It was in Los Angeles, in March 1965, that Éclat had its world premiere. Boulez wrote this piece to jointly mark his 40th birthday and the inauguration of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (later expanding the work into the still-incomplete Éclat/Multiples). Éclat also references Boulez’s dual identities as composer and conductor, since the score incorporates aleatoric elements and gives the conductor control – equivalent to that of the composer at times – over when and how to cue certain events within the overall framework. This dichotomy between the serialist discipline of Boulez’s ultra-precise, predetermined composition and the in-the-moment freedom of the “prepared accident” is characteristic of the dialectical tug-of-war in his musical thinking.
Another crucial dichotomy occurs regarding the issue of resonance, of the birth and death of each sound against a background of static, omnipresent silence. The disposition of Éclat’s 15 instrumentalists separates into two overall groups according to the nature of their sound production: those Boulez conceives as, on the one hand, “resonating instruments” (defined by Jonathan Goldman as instruments “for which the musician relinquishes control over the sound once the note is attacked”) and, on the other, as non-resonating instruments that can sustain and control pitches. The former comprise a nonet of piano, harp, celesta, (the “antique”-sounding) cimbalom, mandolin, guitar, and tuned percussion (glockenspiel, vibraphone, and tubular bells) and the latter a sextet of pairs of winds, brass, and strings (alto flute, English horn, trumpet, trombone, viola, and cello). On one level Boulez appropriates the old Baroque dualism of the soloist group versus the ripieno ensemble in concertante writing.
Boulez sketched out the following five-part general outline of events: after the opening cadenza for the piano, which plays a dominant role in Éclat, there is a first “development,” a “static cycle” at the center of the work, a second development, and a final tutti section, which is an “instrumental cadence reprise.” In his recent book Boulez, Music and Philosophy, Edward Campbell parses Éclat’s dichotomies in terms of a “sensible opposition” between “striated or pulsed time” (the sextet) and “non-pulsed time,” described as “occupying time without counting” (i.e., in the central static section, where there are “no conventional indications of duration, just pitch”). The work’s title is deliberately multivalent: Boulez writes that he chose éclat on account of its rich connotations. It can signify not only “burst,” but “fragment, explosion, reflections of light, transient reflections – all of these words have different meanings which pertain equally well to the musical form and to its poetic expression.”
- Thomas May