Pierre Boulez Shows Many Examples of Serial and Atonal Compositional Techniques in ‘Le Marteau Sans Maitre.’ Compare the Use of these Techniques with that of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, Making References to ‘Le Marteau sans Maitre.’ and Other Examples in Boulez’s Works.
Pierre Boulez’s piece ‘Le Marteau sans maitre’ was written between 1953 and 1955. It has nine movements which are split into three cycles. These cycles are based on three poems by René Char.
Each of the nine pieces uses a different part of the instrumental ensemble. The first movement uses Flute, Vibraphone, Guitar and Viola, for example, while the third movement is an unaccompanied duet between the Alto Voice and ...view middle of the document...
This breaks up the notes of the tone rows, but, in my opinion, the work seems continuous and moves through the instrumental groups. This movement is caused by the continuous melodic lines, created by the pitch serial technique: as each note of the chromatic scale must be used only once in a particular order, or tone row, this abolishes the idea of the cadence and therefore the piece loses all sense of finality. Boulez juxtaposes these sweeping, seemingly never-ending lines with the disjunct melody and in my opinion the two techniques work together perfectly.
Maintaining an altogether fluid movement of lines in spite of these wide leaps, this compositional technique is similar to Arnold Schoenberg’s first movement of ‘Pierrot Lunaire’, where the disjunct Flute and Violin make leaps of more than one octave, but the piece is still altogether continuous. This is also reminiscent of Alban Berg’s Opera ‘Wozzeck’ where the disjunct opening phrase of the Clarinet sets the whole scene of the opera.
The second movement is driven by the ever-changing syncopated rhythms of the Percussion. These rhythms are based around the rhythms in the Flute part. For example bar 4, beat 4, (Ex. 2) of the percussion seems representative of bar 3 (Ex. 2) in the flute, but is rhythmically augmented to create instability. These syncopated rhythms are reminiscent of Schoenberg’s ‘Five Pieces for Orchestra,’ where the Percussion emphasises the syncopated rhythms in the Woodwind and Strings. At bar 1 of the seventh section of the first movement of ‘Five Pieces for Orchestra,’ the xylophone emphasises the strong beats of the bars with forte dynamic single notes to thicken the chordal texture. The syncopated percussion comparative to Alban Berg’s Opera ‘Lulu’, where the Tam-tam provides syncopated rhythms in bars 200 to 211 (Ex. 3) to emphasise the rest left in the orchestra.
The third movement of ‘Le Marteau sans maitre’ is a duet between the Alto Voice and Flute. This is the first movement to include the Alto Voice and I believe that the Voice is at its most lyrical here: the long phrases and less disjunct movement at bar 12 to 15 (Ex. 4) create a legato, flowing line. The similar timbre of the Alto Voice and Flute allows the two instruments to seamlessly flow together, particularly in the latter half of the movement. This is similar to the way that the Voice and Flute unite in the seventh movement of Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’. I found it astonishing that, despite the disjunct nature of atonal music, both composers exploit the timbre of Flute and Voice to join the two instruments.
Also another similar aspect to both the movements is the linear lines in the Voice and Flute. At bars 9 to 12 (Ex. 5) the Flute has a solo line which is made linear by the overall legato marking, the intervals and long notes. The voice answers this from bars 12 to 15 (Ex. 5) with a melody of smaller intervals than the other movements to again create linear motion. Similarly,...