Kristof Boucquet

Possibilities and Limits of the Open Work. Analysing Pierre Boulez’s Third Piano Sonata

The emergence of the ‘open’ or ‘mobile’ work in European serial music from 1956 onwards confronts us with new and interesting questions about the methods and goals of music analysis, which have not always been handled adequately in the last few decades.
On the one hand, many analysts have been content with the description of the material and with the reproduction of the performance instructions offered by the composer, suggesting that, with the inventory of the material and the explication of its use, the analysis of the work had been given. The interpretation of the resulting compositional structures was often eschewed, as if the open work no longer possesses a form that can be analysed meaningfully (but why then the instructions?).
On the other hand, the open work was associated with theories about improvisation and the emancipation of the interpreter and the listener, ideas that have little to do with the specific Boulezian understanding of this concept.
Starting from the analytical traditions surrounding Boulez’s Third Piano Sonata, I will search for an alternative approach to the open work by closely interweaving its analytical and historical dimensions. Firstly, I will develop analytical criteria that allow us to recognize the variability of the compositional structures but that at the same time will make it possible to determine its limits. Secondly, I will discuss the aesthetic of the open work in the context of the larger epistemological shifts of that time, especially the emergence of reception theory in literature (Jauss) and concomitant developments in semiotics (Eco). Finally, this will lead to the formulation of some well-founded analytical conclusions which should enable us to do justice to the formal implications of the open work and which take their roots in the original context in which this concept was developed.