The School of Darmstadt
I am happy to address myself to young musicians - those young musicians, who know, practise and play the large repertoire, but who maybe only have a fairly vague idea of the history of modern music, although in the year 2000 a history of this music already exists.
Rather than saying "modern music" I should call it "contemporary music", as in our days there is a small difference between music, which is modern (general term), and music, which is contemporary (specific term). Hindemith, Prokofiev, Bartok, Britten, Shostakovitch, and others have composed music during the 20th century. Did they write contemporary music? Where is the border between a symphony by Shostakovitch and the "Marteau sans Maitre" by Boulez? Is contemporary music a style, a form - like the sonata, the symphony, the fugue - all forms which it condemns and which one finds in the work of, for instance, Shostakovitch. In this case not all modern music is contemporary, but contemporary music is imperatively modern: the privilege of modernity.
We will now talk about "the school of Darmstadt". Why Darmstadt? It was there that the principles originated, which gave birth to contemporary music when the summer courses for Nouvelle Musique were created in 1952. Notice that contemporary music was first called "neue Musik", then "1'Avant garde" (always in French), later on it was named more precisely: "in der Nachfolge Anton Weberns". Let us come back to Darmstadt. At this time (after the war) the city was in ruins, but in the surrounding forest a big building - a seminar - was unused during summer. There, young musicians could come together from various places to work, learn and present their compositions.
All the same Darmstadt never was a festival, although concerts were held there. Before all it was a laboratory. But what was the basis, the foundation, what was the heritage of those young composers, which permitted them to create this new music? The school of Vienna of course, - Schoenberg, Berg, Webern,- all the music, which was forgotten during the war because it was forbidden in Germany, where it was qualified as degenerate art by the nazis. All the same not only the unyielding followers of Schonberg were present at Darmstadt, although they were the majority. Olivier Messiaen also taught there during several years and introduced two of his students: Boulez and Stockhausen.
The series of 12 notes did not suit the language of Messiaen, who did not teach it. His musical sensibility did not harmonize with these dark counterpoints. He absolutely needed the colours of harmony. We should not forget him. He was the student of Paul Dukas and never ceased to admire Albeniz for the richness and colour of his accords, and the virtuosity of his piano works. Above all he was a modal composer. In this way the perfect accords, the sixths, the enlarged sevenths, the unsolved harmonies, which sometimes remind of the harmonies of jazz (although Messiaen denied this with vehemence), provoked ridicule with part of the public when Yvonne Loriod interpreted "les vingt regards sur 1'Enfant Jesus" at Darmstadt.
Messiaen's contribution was new by way of rhythmics. Well ahead of the courses at Darmstadt, when he was professor of harmony and analysis at the Conservatoire de Paris in 1944, Messiaen published his essay: "Technique de mon langage musical" in which he developed his modal and poly-modal conceptions of musical writing and also the technique of rhythm and duration. In 1948 (before Darmstadt) he composed a piece for the piano inspired by Hinduist music: "Canteyodjaya". In this piece he uses his technique of the mode of duration for the first time in several passages.
Later on he radicalized this procedure in the 4 Etudes of Rhythm. One of them, "Mode de valeurs et d'intensites" was even composed at Darmstadt in 1950. In this oeuvre one finds a height of 36 tones, 24 rhythmic lengths, intensities from ppp to ff on each note, and a mode of touching the keys (pique, loure, loure-detache, accent etc.)- Remark that he never speaks of series but of modes. The dry, mechanical, serial side of this music never leaves him and he considers these etudes to be like an exercise of arithmetic formulas. It was not the same for his students who experienced the first integral exploration of the space of sound in the way they had dreamed. Contemporary music was born.
We will try to follow, by listening to some examples, the evolution of this technique, which brings us to the integral serialism of all the components of musical writing (rhythms, intensity, touching, registers etc.) in the oeuvres for piano. This instrument was always considered to be particularly suited for experimental music.
We will now listen to an extract from the first sonata by Boulez. It was written in 1946. We are far away from the course of Darmstadt. This sonata is contemporary with the 7th sonata of Prokofiev. Boulez has just left the conservatory. We find ourselves quite far away from this first exploration of the space of sound. This is an oeuvre of the style of 12 notes, but here the 12 notes seem to be exploding, the style has lost its rigid side which Boulez himself found pedantic and academic.
The 2nd sonata was written in 1948. The series has literally been destroyed. Thanks to this, works for piano are emancipated; above all if we remember what takes place in the variations by Webern. It becomes brilliant, masterly, superb. The oeuvre is very well developed, with 4 movements. This is certainly its only relationship with classic form! When Yvonne Loriod played it at Darmstadt some years later, part of the public was shocked, probably the part which was deeply attached to the 12 note style of the school of Vienna. We will now listen to an extract of the 4th movement, which was superbly interpreted by Maurizio Pollini.
Now we arrive at the summer course of 1954 to discover the new space of sound which the 2 students of Messiaen dreamed of. Following is an extract of Klavierstucke VIII by Stockhausen. I will let you appreciate it in your own way, this dream...
I do not remember by which means the "Structures pour deux pianos" (volume I), written by Boulez in 1952 and first played at Paris by Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez and later at Cologne in 1953 by Yvette Grimaus and Yvonne Loriod, became known at Darmstadt. But they were known, and much discussed. Following are 2 extracts of this 1st volume.
Undeniably, these are dry oeuvres, music of the blackboard, of demonstration, in fact, it seems rather to be made to be read than to be listened to. This is a mistake - because all the same this is not "Das musikalische Opfer" or "Die Kunst der Fuge" - a mistake, which unfortunately develops more and more in this kind of music is that often the reading of a full score does not correspond very much with its execution.
Let us now leave these serious pianistic researches to discuss works written for small formations, from 4-5 to 18-20 musicians. These small formations were very popular at Darmstadt (type: I'ensemble du Domaine Musical, or, in Italy, Incontri Musicali, they were also attained by taking some musicians from big symphony orchestras who participated in concerts - Westdeutscher Rundfunk or Hessischer Rundfunk).
Boulez' "Le Marteau sans Maltre", about poems by the French poet Rene Char, exceeds all the other more or less experimental works created at Darmstadt in importance. The instrumental ensemble is reduced to 6 instruments: flute in G, guitar, viola, xylophone, vibraphone and a percussion instrument. There are 9 movements and the oeuvre has 35 minutes duration. It was performed for the first time at Baden-Baden on June, 18th 1955 conducted by Hans Rosbaud to whom this work is dedicated. We will now hear the whole 5th movement "Bel edifice et les pressentiments".
It seems to me that this is the result of this integral serialism in a charming oeuvre, which has no experimental aspect any more. Let us now listen to an extract of an oeuvre by Luciano Berio, first played at Darmstadt in 1956. It is very similar in style. Berio was always very independent towards the austerity of integral serialism. His Mediterranean nature did not feel at ease in this field. This is the Serenata I for flute and 14 instruments.
Subsequently Berio abandoned this rigorous style of the famous new space of sound quite quickly. He replaced it with a charming, virtuosic music, of which we can already hear the beginnings in this Serenata.
You are all interpreters and are certainly aware of the great difficulties the interpreters of that time had to face to execute these full scores at the same time as they discovered them. Difficulties of measure, rapid successions 4/4 3/8 3/4 3/16 4/4 5/16 see 5/32 (Stockhausen) 1/4 + 1/16 (Boulez). Added to this are irrational valors: accentuation within a quintlet, septlets following triplets.
The composers were full of laudable intentions and were tempted to give more freedom to the interpreters. In my opinion this was wrong. Under the influence of the American John Cage they wanted to use chance. So now the full scores were immense so that the interpreters could choose the linking of very short sequences, which were arranged separately on the full scores. You also saw pianists with one hand full of different sheets of paper, which they placed on the left hand side of the desk. They then used to take one of these sheets, put it on the pulpit and then place it on the right side of the pulpit. Then they would recommence the operation. One could also leave one out if one wanted to: This is freedom, isn't it?!! All this became grotesque in the end.
In 1957 a course started in Darmstadt given by Boulez and Stockhausen. During summer courses Stockhausen one day presented a big carton tube from which he took a huge sheet on which the groups of notes were placed in ingenious disorder. I was present and I remember the effect very well, which this full score made on us onlookers, but I cannot remember that it was ever played...
In September of the same year, still at Darmstadt, but not within a summer course, Boulez also presented a large full score, his 3rd sonata, but contained in an inflexible carton. Here it is. Admire it: Was this music made to be looked at? It looks very nice, that is true, but do not ask me how to read it: I should know how, but I have forgotten it.
Let us now listen to what Claude Hellfer makes of it, I assure you that he does it very scrupulously.
Honestly, don't you have the impression of always listening to the same music? And I would challenge someone to be able to follow, with the full score in hand, the course taken by the interpreter. One does not simplify the latter's work; one just complicates everything by creating the illusion of a causeless liberty. And I bet that a simple auditor could not distinguish 2 different interpretations of the same piece by the same interpreter during one concert.
During a certain time some people followed what was called "la forme ouverte". One of these was Henri Pousseur, a musician from Belgium who was faithful to Darmstadt, and a great analyst of Webern. Then there were Boucourechliev and his Archipels: this is a real geographical card through which one has to find one's way. Indeed, this is music for the eye!
What concerns Boulez, conductor, he always knew, as usual, how to get the better of these problematic sequences. In "Pli selon Pli" an oeuvre for big orchestra, or in "Eclats" for a small ensemble, you can see him conduct several measures with one hand, and indicating the numbers with the fingers of the other hand. But in Darmstadt one was still far away from this in 1957.
Before concluding the series of examples, I would like you to listen to the beginning of one important full score by Stockhausen which mobilizes a total of 110 musicians, 3 conductors, each of which is directing in different tempi, the full score is written accurately to the second: This is the contrary to the open oeuvre! These are "Gruppen" for 3 orchestras. This oeuvre was composed in 1955 and played for the first time in Cologne in 1958 by 3 instrumental groups of the orchestra of the Radio Cologne with Stockhausen, Boulez and Bruno Maderna as conductors. Unnecessary to remark that the execution of this oeuvre demanded an incredible amount of repetitions! It testifies the conclusion of 10 years of the school of Darmstadt.
There would be much more to say, especially about the dictatorship of the school of Darmstadt, (but I haven't got enough time) because contemporary music evolves and changes. There are also a few important composers whom I have not mentioned, for instance Ligeti. Maybe because he is not very representative of the spirit of Darmstadt: he has other qualities.
In the view of many young composers the style of 12 notes and serialism are totally antiquated notions. Above all we should not regret this but simply ascertain that history goes faster and faster...
Maybe some late followers of serialism still exist: some nostalgic ones. For example the English Bryan Ferneyhough who writes unplayable full scores and who persists in returning to Darmstadt and giving lessons there: but nothing happens there any more.
At the moment there are post-modern movements, which oppose themselves completely to the spirit of Darmstadt. One is even speaking of a tonal revival. The Estonian composer Arvo Part, who by the way also used to visit Darmstadt, has found a new simplicity again and his music finds many admirers. And then there is also, coming from minimalism, repetitive music: Steve Reich, born in 1936, Phil Glass, born in 1937.
I would like to conclude this presentation by mentioning John Adams, an American composer, born in 1947, acknowledged, played everywhere but hated by certain people, particularly in France. His liberty towards musical language, his imagination, the virtuosity of his writing, his sense of rhythm, which extends from Stravinsky to pop music persuade me to consider him as very representative of the music of the end of the 20th century. We will now listen to the beginning of his concerto for piano and orchestra interpreted by the pianist Emmanuel Ax, the orchestra of Paris conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi. This is a recording of a radio transmission.