Polyphonie X

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Polyphonie X is a composition by Pierre Boulez for eighteen instruments divided into seven groups, written in 1950–51. It is in three movements.

It is one of the first works of Boulez's total serial period. It was composed shortly after "Structure 1a", the opening of the piano duo Structures I (Heyworth 1973, p. 14; Jameux 1991, p. 52), the movement the composer would later describe as an experiment with "an expressive nadir" (Jameux 1991, p. 51). The première of Polyphonie X on 6 October 1951 during the Donaueschingen Festival caused a scandal, with one half of the audience shouting and imitating animal noises, while the other half responded with applause and bravos (Jameux 1991, pp. 47–48).

The title is often misinterpreted as having algebraic significance; in fact, the X is intended as a purely graphical symbol, implying the crossing of musical parameters which takes place in the score (Jameux 1991, p. 47).

Polyphonie X has only been performed twice, and only once in its entirety; after hearing a recording of the première Boulez immediately withdrew the work because he felt it suffered from "theoretical exaggeration" (Stacey 1987, p. 62), intending eventually to subject it to a thoroughgoing revision (Jameux 1991, p. 48). This never happened, so the piece remains unpublished. Two recordings exist; one of the première by the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Rosbaud, another of a performance (of the first movement only) in Naples on 11 June 1953 by the symphony orchestra of the RAI conducted by Bruno Maderna.[citation needed]


  • Boulez, Pierre (1986). "The System Exposed". In Orientations: Collected Writings by Pierre Boulez, edited by Jean-Jacques Nattiez, translated by Martin Cooper, 129–42. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-64375-5.
  • Heyworth, Peter (1973), "The First Fifty Years", in William Glock (ed.), Pierre Boulez: A Symposium, London: Eulenburg Books (published 1986), ISBN 0-903873-12-5
  • Jameux, Dominique (1991), Pierre Boulez, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-66740-9 translated by Susan Bradshaw.
  • Stacey, Peter (1987), Boulez and the Modern Concept, Aldershot: Scolar Press, ISBN 0-85967-644-7