Structures (Boulez)

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Structures I (1952) and Structures II (1961) are two related works for two pianos, composed by the French composer Pierre Boulez.


The first book of Structures was begun in early 1951, as Boulez was completing his orchestral work Polyphonie X, and finished in 1952. It consists of three movements, or "chapters", labelled Ia, Ib, and Ic, composed in the order a, c, b. The first of the second book's two "chapters" was composed in 1956, but chapter 2 was not written until 1961. The second chapter includes three sets of variable elements, which are to be arranged to make a performing version (Häusler 1965, 5). A partial premiere of book 2 was performed by the composer and Yvonne Loriod at the Wigmore Hall, London, in March 1957. This was Boulez's first appearance in the UK as a performer (Griffiths 1973). The same performers gave the premiere of the complete second book, with two different versions of chapter 2, in a chamber-music concert of the Donaueschinger Musiktage on Saturday, 21 October 1961 (Südwestrundfunk n.d.).

Olivier Messiaen's Mode de valeurs et d'intensités highest of three unordered divisions of the mode (Grant 2001, 61; Toop 1974, 144) or, less precisely, "three series forms [caption: "for pitch, duration, dynamics, and articulation"]...treated as unordered collections," (Whittall 2008, 172)(About this soundPlay )—which Boulez, "the pupil intending to teach the master a lesson," adapted as an ordered series for his Structures Ia (Whittall 2008, 172)

Structures I was the last and most successful of Boulez's works to use the technique of integral serialism (Hopkins and Griffiths 2001), wherein many parameters of a piece's construction are governed by serial principles, rather than only pitch. Boulez devised scales of twelve dynamic levels (though in a later revision of the score these reduced to ten—Ligeti 1960, 40–41), twelve durations, and—from the outset—ten modes of attack (Ligeti 1960, 43), each to be used in a manner analogous to a twelve-tone row. The composer explains his purpose in this work:

I wanted to eradicate from my vocabulary absolutely every trace of the conventional, whether it concerned figures and phrases, or development and form; I then wanted gradually, element after element, to win back the various stages of the compositional process, in such a manner that a perfectly new synthesis might arise, a synthesis that would not be corrupted from the very outset by foreign bodies—stylistic reminiscences in particular. (Boulez 1986a, 61)

Structures II is, on the other hand, a reconstruction of Structures I: its material is reused and rewritten, transformed into a new work with a more fluid means of expression.[citation needed] This kind of reworking of an earlier piece is quite common among Boulez's compositions, for instance recently the violin piece Anthèmes (1991) was transformed into Anthèmes II (1997) for violin and electronics, or the solo piano Incises (1994/1997/2001) into Sur Incises (1998).

See also[edit]


  • 75 Jahre Donaueschinger Musiktage 1921–1996. 12-CD set, mono & stereo. Col Legno Contemporary WWE 12CD 31899. [Munich]: Col Legno Musikproduktion GmbH, 1996. CD 10, Col Legno Contemporary WWE 1CD 31909, includes the world-premiere performance of Structures pour deux pianos, deuxième livre, played by Yvonne Loriod and Pierre Boulez.


  • Boulez, Pierre. 1986a. "Necessité d'une orientation esthétique (II)". Canadian University Music Review/Revue de Musique des Universités Canadiennes, no. 7:46–79.
  • Grant, Morag Josephine. 2001. Serial Music Serial Aesthetics: Compositional Theory in Post-War Europe. Music in the Twentieth Century, Arnold Whittall, general editor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80458-2.
  • Griffiths, Paul. 1973. "Two Pianos: Boulez, Structures, Book 2". The Musical Times 114, no. 1562 (April): 390.
  • Häusler, Josef. 1965. "Klangfelder und Formflächen: Kompositorische Grundprinzipien im II. Band der Structures von Pierre Boulez". In liner notes to Pierre Boulez: Structures pour deux pianos, premier livre et deuxième livre, 5–12. Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky, pianos. Studio-Reihe neuer Musik. Baden-Baden: Wergo Schallplattenverlag GmbH. LP WER 60011.
  • Hopkins, G. W., and Paul Griffiths. 2001. "Boulez, Pierre." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Ligeti, György. 1960. "Pierre Boulez: Decision and Automatism in Structure Ia." Die Reihe 4 ("Young Composers"): 36–62. (Translated from the original German edition of 1958.)
  • Südwestrundfunk. n.d. "Donaueschinger Musiktage: Programme seit 1921: Programm des Jahres 1961". SWR website (archive from 24 May 2014, accessed 8 December 2016).
  • Toop, Richard. 1974. “Messiaen / Goeyvaerts, Fano / Stockhausen, Boulez.” Perspectives of New Music 13, no. 1 (Fall-Winter): 141–69.
  • Whittall, Arnold. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Serialism. Cambridge Introductions to Music. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-86341-4 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-521-68200-8 (pbk).

Further reading[edit]

  • Boulez, Pierre. 1986b. Orientations. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-14347-4.
  • Deliège, Célestin. 1981. "Deux aspects de l'univers boulezien: Structures pour deux pianos à quatre mains". Critique, no. 408:478–84.
  • DeYoung, Lynden. 1978. "Pitch Order and Duration Order in Boulez Structure Ia", Perspectives of New Music 16, no. 2:27–34.
  • Febel, Reinhard. 1978. Musik für zwei Klaviere seit 1950 als Spiegel der Kompositionstechnik. Herrenberg: Musikverlag Döring. Second, revised and expanded edition, Saarbrücken: Pfau-Verlag, 1998. ISBN 3-930735-55-5.
  • Jameux, Dominique. 1989. Boulez: Le Marteau Sans Maître. Programme booklet. CBS Masterworks CD MK 42619.
  • Jameux, Dominique. 1991. Pierre Boulez. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-66740-9.
  • Losada, Catherine C. 2014. "Complex Multiplication, Structure, and Process: Harmony and Form in Boulez’s Structures II". Music Theory Spectrum 36, no. 1 (Spring): 86–120.
  • Song, Sun-Ju. 2008. "Music Analysis and the Avant-Garde Compositions of Post–World War II: Four Case Studies". 2 vols. Ph.D. diss. Nathan, Queensland: Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University.
  • Wilkinson, Marc. 1958. "Some Thoughts on Twelve-Tone Method (Boulez: Structure Ia)", Gravesaner Blätter no. 10:19–29.

External links[edit]