This wonderful Sonata was composed by Boulez in 1958 and first performed by him on the following year. Of its original five movements only two are regularly played: “Trope” and “Constellation-Mirroir”. It is an example of aleatoric music, in which some elements of the composition are left to chance. As many of Boulez’s, he worked on the composition until 1963, the three non performed today movements, were considered by the composer as less achieved than the others.
Oral presentation of the concert at the Louvre Auditorium on October 14, 2008.
First of all, why did I write this Third Sonata and in which moment of my artistic life did I do it? I must say that the piano has been the instrument on which I learnt music and I have conserved a certain tenderness for this instrument or maybe a certain vehemence; I don’t know which I should prefer but in any case, it is an instrument I certainly like a lot and have often used it in my works. I had written in 1946, when I was very young, a first Sonata, in two sections, very simply conceived but which were very spontaneous. And then I wrote a bit later, in 1948… — things go very fast when you are young, but you advance much more slowly later on because you become more cautious, I think… This second Sonata wore out the pleasures or the tortures of the classical Sonata; there was a first movement that was a Sonata first movement, there was a second movement which was a Lento movement, there was a Scherzo and a fourth, a finale, which was a sort of Grande Fugue. But all these were more concepts than historically based realities.
I then abandoned the Piano to write for the String Quartet, the Orchestra or the Voice in particular, and when I came back to it, I did first of all because at the same moment Stockhausen had written the first four of his Klavierstücke which were by the way very short regarding those that he wrote later on, and we used to talk a lot together at that time about using the piano with our ideas from that period. But it was a bit later, because I started this third Sonata at the beginning of the fifties, and why? Because I had read a lot the poet Stéphane Mallarmé and in particular his poem “Un coup de dés” (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance) and I told myself it would be interesting to take the ideas of the poet and transpose them in music, without modifying the poem itself or using the voice, but to transpose his way of thinking more than its structure. And this is why I started writing or with the intention of writing five “formants”, where one of them would be the centre of the work. And for each of them there would be a way to conceive a mobile form. The first formant I composed was “Constellation” and “Constellation miroir”; these are two versions of the same; in each of them the trajectories are inversed regarding the other one. And in this formant three; “Constellation miroir” I use a form which you can read simultaneously horizontally and vertically; this means that there are lines which correspond and are superposed and you can play those lines which correspond to the same way of looking at the development of the music, and other lines which inversely are a different way of developing the sonority of music. I have named these alternations: Blocs and Points, because literally Points are isolated notes which are actually printed in green, and which are voluntarily unique. Blocs on the contrary are very dense, which can be spread-out or synthesized, and it is this contrast of Blocs and Points which is so interesting in “Constellation miroir”.
The other formant, “Tropes”, is another way of conceiving a mobile form and it is built with four panels: A, B, C and D, and you can start with one panel, B for example and then you play the others. The disposition of the score is very similar, it is a kind of book in which you can permute the pages. What was important for me was to not decide on a trajectory or another, but to leave to the trajectory to the conception of the pianist, and when having to decide between Blocs and Points, either begin with the Points and finish with the Blocs, or in the movement called “Tropes” where we have the panels, to begin with one panel and end the formant when all the other have been played without repeating a panel.
Why do I use the word “formant” instead of using the word “movement”? Because in movement there are too many references from classical forms and you may think it is a pre-established structure, which you can’s do with the word formant.