Philharmonie de Paris and Daniel Barenboim Stiftung commissioned Philippe Manoury and Jean-Louis Leleu the editorial reconstruction of Livre pour Quautor 4th movement.

  • 7 min

Programme Note

Livre pour quatuor (Book for Quartet), long absent from the Boulez catalogue per the composer’s wishes, was finally revealed to the public more than forty years after the birth of the project, if not in a complete, definitive version, at least one accepted by the composer. Up until this version, played and recorded by the Parisii Quartet in 2000, the gestation was particularly difficult, as attests a brief chronological chart.

1948: first project of a work in six movements, more exactly consisting of three pairs of
movements: I-II, III-V, IV-VI. March 1948-July 1949: composition of movements I, II, III and V.
1955 and 1960: revisions. 1958: publication of the score (Editions Heugel) without movement IV. 1959: composition of movement VI. 1960: revised, completed edition (still Heugel).

Performances, necessarily partial, followed one another:
15 October 1955: first performance of movements I (a and b) and II by the Marschner Quatuor at the Donaueschingen Festival.
3 February 1956: performance of movements I (a and b) and II, mentioned (with reservations) by Dominique Jameux (Pierre Boulez, Editions Fayard, p. 56), and all the more hypothetical that, in addition to an error of date (no Domaine Musical concert on 3 February, but a concert on Saturday the 4th, repeated on the 5th), the very serious account by Suzanne Demarquez in Le Guide du Concert et du disque, issue 102 of 17 February, mentions the performance by the Parrenin Quartet of the Lyric Suite but does not make the slightest allusion to Livre pour quatuor... 1959: performance no less hypothetical of the first three movements by the Parrenin Quartet in the course of the Domaine Musical season. That same year, recording on the Erato label, of movements I, III and V by the Parrenin Quartet, released with notes by André Boucourechliev who emphasizes: ‘Livre pour quatuor, by its signification even more than its chronology, becomes confused with one of the most important moments in modern musical history [...] Livre pour quatuor is one of those works that reveal the poetic powers of a style in the process of being born: a page in history, no doubt, but above all, living testimony to intact expressive powers.’
9 September 1961: performance of movements V and VI by the Hamann Quartet in Darmstadt. July 1962: performance of movement III (a, b and c) by the Parrenin Quartet in Darmstadt.
The following step, in 1968: Pierre Boulez decides to suspend the composition of Livre pour quatuor, in favour of a score for string orchestra. Explanation:
‘When I reread the Quatuor à cordes, which had long been finished, I saw that the performance problems for a quartet were very great and that a conductor would be necessary to resolve them. Yet a conductor in front of a quartet is not really convincing, so I thought, after having played Webern’s Opus 5 several times, that the way to take this text and make it really give its maximum was to orchestrate it. But in the orchestration, one can no longer have the same point of view so I completely rethought the music and, in the two movements of this Livre pour quatuor à cordes, which had become a Livre pour orchestre à cordes (the music is fundamentally the same), there is such a proliferation, such an overabundance of ideas, that it is practically a new piece.’
However, Livre pour quatuor had not finished its journey.
31 March 1985: on the occasion of events organized in Baden-Baden for the composer’s sixtieth birthday, the Arditti Quartet plays movements I (a and b), II, III (a, b and c), V and VI.
At last, after the final(?) revisions, the Parisii Quartet adds Livre pour quatuor to its repertoire and records it, a recording on the assai label that is taken up in the present set. Henceforth a reference, for the current structure of this score, problematical for so long, and its timings: Ia: Vivo (3’37’’) – Ib: Moderato ( 2’59’’) – II (13’10’’) – IIIa: Assez large (4’45’’) – IIIb: Assez vif, très mobile (3’11’’) – IIIc: Lent, furtif (2’25’’) – V: Lent, mais mobile (4’22’’) - VI (6’53’’)
Written, but apparently considered unplayable by the composer, movement IV remains an abstract idea... In 2017, Philharmonie de Paris and Daniel Barenboim Stiftung commissioned Philippe Manoury and Jean-Louis Leleu the editorial reconstruction of Livre pour Quautor 4th movement.
It will be observed that Livre pour quatuor, from its history as well as from its overall economy, does not appear as a bloc but, in reference to Mallarmé’s Livre, like a series of detachable pages that are supposed to maintain ‘a sense and a validity, even detached from the continuous context in which they are placed...’
As for the writing of Livre pour quatuor (between Webernian pointillism and generalized serial conception), it is finely analyzed by Jean-Louis Leleu in the notes accompanying the original Parisii Quartet disc, to which one will profitably refer.