»For Pierre Boulez with great gratitude for his suggestions and inspirations«

For ensemble: flute, 3 clarinets, 2 horns, piano, 3 violins, 2 violas, and cello
Premiere: June 16, 2009, Arnold Schönberg Center (Vienna), played by the Ensemble Wiener Collage, conducted by Pierre Boulez
Duration: ca. 9 minutes
Score (Extract, Pdf)

Notes to P. B. forever (2009)

by René Staar

Quotation of the letters representing musical pitches is, in contrast to the use of a musical theme, generally the presentation of an aphorism consisting of only a few tones. From the music of the Second Viennese School onwards such quotations have generally been used as mottos. Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto, for example, uses the musically representable letters of the names of Arnold Schönberg (A—D—E flat—C—B—B flat—E—G), Anton Webern (A—E) and Alban Berg (A—B flat—E), which are then incorporated into a tone row that shapes the concerto’s structure.

It is clear that the Viennese School founded a special tradition here, one which was in the second half of the twentieth century continued by other composers, for example by Pierre Boulez in his composition Messagesquisse, a piece dedicated to Paul Sacher. Boulez uses the letters S (German for E flat)—A—C—H (German for B natural)—E—R, whereby he interprets R as the French Re (D natural), thus expanding the vocabulary of musical letter quotation.

The composer René Staar drives this game of quotation to the point of excess. In his collection Homage (op. 14), the musical letter comes close to becoming a fetish. The first pieces were composed in 1985: Ständchen und Sitzchen, dedicated to Ernst Krenek for his 85th birthday. The stark alternation E—E flat—E is here expanded, in Ständchen horizontally by the solo violin, in Sitzchen vertically by the piano. Since that time he has written almost a dozen similar compositions, for example the Bagatelles on the name of György Ligeti (1989–1996) for piano, or the improvisation piece Jam Session »for Fritz« (1997), dedicated to Friedrich Cerha. In each of these pieces, the utilized musical letters are complemented by a whole collection of underlying stationary harmonic structures. Generally speaking, all the letter quotation patterns in this cycle are to be read vertically, i. e. harmonically, even though they might appear in a sequential manner.

P. B. forever has the largest instrumentation of any of the pieces currently included by the composer in this collection of Homages. It is written for a chamber ensemble of 13 instrumentalists, and uses the musical letters of the name Pierre Boulez: E—Re (French for D)—B (German for B flat)—E—Z (=S, German for E flat) in the combined French and German reading.

Staar consequently obtains three- and also four-part chords for the compositional structure. Particularly notable is how the fourth B flat—E flat (or its inversion as the fifth E flat—B flat) and also (as opposing pole) the tritone E—B flat take on a central significance for the composition.

This contrast becomes evident in the first part of the work, a sort of back-and-forth exchange between winds and strings that ends with a »quasi cadenza« by the piano. While the winds playing forte are characterized by the openly presented fourth—fifth constellation, the strings veil this in pianissimo through a structured reversal of the intervals of the harmony. The piano’s cadenza then mixes fourths with tritones.

In an overall view, the work is a large-scale rondo, whereby the beginning keeps recurring in various forms up to the closing dissolution of the rhythmic structure. The other parts of the work are characterized particularly by the notion of various forms of multi-dimensional reliefs, acoustically differentiated from one another by instrumentation and dynamics, or by rhythms and tempos.

The work is dedicated to Pierre Boulez, under whose direction it was premiered on 16. June 2009 in the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna.