Pierre Boulez: Polyphonie X, for 18 instruments (withdrawn by composer) – Play streams in full or download MP3 from Classical Archives () . In the following article, I review Boulez’s sketches for Polyphonie X alongside his initial response to the work and evidence of its early reception. It is one of the first works of Boulez’s total serial period. Polyphonie X is a composition by Pierre Boulez for eighteen instruments divided into seven groups, .

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Pierre Boulez wrote Polyphonie X during the phase of his career when bouez was most concerned with applying a rigorous, strict serial method to his creative musical urges.

Polyphonie X, for 18 instruments (withdrawn by composer)

These works are characterized by highly pointillistic textures and irregular rhythms. Polyphonie X, completed inbegan shape as a piece for much larger forces, seven groups of seven instruments forty-nine in boulezz.

In the end, the ensemble was boiled down to The serial structure is applied to both the pitches and the rhythms, and the music is conceived as strands “polyphonies” of linear melodic would be too strong a word bundles unfolding according to independent series of rhythmic durations.


Over its sixteen-minute duration, Polyphonie X shifts perceptibly from one section to another, each governed by a different horizontal and vertical density in other words, the number of notes sounding per second or other unit of time. The strands of polyphony are highly disjunct, so there is much overlap from one to another.

The changing instrumental polyphonif, rather like a sonic kaleidoscope, provide a means for a careful listener to distinguish between things. While the sections proceed at times in frenetic and at times in relaxed fashion, there is little or no sense of forward motion or dramatic narrative.

Polyphonie X

This is music of the hard-nosed s, when abstract, structural thinking took prime place over other considerations such as melodiousness or dramatic engagement. When he at last polyphonoe a recording of it — and it was by all accounts a fine, dedicated performance — Boulez decided he wasn’t satisfied with the score. He withdrew it from his catalog and it has remained thus ever since.


In the case of this composer, most such withdrawals are provisional, so it is possible that he will revise it and bring it out again.

He in any case did not prevent Col Legno from issuing a recording of the original performance. Polyphonie X remains of historic interest for exemplifying, in ambitious form, the technical and musical concerns of the young Pierre Boulez as he searched for an integral compositional style.

Polyphonie X, for 18 instruments… | Details | AllMusic

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