The Domaine musical
was created to provide opportunities for new music. In Germany
and Austria the legacy of decades without new music lingered,
and the best musicians of the previous generation had emigrated.
Paris naturally became a magnet. The Domaine was an exciting
milieu in which the best and most innovative in music and other
arts could congregate: it was a springboard for creativity,
stimulating new ideas and alliances. No less than Jean Cocteau
attended the first concert, resplendent in flowing cape, “the
embodiment of the eternal avant-garde!” as one writer put it.
Through these circles musicians like Carter, Boulez, Stockhausen,
Berio, Messiaen, Cage and Varèse came together. Moreover, since
it brought new music to influential audiences sophisticated
enough to appreciate what it meant, it gave the avant-garde
high profile credibility and encouraged enlightened patronage.
Although music was its main raison d’être, its atmosphere was
enhanced by an awareness of other arts, cinema, for example,
and abstract painting. At one meeting, Boulez, always an art-lover,
gave a talk on the Blau Reiter movement.
The Domaine was
a seminal, and exciting phase in the growth of post-war music.
Its importance can’t be underestimated. Through this series
of recordings from Accord - Universal Classics, we too, can
share something of the thrill of those heady times (also see
review of Volume 2). What an atmosphere there must have been
into the Petit-Marigny theatre or the unheated Trinité church!
What I particularly like about the performances on these recordings
is the sense of immediacy and experimentation. The musicians – drawn
from the best players throughout Paris – were themselves in
the process of discovery. These were new works, many of them
premières, and they are played with a freshness that’s very
stimulating. Of course, you could find more polished recordings,
but that isn’t the point. These musicians and audiences were
willing to learn and open their minds and souls, even though
many of them were formidably accomplished in their own ways.
The set starts
with the 10th anniversary concert, presumably in
1964 – no actual dates are given as the set’s main focus is
on the music. It is a valedictory. Stockhausen’s Kontra-Punkte,
completed weeks before the inaugural concert starts the programme.
In the intervening decade, Boulez has developed a sure and
confident approach to Stockhausen’s radical ideas. It’s followed
by one of the numerous pieces specially written for the Domaine,
Berio’s Serenata!, hauntingly played by Severino Gazzelloni,
who also solos on Boulez’s Sonatine pour flute on the
second disc. Compare the two works, by close friends of the
same age and outlook, but very different styles. It’s followed
by a lively rendering of Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître.
Signifigantly, no Boulez work was premiered by the Domaine. Le
Marteau was first conducted at Donaueschingen by Hans Rosbaud.
In this set we have a bonus, the first recording of the piece,
from 1956, with Boulez conducting. Again, it’s fun to compare
the two. The later version is more expressive, with much more
open textures. The later soloist, Jeanne Deroubaix, has a far
more rounded voice, and a more flexible feel for the lines.
It’s clear evidence that an interpretation can grow with experience.
Messiaen was a
guiding spirit in Boulez’s life and in the Domaine. By far
the best known French composer of his generation, his support
for the project ensured its success. Oiseaux exotiques was
first heard in a 1955 Domaine concert, played, as we have here,
by Yvonne Loriod. On the second disc is the lovely Cantéyodjayă, again
with Loriod. Although it’s not stated on this recording, it
was part of the second concert, in February 1954, with a group
of other Messiaen pieces. The set isn’t arranged chronologically
but by theme, so there’s more Messiaen in Disc two, dedicated
to French influences. Loriod’s Sept Haïkaï here is another
Domaine première from 1963. The Domaine was even more important
in championing the music of Edgard Varèse: Boulez and Carter
passionately studying his music. Indeed, Boulez made the first
readily available recordings of the composer. Chailly learned
his Varèse from Berio, who learned from Boulez. The group of
recordings here is not quite in the same league as Boulez’s
later realisations, but has a gutsy, experimental quality which
A short disc is
devoted to Boulez’s own compositions, which featured in these
programmes. Loriod plays Sonate. No 2, a daunting piece
which she carries off well. The Kontarsky brothers play Structures,
and David Tudor the Sonatine. On the final disc, we
have more of the usual favourites, including Henri Pousseur
whose work remains under-appreciated today. Henze too, is included,
Loriod playing once more, even though Henze and Boulez were
to have differences after Darmstadt. This, too, was a special
piece for the Domaine.
All in all, this
is a very worthwhile set, and one for anyone seriously interested
in that exciting period in the 1950s when so much was going
on artistically and musically. Boulez may be best known as
a composer, conductor and writer, but he is also a great enabler,
a man whose love for music leads him to find new opportunities
to learn and experience. It was this frame of mind that guided
the Domaine, and was later to inspire his other ventures like
IRCAM and the Ensemble Intercontemporain. That is why I’ve
enjoyed this set. The performers are all very good, and knowledgeable,
but open to learning new things. My father used to say “Stop
learning and you die”. In new music especially, I think, openness
to learning is life, and prejudice is death.