Visiting Ensembles

Ensemble intercontemporain / Susanna Mälkki

Boulez’s own instrument was the piano, from boyhood onward. In certain respects, it remains for him what it was in the 19th-century: the pioneer instrument. On the piano, he tests out the ideas he later projects onto orchestral scale. The Notations and its elaborations and reworkings are one good example among many. Sur Incises, a work that lasts a good 35 minutes, emerged from a relatively brief piano piece entitled Incises. For Boulez, the transfer of this material to an ensemble necessitated the enlargement of the form: expansion in space requires extension in time. Arising from the sound image of the solo piece are variations and reflections on piano sonority which involve the participation of the harp and the percussion instruments.

With this style of elaboration, Boulez returns to the origins of all composition: to arrangement, variation, stylization. His inventions for piano provided him with material. At the same time, he took up the countervailing tradition that characterizes the history of the piano. In the 19th century, it was a pioneering instrument by virtue of its capacity for simulation. Good pianists were able to awaken the impression of orchestral splendour through its black-and-white sonorities, were able to form lines in ways suggestive of songlike qualities – and in direct contradiction of the physical qualities of piano sound. In short: an integral part of the culture of pianism was the capacity to allow listeners to hear more than what was physically present, to conjure an imaginary background.

To this tradition, composers like Igor Stravinsky opposed the bare facts, and treated the piano primarily as a percussion instrument. This move opened up piano sonority to all of those musical forms for which the percussion instruments stood at the centre, which is to say: to non-European music – and according to his own testimony, Boulez’s own development would have been inconceivable without an experience of this music. And in assuming this role as mediator, the piano acquired new significance as a pioneering instrument for Pierre Boulez.

Concert Programme

Pierre Boulez [born 1925]
for piano [1994/2001]

Pierre Boulez
Structures pour deux pianos
Deuxième livre [1956/61]

Pierre Boulez
Sur Incises
for 3 grand pianos, 3 harps, 3 percussionists [1996/1998]


Hidéki Nagano piano (Incises, Structures, Sur Incises)
Sébastien Vichard piano (Structures, Sur Incises)
Dimitri Vassilakis Klavier (Sur Incises)
Sandrine Chatron, Ségolène Brutin, Marianne Le Mentec harp
Gilles Durot, Samuel Favre, Michel Cerutti percussion

Ensemble intercontemporain
Susanna Mälkki conductor