Pierre Boulez and David Bowie passing away within less than a week from each other seems like a doleful coincidence. Neither would ever compromise in their art, and, in return, both were received with utmost dedication. Their music was available equally for people in search for an identity or just beauty.
We don’t really know about their personal beliefs, although Bowie’s last album from last week does allude more than Boulez would ever have spelled out about the topic. Still, it is a comforting though that Boulez might by now be in the presence of Schoenberg, Webern, and Messiaen. Just think how much they would have to discuss!
And perhaps if Boulez could have a discussion with another big B, namely Ludwig van, they could exchange thoughts about how it was to create a “global gesture” in music. You see, what Boulez did in Le Marteau sans maître in incorporating elements into European dodecaphonic fabric from Balinese music (by use of the vibraphone), African music (percussion), and Japanese music (the guitar resembling the similar traditional instrument koto), is not unlike Beethoven bringing in the Turks (the rhythm crew) in the moment of celebrating the “brotherhood of all men” à la Schiller in the finale of #9. Both were reaching to the outer rim of their globe by means of musical synthesis.
Bowie was more specific. He wanted to reach to pockets of Europe, where people lived under oppression, governmental or societal. During the height of Cold War he travelled to the USSR and made recordings in the Berlin Hansa Studios, whose third floor windows offered a direct view over the Wall into the east. And many of his alter egos would exemplify personal freedom for people who at the time couldn’t openly be themselves even in the “free” west.
A though provoked by the example set by all of these artists, the recently and long gone big Bs is, that now, perhaps more than ever, is the right time to keep listening!