Out of all the 20th Century Composers, Boulez has a reputation as one of the most passionate, precise and innovative. After inspiration from Schoenberg’s 12 tone system and his application and development of total serialism; Boulez has produced some of the most progressive and experimental music that the last century has witnessed.
Boulez started his musical career studying music in Paris and composition under Messian, before this he was studying mathematics as this was his other love. Through a desire to combine mathematics and music he developed techniques of composition, based on the twelve tone system and mathematical techniques. In “structures la” Boulez uses a 12 by 12 (matrix or grid) based on an original series of notes and inversions of this series from his predecessor Messian’s piece “Mode de Valeurs et d’intensitï¿½s” He plotted paths through this matrix and this decided all elements of the music, this is what Boulez describes as creation by experimentation and experimentation by creation. He believes in as he can not expect to know what he is composing otherwise he will not be creating something completely new and feels he needs to surprise even him self.
Boulez’s love of mathematics and music led him to work with and develop total serialism, which is experimented with in almost all of his works. Evident in “la martaeu sans maitre” where elements including intensity, texture, dynamics, pitch, duration and note are controlled by ordered values. In this piece even the way it is scored is unusual, with the use of particular types, weights and sizes of paper, to create certain repetitions, inversions and timbres.
Boulez’s writing for vocal parts includes a wide variety of techniques, most noticeably in “la Martaue sans Maitre” where the voice used is Contralto and the style is supposed to be Sprechstimme; a technique originally from an Engelbert Humperdinck melodrama, then musically first appeared in Schoenburg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”. Boulez was experimenting with this style of singing as a way of introducing unusual tonal qualities into his music. Another Noticeable vocal work by Boulez is “Pli Selon Pli” which is based on a series of poems by Mallarme and is scored for solo soprano and orchestra, originally it was to be scored for solo soprano and a percussion ensemble.
Through Experimentation through creation, experimentation and performance Boulez has made breakthrough developments in music both in technology and vocal writing.