Pierre Boulez – Notations I-IV (1980) et VII (1999) pour grand orchestre

Notations I-IV et VII, pour grand orchestre

I. Fantasque et modéré
VII. Hiératique – Lent
IV. Rythmique
III. Très modéré
II. Très vif – Strident

Ensemble Modern Orchestra : Pierre Boulez
Enregistrement public/ Live recording
Concert donné le 30 septembre 2007 à la salle Pleyel, émission radiophonique présentée et produite
par Jean-Pierre Derrien et diffusée sur France Musique le 12 novembre 2007.

As of 1946, shortly after having composed these miniatures that are the 12 Notations pour piano ,
Pierre Boulez undertook the orchestration of 11 of them: ‘It was a simple transcription, quite
primitive. I had no very elaborate orchestral thinking at that time’. So the job was abandoned and
forgotten, if not for the material of one of the Notations recycled into a movement of Pli selon pli
in 1958. And it was not until 1980 that Boulez came back to these youthful works: ‘My conducting
experience, acquired up through 1978-79, when I again came across the manuscript of these
pieces, enabled me to re-transcribe for orchestra, develop them so that they correspond better
to my current taste and get down to the writing of the following, for I want to write 12 in all.’
As of 2013, five Notations pour orchestre have been composed: the first four (premiered on 18
June 1980 by the Orchestre de Paris, conducted by Daniel Barenboim) and the eighth (composed
in 1997 in response to a commission from the Chicago Symphony and performed in Chicago on
14 January 1999). Independent pieces, these Notations can be performed in the order
‘recommended’ by the composer: I, IV, III, II (successively: Modéré fantasque , Rythmique , Très
modéré , Très vif, strident ) and inserting the seventh piece, as he himself did for the concert he
conducted in Vienna on the occasion of his 85th birthday, between Notations I and IV .It is less a transcription, a fairly current process in classical music, than a re-composition and
expansion of the original pieces. This can already be seen in the playing times, which are
practically doubled; the orchestral forces, of exceptional size (4 flutes, 4 oboes, 5 clarinets, 4
bassoons, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, 8 percussion, piano, celesta, 3 harps and a
large ensemble of strings), also attest to this. Frequenting a large Wagnerian/Mahlerian orchestra
doubtless played a major role in this choice; but aside from the transition to a different format,
this is a gesture of a different scope.
As notes Robert Piencikowski:
‘This is not a simple exercise in style wherein the conductor might enjoy showing what he’s
capable of in terms of the savoir-faire acquired in contact with huge symphony orchestras, but
indeed a reflection on the art of spreading out a development over a limited amount of time, an
extension of the musical gesture on an enlarged space. Hence the immediate sound
effectiveness of these transcriptions, playing on the contrasted alternation between contemplative passages and bravura pieces.
They are as concentrated and blazing as certain pieces by Webern, as meticulously realized
as certain ‘transcriptions’ by Ravel. And as virtuosic in their construction as in their execution.
‘I like to put myself in danger,’ acknowledges Boulez concerning Notation II , the most difficult
and breathtaking, ‘a spark of time that sets our perception ablaze,’ to quote Eric Humbertclaude’s nice phrase.


November 30, 2017

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