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Pierre Boulez: Messagesquisse

  • for violoncello solo and 6 violoncellos
  • Duration: 7’
  • Soloists:
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st violoncello
    2nd violoncello
    3rd violoncello
    4th violoncello
    5th violoncello
    6th violoncello
  • Composer: Pierre Boulez
  • Table of contents:
    Messagesquisse pour 7 violoncelles
  • Dedication: à Paul Sacher pour le 28.4.1976
  • Remarks: Facsimile version available on request.

Work introduction

Without Paul Sacher, one could succinctly say, the history of music in the 20th century would look very different. In 1926, the Swiss conductor and patron of music founded the Basle Chamber Orchestra to perform new music and, in 1933, the renowned Schola Cantorum Basiliensis as a teaching and research centre for ancient music; but most importantly he commissioned more than 100 compositions and led over 200 world premieres during his active musical life. The most important of these, created at his instigation, include Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Corale by Luciano Berio, Paul Hindemith’s symphony Die Harmonie der Welt, Arthur Honegger’s Second and Fourth Symphonies, Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto en re and the Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, as well as works by Boris Blacher, Richard Rodney Bennett, Alfredo Casella, Ernst Krenek, Rolf Liebermann and Sir Michael Tippett.

Paul Sacher turned 70 in 1976; for the occasion, Mstislav Rostropovich asked 12 renowned contemporary composers to write a piece for violoncello. Messagesquisse [“Sketched Message”] for solo cello and six violoncellos is the work Boulez contributed to congratulating Sacher. He added a foreword to the score to express his intentions:

Messages are often secretly hidden
Music has this advantage:
It dispenses with words,
The messages are essentially personal,

decoded by everyone according to the time.
A cipher – symbolic (reduced)
Notes – symbolic (multiplied)
Rhythms – symbolic (split up)
in order to add a certain number of messages, diverse, divergent,
in order thus to let some emotions to pass by, certainly not symbolic ones.

The violoncello is the instrument of choice,
alone, exclusively
able to reflect itself,
able to grow out of itself.

Is a conductor necessary?
Perhaps, to gain time – as always!
Only the metronome marks are missing, but who cares about the Possible when one wants the Impossible?

This manuscript
Dear Paul
Is just as much testimony as it is a message …
Testimony to the cordial bonds made over all the years
            by you to me
                        With deep and faithful affection.

Pierre Boulez

Salzburg Easter Festival 2001


The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

La Rochelle (FR)
Main soloists:
Pierre Pénassou, Vc solo, zwei Cellisten des EIC, Philippe Muller und Ina Joost, zwei Cellisten des Rundfunkorchesters Hilversum und zwei des Philharmonischen Orchesters der Lorraine

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