Integral Serialism
With the passing of the Second War and the destruction of much of Europe, composers began looking for new ways to rebuild their art. In music, a new generation of composers, many of whom studied or would study at the Paris conservatory with Olivier Messiaen, began looking for ways to expand Arnold Schoenberg's 12-tone system. The prevailing view among this generation was that Schoenberg was too traditional in that he, in his twelve-tone compositions, used tone rows in the same ways that composers before had used themes. In his notorious article, "Schoenberg is Dead" written on that very occasion in 1951, Pierre Boulez pointed toward a new direction of music, suggesting that Schoenberg's pupil Anton Webern ought to be emulated rather than Schoenberg. For Boulez and those who shared his view, Schoenberg was unable to see the implications of his twelve-tone method, instead remaining linked to what Boulez called "reminiscences of a dead world." For Webern on the other hand, the serial method was not simply a way to justify complex chromatic themes, but rather a way to create a new world of abstraction. For Webern, the tone row was not a theme or a motive, but rather "the law" of the work.
Boulez proposed enlarging the dimensions of the tone-row. He suggested that perhaps the row could regulate parameters other than pitches, he wrote: "perhaps one could enlarge the serial domain with intervals other than the half-tone. Perhaps one could generalize the serial principle to the four sound constituents: pitch, duration, intensity and attack, timbre. Perhaps... perhaps..." Integral serialism takes up these concerns.
For the serialist composers tone rows Can be used to control all musical parameters. Not only are the twelve pitches ordered into a series, but so too are the various other musical dimensions: twelve different ways of playing a note; twelve different dynamic gradations, e.g. quiet (p), really quiet (pp), really really quiet (ppp), and so forth; twelve different rhythms: a sixteenth-note, an eighth note, a dotted eighth note and so forth; as well as other dimensions. Furthermore on a higher level, the series (tone row) could generate the larger form of the work: how long sections would last; in what order they would occur and so forth.
This high level of serialism reached its apogee in works such as Boulez's rarely recorded Structures, Volume 1 for two pianos.

Pierre Boulez, Structures, book 1 (1951)

Essay on Boulez

"I like to listen to Boulez" - Igor Stravinsky

Pierre Boulez (1925 - ) Pierre Boulez's first volume of Structures for two pianos takes serialism to its ultimate end. Each and every dimension of the score serves to propagate the row; as deeply as one looks, the row is reflected. In this way, the row acts as the DNA of the composition, defining all of its characteristics. This infinite unity that defies anything concrete was exactly what Boulez was looking for.
The work itself is in three sections, of which the first, Structures 1a is the most rigorous. For the first part, Boulez chose a quotation from a seminal work of his teacher Messiaen, the Mode de valeurs et d'intensites to be his tone row. The choice is a particularly apt one, for it was Messaien's work that offered up the proposal that the techniques of twelve-tone composition could be applied to dimensions other than that of pitch. Tables were consulted to determine the duration of each note, its dynamic (loudness or softness), and the interaction of the individual pitches. The movement is in twelve sections and can perhaps be thought of as a theme-and-variations on the abstract relationships of the tone row. The listening chart below reflects Boulez's divisions in the score.

Listening Chart: Structures 1A (1951)
Kontarsky Brothers Recording
0:00 Moderate: A Statement of the Row. Piano one plays very loud (ffff) and piano 2, quiet (quasi p)
0:15 Moderate, almost fast: Rhythmic variation with more activity than at first
0:32 Brief solo for Piano 2
0:42 Slow: Defined rhythms with repeated notes
1:03 Moderate, almost fast: Sparse pointillistic variation, few rhythmic unisons.
1:22 Very Moderate: Brief solo for Piano 1
1:33 Slow: Sustained chords in both pianos, very quiet.
2:12 Moderate, almost fast: Primarily low notes with high note interjections.
2:21 Very Moderate: Piano 2 plays quietly, while piano 1 plays loudly.
2:35 Moderate, almost fast: A Sharp, pointillistic variation
2:47 Slow: Held notes in Piano 2 loudly (forte) with sharp interjections from Piano 1 relatively quietly (mp)
3:13 Very moderate: A suspended almost kaleidoscopic variation.


All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.