\\ Pli selon pli. V, Tombeau / Pierre Boulez

©Universal Edition, 1971.

Subtitled a portrait of Mallarmé, Pli selon pli, is as much a portrait of Boulez. More importantly, ‘the listener can make his own portrait. He can look at himself in the work. Sometimes in museums some paintings are protected by glass. Francis Bacon likes his paintings to be presented like that, so that people are confusing the painting and their own face reflected in this glass panel. That is exactly the comparison I would like to make for the person listening to [Pli selon pli].’

Tombeau, the fifth movement was originally composed as an individual work.  Boulez responded to the sudden death on 6 April 1959 of Prince Max Egon zu Fürstenberg, which precipitated its composition. The Prince served as the patron of the Donaueschingen music festival which premiered Boulez’ works such as Structures, Livre pour quatuor, Polyphonie X and the third Improvisation sur Mallarmé.   

The serial techniques of chord multiplication are applied from Boulez’s earlier masterpiece, Le Marteau sans maître. The movement achieves a maximum density of sound using the full orchestral palette compared with the earlier movements.  There are contrasting blocks of texture which thins out with the entrance of the voice towards the end of the movement. 

Here the harps, celeste, vibraphone and guitar invoke a bell-like resonance reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Les Noces or Requiem Canticles to herald the soprano’s entrance.  It is as if the resonance of sound is an aural manifestation of the stream which is to mark the death and coldness of Verlaine’s tomb. Death then concludes with a bang.