New Book: Boulez, Music and Philosophy

This looks interesting:

Boulez, Music and Philosophy by Edward Campbell

Series: Music in the Twentieth Century

Cambridge University Press

While acknowledging that Pierre Boulez is not a philosopher, and that he is wary of the potential misuse of philosophy with regard to music, this study investigates a series of philosophically charged terms and concepts which he uses in discussion of his music. Campbell examines significant encounters which link Boulez to the work of a number of important philosophers and thinkers, including Adorno, LĂ©vi-Strauss, Eco and Deleuze. Relating Boulez’s music and ideas to broader currents of thought, the book illuminates a number of affinities linking music and philosophy, and also literature and visual art. These connections facilitate enhanced understanding of post-war modernist music and Boulez’s distinctive approach to composition. Drawing on a wide range of previously unpublished documentary sources and providing musical analysis of a number of key scores, the book traces the changing musical, philosophical and intellectual currents which inform Boulez’s work.


1. Preparing the ground; 2. Early influences and movements; 3. Dialectic, negation and binary oppositions; 4. Boulez, Adorno and serial critique; 5. Deduction and the scientific model; 6. Serialism and structuralism; 7. Post-structuralist encounters; 8. Boulez, difference and repetition; 9. Expanding the virtual; 10. Continuity and discontinuity of space and time; Conclusion; Bibliography.

5 thoughts on “New Book: Boulez, Music and Philosophy

  1. There’s a lot of discussion of Boulez and Adorno in Alastair Williams’s ‘New Music and the Claims of Modernity’. Good descriptions of ‘Repons’ in particular, as I recall, including a marvelous use of the word ‘tropical’ for certains textures, sounds, matrices in the music–I picked it up and used it in a title myself. We used ‘deep tropical’ quite often after that for many things that aren’t Polynesian, Melanesian, equatorial, etc., but I haven’t read it anywhere else. I first heard the term ‘instrumental reason’ from that book, and read ‘Negative Dialectics’ and other Adorno as a result of it. I won’t get to this, I’m fairly sure, but you might want to look at it if you can easily find it. The first link I found had it going for $110.00, and that’s definitely not worth it, I just got it out of the library. I don’t know how well-known it is, but it was published in 1997.

  2. Thanks for posting. Aside from the appeal to Deleuze, which kind of annoys me in a completely irrational way, this looks worth reading. Unfortunately, the forthcoming US publication (end of Sept) is in hardcover only ($$$). Will have to get a library copy.

  3. QoB, thanks for that pointer. Looking at the index to Campbell’s book he refers to Williams a couple of times. Shahar, I appreciate this, as I was never a big fan of Deleuze myself, but Boulez knew him well and borrows some of his concepts to describe his own work (and vice versa) so I can imagine it would be impossible to leave him out. From my own perspective what looks intriguing from the blurb is that the author seems to have had access to Boulez’s correspondence with Adorno, which I’ve never seen published or referred to before.

    • I was never a big fan of Deleuze myself, but Boulez knew him well and borrows some of his concepts to describe his own work (and vice versa)

      Well, I guess I’m a big fan of Deleuze, despite the inconvenience involved, but this is what will make me find it, it will be at the library soon, I’m sure. that’s the part that interests me, I don’t care about any more Adorno personally, even letters. Re Deleuze/Boulez, I would have imagined they knew each other, but there are essential differences that would have not made me think of their interacion, or whatever you’d call it, since Deleuze contains much sensual release and probing just in the superficial reading of it, whereas Boulez sometimes finds his way into sound-worlds (his term, I believe) that have something of that sensuality, but he has always tended to talk of ‘sensuality’ in a condescending way. Some 30 years ago, he talked about how he always felt more at home in Germany, and said ‘If you are a sensual person, I suppose France is the place to be, but if you are concerned with more important things…’ etc. and blah and blah, more of his condescending superiority. I love some of the music and loved playing the 2nd Sonata, and have loved the 4 live performances when he was conducting (his own and other works), but that’s not my kind of guy, as it were. There would obviously be enormous divides between Deleuze and Boulez, who may run into sound-worlds that could be ‘tropical’, but these would be described later and by someone else. Deleuze is ‘tropical’ almost anywhere in Mille Plateaux. So where they do intersect is going to interest me.

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