SCHOENBERG Pelleas and Melisande / Boulez


Pelleas and Melisande op. 5

Tristan und Isolde
Vorspiel zu Akt 1
Prelude to Act 1
Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester
Int. Release 03 Feb. 2012
0289 477 9347 2
Wagner and Schoenberg Double Bill: Timeless Passion, Timeless Music, Ageless Pierre Boulez

Track List

Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90

Act 1


Arnold Schoenberg (1874 - 1951)
Pelleas und Melisande, Op.5



Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Pierre Boulez

Total Playing Time 51:02

. . . [Schoenberg: "Pelleas und Melisande"]: Boulez brings out the best aspects of its formal flexibility and textural richness . . . the Prelude to Act 1 of "Tristan" grows to an ecstatically impassioned climax . . . beautifully shaped . . . The rapport between seasoned maestro and youthful players has never been more satisfying.

Direkt bei Wagner verlangt Boulez dem Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester alles ab, was die Versinnbildlichung des steten Flusses bei gleichzeitiger Aufmerksamkeit für die Abtönungen und Schattierungen anbelangt. Und selbstverständlich wird jede Notenpore vom Geist der Moderne [aufgeladen] . . . [Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande]: Aus der 1902 komponierten Partitur macht Boulez nun lebendige Musikgeschichte . . . hier erweist sich das Jugendorchester dank seiner differenzierten Durchformung und seines sensiblen Klanggespürs auf dem Niveau eines professionellen Spitzenorchesters.

Wieder einmal hat Pierre Boulez zugeschlagen. Und wie . . . Volle Wucht legen die"Mahlers" in Schönbergs symphonische Dichtung "Pelleas und Melisande" op. 5 . . . Maestro Boulez führt die Jungen zu wahren Höchstleistungen.

Superbe leçon de direction, vive, articulée, nerveuse, intensément dramatique . . . A Boulez revient le mérite de ciseler et sculpter une partition qui se prête parfaitement à cet exercice d'un wagnérisme souverain . . . Hymne au désir insatiable jusqu'à l'épuisement des forces vitales, jusqu'à l'anéantissement et la mort de délivrance, le prélude de "Tristan und Isolde" de l'acte I fait une place ciselée aux bois, cor anglais, hautbois et clarinette en particulier, fine constellation instrumentale qui énonce le poison mortel qui s'insinue peu à peu dans le tissu orchestral. Transparence et clarté, langueur mesurée et parfaitement articulée, la direction du chef se distingue évidemment par sa classe lumineuse, un apollonisme d'une parfaite balance entre hédonisme et pudeur . . . L'équilibre des pupitres, la beauté sonore, la clarté polyphonique restituent à l'¿uvre sa force et sa sauvagerie primitive, ses éclairs sensuels; la direction de Boulez est une suite d'éblouissements surtout instrumentaux: chaque partie est idéalement mise en avant, travail sur l'articulation et le dialogue concertant des musiciens, une attention aux couleurs qui transparaissait déjà dans le Prélude de Tristan.

Wagner and Schoenberg Double Bill: Timeless Passion, Timeless Music, Ageless Pierre Boulez

Maestro Pierre Boulez’s renowned lucidity makes him an extraordinary conductor of this emotionally luxuriant music

Celebrated for championing the most daring music of the 20th century, Boulez leads this 2003 Tokyo concert, played in the presence of Japan’s Emperor and Empress. Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande and Wagner’s Prelude to “Tristan und Isolde” could have received no treatment more royal than he gives it at Suntory Hall with the Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchester

The Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchester was founded by Claudio Abbado to provide young musicians the chance to work with established conductors and soloists. Based in Vienna, they tour during the Easter and summer seasons

The Gustav Mahler Jugend Orchester, with which Pierre Boulez has toured four times, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011. The present recording is testimony to Boulez’s esteem for this band

The Guardian observed, “For a quarter of a century now Boulez’s performances of all the modernists have set benchmarks ... he remains unrivalled in the works of the Second Viennese School, and in Schoenberg in particular”

Visit the Website of Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester - Musicians for Europe to learn more about the activities of this critically acclaimed Youth Orchestra.


“Yearning, yearning, insatiable longing ever reborn, thirsting and repining! The only release is to die, to perish, to fade away, nevermore to awaken!” This is how Wagner himself summed up the plot of his opera Tristan und Isolde in the most succinct imaginable manner. But, strictly speak-ing, it is impossible to call it an “opera”, for in writing the work Wagner had explored what he called “the profound art of resonant silence”, investigating the darker side of the human psyche and setting foot in an alternative world inaccessible to language, a theatre of the mind lacking in any sense of theatrical spectacle. Here music reasserts its primal rights, as Wagner went on to explain in his note on the Prelude to Act I: “The musician who chose this theme to introduce his love drama was bound to feel entirely at one with that most absolute and unrestricted element that is music, so that his sole concern was how he might best restrict himself, inasmuch as the theme he had chosen could never be wholly exhausted.”

In the event, Wagner failed miserably to reveal himself as a master of self-restraint when he composed this prelude, an introduction which commentators, endowed with the keenness of hindsight, have claimed marks the birth of musical modernism. Pierre Boulez prefers a less vague definition and speaks of the “beginning of the chromatic era of our age”. Wagner’s suc-cessors – and here Boulez thinks in particular of Mahler and Schoenberg – took this develop-ment a stage further, resulting in “total chromaticization as a result of the need for Expressionist expression – tonal relationships were abandoned in favour of the explosive force of a chromati-cism that allowed composers to move quickly towards a style described as ‘atonal’.”

Not only musicians in Vienna but literary figures in Paris fell under the spell of Wagner, whose music dramas proved a source of tremendous and inescapable provocation for the whole of western civilization. His medieval subject matter, the pseudo-archaic tone of his librettos and the synaesthetic undertow of works notable for their use of tone colour were all a challenge to writ-ers in a field they had regarded as their own exclusive preserve. It was at the end of the 19th cen-tury, when wagnérisme enticed French thinking out of the midday light of reason and into the semi-darkness of myth and music, that the Flemish playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, who was born in Ghent in 1862, wrote his dreamlike plays, plays best described not so much as works of literature than as expressions of “resonant silence”. His play Pelléas et Mélisande was first per-formed in Paris in 1893 and is set in legendary times in the distant kingdom of Allemonde. On an overgrown path in a gloomy forest one of the king’s grandsons, Golaud, discovers Mélisande weeping alone at the edge of a well as if she had just emerged from its depths like the Ondine of the fairy tale. Golaud takes the unknown woman back with him to his castle as his wife, and it is here that she meets his half-brother, Pelléas. The castle is built on gloomy grottoes over under-ground lakes and is surrounded by impenetrable forests, without light and life, joyless and deso-late. For all its furtive intensity, the tragedy that unfolds as a result of Golaud’s jealousy of the burgeoning love between Pelléas and Mélisande is treated by Maeterlinck in a supremely under-stated manner lacking in action and theatricality and remote from any conventional dramaturgy and from the usual logic of the theatre. As such, the play seems made for the taciturn art of music.

Debussy’s somnambulistic and almost reverential setting of Maeterlinck’s play was staged at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1902, the same year as that in which Schoenberg decided to set this anti-drama to music, not, however, as an opera but as a symphonic poem. “It is hard to resist the idea of comparing the two scores,” writes Pierre Boulez. “We may content ourselves with ob-serving that Debussy’s aesthetic approach was far more novel than the Romantic emotionalism in which Schoenberg was still immersed at this time; it would take a number of years for him to break free from this post-Wagnerian world of ideas.”

There is no doubt that Debussy’s opera comes far closer to Maeterlinck’s mysterious and elusive poem than Schoenberg’s orchestral work, which he completed in February 1903, the exuberant polyphonic writing of which struck contemporaries as opaque and above all unplayable. Even Mahler found the score “enormously complex”. Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande is a music drama without words, a detailed tone poem with themes “in the nature of Wagnerian leitmotifs”, a work, finally, whose formal design may be interpreted either as an example of first-movement sonata form on an altogether gigantic scale or as a four-movement symphony. At the time he wrote it, Schoenberg was still struggling to find recognition as a composer and lavished a profli-gate degree of mastery on the score. The ideal of restraint and self-restraint occurred to him only later when he began to arrange his twelve notes in serial rows and opened up a new chapter in the “chromatic era”, an era of which Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was itself no more than a prelude.

Wolfgang Stähr