiaen knew Boulez's abilities and wouldn't have dreamed of holding him back. The scrap didn't last. Soon after, Boulez heard that Messiaen was looking for a balofon. Messiaen found one and carried it, as a surprise, up to the organ loft at the Église de la Sainte-Trinité where Messaien played every day. Messiaen was so happy he had tears of joy even when telling Aimard about it years later.  Creative minds aren't constrained: copying is a mark of mediocrity.  Healthy relationships are not threatened by fear of change.  And so Messiaen and Boulez will continue to enlighten us long after they are gone|

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